In 1927 a 5 year old young girl moved into the small town of Angusville in Western Manitoba, not knowing anyone.
My grandfather Mike Gallant told that little girl, who would become my mother, to go play with a girl down the street named Pauline Maz.
That first play date would begin a friendship that lasted for the next 74 years until my mother died a few years ago.
In the intervening years my Aunt would first marry my uncle Louis, the only son of my grandparents. Shortly after they were married Louis was off to Europe to fight in World War II. He never made it back home, and I became the defacto son to my grandparents, with whom I had a relationship that was as close as any family bonds have ever been.
My Aunt Pauline meanwhile with determination tried to carry on her life with the kind of strength that I think has made here the amazing person she still is today.
As time went on she remarried…not, as it turned out to someone unknown or not close, but rather to a younger brother to my grandmother, who was part of a huge family of at least a dozen.
That was my Uncle Mike Senko, an amazing man unto himself, who too would not live the long life he deserved, as he died of Lukemia more than 30 years ago.
Now to the travel part. My mother and my Aunt Pauline would be offered the chance to visit Holland, to the area of Holten where my Uncle, their husband and brother was buried.
They would stay with a Dutch family and come back full of stories of the appreciation these people had for the committment Canadians made to free them.
I always lived under the umbrella of my Uncle Louis knowing I was expected to try and live up to the equally amazing individual he seemed to be.
So a couple of years later, during my hitchhiking expedition to Europe, it would be my primary goal to visit the grave of the man who, in giving his live, created a life long family bond that was at times closer than my parents.
So last night we talked about those experiences, and my wish to go back to Holten to meet with the next generation of Dutch families, to see if they still hold the ties to Canadian sacrifices their parents had.
There were many accolades paid to my Aunt Pauline yesterday. Her son in law referred to her as a Grand Lady.
She is that. She has literally lived through the wars. She has been a pillar to the family. And it was uplifting to share our Europe memories with her last night.
May she have many more birthdays, and with her strength of character and determination there may well be many more.
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