Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Aunt Herta

Herta Judith Voth. 

A life lived.  A woman who did so much on her terms, but always in conversation with her God.  She was devout and she was determined.  A formidable combination.  Three weeks ago her family and many friends, from different parts of the world, celebrated her life.  She was my aunt, the aunt of all of my cousins and our children.  Our family history has been changed.

January 3, 1923  (born in eastern Russia) to January 23, 2012, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  Manitoba and Canada welcomed my grandparents and their three young children in 1925, fleeing the Revolution, banditry, a lost life.  Springstein, Manitoba became their home.  My growing up years were filled with Springstein and Manitoba stories; the lore included stories of my mother's older sister, Herta, who was instrumental in rescuing my unconscious two year old mother from the horns and hooves of an angry bull. It would have been interesting to view that encounter -- the bull and Herta and the body of a young child.  The young child survived, thanks to Herta's rescue, the skills of a local man, a Hutterite who had amazing healing skills, and care from her family.  Ultimately, the bull did not.

Herta was an awe-inspring figure in my eyes.  Coming in and out of my younger life, she presented a challenge.  This woman wasn't full of frivolity.  Her life was always focused, always with a goal in mind, and young nieces, of which I was one of several, had to think about their place in the world and act accordingly. When my younger sister and cousin had a good time checking through Herta's belongings in her bedroom one afternoon, I, as the older sister/cousin, was the one taken to task for not managing them. She wasn't unkind, just had already had so many unique and demanding experiences that we must have seemed a bit careless to her.  Her training as a nurse, at the Misericordia Hospital in Winnipeg, was an excellent career choice for a smart, focused and determined young woman. I remember her care-giving skills in our house when my youngest brother, Joe, was born, and my own mother faced several health and healing challenges.  Again, my need to whine about a life event that must have seemed frivolous; in this case, a rotten grade 7 class picture (with one eye closed and my hair pinned up all goofy) was no need to complain when there were so many more important things in life that deserved complaint... tell that to a girl in grade 7!!

Her love, however, was deep and wide, just like the song said.  Love, concern and caring for parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, the indigenous peoples of Panama and Colombia in her working/nursing/missionary years, the Mennonite communities of Bolivia in her "retired" years.  Animal life (the bats who lived in her jungle home; the kittens and cat she brought with her on the journeys so they could keep the mouse/rat population down; stories of pythons who lived in family homes in the jungle, an accepted part of life), her "grand" nieces and nephews, her adopted children and grandchildren, friends from the Latin American community in Winnipeg and elsewhere, and the list is much longer than I will ever know.

When I became an adult, she and I were companionable.  Her invitation to me, when I was 17 or 18, to visit her in Panama didn't fit into my life's plans at the time - I was heading towards University in the autumn, but I realize now I was scared of the possibilities of that visit.  Too bad.  Might have been a life changing event.  But that's the road I didn't take, so when she "retired" from her work in Panama and settled (if you can call it that) in Winnipeg, we had a chance to become better acquainted.

She loved the hot, dry weather.  She enthused one hot August day, when the temperatures were close to 40 Celcius, about the gorgeous hot wind.  She loved to be useful, no sitting around.  In her mid to late 70s, she came to our home twice a week to help me with our three little children, the boys being 3 months old at the time.  She sat with them, rocking them in their little seats, encouraging an afternoon nap so I could fall into a deep and dark sleep for an hour.  This probably saved my (mental) life at that point, given that the two dudes were party boys at night.  She took Nicole with her on the plan to Ontario to spend time with my parents, so I could focus on our boys. She spent her nights with my cousin Ken and his family, when he was coping with cancer. I know she also spent nights with Tinaye, her adopted grandson.  Energy enfused with drive and love was a major characteristic.

She also made me good and mad at times, not including the need to keep my sister and cousin more gainfully occupied!  Telling me, in different words, but telling me, that I needed to grow up a little bit wasn't necessarily what I wanted to hear.  We were part of a large group of family and friends who celebrated her life in late January and many people shared their particular and unique involvement with Herta.  Her life was rich indeed -- we were blessed to be part of it, her energy is part of our large family structure and will continue with the current and future generations.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Brig. I really enjoyed reading it. I, too, enjoyed getting to know Herta in my adulthood. I have an old wooden trunk of hers that went to Panama and back and I love looking at the old labels and lettering. In recent years, I interviewed her a couple of times to learn more about the "old days" in Russia, the stories she remembered being told by her parents, and her own experiences in her youth in Manitoba. She had a vivid memory! I'll miss her but I am glad her pain and suffering are over.