My Oma died today. She was 84. I told my five year old daughter that Oma had ‘let go’, because she wanted to be with Opa, her husband. M was saddened by this, asking why Oma would pick Opa over her. I explained we would be going to a funeral, where we would celebrate her life. There would be a lot of people there to remember her and tell stories about her. Like how she used to hide bags of candy around the house for her Grandchildren at Easter time. M looked perplexed. “Is that because the Easter Bunny couldn’t make it to Winnipeg?” she asked. “Probably,” I hedged. I think we covered enough reality for one day.
Excerpt from The Mythography of J, a chapbook of short autobiographical stories:
J’s family travelled to Winnipeg every four weeks or so to stay with their Oma and Opa. During the 2 hour drive J and K anticipated the luxury of colour cable television on Saturday mornings. They always rose at six o’clock to get their quota of cartoons for the month: Rocket Robin Hood, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo… the list was endless. By noon they were hyper and crash-testing the furniture.
When the cartoons were over, J liked to play with Oma’s bucket of cars. She had an old white honey pail filled with large painted metal cars, medium coloured plastic cars, and small dinky Hot Wheels! J’s favourite was the retro-futuristic Batmobile. As you pushed it along, an orange flame would poke in and out of the exhaust. It could also shoot small plastic missiles, but they were all lost long before J was born. One day, while Oma was sitting on the couch knitting a wool jacket for one of her many grandchildren, J was in the midst of crashing cars into a wooden block pyramid. One of the larger cars careened into Oma’s leg, but she did not look up. She was still knitting intently. To test her, J bumped the car lightly into the heel of her shoe. Still no reaction. Eventually J asked her what was wrong with her leg. “It is false,” she said, and proceeded to tell him a true story.
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Many, many years ago, when she was eighteen, her family lived in Russia. They were not very wealthy, so Oma worked in a town nearby to make extra money for the family. One winter as Christ’s birthday drew near, she let her family know that she had much to do and might not make it home until Christmas Day. She worked very hard and by Christmas Eve she had finished early. She hitched a ride on a horse-drawn cart heading towards her home, but the driver stopped to let her out a few miles before her village. From there he was heading in a different direction, he told her. She thanked him for the ride and began trudging through the rolling white mounds. She could very faintly make out the church steeple of her town if she squinted her eyes.
Then it began to snow — just a few soft heavy crystals at first, but then more and more until the sky was a swirling mass of white. The wind picked up and bit her with frost, churning the flakes into a flurry of blindness. Oma lost sight of the steeple. She lost site of her own hands. She walked in useless circles as it grew dark, listening to the dogs bark in the village but unable to find them. As she continuted to stumble through the storm she began to think of her family. They did not know she was coming so soon. They would not be looking for her. They would be happy and warm, sitting around the fire laughing and telling stories. After hours of desperate searching, Oma began to feel sleepy and warm. She lay down in the snow and drifted off.
Very, very early on Christmas morn, just after the storm had settled into a soft blanket of calm white, a Russian villager went out rabbit hunting. As he ventured further and further from the sleepy houses, he came upon a young woman lying stiff and half-buried in the snow. She was still alive.
The villager carried her to the hospital, where she was revived. She had suffered severe frostbite and the doctor eventually removed her right leg just below the knee, along with the toes and heel of her left. All that time she thanked God for sparing her life. But she couldn’t help wondering why any man would go hunting for rabbits on Christmas Day.
– – – – –
“Can you take it off?” J asked earnestly.
“Yes,” Oma replied, bemused. “But I’m not going to do it now.”
J returned to his cars slightly disappointed but took great care not to crash into her feet a second time.
Rest in peace, Oma.