Betty Jane Hegerat

July 17, 2014

Short Fiction: Be Still and Listen to the Heart Beat

Filed under: On the books I've written,Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 2:03 pm

Two quotes from Alice Munro in Robert Thacker’s book, Alice Munro Writing Her Lives have lodged in my mind during the time I’ve been reading this wonderful book:
“There is always a starting point in reality.”
“How can you get your finger on it, feel your life beating.”

Oh, to feel the heartbeat in a short story  when it insists on being written.

This seems like the right time for some promo for A Crack in the Wall (Oolichan Books 2008), my first and only book of short fiction. In spite of having ventured into the territory of the novelist with Running Toward Home and Delivery, in spite of having trod new ground with a braid of non-fiction/investigative journalism, fiction and memoir in The Boy, the short story still feels like homeland. Perhaps because so many of my stories began with a memory, with nostalgia, with moments in my life that have taken on a new slant now that I’ve traveled a considerable distance.

A Crack in the Wall has a special place in my heart, because it is a compilation of short stories written over a period of fifteen years, some of them published in literary magazines, two of them broadcast on CBC’s Alberta Anthology, which was such a wonderful opportunity for Alberta writers to hear their stories in another “voice.” I will never forget the thrill of hearing “Pins and Needles” read by the inimitable Stephen Hair (Theatre Calgary’s own “Scrooge”). The collection claims my affection as well, because it is rife with the voices of my family and stolen moments from our lives. My eldest son, each time I had a story published, would ask, “Are we in it?” And my reply, so often, “Of course you are, because there are children and mothers and all that I know about being a mother I learned from you.”

So why should you seek out this “old” book? http://www.oolichan.com/hegerat-a-crack-in-the-wall

1. Because it’s published by one of our fine Canadian small presses, Oolichan Books, who have been so good to this author through the publication of three books, each one beautifully produced and designed.

2. Because short fiction has reclaimed its place as a gem in the crown of fiction.

3. Because you can finish a story in the time it takes to commute to your work, or to feel blissfully ready for sleep, or to simply escape life within the circle of a story.

4. Because these stories are dear to me, and whether you know me or not, you will know me better having read about the cracks in my own walls.

5. Because if you do know me well, you may find yourself between the pages. But if you ask, I will smile and remind you that I write “fiction.”

6. Because A Crack in the Wall is dedicated to “the memories of my mom and dad, Martha and Morris Harke, who taught me to be still and listen.” A lesson I’ve cherished, and I hope you will too.

7. And finally, if reviews matter to you:

“…a gifted and compelling storyteller, she deals in ordinary people who lead ordinary lives, but by some unobtrusive narrative magic, her people become extraordinary.”
—David Carpenter, author of Banjo Lessons, Writing Home, Courting Saskatchewan and so many more.

“Refreshingly unpretentious, A Crack in the Wall draws out detail with an easy momentum that avoids the excesses of myopic realism. Humour, as in the collection’s opening sentence (“The old cat hunkers on the counter next to the aquarium, more interested in the bloated goldfish now than when it was alive”) produces gentle laughs. Simple and precise, Hegerat’s style elegantly explores the inner lives of characters struggling against expectation and inevitability —themes that are at once maddeningly complex and mundane.”
— Jeff Kubik in “Alberta Views”

June 25, 2014

Hanging out in an anthology with some of Canada’s finest authors of books for young people

Filed under: On the books I've written,Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 12:04 pm

Dark Times, edited by Ann Walsh

The anthology Dark Times was published in 2005 by Ronsdale Press: http://ronsdalepress.com/books/dark-times/

I was working on Running Toward Home, and struggling mightily with sustaining the perspective of a teenaged boy throughout a book length story. When I saw the call for submissions for an anthology for young people dealing with loss and grief, one of my children had recently dealt with a dark and difficult experience. The writing of “Kick”, my contribution to Dark Times, was in part a way of trying to make sense of that experience, and an exercise in getting inside the skin of a fourteen-year-old boy.

Why should you read this book, and then pass it along to young people in your life?

1. We assume, I think, that books for pre-teens and teenagers need action, adventure, fantasy, to hold their attention. I know from reading to my children from the time they were old enough old to sit still for the four minutes required to read a story book, that books about real life had their own special magic. So many contemporary YA books I could name that deal with difficult subjects. Dark Times, in the words of Norma Charles, author of All the Way to Mexico, is: “A fine collection of gritty and compelling stories for young people about loss and grief that will rivet the reader, and in the end, inspire hope because of the indomitable spirit of youth.”

2. This collection was edited by the inspiring, award-winning children’s author, Ann Walsh. If you don’t know Ann’s work, you should, and when you’ve finished reading Dark Times with your child, move on Ann’s long list of books, many of them set in the north: http://annwalsh.ca/

3. The other contributors to this anthology include authors who left me feeling humble and honoured to be in their company: Ann Walsh, Sarah Ellis, Lee Maracle, Alison Lohans, Diana Aspin, Carolyn Pogue, Carrie Mac, Donna Gamache, Gina Rozon, Libby Kennedy, Patricia McCowan , Jessie May Keller. The chorus of voices, the range of subject, and the eloquence of the writing – do I need to offer more encouragement?

4. Because this book is an excellent one, parents for discussion with your own children; teachers, for discussion with your classes; youth leaders, for discussion with the young people whose company you enjoy.

5. And finally, because I’m not holding back at all in these posts on self-promotion, in a review of Dark Times, Richard van Camp, internationally renowned storyteller and author of a long list of books including The Lesser Blessed as well as several stunningly beautiful books for very young children says :“Kick” by Betty Jane Hegerat is probably one of my favourite in the collection because the story is about how a victim of bullying copes with the confusion after the school bully, Will, dies suddenly in a vehicle accident with his family. I like this story because the author nails the confusion that comes with grief and mourning so perfectly at the end.”
Who can resist tooting her horn over such an endorsement?

 

June 23, 2014

From Author’s Lament to Unabashed Promotion

Filed under: Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 9:26 am

 

All right then. Here begins the lamenting author’s unabashed praise for her own work. With a whole lot of reasons why you need these books, because whether they’re your type of reading or not, you know someone in whom they’ll touch a nerve or spark a memory, or just stay a while in the heart. Today’s book:

https://newestpress.com/books/running-toward-home

Available through NeWest Press (via their website), your local indie bookstore by order, online from one of the major booksellers, and of course, from my favourite source of books – your public library.  Unfortunately, Running Toward Home, is not available as an ebook at this point.

 

Why do you need to read this book?

1. It was my first book, and is a collage of memory from my years as a social worker in Child Welfare. The book is dedicated to children in care, and in retrospect, I wish I’d included the parents of these children in the dedication. Tina, one of the four voices in the novel, is the character with whom I struggled the most. Eight years later, she still begs me to write a sequel to her story, but I have such a sense of foreboding around Tina’s story that I’ve closed my ears to her hissing demand.

2. This was my sister’s favourite of my books, and I only learned this a few months before she died. This was in a conversation about regrets over things left undone. I was totally drained, and told her that I didn’t care if I ever had another book. When she said, “Don’t you dare stop writing!” I heard the voice of my bossy big sister, a voice that had been absent for some time. Why, I asked her, Running Toward Home, this one that showed many of the flaws of first books? Because of Corey, that child whose future was left dangling. Because the story was open-ended, she said, she was able to imagine a happy conclusion. The endings to most of my stories, she claimed, were totally depressing.

3. Because of Barb Howard’s generous review: “From the warm-hearted parents, to the torn teen mother, to the social worker with an agenda, to wary Corey himself —Running Toward Home delivers the compelling details of a child stuck on a treadmill of government regulation and human vulnerability.”

4. And another from Dave Margoshes: “Three deceptively simple strands—a mother, a foster mother and a runaway boy—are woven together against a slightly surreal backdrop of the Calgary Zoo at night, when tigers and dinosaurs roam free. . . . Betty Jane Hegerat has written a small gem of a novel.”

4. Because of Chris Flodberg’s beautiful art on the cover of the book. This tiger, part of a series, a romantic rendering of cats, was first shown at the University of Calgary, and is now in a private collection.

4. Because of Robert Kroetsch who read the draft of the book that preceded the finished work when I was in his Novel Colloquium at the Sage Hill Writing Experience in 2003. Without showing me how, he showed me the way to breathe life into this story. Because of the note he penned in my copy of his own Badlands: “For Betty Jane because you are making the Calgary Zoo into a Canadian literary site. Thank you.”

5. Because I have just finished reading Running Toward Home. I cannot make myself read any of my published novels cover-to-cover once the words are permanently fixed to pages and bound into covers. Why? Because I would want to edit through eternity. But I’ve gotten over that silly inhibition. And you know what? This is a good story.

 

June 21, 2014

An Author’s Lament; With Promise of an Upbeat Sequel

Filed under: On the books I've written,Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 1:52 pm

Someone on the Writers’ Union forum posted a link to this interesting piece into a journalist’s journey into self-publishing yesterday. http://nyti.ms/1w2v6Gg — from “I Was a Digital Bestseller!  by Tony Horwitz from the NY Times, June 19 2014. Not a lot of resonance for me in the piece because journalism, actually making a living from writing is a different sack of cats from my quest to write fiction that will live on in the annals of Canlit. But this small excerpt from the article lit my fire: “FIVE months ago I published a short book called “Boom.” Commercially it was a bust. No news in that: Most books lose money and are quickly forgotten by all but their wounded authors.”

Absolutely true. Most authors know that their books will not only lose money, but they themselves will subsidize their ephemeral creation. Small regional presses are often described as “not for profit” businesses. Shouldn’t that be enough of a clue?

I’ve taught many introductory creative writing courses, facilitated workshops, mentored new writers, and I always make it clear that if anyone is there because they’re looking for the road to fame and fortune, they’ve come to the wrong person. I am not the guardian of that secret map.

After 20 years of courses, encouragement, publication in literary magazines, an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, four books, and essays/stories in several anthologies – still no vacation home in Tuscany. As for fame, I’ve been shortlisted for a number of fine awards, and with that come validation and the chance to party in good company. But no reward to deposit in “income from writing.” Still, I count one of the greatest benefits of my writing life in the number of good friends I’ve made. In fact, it’s often our “woundedness” as authors that bring us together over coffee or wine for affirmation that what we do is not about the money. When one of us wins an award, scores a fine contract, we have the chance to celebrate, to be the cheerleaders, knowing that when it is our “turn” the cheering squad will be there for us.

Why, then, is it so difficult for so many authors to be their own cheerleaders? I know a few authors who don’t shrink at all from self-promotion. Who, when the opportunity arises, or they create the opportunity themselves, will hold the book aloft and shout, “I wrote this! This is a fine book! Buy it and both of us will be rewarded!” I am one of the other sort – the author who quietly enters book clubs with her bag of “car stock”, leaves it inconspicuously beside her chair, and at the end of the evening, if the group feels receptive, pulls the bag forward and mentions, just mentions, that she has copies of the book being discussed as well as copies of her other books if anyone is interested. Then goes home wishing she’d asked the host in advance for a table on which to display her books and a bit of help in promoting them.

A few weeks ago, I attended a book club appreciation night at one of our fine indie bookstores at which each staff member recommended a book for the fall lists the book clubs were putting together. I was delighted that The Boy was among those recommendations. Okay, I told myself, this is an opportunity you will not ignore. I plucked a copy of The Boy from the display and inveigled my way into every cluster of conversation going on in the room. Polite smiles from some corners, congratulations from a couple of others, and a few groups who simply looked annoyed at my intrusion.

Feeling rather humbled, and just a little embarrassed, I made my way back to my husband and the good friend who had come along to the event. They gave me the affirmation I needed: Of course you should introduce yourself and the book to everyone in the room! You’re the only author of any of the recommended books in attendance. Get over it! It’s your job to sell your books now that they’ve had their brief flash across the heavens.

So far, no invitations to any of the book clubs at that event, but a swift kick to remind me that unless I do more promotion the books of which I am exceedingly proud will dwindle to a shadow on a bookstore shelf, remaindered along with hundreds of other fine books that died too young.

I knew all of this, of course, because I’d met the indomitable Susan Toy just before Delivery was launched in 2009. She came to a reading that I was participating in and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Susan. I’m your sales rep.” “Really? I didn’t know I had one.” “Well you do, and we need to talk about how to promote your new book and the previous two and whatever else you have in the works.” A meeting a few days later, and Susan was off and running with ideas and contacts that took me to libraries all over central and southern Alberta, and as many book clubs as I could fit into my writing life.

Susan has moved on, although she continues to promote mine and the books of other authors from her exile on the beautiful Caribbean island of Bequia. But lately, I’ve been hearing her voice in my ear, and she’s telling me that the books will only die when I stop breathing life into them.

So to end this Author’s Lament, here’s the pledge I’ve made to myself (and to any authors I can influence as well) to rip up the DNR order on every single book. Stand by for Part Two: Utterly Uninhibited Authorial Promotion of Fine Books.

April 29, 2014

Why Launch This Book in a Church — Part 2

Filed under: News and events,Random Musings on many things,Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 2:13 pm

In case you missed Part 1:  http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/4101547/1497/

 Saturday, April 26.  Sixty people, Owl’s Nest sold out of their copies of a family of any other name; Exploring Queer Relationships, a beautiful mix of church community, writing community, LGBT community, and a lot of conversation when the readings were done and we moved on to book signing and munching. (Only one complaint on the refreshments:  “Where are the egg salad sandwiches?  Lutheran church gatherings always serve egg salad sandwiches.”)

I was as honoured to share this celebration of the anthology with Dale Kwong, as I was to be included in the book with an essay from a parent’s experience; perspectives from both sides of “coming out” and what “family” really means.

The Q&A provoked insightful (sometimes difficult) questions to answer, but answer them we did.  This was a thoughtful, perceptive audience, wanting to know more than our brief readings disclosed.  The book will provide them “more” and so many more stories.   I wanted the dialogue to go on and on and I know that it will.

So many comments, but the two that for me truly answered the question “why launch this book in a church?” :

“Stained glass windows, butterflies, quilts destined for people in need, and just the aura that surrounded us made me finally understand why you wanted to have the launch at your church, and why you make that your home.”

“You know that I have no church connection at all, never have had, but at the readings on Saturday I felt that everyone there, and the book, were blessed.”

Check with you local bookseller.  If they don’t have a family by any other name: Exploring Queer Relationships on the shelf, tell them it needs to be there.  Same with your local library.

IMG_1509 IMG_1513IMG_1538

 

April 4, 2014

Forgiveness yet again. And another story.

Filed under: Random Musings on many things,Stories — bettyjanehegerat @ 2:46 pm

Forgiveness seems to have become a recurring theme in my posts here, and I’m beginning to accept that it’s part of the journey. I’m getting better at forgiving those who’ve wounded me, whether by intent or simply because of my perception of their acts or words. It’s hard work, but I don’t want to schlepp any of this burden to my grave. At a Holden Evening Prayer Service last night, our wise Pastor Laura gave us these words to take away and they have been on my mind throughout this day:

“What if we don’t have to carry burdens and hurts around with us?
What if we don’t have to keep score of the wrongs done to us?

What if forgiveness is not a gift we give to others, nor an action we have to practice?

What if forgiveness is a place we stand?
What if forgiveness is an orientation to life and all that happens to us?
What if forgiveness is a lens through which we see the world?”    –Pastor Laura Holck

 

“Water From the Well,” a story from my collection of stories, A Crack in the Wall  is a story about forgiveness.  I took a painful incident from my mother’s childhood and asked  “what-if?”. What if my grandmother had found herself confined to a room in a nursing home with the woman who had shouted her hatred at my mom and her siblings and chased them away with a broom in hand? Perhaps Oma did forgive even without coming face-to-face with her neighbor-enemy. I like to think so — Oma was a kindhearted woman with a strong faith, and I think she would have known what God wanted her to do. But what if… in order to do so, she too had to scale all the barriers we erect around forgiveness?
A Crack in the Wall is a book close to my heart because so many of the stories began with bits and pieces stolen from the life of my family and friends. It is still available, and I hope it will live on.

http://www.oolichan.com/hegerat-a-crack-in-the-wall

And here is “Water From the Well” (reproduced with the kind of permission of Oolichan Books)

Water from the Well

Soon Marta will be here to slide the pins from the coiled braid at the nape of my neck. Her fingers will fan the pleated grey waves across my back. “Mutti!” she will say. How long since they washed your hair?”

Ilsa was marooned, perched on a green vinyl chair that sucked at her thighs where her dress was hitched crooked beneath her. She’d awakened with Marta on her mind. She whispered her daughter’s name to the stiff-fingered rhythm of the knitting needles. The names of all her children: Marta, Walter, Annaliese, Bruno. The living and the dead. Not sure if she chanted them aloud, or in her thoughts, until the Filipino nursing aide poked her head into the room and asked, “You calling for me, Ilsa? Or is Bernice making all that racket?”

Before she could answer that it was the one in the other bed moaning and carrying on as though she was dying, someone else stepped through the door.

“What are you knitting now, Oma? Slippers or scarf?” The tall girl brushed snow off her shoulders.

“Jeannie.” Ilsa tried to blink the sticky webs from her brain. “I thought you were coming in the morning.”

“It is still morning, but you’ve probably been up since dawn. Did you have a good sleep?”

“With that one jabbering?” She pointed over her shoulder with the free knitting needle, stabbing into the air on the other side of the room. “Since she came, who can sleep?”

“Water, please.” The voice from the bed sounded like fingernails on a screen.

“See what I put up with? Always complaining about something.” She frowned at a dropped stitch many rows back, and put the wool aside. “No school today?”

The girl pressed a cold cheek to hers. “School? Oma, don’t make me a little girl again. I’m on my way to work. At the bank, remember?”

Now the voice from the other bed commenced a low keening. The old woman lay scattered in the bed like the broken limbs of a tree, her hair sprouting from her skull in tufts that looked as though they would blow away with a puff of breeze.

“Be quiet!” Ilsa shouted.

Her granddaughter shushed her. “What is it with you and Mrs. Ridley? You know, you talk just as much as she does.”

“I?” Steadying herself with a hand on the night table, she stood up tall in her stout black shoes. They tried to make her wear bedroom slippers in this place. As though she had nowhere to go. “I mind my own business,” she said. “I’m a quiet woman waiting here patiently to die.” She tugged at the back of her skirt, pulling the wrinkled fabric free of her damp skin.

Someone has stolen my garter belt and stockings again. Marta will have to go to the Army and Navy store.

While her granddaughter unwound a scarf as bright as buttercups, Ilsa stooped to hoist a water jug from the floor. Shuffling the few steps to the mahogany dresser — her only piece of home — she tested the soil in the pots of African violets, then tipped the pitcher to each, careful to avoid drips on the hairy leaves. She shoved the pitcher out of sight between the chair and the nightstand where two more jugs stood.

“Should you be doing that?” Jeannie asked. “Walking on your own?”

“Am I on my own? I thought you were here?” The effort of easing back into the chair, of concealing her pain, squeezed the breath from her chest.

Mrs. Ridley flicked open a milky eye. “I need a drink, please. A drink of water.” The claw that reached over the blue blanket plucked at the air as though clutching at feathers.

Jeannie took a step toward Mrs. Ridley, her gaze swinging from one surface to the next and then finally descending to the hiding spot. “Oma!” She swooped toward the stainless steel water jugs.

“No!” Ilsa’s arm blocked her, but before they could resolve the standoff, the door whooshed open.

“Good morning, ladies.” Here was the fat nurse, the one who looked, Marta always said, like she’d been sucking on a radish. “Bernice? Let’s go listen to some lovely carols.” No answer from the lump in the next bed. Her eyes had fallen shut again. Only the twitch of fingers at the hem of her sweater gave her away. Mrs. Ridley. Bernice, in this place.

It puzzled Ilsa still to have her own name tossed around like a child’s toy. Ilsa, Ilsa. Like the bounce of a bright red ball. Good morning, Ilsa. Time for bed, Ilsa. Nice chicken for lunch today, Ilsa. For eighty-eight years she’d owned that name, but could count on her fingers the people who’d used it in her adult life. Even to her friends, she was Mrs Gartner. Mrs. Rolf Gartner, so there would be no mistake.

The first time Marta heard, she’d stormed to the nurse’s desk. Her voice so loud it carried down the hall and back into the room. “My mother’s name is Mrs. Gartner.” She’d come back to the room with a roll of tape, covered “Ilsa” on the name plate at the end of her bed and printed MRS GARTNER in big black letters. But still, she was Ilsa in this place. And did it really matter?

Mrs. Ridley — Bernice — was carted off moaning to listen to the Sunday school children sing. Poor little ones never knew what to do, where to look, when the moaners sang along.

Jeannie held aloft the bag she’d carried in. “I brought you something new.” Shaking the wrinkles from a pink shirt, and then pants, she draped them over her grandmother’s knees.

“What is this? Pyjamas?”

“No, for daytime. Fleece pants and a top. Very cosy and they won’t get wrecked in the laundry like your good dresses.”

Marta washes my dresses. Folds them every Sunday into a bag and brings them back on hangers on Wednesday. And my underthings, hand washed in Ivory soap, not thrown in a boiling machine with the smelly garments of strangers.

“Your mother takes my clothes.”
Jeannie knelt in front of her, crossing the arms of the shirt, tucking the cuffs one inside the other, and then finally looking up into her eyes. “Oma, Mom’s been gone for six months. I can’t do your laundry.”

“Who said you should? Just tell them to put my name in this new suit. Every day since that one came,” she jerked her chin at Mrs.Ridley, “I have to go into her closet and find the clothes she steals.”

“I talked with the nurses last week. They said your clothes are in your own closet. They say you’re the one who’s been snitching things.”

“I?” She sniffed, but let Jeannie take her hand. “What do they know?”

“Are they treating you well, Oma?” She sounded so sad, little Jeannie, but at the same time she sounded like her mother. She would stand up to the sour-faced nurse when the need arose.

“They do their job.” Ilsa shook her head. What could she say about living among strangers? “They come and go and when they’re here they worry about what’s happening at home. You should hear Marcella, the little Filipino girl, how she talks about her family.” Yesterday when she’d changed the sheets, Marcella had cried about her sister back home dying of cancer and no one to take her babies. She would have to go back to the Philippines herself, she said. “Likely even the fat one has troubles. How can we know what goes on in other people’s lives?”

Jeannie poked a wrist free of the heavy cuff on her jacket and looked at her watch. “I’m sorry to be in such a hurry, but I have to be at work at ten o’clock. Uncle Walter said he’d pop in this afternoon. Shall I take you to the lounge before I leave?”

Ilsa patted the fleecy pile on the bed. “I should maybe wear my lounging suit to go there?” Peering over the top of the wire frames, she let her glasses slide down her nose and looked up at the girl, coaxing a grin that reminded her more of the boys, of Walter and Bruno, than of Marta. Never before had she seen the old man in Jeannie’s eyes, but there he was smiling at her over his basket of apples where they stood together on the dock waiting for the big ships.

“Oma?” The hand covered hers like a shy glove. Ilsa Reinhold. Someday we’ll sail,  Rolf said. And so we did, but he landed me on a poor prairie farm with no well. Nor an apple nor an ocean in sight.

“Oma? Shall I wheel you to the lounge?”

“Lounge? Who has time to lounge?” Run to the garden and bring an onion and parsley for the soup. Her eyes were drawn to the window, to coloured bulbs strung on the juniper bushes. Christmas already? We should roll the springerle today.

Marta is holding both hands now, squeezing, forgetting that my knobbled bones are held together by sharp pins.

Ilsa winced and pulled away. “Oh, I’m sorry, Oma. I forgot about your poor hands. Look, I have to go but I’ll see you tomorrow. Christmas Eve, remember? The Handi-bus is bringing you to Walter and Lydia’s. I’ll make sure you get on, then follow you over.”

Marta is making Weihnnachten. Not Lydia!

Ilsa pushed away the hand on her arm. She felt the gentle kiss on her cheek, the rush of air when the door opened and closed, then she was alone. The shake of her head drip-dropped tears onto her wrists.

 

When she stirred, her neck was stiff from the lopsided sleep in the ugly chair. Mrs. Ridley was back. From across the room she heard snoring. Who brought that one here? Let her into the house?

“Ilsa? What are you doing, sleeping in the middle of the morning?” Marcella bent to her chair, eyes bright like a sparrow’s. “Time for lunch.”

The fat one came through the door. “Take Bernice,” she said. “I’ll bring Mrs. Gartner.” She pulled the curtain that divided the room, manoeuvred the wheelchair round and offered an arm as strong as any man’s. When Ilsa was seated, the nurse eased her own big bottom onto the green chair. “Your granddaughter says you’re unhappy. That you want a different roommate.”
From the other side of the curtain, Mrs. Ridley’s moans and Marcella’s encouraging chirps carolled the move from bed to chair and then out the door. A tide of voices in the hall rolled toward the smell of lunch, toward cream soup that hung from the spoon like wallpaper paste. “What is it about Mrs. Ridley that’s bothering you? You shared so nicely before with poor Mary …”

Snowflakes as big as fists clumped down outside the window. Or maybe just her glasses needed cleaning. She pulled them off with a shaky hand, one temple catching in her hair. When she reached up to free it from behind her ear her fingers puzzled at the bristly fringe on her neck. Mary? What is this woman talking about? There is no Mary here.

“So there’s nowhere to move you. You understand that, don’t you? These little problems between you and Mrs. Ridley will work out in the end.”

Oh, yes. Mrs. Ridley. She was to share her room with Mrs. Herbert Ridley. She slid her glasses onto her nose and stared into the pale eyes of the nurse. “In the end?” she said. “You mean when one of us dies?” Then she folded her arms, planted her feet on the rests of the wheelchair and waited for the fat one to take her to her lunch.

In the afternoon there were more visitors. Little girls trooping through the halls with flowers. This time both she and Mrs. Ridley had been shuttled from the dining room to the lounge, part of the sea of shipwrecked grey faces bobbing in their wheelchairs. In the drab room, the children were like bright cut-outs pasted onto a yellowed old photo.

When they were wheeled back to their room to nap, there was a poinsettia on Mrs. Ridley’s bedside table. Marcella held up a handmade card and waved it in front of Mrs. Ridley’s nose. “See, a nice present for you, Bernice. Merry Christmas from the 203 Brownie pack.” She picked a paper thimble of pills off the tray she’d carried in, then frowning, looked from the night table to the dresser. “Jesus in the garden! Your water’s gone again.”

Ilsa steered her chair to the window. The snow had stopped and on the street a long line of cars inched toward the traffic light at the corner.

The old man won’t drive to the city. He scarcely leaves his bedroom now. The only way I can visit with Marta or Walter is to catch a ride with a neighbour.

This morning she’d left her Bible on the window ledge, and she reached for it now.

“Ilsa, did you hide the water again?”

She absent-mindedly fingered the skein of wool in the pocket on the side of her wheelchair, ignoring the nurse rummaging around the room. If I double the yarn it will make warm mittens for Bruno.

There was a metallic clink behind her. “Bernice can’t hardly get out of bed never mind play hide-and-seek when she’s thirsty. Now you stop this, you hear?” Marcella’s footsteps moved round the bed, and she began to cajole Mrs. Ridley to swallow. Then the scolding tone warmed. “Look, Ilsa, here’s your son.”

“Hi, Mom.” The man crouched in front of her chair. He tapped the Bible that lay open on her lap. “A bit of evening devotion?” She blinked through the snow in front of her eyes. Here was Walter with a gift-wrapped package. “I brought chocolates for the nurses,” he said. He set the box on the floor and dug in the pocket of his overcoat. “For you, some peppermints.You can suck them while you pray.”

“I’m praying for patience to put up with that one. Listen to her yammering again about water.” She tapped the cover of the Bible. “Someone asked today how long since my husband’s gone, so I’m looking. I wrote it in the Bible.” When Walter leaned close to slip the roll of candy in beside her knitting, his jacket brushed her cheek. “Is it snowing?” she asked. “You smell of snow.”

Rocking back on his heels, he shook his head, tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Why the hell they couldn’t leave your braid… heads would roll if Marta was here.”

Ilsa pursed her lips to keep from telling him. Why make trouble even though she knows it was Walter’s Lydia who told that woman to cut her hair, when all she wanted was a washing. I heat water from the rain barrel for rinsing our hair. Mine and the two girls. The water from the well is too hard, so much iron that Annaliese’s blonde curls are streaked with rust.
Ilsa’s hand tugged at the stiff fan of hair over her ear. “Lydia,” she muttered.

“What?” Walter’s eyes behind the thick glasses were grey as the winter sky. When did Walter get glasses? On my side, everyone has good eyes. Only poor little Bruno with his lazy eye needs glasses for school.
Ilsa shook her head and turned the worn pages of the Bible. Bruno likes the coloured pictures in the middle. Elijah in his chariot of fire. I imagine myself aboard that chariot, the mane of the white horse streaming against crimson clouds, my best navy dress billowing in the wind, my hand raised in farewell.

“Mutti?” Walter slid the Bible from her knee and held it with his thumb marking her place. He leaned closer and spoke softly. “Jeannie phoned me this morning. She said you and the new lady don’t get along.”

Ilsa’s glance flew furtively to the other side of the room. She cupped a hand around his ear. “Old Lady Ridley,” she whispered. “From the home place.”

Walter looked toward Mrs. Ridley who sat swaying on the edge of her bed, mumbling. He shook his head. “Not. Those Ridleys must have passed away years ago.”

“It is!” she hissed. “Bernice Ridley. You look at the card at the end of the bed.”

“She was called Bernice? I only remember his name. Herbert Ridley, the old son-of-a-bitch.” He took one more look at Mrs. Ridley, shook his head again. “I don’t think so. And if it were, what does it matter now? They moved away when we were all still kids.” Then he paged through the Bible with his stout thumb. “14 Oktober, 1982. Rolf Freidrich Gartner ist gestorben.” He wrinkled his nose. “Is that right? I thought ’83.”

She rubbed her eyes. Who was it wanted to know? One of the nurses? Maybe the woman who sat beside her when the little girls in their brown dresses were singing. Always people asked where she was from, how many children, is there a husband.

Mrs. Ridley had managed to reach across the void between her bed and the table and drag the poinsettia onto her lap. She cradled it in her arms and poked at the dirt. “Dry as a bone,” she croaked. “Somebody bring me water! I need water.” Just as she toppled sideways, Marcella rushed back into the room. “Bernice! You’re squashing that pretty flower.” She held up a handful of red petal. “Oh, now look!”

The first summer on the farm at Bruderfeldt, I sowed seeds I brought from the old country and the scarlet tissue paper petals of the poppies danced in the wind. When two months passed without rain, Rolf hauled buckets of water from the slough to the vegetable patch, and I watched him from the window, him pouring the last of the pails around the poppies. A few days later, before I could harvest the seed, a hailstorm pounded the garden to a pulp and stripped the trees. But only our farm. The hail cut a swath the width of our land. Old Man Ridley had a fine crop of barley in the neighbouring field.

Ilsa shifted in her chair, trying to ease the ache in her bad hip. She’d been dozing again. If only it would stop, this sleep that crept up in the middle of business. What were they talking about, she and Walter? Oh yes. “Mrs. Ridley?” she called. Her neighbour was belted into the wheelchair, still clutching the potted plant. Marcella had left the room, but was not far away, her cheerful voice singing from the room across the hall. “Mrs. Ridley!” Ilsa called again. This time the woman looked up, her eyes a startling forget-me-not blue. “How long is your husband dead?”

The answer seemed to come from far away, but clear as a chime. “Why, he died in ’76. Dropped dead in the field. Found by Richard Fyffe, come to help with combining.”

Ilsa let her feet drop off the foot rests and walked her chair to the dividing line between the two halves of the room. “What was his name?”

The moment of calm was past, the tremor returning to shake Mrs. Ridley like a faded flower in the wind. Her hands fluttered and tangled in the leaves of the poinsettia. “Go away!” she wailed. “Leave me be! I’m dying!”

“Herbert was his name!” Ilsa shouted. “Herbert Ridley, who wouldn’t give a thirsty child a pail of water!” She looked frantically for Walter, to tell him it was so. She was locked here with Mrs. Herbert Ridley.

Fourteen days on the ship, all four children sick with measles and still so weak by the time we docked we were afraid we’d be kept behind, quarantined. But a kind doctor from the Red Cross convinced the immigration officer that we should be allowed to go on to the relatives who awaited us. Five days on the train, a month crowded into the tiny home of Rolf’s brother and then finally we had our own land. The well still to be dug, but the Englishman from whom we bought the farm — leaving after only a month because his wife and new baby died — told us that the neighbour, Ridley, welcomed him to draw as much water as he needed. Just a half mile down the road to his gate, an easy walk for the children, certainly for the three eldest. How was the Englishman to know that the gate opened only for the right names? That Ridley was still fighting the Battle of the Somme.

“His name was Herbert Ridley!” Ilsa shouted again.

Mrs. Ridley covered her eyes, shreds of peat soil clinging to her nails. “I don’t know you!”

When Walter and the mean-faced nurse ran into the room, Ilsa was at the window again, staring into the dusk.

 

Supper was ham, mashed potatoes and peas. Mrs. Ridley was not at the same table anymore but parked on the other side of the dining room. “See?” the afternoon nurse clucked when she steered Ilsa to her place. “We had to move poor Bernice because your son made a fuss. Just when she was starting to talk, and feel at home. Shame on you. You with your lovely family and she with nobody.”

Ilsa spooned the last of her rice pudding. Miserable stuff, but she had a sweet tooth, so she ate. She had her own teeth and a good appetite, not like some of these poor people who hung over the plates until someone came to mash a few peas past their lips. On each table was a tiny Christmas tree. Lydia would roast a goose for Christmas Eve, Walter said. Ilsa smacked her lips at the taste of memory. I will make the prune stuffing. None of the girls, not even Annaliese, can do it right. Lazy little Marta will try to hide in the barn with the kittens. And Walter wanting to go to Lydia’s after church instead of coming home to open the presents. That Lydia…

“Ilsa. Ilsa?” Someone was shaking her arm, talking about Lydia. Back in her room now, in the cold chair and the light so dim she could barely make out the shadow calling her name.

“Marcella?” Her voice sounded thick in her own ears.

“No, Marcella went home long time ago.” One of the night girls she didn’t know draped an afghan over her knees. “You’re so cold you’re shaking. I’ll be back in a minute and help you to bed. Your daughter-in-law phoned. Lydia. She said she made you an appointment in the morning with the hairdresser. How nice you’re going to look with your hair curled for Christmas. And so lucky to spend it with your family.”
My sisters all have curls. But my hair is white-blonde, strong and straight as the tail of a horse. Hair down to my hips. Each morning I fix it in a braid as thick as my wrist, then coil and pin it at the nape of my neck. Both Marta and Bruno are dark like Rolf. Walter and Annaliese are fair like me.
She licked her lips. The ham had left her with a terrible thirst, but she hadn’t the strength to drag the pitcher from the floor. Fumbling with the paper sleeve, she unwrapped her roll of peppermints and pressed one past her dry lips. The curtain between the beds was drawn.

Ilsa closed her eyes again, the blanket warming her legs, the Christmas lights outside the window bleeding the walls pink, and the taste of the candy sweet and fresh. From down the hall, there was a surge of music and then it grew faint. More Christmas carols, this time from the radio the nurses kept at the desk. Silent night… Heilige Nacht. She hummed, letting the sound swell in the room.

There was a stirring on the other side of the drape, the smacking click of dentures, a dry swallow, then a rising moan.

“Go to sleep, you mean old woman!” Alles schläft, einsam wacht… Ilsa’s voice was still strong, still a rich soprano.

“I need water! The pails are too heavy to carry. They’ll bring on the baby again.” Mrs. Ridley wailed like a lost child. “Too soon, too soon!”

“What do you know of babies? You chased my children away with the broom. Like chickens or stray dogs. All they wanted was a few pails of water from your well. Chased them like dogs!” Ilsa sat up and yanked open the drawer in her bedside table.”Four miles they had to walk. Little children. Walter carried Marta on his shoulders the last mile. His hands were raw from the wire on the pail.”

“All my babies dead before they were alive.” The curtain dividing them billowed as though a wind had entered the room. “And him, the mean old bastard, always stinking of manure and always on me.” The voice grew stronger, the room colder. “Wait a few months, the doctor said. Your wife needs to rest. But did he listen?”

Ilsa shuffled through hairpins and handkerchiefs. “Be still! How can I think with this racket going on? Where is my apron? I need to light the oven for the goose. Walter is coming home and Marta… Be quiet you old woman! Too mean to give children a pail of water!”

“On me every night like an animal!”

“Bernice! Ilsa!” The nurse swept the curtain aside, and stood between the beds. “Let me get you both settled or you’ll have everyone else in an uproar.” Frowning, she retrieved the water jug from the hiding place and filled their two glasses. She handed Ilsa the paper cup of pills, and the water. Mrs. Ridley had fallen back onto the pillow, her jaw slack. The nurse dumped the tablets into the yawning mouth, sloshed in water, then hoisted the woman to sitting just long enough to watch her swallow.

Within minutes, Ilsa’s dress was whisked over her head, the worn nightgown pulled on in its place, one last trip to the toilet and the light was dimmed. She lay breathless under the thin blanket, wishing only that Marta would remember one day to bring the featherbed from the farm. Down the hall the carols played on… Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh’, Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh’. And from the other bed she heard weeping.
“Oh sleep now, Mrs. Ridley,” she whispered. “Just sleep.”

They must look, Ilsa thought, like bookends the way they sat in their matching chairs. Mrs. Ridley in a fluffy blue robe, her hair brushed into a frizzy halo. Ilsa herself, like a traveller waiting for a bus, with her handbag in her lap, her good black coat bunched around her shoulders. She’d folded a triangle of grey wool over the fussy cap of curls, and knotted it under her chin to form a soft hood. She hoped Lydia would be satisfied when she saw this hair. How stupid she looked. She was sweating from the extra layer under her best silk dress. She could feel the ribbing on the sweatshirt bunched around her neck. When she lifted her foot onto the metal rest on the wheelchair, a pink cuff peeked out between the hem of her coat and the furry top of her winter boot.

“Good grief, Oma! How long have you been bundled up waiting?” Jeannie breezed into the room, slim and smart in a belted red wool coat.

“Jeannie!” Ilsa felt tears sharp as pinpricks. “Your Mutti, too, always looked so pretty in red.”

“Of course she did. She looked pretty in everything.” She touched the edge of her grandmother’s scarf. “And did you know you look like a wise little owl hiding in there. The Handi-bus is here, and I got your pills from the nurse.”

“When she was a girl, I made her a red coat. She and Bruno both so beautiful, so rosy-cheeked in red.”

Jeannie crouched in front of her and gently lifted her hands. “Oma, please don’t start on Bruno. You know Bruno died long ago. Long before I was born.”

Ilsa looked into the dark eyes of her granddaughter, eyes just like the two boys. “Of course I know this. I’m his mother. I was talking about his mittens. I knitted him a red scarf and mittens. Stop looking at me so serious.” She let her glasses slide down her nose. “I wore the suit you brought me.” When she looked down at her coat, she could see that the buttons were wrong. She’d missed the bottom two. This was why one side of the collar caught on her scarf each time she moved her head. She fumbled with stiff fingers.

Jeannie leaned over and began to undo the buttons. “I see that. Did you know that people wear those suits without anything over top?”

Ilsa shook her head. “Not on Christmas Eve.”

Jeannie tugged the collar smooth. “The only bad news is that Aunty Annaliese probably won’t get here tonight. Big snowstorm in Toronto and the airport’s closed, maybe until tomorrow. Bad timing for the holiday travellers.”

There was a sigh from Mrs. Ridley’s chair.

“Oma,” Jeannie whispered. “Isn’t Mrs. Ridley going anywhere for Christmas?”

She shook her head again, a finger to her lips. “No family. She lost so many babies. It broke her heart.”

Jeannie stared at her. “How do you know that?”

Ilsa flipped her wrist at Mrs. Ridley, struggling with the other hand to help Jeannie with the last button. “She told me.”

“SHE told you?”

“Well of course. She tells everything. Talks all day and all night too, you should know by now.”

Mrs. Ridley’s head drooped. She snored softly.

“See how tired she is. She has to sleep all day because she talks all night.”

“I know she talks, Oma, but I didn’t think you listened. You told Uncle Walter she’s someone you knew from the farm. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Ilsa set the brakes on her wheelchair and inched forward on the seat. “Maybe she isn’t who I thought.” When she rose out of the chair, Jeannie offered an arm, but she leaned on it only a moment before she took the few steps to the window sill. There was still one hidden pitcher, this one tucked days ago behind the drapes. She bore it across the room in both hands, taking steps like a child just learning to walk, breath ragged by the time she reached Mrs. Ridley’s bedside table. She set the jug next to the poinsettia, then grasped the edge of the table with one hand, the arm of Mrs. Ridley’s chair with the other. Bernice Ridley opened her blue eyes. Ilsa released the hand on the table letting her weight lean on her good hip so that she could stand straight. She felt so tall, so heavy beside this ghost of a woman. Jeannie was behind her now with the wheelchair.

When she felt the gentle nudge of the chair on the back of her knees, she let the girl guide her into the seat. Then she leaned forward, her palm outstretched.

Frohe Weihnnachten, Frau Ridley.”

A thin white hand rose to meet hers. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Gartner.”

 

March 21, 2014

Why Launch This Book in a Church?

Filed under: News and events,Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 2:52 pm

Book Launch

a family by any other name: EXPLORING QUEER RELATIONSHIPS

 Saturday April 26th 2:00 PM

Lutheran Church of the Cross

10620 Elbow Dr. S.W.  Calgary

 

I think, in fact I know, from several comments I’ve received, that the venue for this book launch is a bit of a puzzle to many who’ve seen the promotion or received invitations. Why hold this celebration at a mainstream Protestant church when so many Lutheran congregations are still rejecting, or conflicted over the Human Sexuality Resolutions passed by the National Church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in 2011?

Why on earth include a statement of welcome on the invitation that says:  Come as you are, with an open mind and heart. God will stretch and renew us, for we already know storytelling transforms us.

Has the shunning and the pain inflicted by churches – in the name of God – on the LGBT community not been enough to render such an invitation and the venue offensive?

In fact, that welcoming statement is part of the invitation Church of the Cross has extended to all the other Lutheran Churches in the city (none of which are affirming,) other churches within our southwest community, and to affirming Anglican and United churches in Calgary.

But again, back to — why the church? The short answer (the long answer is in my essay) is that my story ends in this place.  A selfish motive, and a suggestion that was initially questioned by my friend and reading partner for this launch, Dale Lee Kwong.  But Dale, gracious and accepting woman that she is, handed this over to me and I am grateful both to her, and to Touchwood Press and Bruce Gillespie who, if they had reservations held them back.

The open arms with which Pastors Laura and Phil Holck responded to my request to hold the launch in the sanctuary at our/my church sealed my conviction that this was the place we needed to be.

I contemplated removing the mention of God’s renewal on the promotion that will go out to other communities for fear of offending potential audience members who are atheists, agnostics, non-Christians.  But then I remembered that the secular world is far ahead of the Christian church on many issues of acceptance and inclusiveness.  Respect, do not judge, accept one another as we are, are some of the basic tenets that keep my faith alive.

The readings and the Q&A moderated by Jonathan Brower will be held in the sanctuary and I am praying for a Saturday when the stained glass windows are streaming with light.  There will be refreshments – basic requirements of both launches and all Lutheran events. There will be books for sale. An anonymous donor has offered to contribute $2 for every book sold to the church’s Families in Need fund or whatever other cause our pastors can suggest that speaks to inclusiveness.

I feel so honoured to have my story, a mother’s story, included in this anthology that at times I’ve felt that I should just be grateful and quiet. Quiet does not come naturally to me. And I have been reminded by the wise and comforting Dale, that the acronym is frequently LGBTA, the A standing for allies.  I am an ally and so is my church. We will welcome you with open arms.

I suggested to Dale that maybe opening with a prayer for peace and justice would be appropriate and maybe a song that I love on that same theme could close the event. Here, she finally asserted herself and in retrospect, I know she was right on this call.

But this is my own page, we are not in a church and I do want to share a verse from that hymn, “Light Dawns on a Weary World”: “The trees shall clap their hands/the dry lands, gush with springs/the hills and mountains shall break forth with singing/ We shall go out in joy/and be led forth in peace, as all the world in wonder echoes shalom.”

Shalom,

Betty Jane

 

March 7, 2014

Oblivion

Filed under: News and events,Random Musings on many things,Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 5:40 pm

I have avoided writing all but the occasional book review  for most of my writing life, and writing a theatre review has truly never crossed my mind. But after seeing “Oblivion” workshopped at the U of C yesterday, I’m going to set aside my reluctance to do a review for which I have no credentials at all, and give you my play-goer’s reaction.  Unfortunately, today was the last performance of Oblivion, but I have no doubt at all that there will other opportunities to see this play, so I’m urging you to remember the play and the playwright — Oblivion by Jonathan Brower.  Store it in one of the accessible files in your brain even if all you can recall when you hear it mentioned again is that it was highly recommended.

I attended the play primarily because the playwright, Jonathan Brower, will be moderating the Calgary launch of A Family by Any Other Name; Exploring Queer Relationships, at which Dale Kwong and I will be reading, and which my home church will be hosting.

Oblivion: A Workshop Production, introduces Tim, a gay man raised in the evangelical church who is struggling with the inner conflict between his faith and his sexuality while contemplating a radical vaccine that would eliminate his ‘religious gene.’

For a more lengthy description of the play and playwright visit the Gauntlet’s website: http://www.thegauntlet.ca/story/reconciling-faith-and-sexual-orientation

But here’s the story from the perspective of this member of yesterday’s audience:

Tim, the young gay man portrayed in the play is torn — in fact, his church and his friends in the secular world, are pulling so hard in opposite directions that I believed so completely in the character that I could feel those arms grabbing/pulling/insisting.

There is the religious world, an evangelical pastor, Quinn, who runs a program to restore people like Tim (who is on the “Path to Perversity”) to heterosexuality, insisting that this is the only way that he will remain acceptable in God’s eyes. Quinn admits that Tim’s attraction to other males will never go away, but he will simply have to suppress it either through celibacy or in a relationship with a woman.

The secular world, embodied in Tim’s friend, Simone, insists that the only thing standing in his way to becoming the person he’s meant to be, is the hurt that his church has inflicted on him, and the faith that he continues  to cling to.  She has found the answer for him; an experimental vaccine that will rid him of his “religious gene.”

The play brings remarkable authenticity to the disparate influences in Tim’s life.  It also sensitively portrays Tim’s relationship with Morgan, the one person who understands what’s tearing Tim apart and whose love for Tim is stronger than either of the two sides working so fiercely to claim him.

The vacccine, of course, only heightens Tim’s suffering and confusion. Simone will not be pleased with Tim’s response, and Quinn, by the end of the play is on her knees weeping, pleading with God  Because I am a Christian, and I understand very well the struggles of the church in accepting and affirming, I appreciated and was touched by the anguish of Quinn’s prayers in the end, pleading with God to show her what’s she done wrong in failing to bring Tim back into the fold.

For me, this play was perfectly balanced.

As the mother of three children I love with all my heart, Tim’s struggle reminded me of our our daughter’s coming out and the deep well of courage she tapped into in doing so.

As a Christian, a member of a church that wrestled with acknowledging that sexual orientation is not a choice, with accepting the iblessing of same-sex marriages, and with affirming these beliefs by ordaining clergy without prejudice toward sexual orientation, I anguished with Quinn in her pleading with God to help her understand.

In Morgan’s steadfastness, I saw my daughter and her partner’s deep love for another and the commitment to their marriage.

I offer Jonathan congratulates and thanks for creating this important piece of theatre, and applaud the wonderful actors who brought it to life. Bravo.

Jonathan we will be blessed by your company on April 26th.

No matter more where you stand– gay or straight, believer or non-believer — I  urge you to read A Family by Any Other Name, and what better place to buy your copy than at the Calgary launch.  Don’t trust the files in your mind, write this one down:

Book Launch: A Family by Any Other Name   Saturday, April 26  2:00 PM at Lutheran Church of the Cross 10620 Elbow Dr. SW

Readings by Dale Lee Kwong and Betty Jane Hegerat.  Q&A moderated by Jonathan Brower who we hope will be an active contributor to the discussion.  Refreshments.  Book sales.  We expect the audience to include members of the LGBT community, members of the hosting church, and other affirming congregations as well those in churches who still struggle. As always, we expect members of the writing community, who support one other in inspiring ways. Imagine the opportunity for discussion. Come.

February 23, 2014

Poste Restante

Filed under: Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 10:50 am

The flotsam and jetsom  of life wash ashore and sometimes compel us to act upon them, even 30  years later.  Last week I ordered a stone for the foot of my mother’s grave — something my sister and I have talked about doing for years. I had a strong aversion, an avoidance of cemeteries, for many years and it took me more than a dozen years to visit my parents’ graves.  And when I did, I stood there stunned to see that the woman in the grave next to my dad’s, the Martha we knew, had a headstone with the surname of her second husband. They were married for 8 years. She and my dad had 35 years together before he died. My sister and I vowed that we would make this right  some day.  Neither of us wanted to broach the subject with the second husband with whom we had no more contact than a card or phone call at Christmas. Our relationship had always been strained.  I think we were waiting for his death. Unfortunately, my sister died first, and after her death my brother-in-law reminded that Sharon and I had vowed we’d have that stone in place before summer came again.

That bit of story has provoked a number of people to tell me that I must write this story.  Personal essay.  Short story, fiction. No, I said, this is barely an anecdote. It has a beginning and an ending  and I do not want to re-open the baggage packed into the middle.  But I have written  snippet of it in this short piece, “Poste Restante”,  published in Freefall Volume XXI Number 2 Fall 2011.  Thanks again, Freefall.

Poste Restante   

  Salzburg Oct. 19, 1977

 At a sidewalk café, butterscotch light spilling across cobblestones, me with coffee and strudel, you with pretzels and a mug of dark beer, we open mail from home. A whiff of my mother’s hand lotion rises from the page.

Hope you kids are having a grand time. Remember to look up those names I gave you, I’m sure my cousin Ilsa is still alive even though nobody’s heard from her in years. And that little restaurant Daddy and I found in Frieberg in 1963. The man’s name was Otto. He’ll remember us because his wife had a sister over here and living in Red Deer no less.

Now my news. Henry and I are buying a house. We’ll get married eventually, but for now I think it’s best if we just live together. Your sister’s not talking to me. When did you say you were coming home?

 My nieces have decorated my sister’s letter with rainbows and hearts.

 I wish we could afford to take three months like you, but with the kids, a week in the tent trailer at Sylvan Lake is all I can count on. Mom doesn’t have time to babysit these days. She’s living with Henry. Not even two years since Dad died.

 The pages of the letters crackle as I fold them into the envelope.

 “Anything new at home?” you ask.

 “Nope.” I fork up a bite of strudel. “Where’s out next poste restante?”

 “Venice.”

 A month away.

February 7, 2014

Remembering the Gentle Men in My Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 2:02 pm

 I’ve had a hard time reading fiction for some time now, because I’m finding violence, anger, tragedy are not the prescriptions I need.  Perhaps it was ever so, but it does seem to me that there is a trend in literature – both books and literary magazines – toward the edgy, toward stories that disturb and unsettle.  And in my recent samplings, particularly stories that portray men as violent and brutish toward women and children.

 Yes, I do live in the real world, and I spent enough of my social work years working in child welfare services to know there is truth in the stories I’m reading. And I did come of age in the late 60s, and dove into the second wave of feminism, the gospel of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, and the struggle for gender equality.  But the lense through which I viewed feminism was not one coloured by hatred of men, but one that saw and railed against gender inequities in our patriarchal society.

Most significantly though, and it’s taken me many years to acknowledge, I never perceived individual men as the enemy, but rather as victims as well in a society in which they were expected to be as stereotypically “male” as women were expected to be “ladies” and know their place.

I won’t claim that I was “lucky” to grow up in an extended family of kind and encouraging men, because I think every child deserves those parents, and uncles and aunts. But nevertheless I am grateful for them. Probably more grateful than I’ve been at any point in my life because of the deaths in 2013 of the last two of my eight uncles on my dad’s side of the family. (Fortunately, the one sister in that family, my Aunt Bonnie, continues to be a loving presence although I haven’t seen her in many years)

 These men were first generation Canadians, the children of German immigrants but none of them the stereotypical cold, strict, unyielding German Mann. Neither was my grandfather, who died when I was only five years old, but who I remember as having the same warm presences as his sons.

 My uncles were hardworking, honest men, involved with their families, and full of laughter and kindness.  My dad was a gentle, loving father who never hesitated to show his pride in his daughters’ achievements Ironically, my mother, although we never doubted her love, was more stern, and like many mothers of her generation believed that to compliment a child would, God forbid, create a swelled head, a conceited child.  Her two brothers were also caring men, although one was tormented by a mental illness that sadly was not diagnosed until he was well into his 70s and whose anger and frustration were born by his family.

 I married a man who, though in many ways quite unlike my dad, has the same gentleness, the kindness, and aversion to violence.  I am proud, and never hesitant to say that the three children we raised have grown into a young woman and two young men with those characteristics that I cherish.  Nature or nurture? Some of both.  While there are some men in my own fiction who are  unfaithful, cruel, “broken”, they are not main characters, and I struggle in every store to find redemption. And I continue to look for stories with a grain of hope.

So to the men in my life:  uncles, beloved husband, my precious sons, I will say that I think not only literature but societal attitudes often give you the short end of the stick.  Stay gentle and loving.  You are the men that all of us strive to raise.

 To my Uncle Bill and my Uncle Cyril whose loss I’ve felt deeply this past year, you remain in my heart with all of your brothers.

 Image

 My dad, the eldest son, is seated to the right of my grandfather. My Uncle Alvin next to my grandmother. In the back row, R to L

Uncle Wes, Uncle Milton, Uncle Bill, Aunt Bonnie, Uncle Lorne, Uncle Clem, Uncle Cyril.

November 27, 2013

However did I come to have so many wise friends?

Filed under: Random Musings on many things — bettyjanehegerat @ 4:36 pm

Please don’t read this post and think that I’m calling up to you from the basement of Despair.  It’s all about seeking and I hope there will never cease to be mysteries, puzzles, or simply questions.  That I will never believe that I have found all that I need to know. And while it all sounds rather glum, these wise words that resonate for me are almost always part of an encounter filled with joy and laughter and gratitude for the countless blessings for which I give thanks.

I am blessed with a circle of many wise friends, and have gleaned so many simple bits of advice from them and various other sources that  apply to life in general, and some to life more immediate.  hey pop into mind at times when I need to be reminded, so I decided that I would keep a list, and I decided because my webpage hasn’t has any random musings in … oh, at least a week, that I would share them with you.

It has been pointed out to me by a very wise woman I was fortunate enough to find when I first realized that I was suddenly in a dark and frightening place, that I seem to have been “gifted” with a walloping  measure of compassion. Our brains, she said, are like big sponges.  They can absorb a whole lot of both the big and the small sorrows we experience, or for which feel empathy our friends, or sometimes for people we’ve never even met, just heard about, or read about.  I have no doubt that herein lay my motivation for choosing social work as a career.  And herein is also  one of the roots of a period of anxiety and depression over which I feel I’m finally gaining some control. Or as much as I need.  That need to be in control … what a curse.

So to keep it simple, so many words that have helped:

Grief is like a  Russian matryoshka doll.  You open the fresh grief, and nestled inside is another and another and another.  (from my wise friend, Catherine Fuller)

 Put on your own oxygen mask first.  (another of Catherine’s)

Anxiety is a feeling looking for a home. (I can’t find the original source, but cautionary advice from someone who has helped to keep me on my feet)

Grief is normal, natural and necessary.  And so are tears. (this one from several wise ones)

Remember that healing in grief is heart-based, not head-based.  (from the same wise woman who cautioned about anxiety’s home-seeking)

To those who tell you to “get over it, we all have bad times” or “it’s been months now, surely you’re not still weeping” use whatever expletive feels best in telling them to get lost.   Advice to myself from experience and giving myself permission to say exactly what I feel.

From my aunt, who I watched move graciously around the room after my mother’s funeral, consoling, and urging everyone to eat – the answer in my family to a lot of problems—when I asked her how she learned to do this so well.  “It’s just through experience, sweetheart, and I’ve had a lot of experience. You will too.”

It seems to me that at least part of this life is learning to let the anguish, grief, horror, and sorrow  of life wash over us — or maybe through us — without letting it claim us. …I’m sure the ebb and flow of these days is part of a deep river of mercy….and that all will be well. (from Pastor Laura who is there to help me find the peaceful place in my heart when I so often need to go there)

 “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”  ― Anne Lamott from Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

And finally, from Robert, and each of my three wonderful children who regularly ask, How are you doing, Mom? And who really do want to know.

 Oh, I know there are books full of the obvious bits of wisdom that suddenly leap off the page at us as profound, but for now, this is what I feed on in that tradition of my family that for every trouble of sorrow, there is a casserole, an apple pie, or a loaf of bread to be delivered.  And as long as I show no signs of lack of appetite, please know that I’m “okay.’  :)

June 6, 2011

Taking The Boy home: Stettler Public Library June 14

Filed under: Uncategorized,Virtual Tour Stops — bettyjanehegerat @ 11:50 am

On Tuesday, June 14, I will be at the Stettler Public Library talking about and reading from The Boy, and I am thrilled to have this opportunity. Throughout the writing of The Boy I have been keenly aware that the real story, that of the Cook murders, and the Cook family themselves, belong to the community of Stettler. The library, the museum, various members and former residents of the community have generously shared information and memories. What an honour it will be to take the story home and take along my gratitude for the support I was shown in the writing.
Tuesday, June 14 at the library, from 6:00 – 8:00 PM.

March 21, 2011

The Boy — where it began

Filed under: Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 9:46 am

I am not savvy at all in matters of technology.  But on the other hand, when I have a creative idea– in this case, the notion that I wanted to post audio clips of readings from The Boy on my own webpage to coincide with some blog-hopping I’ll do later in April– I will doggedly persist.  To those who are techno-smart, this will seem like small change, but I’m thrilled to be able to post a wee preview here! 

February 28, 2014

Head vs. Heart

Filed under: Random Musings on many things,Stories,Uncategorized — bettyjanehegerat @ 2:30 pm

When I was in the throes of writing The Boy, I told my sister that this was a challenging book to write, not just because of the subject but because I’d been convinced that in order to tie the fiction and non-fiction together, I needed a third thread — memoir.  And I was terribly uncomfortable writing about myself.  She looked at me wisely, as older sisters are prone to do, and said that she had always had the feeling that I was hiding in the heart of all of my fiction, and how was this different.

In its own difficult  way, adding the personal to that hybrid has helped me to get past the boundaries I’d  built into my writing.  Personal essay, or simply “spilling my guts” (as I’ve described it to my family) in posts like this seems to demand to be written.

When I saw the call for submissions for A Family by Any Other Name, edited by Bruce Gillespie and forthcoming from Touchwood Books in April  http://www.touchwoodeditions.com/book_details.php?isbn_upc=9781771510547  I didn’t hesitate to write about my reaction to our daughter’s coming out, or the way in which it challenged my faith.  I sent the essay to Elisabeth before I submitted it and asked if she and Barb would be comfortable having this story out in the world.  Of course, she answered, but you know, you made me cry.  I believe she said the same thing when I asked for her reaction to a very short piece of “fiction” that I was hoping to include  in my collection of short stories, A Crack in the Wall.  When I look at both pieces now, I see myself perhaps even more clearly in the fiction, which sprang from my surprise that my heart had a different reaction to Elisabeth’s coming out than my head. The essay, writing as myself, from the heart, helped me follow the path to the point of “Finding My Grace.”

Simply because the book and the story have been a long time relegated to “back list” status, I think “Stitches” needs to come into the light one more time.  So here, with my thanks to Oolichan Books for permission to reprint is “Stitches.”  http://www.oolichan.com/hegerat-a-crack-in-the-wall

Stitches

 

 

There is a knot in the thread. So close to the end of the hem, the woman pauses to tug each stitch through the fine cloth.

These are her mother’s hands, her grandmother’s hands. Always stitching.  Christening gown, plaid jumper for first day of school, red velvet Christmas frock, graduation dress, wedding gown, christening gown. Sewing the lives of daughters. 

          The girl on the floor squares her shoulders, braces palms on either side of blue-jeaned legs and drinks a deep breath. “I have to tell you something,” she says on the exhalation.

          The fabric puckers. “I wish I had a finer needle, and lighter thread,” the woman says. “I wish you’d asked me to do this when I got here yesterday instead of when I’m halfway out the door.”    

          “Mom! Will you just listen?”

           The daughter’s voice stumbles over words. The mother’s vision blurs. She crosses her knees to bring the work closer, head bent to the needle. Measures her stitches smaller, tighter.

 She wants to cover the soft lips with her palm, to say No telling is needed. While you were at your class this morning I did what visiting mothers do.  I tidied and snooped. But it seems she’s sewn her tongue to the roof of her mouth. 

 

A photo frame lay flat, folded, face down. It’s usual position, upright, drawn in clean lines on the dusty desk top. She’d picked it up and tilted the glass to the sweep of window in this twenty-second floor student apartment, sunlight turning the faces in the picture to spangles.

          A triptych of two girls. No. Two women. In the first frame both squint solemnly into the distance, in the second they smile their secret to the camera, and in the third unabashedly into one another’s eyes. Telling this mother what she already knew.

 

The girl is still again. So quiet the room, the sound of the last stitch piercing the cool skin of fabric is audible.

          How to keep the wrong words from exploding. Bouncing off the wall of light and ricocheting around the room.

How to say thank you for telling me.

          When she stands to gather her girl into her arms, the dress refuses to slide free, dances instead from where she’s stitched it to her lap.

          In a minute she will pick up the scissors. Snip her daughter free. Stitch by stitch.


 

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