Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher

This is my Canada. Act accordingly.

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At the edge of the airbase where I spent my teens in Lahr, Germany, there was a full size mirror just by the gate on which was printed the words:

“The person you see here is a reflection of Canada. Act accordingly.”

Every day I’d walk past that mirror on my way to and from high school and wonder, “What does it mean to act accordingly? Like a Canadian.”

I know that often my friends and I were louder than our German compatriots. Most of us didn’t speak German and would even make fun of those who couldn’t speak English.

I was fortunate. When we’d first moved there, my father was insistent that I attend a German school. I spent my first summer being tutored in German by Frau Klaus.

She and her husband were our landlords. Every afternoon I would walk down the stairs from our house at the top of Am Schiessrain, through our garden into theirs, past the cherry tree that cast its sheltering branches over the grape vines they’d planted in their back yard. I’d knock at the side door of their big stone house and wait for Frau Klaus to answer.

Their home was old. To my teenage mind it was ancient. It was on Friedhof Strasse, the long, winding street that lead up to the cemetery.

Herr Klaus was a stone mason. He made beautiful headstones to mark the graves of those who passed away. I loved to sit on the stone wall beside their house and watch him in his workshop. He’d show me the different marbles. The fillers he used to make the etchings he carved into the rock stand out. He’d talk about why he’d chosen one product over the other. Of the importance of honouring the dead, of always holding their memories close. I liked Herr Klaus. He was always kind and full of laughter and stories.

Frau Klaus scared me. She was stern and critical. If my skirt was too short she’d make me climb the stairs back through the garden and change. I was never allowed to wear jeans in her presence. “That is not how ladies dress,” she told me.

Once I climbed the cherry tree to see the view beyond their garden. She told me to get down. Ladies didn’t climb trees.

Frau Klaus was very particular about how I spoke her language. She would make me repeat, again and again, a certain sound, a gutteral noise so that I got the intonation just right. She taught me how to bow my head when I met my elders and say, Guten Tag, with just the right amount of reverence to demonstrate I deferred to their age.

Frau Klaus was proud of her language. Her heritage. Her home and native land.

She did not like foreigners very much, though ‘we Canadians’ were somewhat more acceptable than ‘those Americans’ or the woman who worked as their housekeeper. She came from the Ukraine. She had walked the thousands of miles after the war to get away from the Russians only to find herself in unwelcome territory years later, shunned for her foreign ways.

Frau Klaus told me it wasn’t ladylike to talk to the help but I loved to listen to the woman’s stories. I was in awe of her courage and bravery. Frau Klaus never spoke of the war, though sometimes her husband, after having had a few too many scotches with my father, would pull out a piece of war memorabilia he had stored in the back room of their house and throw it on the ground and stomp on it. “We were so wrong,” Herr Klaus would state. Frau Klaus would sigh and say, “We did what we had to do. It was the times.”

Frau Klaus liked my father a lot. She thought he was just like her. Stern and set in his ways and insistent we do things the ‘right way’. I think she liked my mother, though she sometimes wondered why my mother let me be the way I was. “It’s not her choice,” I would insist. “She doesn’t control me.”

“Well she should,” Frau Klaus would reply.

Frau Klaus believed I was too wild. Too carefree. Too unpredictable. She would shake her head in a resigned way whenever I’d mispronounce a word or get my tenses wrong and say, “Nein! Nein! Nien! Nochmal!”

And I would do it again and again if only to prove to her the thing she thought was true was false. “You Canadian girls are lazy,” she told me. “You don’t know what hardship is.”

In many ways, she was right.

We are not a land born from war. We are a country risen from an idea that together we are always stronger. We are a nation founded on the vision of creating a land where every language has a voice, where every person has the right to stand free.

We don’t always get it right the first time, but we keep working on it until we do. And while it may take a century to acknowledge our mistakes, when we do, we mean it because doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.

This is My Canada. We act accordingly.

 

 

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Author: Louise Gallagher

I believe we each have the capacity to be the change we want to see in the world, to make a world of difference. I believe we are creative beings on the journey of our lifetimes. It's up to each of us to Live It Up and SHINE!

8 thoughts on “This is my Canada. Act accordingly.

  1. Loved this article. That mirror was a great idea at that base. I wish each of us -especially in the US – could look in a giant mirror and reflect on who we have become.

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    • Looking in a mirror and really seeing ourselves — and those who stand behind us to create the world we live in would be a great idea for everyone Elaine! Thanks for sharing your light in my mirror. Hugs

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  2. we are an improbable people, and improbable country – and we are all squatters on the rights/land of those who were here for thousands of years before us; for me, until we start getting our relationships with our indigenous people’s on a different/better level, then we need to keep our chest-thumping to a moderate level. We’ve come a long way since ‘there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run’ [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiSFZBDAH9Y ] … we are more than Gordon’s 100th anniversary/centennial tribute to Canada – still one of my favourites, its lyrics define who we’ve come together – held together by more than a railroad and a Grey Cup game, and our 150th anniversary is ‘just another July 1’ of fireworks and picnics if we fail to see what we really are – invaders and keepers of a precious enormous resource. We need to take better care of each other and re-think who we are as a multi-peopled land .

    my two cents

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    • That we do Mark — need to take better care of each other. We are a multi-peopled and multi-faceted land — and while your two cents are only worth .75 cents on the dollar compared to our neighbours to the south, they are pure gold to me!

      Happy Canada Day — happy everyday!

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  3. Louise, your thoughts are inspiring. My mind was flooded by, not only wonderful memories of the time some of us spent in Germany, but of the consistent decency of our fellow citizens in trying to live up to personal standards and values. Decency and friendliness are still hall marks of our society. Let us embrace each other and those with whom these values ring true.

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    • Brian! How lovely to see you here and to read your thoughts. I agree — we are citizens striving to live up to decency and friendliness — those are the hallmarks of our society. I embrace you!

      And yes — those were wonderful times to remember. Hugs

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  4. What a wonderful story, Louise … Frau Klaus must have been quite an imposing force. She was shaped by her history, and you certainly absorbed the good lessons she taught you.

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