I think the word that describes my mother best would have to be resilient. No matter what happened in her life, she found a way to bounce back and get through it, or around it, with persistence and determination. She was never a whiner or complainer.
My mother was born Sophia Petronella Pauw in Dordrecht, in the Province of South Holland, the Netherlands on March 24, 1918, the eighth child and seventh daughter of Rudolf Pauw Sr. and Sophia VanStokrom. An older sister had died at the age of 6 months, another sister and two brothers came after her. She was named for her mother and nicknamed Fia. The family moved to The Hague when my mother was about nine years old.
The children were sent to the Catholic school, but, the Pauws were not very keen on religion, because, although Mom’s father was Catholic, her mother was Protestant. Oma thought the Catholics were too fussy, and had too many rules. The children wore uniforms to school, but, Mom had a lovely Sunday dress that her sister had made for her, with beautiful smocking on it. She loved that dress, and wanted to wear it to school, so, one day, she snuck out of the house with the dress concealed under her coat. Of course, after she got there, the Sister made her take off her coat. Mom was mortified! She was sent home and told to change into her uniform. Her mother was upset with her, but more angry because she didn’t see that what you wore made any difference in getting an education. Her mother kept her home for the rest of the day.
Mom told me she was a shy, quiet child, but, for some reason, she was always sent to her maternal grandparents in Dordrecht whenever there was a school holiday. She said she just thought having one less child around was easier for her mother. She got to know these grandparents quite well, though, and was able to tell me a great deal about them. Her grandmother was a midwife, and had delivered all the children in the family.
The Pauws were a close family. The parents were not overly strict, and were very involved with their children. Oma enjoyed spending time with her teenage daughters, and loved to play games with all her children, both young and old. Mom was closest to her sister, Christina (Stien), who was 5 years older than she was. When she was three, her older sisters taught her to knit and crochet, mostly to keep her from pestering them. Her sister, Annie, two years younger, had been born with a mental disability, likely an accident of birth. Annie was treated the same as the rest, but, as she got older, she became hard for her parents to handle and had to be institutionalized. The last time Mom saw her was before she came to Canada in 1947.
After Mom finished high school, she took a hairdressing course, and got a job with a married couple in their shop. She earned extra money babysitting their little boy. Still living at home, she gave her pay to her mother. She was working there when WWII broke out.
Everything changed. Restricted hours for being out, food shortages, bombs flying over the houses, people shot and left in the street if there was anything about them that looked suspicious to the Nazis. Mom told me, “You just go on living, that was all you could do; you just can’t do this anymore, and you can’t do that.”
There came a time when family was very short on food. Mom and her sister, Beppe, filled baby carriages with various goods (knitted sweaters, household items, etc.) and walked several miles out to the countryside to trade them to the farmers, because they were the only ones who had a surplus of food. Along the way, they walked through a bombed out area of The Hague. On the way back, they were told that The Hague had been bombed again, and there was nothing left of it. Imagine how they must have felt! Fortunately, the area where they lived wasn’t bombed.
The family was devastated to learn that another one of their older daughters, Marie, had died in Indonesia shortly after the war. She had gone there before the war started to be with her husband, who was in the Dutch Navy. They hadn’t heard from her in five years. It was very hard on everyone.
After the war was over and Holland was liberated, things slowly started to get back to normal. The Canadian soldiers came, and Mom said she knew she was going to marry a big, tall Canadian. She met my father at a dance in June of 1945. He was a big, tall Canadian, just as she’d told her family he would be. Because of her auburn hair, he nicknamed her Red. After my dad went home, Mom started making arrangements to follow him. She went every week to the Canadian Embassy to be sure she would be one of the first to come to Canada. She came on the Waterman, the first troop ship to carry civilians from Holland to Canada after the war. Her mother, her eldest sister, Rika, and a friend, came to see her off. She was taken out to the ship in a rowboat. Although she knew she would miss her family, she was very excited to be going to Canada to start a new life.
Mom disembarked in Montreal, Quebec, and arrived in Kingston, Ontario by train, and bus. My father was sailing on the Great Lakes, and Jimmy, his older brother, was supposed to pick her up, but, he was late getting there, so Mom decided to ask for help to find where he and my grandmother lived. She told me, “I was shy, but, not THAT shy!” Jimmy was still in the army. He and my widowed grandmother lived in army housing in Barriefield. My dad came home after a few days, and, they were married in Kingston on July 18, 1947.
Mom couldn’t stay with Uncle Jimmy and Grammy because she wasn’t army, so, she found a place on Alfred St. My father came home shortly before Christmas, and he didn’t go sailing again after that. Later, he was stationed in Clinton, Ont. Mom had two miscarriages before I was born on Feb. 5, 1952. Grammy came to look after me when Mom went back to work.
Around this time, Mom became a Canadian citizen. She wanted to be the same as my father and I. Mom was proud to be what she referred to as a “ten dollar Canadian”! Shortly after this, we moved to Goderich, and, later, back to Kingston, when I was about 2 years old. Dad was a Stationary Engineer for Canada Steamship Lines and Mom found work as a Hairdresser. When I was around three, we moved to Queen St. where we lived for several years. Mom found a job at a hairdressing salon that was within walking distance. She said never had any desire to learn to drive.
Most women were housewives in the 1950s, with very few out working, so, Mom was the exception in our neighbourhood. We were fairly close with the next door neighbours and the ones who lived upstairs, as well as two other families who lived across the street.
My father was a weekend drinker. I don’t know when it started, likely long before I could remember, because I can barely remember it now. I just know he was. Apparently, he had a car accident once, but, fortunately, nobody was hurt. He had wanted to take me with him, but, Mom stopped him.
Some Sundays, he would go across the street to drink with the neighbours. On Aug. 18, 1957, he had a massive heart attack, fell off the kitchen chair, and likely died before he hit the floor. Mom was now a widow with a five-year-old daughter who was about to start Kindergarten, and a mother-in-law who was lost without her favourite son. Her family wanted her to come back home, but, I was Grammy’s only grandchild, and Mom wouldn’t take me away from her.
We continued living on Queen St. and an opportunity came up for Mom to buy her own hairdressing shop. Mom was the owner and the only employee, but, Sophia’s Beauty Nook was hers! My mother was now a female entrepreneur, another thing that was quite unusual for a woman in those days. The shop was several blocks away from where we lived, but, Mom would usually walk there in the nice weather. If it wasn’t so nice, she took the bus, or, an occasional taxi.
Grammy died when I was ten. Mom went before the school board (I guess shy little Fia had lost her shyness by then!) and they allowed me to change schools to one near the shop. I wasn’t too happy that I had to go to the shop after school and wait for Mom to finish work before I could go home.
A year after Grammy died, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and several weeks of therapy before going back to work as soon as she could. An apartment came up next to her shop, and we moved there. Somehow, we got through my teenage years without her strangling me.
Eventually, I got married and moved to Picton, but, that didn’t last long, and I moved back in with Mom.
She was a wonderful grandmother to my son, and we got along better, because now I was able to understand some of what she’d been through. Later, I moved back to Picton, and, after an early retirement, Mom decided to move to Picton too. She found a nice little apartment on Adelaide St., which she loved, but, when she got a chance to go into geared-to-income housing, she took it.
Mom loved living in Harmony Home. She made many friends there, and she met several others through me. She loved to go shopping, and she was a keen card player. She enjoyed knitting, crocheting and needlepoint. She also liked going to social activities. Every so often, one of our friends would call her on the spur of the moment and ask her if she wanted to go out for the day. She was usually eager to go.
When Mom turned 80, I along with the help of several friends, threw her a Surprise 80th Birthday Party. She told me several times not to do anything; she’d be really upset if I did, but, it was in the works by then, so I had to lie and say nothing was going on. In the end, she was really happy about it. She said she didn’t realize she knew so many people!
Mom was 86 when she found out she had cancer again. She decided to try to fight it, so, every day for two weeks, we went to Kingston for radiation treatments. Everyone could see her getting weaker, but, her strong spirit was still there. The only thing she said was that she was very tired.
Mom was admitted to the hospital in Picton and was there for 3 days. She died on June 7, 2004. She was lucid until very near the end, so, many of her friends had a chance to say goodbye to her. She passed peacefully. The hundredth anniversary of her birth is this month. I am proud to be her daughter.
Four years after Mom died, one of our best friends gave birth to a baby girl with red hair. She named her Sophia. My mother would have loved her.