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My mother was born Ursula Elizabeth Erna Gertrude on February 16, 1934 in Gronau, Germany – five years prior to the outbreak of World War II. Gronau is south of Hamburg in what was a very rural area of Germany back then. She grew up in Gronau and lived there through the war years. After the war was long over and she was in her teens, she moved to Heidelberg where she was employed as a nanny for an American serviceman and his wife. She fell in love with an American doctor whom she was to marry when his tour of duty in the Korean War ended but he was subsequently killed. She emigrated to Canada after his death and married our father in October 1956. She was a homemaker all of her married life and into her widowhood after my father died in an accident in 1976. She was a devoted mother to her four children. I recall one bitterly cold winter day when I was in second grade and my brother in first grade when she showed up at school to walk us home. To protect us from the biting winter wind, she tucked us under her muskrat fur coat and off we went. I’m sure passersby must have been amused to see this young woman with her bright auburn hair, and four small pair of legs visible under her coat toddling along with her own two legs.
When we arrived home from school, she would often be found sitting in the kitchen, paintbrush in hand eyeing a canvas she was working on – she was an accomplished painter in oils and an artist. There was often fresh baking on the kitchen counter: German apple cake, yeast buns or chocolate pudding cake.
My mother would regale us with stories of her own childhood that made us, her four children – myself, Evelyn; my brother, Ralph, and my two younger sisters, Elva and Karen; laugh uproariously. Her father feeding the chickens the fermented grapes left over from his winemaking and watching them stagger in the yard drunk. His scuffles with the goats that butted him on his backside, would then take off and natter at him from a safe distance away from his cudgel.
We didn’t laugh so much when Mama told us stories about the war: watching the American and British bombers dropping their flaming phosphorus payloads that lit up the sky like Christmas lights over Hildesheim and Hanover, the two biggest cities to the east of her home. Or her story of finding a baby carriage with a burnt dolly inside – she realized later that the “dolly” was an infant who had burned to death.
We also did not laugh when my mother died peacefully after a long illness on August 29, 2022 with me and my brother at her bedside.
She leaves behind to mourn three of her children; daughter Evelyn (Brian Lundeen) of Winnipeg; daughter Elva of Bonneville, Alberta, and her son, Ralph of Portage la Prairie; along with numerous grand- and great-grandchildren as well as family back in Germany. She was predeceased by her parents, Wilhelm and Frieda Marahrens (later Kaffka); her step-father, Kurt; her husband, William (Bill); her three brothers, Fred, Helmut and Klaus; and her youngest daughter, Karen.
Mama was laid to rest in Evergreen Gardens beside Karen, following a private family service.
If you wish in lieu of flowers, please make a donation to a charity of your choice in her name.
I’ve heard it said that German is a guttural and hard-sounding language. For me, that will never be because it was the language my mother spoke when said she loved us. All of my life, my mother never called me by my first name – I was always her “Mäuschen” - her little mouse. Wir lieben dich immer, Mama.
A tree will be planted and cared for by McKenzies Portage funeral Chapel. www.mckenziesportagefuneralchapel.com 204-857-4021
Evergreen Memorial Gardens
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