October 21, 2013
A Beautiful Time of Friendship
A multitude of platitudes and cliches exist about friendship. Just look in your nearest gift shop where these truths grace everything from coffee mugs to calendars. I happen to like John Lennon's simple words on the subject: "I get by with a little help from my friends." I have been thinking a lot about a particular friend, lately, for whom that quote certainly applied when we were both living in the same small resort community. As my mind turns toward the Holidays, ie., Thanksgiving, now passed here in Canada, and Christmas so does my heart toward those who figure largely in my memories of Seasons past. We shared several Holidays with this dear friend and her family, and as she shopped and planned and cooked and decorated her home for the various feasts she pulled me into her world of Polish-style celebration and hospitality, and I loved every minute of it. Halloween was new to her, but she embraced it in the name of 'something else to get excited about' and never looked back.
Agnieszka came to the Lodge a few years before my family and I did. While I had moved to the lakeside wilderness location from a small city about 90 kilometers down the road on Vancouver Island, she had immigrated there directly from Poland after meeting and marrying her German-Canadian husband. They had met at the home of her husband's brother, for whom she worked as a nanny in Germany. While I was mourning the loss of my convenient town life and feeling quite sorry for myself, she was mourning the loss of her life among family, friends, and familiar surroundings not to mention a familiar language. Agnieszka's husband had built a three storey cabin on a property next to the Lodge with a beautiful view of the lake, a garden in front and back, and fitted it with the basic necessities. Agnieszka set about decorating it with cheerful curtains and pictures. My husband and I, with a little help from our new friends, renovated a rather decrepit cabin on the Lodge site. It also had a lovely view from the deck, and I began to settle in with my three small children.
Agnieszka's English was not well-developed when I first met her, but we could carry on a basic conversation. She mainly spoke German with her husband, Ralf, but she had recently been engaged as a nanny for the first daughter of the Lodge's owners. The first daughter was soon followed by a second, and both of us surrounded by little children day in and day out, Agnieszka and I soon pooled our resources and became fast friends. I made many other good friends at the Lodge, but Nieszi, whom we all called her, became like a sister to me. We knew a kindred spirit when we saw one and saw each other nearly every day. Her English got better and better. I, having been an English as a Second Language tutor in my college days, could not refrain from helping her along by obnoxiously and continuously correcting her grammar and usage.
I love to hear people's stories and I asked Nieszi so many questions about her life in Europe. She missed Poland and Germany very badly, and missed her family very badly, but we, along with other parents at the Lodge formed a good little supportive community. I had begun homeschooling my first-born and we formed a sort of communal pre-school where each parent - and Agnieszka - took a turn providing a story and a creative activity for a morning session each week. We held these sessions in the Lodge library, and when the session was over we would go outside and play in the rain, snow or sunshine depending on the season. Our children enjoyed a healthy lifestyle exploring every pathway and beach, every tree and berry bush in that beautiful place.
Countless days, however, were spent in Nieszi's tiny kitchen, sitting across from her at her table drinking coffee and nibbling European cookies and other delicacies which she was overjoyed to be able to find in the town nearest the Lodge. The children would play happily with her Lego collection, her dolls, and her pail full of Kinder Surprise prizes, and try to climb the fireman's pole which led up from the middle floor to an opening in the floor of the upstairs bedroom. Nieszi was a wonderful nanny. She treated the kids like her own. She loved them and spoiled them, solved their little problems, broke up their quarrels, and handled nearly every situation with humour and tickles. Spending so much time with her made me a better mother, too. I thought that if she could treat those children who were not her own as beautifully as she did, I could surely treat my children with at least as much positivity and care. Many good friends have come into my life over the years, but Nieszi is one of the most generous friends I have ever known - generous materially, but much more importantly, generous in spirit and in love. I was humbled by her friendship and her faith in me and I still am.
Agnieszka and Ralf, after a good pregancy but a very difficult birth, had a son whom they named Jan. Jan was born eight months after my fourth and youngest child came along. Jan became one of the pack, as had a third daughter for the Lodge's owners, and three more children belonging to another family that recently had moved to the Lodge. Before long we had enough school aged children for the school district to assign us a teacher three days per week. My older three along with five of the Lodge children began their studies with Kim, a wonderful teacher. Nieszi and I and our two babies enjoyed some quieter times together. Our friendship deepened with our shared experiences. Her first year as a mother was very hard work, but also full of joy, and I was happy to give back some of the support she had so generously given me.
Sadly, like all good things, my own family's life at the Lodge came to an end. After five years years of significant growth and rich experiences it was time for us to move on. Our children were growing up and my husband was offered another job on the Mainland. We would be closer to our families and be able to enjoy the conveniences of town life once again. I went alone to break the news to Nieszi. She made us some coffee and we sat down to talk it over. It was very hard to leave my beautiful friend, but she and Ralf understood why we needed to go.
Agnieszka, Ralf and Jan came to visit us in our new home a couple of times, and we went back to the Lodge several times and had wonderful visits, my daughter Emma erupting into tears each time we had to say goodbye. We kept in steady contact over the years, sending messages and cards and letters. The need for a nanny at the Lodge gradually waned as the children there grew older and were able to be more independent. Nieszi's life began to revolve around Jan and his soccer and swimming and schooling. Last year, she decided to take Jan back to Europe for an extended stay. For all the years she had been in Canada she had only seen her family for two, maybe three weeks at a time every year or two. I am not sure when I will see her again, but in the meantime I know that we will always have those memories of spending time together in her cozy well-kept home at the Lodge. Of new curtains made just for Christmas-time, of almond cookies and Polish coffee. Of Ralf filling the wood stove and heating the house to be warm enough for bare feet in winter, of Jan sleeping in his swing hung from a beam in the ceiling and the swarm of children heaped on Nieszi's bed watching Tom and Jerry cartoons or parts of The Sound of Music. Of family meals shared and the sparkle of small crystal glasses of sweet Reisling. Of love and sweet friendship and enough laughter to echo down the years.