So I looked at my first husband about a year ago (obviously I’ve looked at him more frequently than that!) and talked about his dying. He’s not dying. I’m not dying, but I thought we should discuss it.
“When you’re gone; when your brother’s gone, your family story will go with you,” I started. “Our own kids know your family story but our grandchildren don’t. And our great grandchildren won’t.”
He agreed that was likely true.
His family story is remarkable and over the years I’ve written about their middle-of-the-night escape from their beautiful war-torn country, chased by communism which threatened the lives of people who were educated, who had jobs, who owned property… all expectations of most Canadians.
And so they escaped, with a small satchel and their two year old son in their arms, hiding in the bushes at a seashore until they could board boats to take them out to a fishing boat and make their way to Gotland, and subsequently to Sweden.
This decision meant no grandparents for their one son and the subsequent son who was born in a refugee camp in Stockholm. (That’s my first husband!) It meant they never saw their siblings again; they had no photographs, no mementos, no treasures to pass along.
They arrived in Canada in 1949 with their two boys, their ability to work hard, and a tremendous appreciation for freedom. It was hard. Their educations were not recognized here. They had to learn English as best they could. And they built a life, raised their sons, celebrated the arrival of their grandchildren, and were able to return to visit their drab, damaged homeland once before they died.
It’s a remarkable story and I think it’s part of the sinew that runs through our family. I think it’s a story that should be told. I think it’s a story our children, and grandchildren should understand and pass along.
And so we turned to the remarkable Debbie Marks whose video production company, Marks in Time, captures all kinds of stories. Debbie has welcomed our involvement as we found photographs, as we travelled to Sweden and Latvia to shoot our own video for her to incorporate into our family documentary. She has guided us with questions; she has stimulated our thinking; she has painstakingly immersed herself in the story so she can capture and reflect this journey from refugee to citizen… all too common today.
Because we needed to do much research, this hasn’t been a quick project. In between, Debbie has recorded the stories of other Barrie residents, some whose work and lives have influenced this city; others whose stories are recorded because their lives are prematurely short. She has worked with clients to produce videos for celebrations of life, for anniversaries, for life moments of achievement.
For us, Debbie is very close to completion and we are excited to have the journey of courage and hope to share with the third generation of the original refugee family.
We feel blessed to have been able to contribute to the final edited version of what we’re calling The Great Escape.