January 1964. Clara died.
Annie was pretty good at figuring out how life worked, but Mum had always helped to give her a compass. Martin was a good father, but he would now have to figure out how to be both parents to his daughter, as well as find a new life for himself.
Ottawa was known for potholes, and not all of them were in the streets.
January 24, 1964 – Anna
Today wasn’t a regular winter day. It was raining. Perhaps that replaced the tears. Mum was dead. I’d missed her passing yesterday. She’d told me I had to keep up my classes, and told Dad he had to keep up his job – he’s a research scientist at the Communications Research Centre in the west end of Ottawa – and I was at the University - second year physics. I got home last night after class, and Dad said the hospital called to say she’d died.
We just stood there for a few minutes.
“What do we have to do?” I asked.
“The hospital said the funeral home would take care of things. I’d already talked to McGarry, so I phoned and left a message there. They’ll pick up Mum’s body.”
“Mum said she’d already picked out her coffin. I found that a bit ... uncomfortable.” I said.
“I think she wanted to save us having to think about that. McGarry put on his best face when she insisted on the cheapest one.”
“It sort of makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.”
“It’s OK to cry.” Dad said so quietly I thought he already was in tears, but I think they were, like mine, all on the inside.
“I know. But somehow ... I don’t know. It’s not there right now.
It’s not that I don’t feel anything. Almost that there’s too much feeling.” I said.
That was yesterday. This morning Dad and I had bumped around the house, wondering what to do. There was both a lot to do and nothing to do. The funeral wasn’t until Monday. McGarry would take care of things – and charge a pretty penny for it, of course.
We’d phoned everyone we should, even the people in Belgium in the early hours of this morning so it would be breakfast-time there. Actually “the people in Belgium” were Joop and Wil in Gent. They would let other family and friends know, though there was also a list of addresses, in fact a set of envelopes that Mum – Clara – had already prepared, right down to stamps.
I’d felt a surge of anger – she was too organized. You shouldn’t prepare so carefully for your own death. And I know it’s selfish of me, but she’d left us.
As if she had a choice.
The anger subsided as quickly as it came.
Finally, around lunchtime, we decided to go to work or school. We’d been going nuts at home, and we were starting to get cabin fever. So finally we decided to treat the day as if it were a normal one, whatever that is.
April 1, 1964 – Anna
It’s my birthday. I’m 20 – 2 decades. Anna Louisa Joos, a.k.a. Annje a.k.a. Annie Tremblay. Orphan Annie – the Germans shot my father in early September 1944, or was it the end of August. Then their mine blew me into a bush and Mum into the ditch with Martin, and killed his two RAF buddies in the truck. That’s what Mum told me. And Martin came back in 1947 and became my Dad. This morning there was a card and a box of chocolates – Black Magic – on the breakfast table.
So maybe I’m not such an orphan. But Mum died this year, and I miss her. Today especially, but my eyes are dry. I don’t seem to be able to cry, even though something tells me I should be bawling. Or having a sort of tantrum. What was it Mum called it in Flemish – huilbui.
And I can’t afford to contemplate my navel. It’s just about exam time and I want to do well. It’s sort of my memorial to Mum. I’ve got to do well and get good marks and a good scholarship to grad. school for a Ph. D.
There were some nice boneless pork chops in the fridge. When Dad got home we fried them with some onions, and they went nicely with some mashed potatoes and some green beans. At this time of year, the beans came out of the freezer, but they were OK. And Dad had bought a nice cherry pie from a local bakery, to which we added a scoop of ice cream. Not fancy, but it suited me for today. Maybe next year I’ll feel more like a party.
I had some study to do, but we took a bit of time to have some tea later in the evening. I didn’t feel really sad. Nor happy. Kind of numb and marking time, emotionally at least. Maybe it was the same for Dad.