Rosa Amelia Zilkie, the eldest of eleven children, was born in Canada in 1903. Her father was born in Poland, her mother in Romania. She married Cornelius F. Toews, in 1920 (at the age of 17) and took on his three young sons – he being recently widowed. Grandma raised his children and added ten of her own. Once her children were grown and out of the house, she took in disadvantaged boarders – Down’s Syndrome, polio victims, the elderly and infirm, and transient relatives – of which there was a plentitude! Grandma passed away in 1985.
This story was inspired by Rosa Amelia Zilkie
My friend Leonard Gerbrandt was wiry and tall for his age and he had big dimples and a giant Adam’s apple. His mom worked for my parents at our little bakery and she was an elegant beauty reminiscent of the movie star, Hedy Lamarr. She was dark haired and slender with high, rouged cheekbones and large brown eyes. I was just a little kid, but I felt weak when she was near; the scent of her perfume confusing me through a kind of permeating intoxication, although I would never reveal it. Especially to Lenny, who was as tough and unyielding as a Manitoba March storm.
The Gerbrandts were made of stern stuff. Lenny’s older brother was gaunt and menacing – his unblinking stare was like a violent shove. Their dad was an ex-cop. Mr Gerbrandt had been a good baseball player and was a big rugged guy, like a young Robert Mitchum. Mitchum married Lamarr and they begat sons and daughters, including Lenny, who, in later years, taught me how to roll a corn silk cigarette and do a catwalk on my bike. Lenny’s dad was the town cop but then joined the army and when he came back, he was not the same anymore. He had run out of whatever it was that made him Robert Mitchum, the big raw-boned cop who got Hedy Lamarr. Instead, he sat alone in the Hartplatz men-only beer parlour and got quietly loaded every day.
Hopeless, my father said, taking another bite out of the meatball sandwich Mom had made him.
What is? I asked him.
You. He put the food down. You’ll say whatever garbage comes to mind, regardless of who’s around, won’t you? To get a cheap laugh. You’ve got no filter between your brain and your big mouth.
“You could eat off her floor,” Miriam often said in a half envious way, if Dora was present, and in a half mocking way when she was not. “I drove her home that day when her car wouldn’t start and honest to God, you’d think that floor had never been stepped on. I mean, it was like a mirror it was so shiny!” But what Miriam and her coworkers did not know was that Dora actually did eat off her floor.
The gang from the boatyard, by God you had to love ‘em, the lot of them, every man jack of them; braised, poured, scratched, abraded, welded, mucked about by all of life, you had to love ‘em. Up front you have to know that those who had gotten nicknames felt honored, for that moniker stuff usually came from within, a private medal of sorts, earned without hoopla, seared forever. Those who hadn’t been so acclaimed patiently waited some kind of anointment, slow in coming, taking over like a root, underneath everything seen or known. Some of them had names like Max, Slad, Wilf, Muckles, Shag, Ronnie J, Slip, a feast of designations varied as character. And the sole captain of his own boat in the lot of them was Shanklin Garuf.
To a man, you had to love ‘em.
The truth is I’m still haunted by them, even though it’s been months since they left the Royal Bargains Dollar Store.
His voice was exceedingly obnoxious.
“We’ll be seeking damages for all compensable losses suffered, of course. This Judge is a real prick, though.”
You can rent Van Gogh’s bedroom on Air BnB for ten dollars a night. We were on the final leg of our cross-country expedition when we ran into Chicago and out of money. When we left Venice West we were intertwined in one-another firmer than the Treaty Oak’s roots, somewhere around Lincoln Nebraska we suffered our own poisoning. By the windy city it was more than just a cold shoulder. We checked our pockets. Seventy-two dollars in change and we still needed to get to New York where our flights home were waiting on us.