Faces in the Crowd – Just Returning the Favour

Posted on February 11, 2020 under Faces in the Crowd with no comments yet

Bernice MacDonald photo

THIS STORY WAS FIRST POSTED IN 2016. IT WAS ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVOURITE INTERVIEWS. WILLEMINA PASSED AWAY LAST WEEK. HER STORY IS WORTH SHARING AGAIN. A GREAT LADY AND A TRUE HERO… AND ONE OF THE WITTIEST PEOPLE I’VE EVER MET!

On aging. “I spend my days the same way I used to. Everything just takes me twice as long.”

Meet Willemina Hendriske MacDonald.

She was born in Zutphen, Holland but spent most of her childhood in S’Gravenzande. Her home birth, with the assistance of a midwife, was filled with drama. At a crucial point in a tricky delivery, her father fainted. With no one else in the house, the midwife was busy attending to the mother and father of the newborn! A doctor was beckoned. He didn’t think the baby would survive. “I surprised the doctors back then and I have been surprising them ever since.”

Her brothers remember her as “a quiet girl playing with dolls, knitting embroidering and roller skating”. Their father died when Willemina was only 13. Growing up without a father was difficult on the family. As a teenager she filled her hours learning how to play the piano and was also an avid tennis player. Other sports included swimming, dancing and field hockey.

Most teenagers find it distracting when it comes to study time. When she was 14, the war broke out and it was very difficult to study at night with bomber aircrafts flying overhead. The Germans occupied their town and they were forced to move farther north.
She decided to learn Esperanto and quickly picked up French, German and English. Asked about her fluency in French, Willemina said, “It wasn’t the best but I wouldn’t starve in France.”

After completing grade 12, she took a secretarial course in The Hague and gained employment in Hagen. The Germans entered the Municipal offices where she worked, one day, in search of the registration lists of all the male citizens that they planned to utilize for the war industry in Germany. Risking life, she and fellow workers carted off all the records to a safe home. After the war, this deed was recognized as an act of heroism.

She was forced to flee once again. She remembers this as a time of constant fear. “The last year was hellish. I was frightened all the time until the liberation.” When the Canadians showed up in their town, any available room had to be used to house the soldiers. Jim MacDonald from Nova Scotia stayed in their house. He endeared himself immediately to her family, bringing fresh raisin bread which was all but extinct during the war years.

They decided that they were meant for each other, but she was a Protestant and he was a Catholic. By the time she finished studying how to become a Catholic, she knew more about Catholicism than she had discovered about her future husband.

She travelled to North America with their first-born, who was six months old at the time. The ride across the Atlantic was nausea inducing. She landed in New York and then went by train to St. John, New Brunswick where she rejoined Jim. They settled on the Dunmore Road in Antigonish County. For the first time in years, Willemina had found tranquility.

When she was only 45, and with seven children at home, Jim passed away. In short order she got her driver’s license and a job with the Municipality of the County of Antigonish where she worked until retirement. She was a tireless volunteer for many, many organizations including 4H and Club 60, to mention but a few.

Willemina is a professed political junkie. When asked about the possibility of Donald Trump becoming President of the U.S., she glared and said, “ He needs a good swift kick in the ass.”

She has a keen sense of humour. She suggested that one of the keys to a long life is surviving two heart attacks!

Reflecting on a long life well, lived, she opined, “I loved my family and I loved my community. I tried to do my very best. I also felt it was important to give something back after Canada liberated Holland.

It would appear that the debt has been paid in full.

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Faces in The Crowd – Making an Impression

Posted on July 4, 2019 under Faces in the Crowd with one comment

 

“I’m happy to be a good dad and a good husband. I am content that I have been able to create a comfortable and rewarding life for me my family.”

Meet Sean Brophy.

Sean was born in Stellarton and has one sibling, a younger brother. His parents separated when he was 12 years old. “This was very hard on me. I found it very tough to navigate.” His father, a nurse, relocated to Houston, Texas and Sean ended up moving with him. Going from Stellarton to downtown Houston was another traumatizing experience for a small town boy. After one year, his father moved to Huntsviille, Texas.

His high school years were filled with sports, drama, plays and art. He didn’t find the academics challenging and so, on the cusp of finishing high school, he fast tracked and received his GED.

Using a fake ID, he got his first tattoo. At the time, tattoos were taboo and anyone having one was considered a bit of a rebel. His soccer coaches commented that he wouldn’t amount to anything. His dad wasn’t happy either despite that fact that HE had a tattoo himself!

After completing his schooling, it was time to head back to Canada as he could no longer remain in the U.S. A 66 hour bus ride from Texas took him into the bowels of the central bus station in downtown New York where, for three nerve wracking hours, he hung out with the freakiest people he had ever met. When his bus for Bar Harbor arrived, they all got on the bus with him.

“I had no idea what I was coming home to.” He spent a summer with an uncle picking strawberries and decided that he needed to pursue a career.

An earlier experience in Houston may have foreshadowed his career path. He volunteered to work for two weeks on an ambulance. On his very first shift, we witnessed and help perform CPR on a man who subsequently died of a stab wound that he received while in prison.

He eventually earned a certificate from Holland College and became a paramedic. Sean describes his career as intense. Besides full time work in his chosen field, he was also involved in the union, the volunteer fire department and search and rescue.

He got married in 2000 and has two children.

“I loved my work and felt that I was serving my community. I had a sense of self- worth.” But that all changed as witnessing trauma for so many years resulted in post- traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  ”I was in a very dark place.” He was forced to stop working and was unable to work at anything for two years while getting treatment.  He spent the better part of six months in his bedroom.

He always viewed himself as “Sean the paramedic.” He wasn’t educated for another occupation but he realized that returning to his chosen profession was not an option. “Who am I going to be now,” became the pressing question. While waiting to receive Worker’s Compensation, the family lost their home and life savings trying to stay afloat.

Over the years, he had been getting more tattoos and he started doing artwork for tattooists. His good friend and renowned tattoo artist, Jamie MacKay invited Sean to apprentice with him. A year and a half later, Sean struck out on his own and he has never looked back.

He still deals with PTSD every day of his life. He started doing jiu jitsu four years ago which has helped him immensely.

His greatest joy these days is his family. “We sit down and have dinner together every evening. It is a chance to stay connected.”

Sean continues to leave his mark as a gifted artist and tattooist. His has left a lasting impression on many people in North Eastern Nova Scotia (including the author!)  but none more so than his wife ,Tanya and his children, Morgan and Erika.

 

 

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Faces in the Crowd – Anything is Possible

Posted on May 11, 2019 under Faces in the Crowd with one comment

Maty, Len and Emelio

“Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”
Meet Maty Amaya.

In 2012, the Argentinian economy was in shambles. Maty lost his job and was depressed. He told his family that he was going for a bike ride.Seven years and some 93,000 kilometres later, he’s still on the move.
He has visited 40 countries and is doing the Camino for the seventh time. The previous six were on his bike but this time, he’s walking. The first time he was confused and drove his bike in the opposite direction!
In December 2017, he was biking through Italy around Christmas. A couple saw him on the side of the road in a blizzard. They took him in and kept him for several days.
A few years earlier, this couple had been in a horrific accident. Their two children were killed and the parents were both in comas for more than six months. They awoke to find out that they were childless. They gave Maty a stuffed animal. Emilio now travels the world with Maty.
Later this month, the couple will travel to Spain and walk the final 200km with Maty… and Emilio.
Maty is a photographer and sells small prints for donations to finance his travel.
He embodies the notion that anything is possible if you try.

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