She sat in front of us. In the lineup to get into last Sunday’s crafting show. This grandmotherly woman with the bright red sweater and crinkly eyes. Her walker faithfully at the ready.
Mascha sat in front of us patiently waiting for the doors to open. Quietly at first but more animatedly and engagingly as she warmed up to us. She’s been here all weekend. And is a regular attendee over the years. She pulled out her well-worn copy of this year’s show guide and shared with us what she liked and what she enjoyed. Offering us insights into where we should go and what we should see. We talked about quilting and scrapbooking. A seamstress all her life Mascha still puts her sewing skills to good use, lovingly fashioning clothing for her grandchildren.
Mascha shared with us other aspects of her storied life too. In a manner that was frank and yet still assuredly discrete. She never was explicit about certain details. Indeed in the days since our encounter I have been wondering just as much about what Mascha did not say as what she did.
Mascha left her birth land of Germany shortly after WWII. She came to Canada because there was little hope of a life back home. She came without family. She came without friends. She came alone. And without any place to stay she was taken in by a local family she met at the ship docks. “Brave” we said of her. But Mascha merely shrugged. “That was just what people did back then.”
Her host family was kindly and supportive. Others who disembarked would not be so fortunate. Passports were confiscated. Living conditions exploitative. But Mascha in this regard was one of the lucky ones. She would soon secure a job doing piecework on ladies coats in the Spadina & Adelaide area of downtown Toronto. And after 3 months Mascha would move into a place of her own. Opening up a room at her billeters’ for another hopeful immigrant to be the beneficiary of the kindness of the strangers who took in Mascha.
After years of hard work and dedication and with a trusty friend and fellow seamstress by her side, Mascha opened her own seamstress studio in the Yonge and Eglinton area. She cultivated loyal customers. And over time some of those clients became steadfast friends as she developed a soft spot for a few and undoubtedly a good deal more developed a great fondness for her.
Mascha’s studio thrived until she retired in the late 1990’s.
On this day Mascha sits and waits with us to enter the craft show. She is a plucky endearing woman. Her eloquence evident in the words she chooses and the sentences articulated with a fine German lilt. But again it is what Mascha doesn’t say that later chillingly claims my attention. Long after our conversation is over. Days after our ways have parted.
Mascha tells of the starving people she remembers in Germany in the 1940s. To this day she cannot bear to see scenes of children going hungry. It hits too close too home even after all these years. She talks of the Jewish family who took her in when she first arrived in Canada, without family and without friends.
But is Mascha herself Jewish?
To me as is the case with many others of my generation, Mascha’s beliefs are of no consequence. But in her own homeland, all those years ago, such acceptance was not readily proffered. They were dark times. And if Mascha was a Jewess in Nazi Germany what unspeakable horrors does this dear sweet woman know that we couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend? Horrible unimaginable things that happened so long ago in a different land than ours.
An hour after the show opens, we see Mascha coming toward us. Her smile radiant with warmth. And she proudly shows us the gift card she learned to make.
I made one too.