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Make Him Known

By Helena Smrcek

“Write what you know,” is the most common advice given to writers. That begs a question: What do I know? And leads to: “What do I do, and why?”

I love feeding my chickens and milking our goats, and as I went about my chores this morning, I asked myself once again: “Why?”

I grew up in a city. The only link to fertile soil was Grandpa’s garden. It was a little plot of land, tended with love and care. The man I called Grandpa wasn’t my grandfather. He married Grandma the year I was born. He was 70 and she 60. Never having children of his own, a consequence of his imprisonment, he opened his home and heart to a sick baby.

Back then, women were expected to work, and place children in the free state-run childcare, even infants. An opened window near my bed still doesn’t agree with me, but at nine-months-of-age it almost killed me. Perhaps that is where my concern for people suffering from respiratory illness comes from. My breath was almost snatched away.

My grandparents created a magical life for me, filled with old-world stories, pet chickens, home cooked meals and real whipped cream. The chain-linked fence around the garden kept me in, and the bad stuff out.

Grandma was catholic and once took me to church to see the Nativity scene. Grandpa wouldn’t come. He went to a different church, Grandma explained. Years later I found out he was Moravian Brethren.

As an adult I started to piece the fragments together. Grandpa was born in 1896, our son 100 years later. Grandpa talked about living in a forest shack, cutting wood for food, also cutting his leg in the process, and walking for miles to see a doctor. Till today I’m not sure how he didn’t bleed to death.

He was in the army. I discovered much later he was a decorated Legionnaire in WWI. I can’t even imagine the horrors he lived through. He told a story of a wounded enemy soldier, a young boy on a battlefield, he couldn’t just kill in cold blood, only to be shot by the same man in his left shoulder, missing his heart by a few inches.

Grandpa survived the Spanish flu pandemic and the Great Depression. WWII brought him imprisonment, because as a police officer with privileged access to deportation orders, he chose to send a young boy to warn the families on the death list. It worked, till someone told.

Then the terror of communism took over. The 1950’s in Eastern Europe were a far cry from what America experienced that same decade. During the witch hunts, the communist came to arrest him. His wife, a member of the resistance during WWII, who miraculously survived a shot in a head by a Nazi executioner, saved him. She made it clear that her husband, too, was a member of the resistance. She was fearless and knew who the collaborators were. Grandpa had a chance to finally live a quiet life. Then someone poisoned his dog.

Breast cancer took the love of his life, but before she left for heaven, she made arrangements for her beloved husband. Her friend, my Grandma, a widow for many years, made the cut. The sick wife asked her to take care of this man who knew not how to turn on the gas range and boil water, never mind washing clothes or keeping the house. So, theirs was an arranged marriage. Being a man of his time, he needed help. But he wouldn’t dishonor his faith by ‘living’ with a woman. They got married. And then the baby, yours truly, came along.

The three of us became family. We lived in an old villa, with a tower, surrounded by gardens, but most importantly by peace and love. Only later in life I realized Grandpa was a man of faith. He’d let that slip here and there, like when I rushed to the kitchen letting everyone know that I was starving. He would quietly say: “You don’t know what hunger is, and I pray that you never would.” When I snuck a piece of chocolate. Somehow, he’d know, and in his quiet way remind me that: “God sees everything.”

Secretly, I tried to read his Bible, written in archaic language, but never understood a word. Then, years after his departure to heaven, while in refugee camp, God sent a group of missionaries, and they explained. Over the years I realized my life was deeply rooted in faith. I never saw him sitting in a church pew, and when I caught him kneeling by his bed, I thought he had dropped something. But I know now, without a doubt, Grandpa was a true follower of Christ.

Maybe this answers the question, why I paint pottery with the old folks, that often no longer remember their names. See, Grandpa suffered from Alzheimer’s. Back then I didn’t understand why he’d take down the clothes lines and walk around the garden with his invisible goat.

And perhaps this is why I write what’s necessary, seeing the way we live today, in abundance and luxury, forgetting that our seniors fought hard to build this country. Many struggled through life, facing lack, and hardships we can’t imagine, struggling as immigrants, farmers, loggers, factory workers and even war heroes.

This is the reason I choose to limit my freedoms at this time, to listen to podcast instead of going to a Sunday service, to call instead of visit, to shop only when necessary, to plan a quiet 50th birthday for my husband, instead of a party, to drop off baskets of pottery for my painters, not knowing if I’ll see them again at this side of eternity.

For even though I was a naïve child, my Grandpa helped me to understand that God is love, and that love is patient and kind. Without words he showed me that love doesn’t envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. The way he loved me and Grandma, he showed that love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

About the author...
Helena Smrcek, a journalist, author, and screenplay writer, believes in the power of a well-told story. Her readers can expect a captivating page-turner, filled with thrilling suspense, and heartwarming romance.

She started in publishing as a high school student, freelancing for her local newspaper. Her journalism carrier took off in 1999. Within three years Helena accumulated over 100 by-lines and interviewed Ann Graham Lotz, Carol Lewis, Cec Murphey, Kelita and others. Her stories, many of them covers, have been published in Canada, USA, Bermuda, New Zealand, and Australia. In 2002 she accepted a position at Listen Up TV, a current affairs program.

Helena became a founding member of Write!Canada, and The Word Guild, a Canadian national association of writers and editors. She is a graduate of Jerry Jenkin’s Craftsman Class, Act One, Donald Maass’ Fire in Fiction, Writer’s Police Academy, and several mentoring programs.

She regularly attends writers’ conferences and is a past or current member of such organizations as Word Weavers, American Christian Fiction Writers, Sisters in Crime, Toast Masters International, Boni, The Writer’s Guild, and others. Helena loves to participate in NaNoWriMo and hosts a writers’ group.

As an entrepreneur, she is familiar with marketing, branding, and social media. She has volunteered with YMCA, mentoring new Canadians pursuing their business dreams, and was an active member of her local Chamber of Commerce.

When not at her keyboard, Helena loves listening to audio books. Working on her hobby farm, and traveling. She lives in the Waterloo Region, Ontario, with her husband, two adult children, two dogs, several cats, and her favorite goat, Rosie.