Clara's Story

Before the trend my mother Clara has always cooked from garden to table. She made everything by hand: butter, cream and cottage cheese. Sauerkraut was produced in a large wooden barrel and she canned fruit, pickles and even jarred chicken. Clara was a master baker of donuts, bread and three layer chocolate cakes for birthdays and when we were younger she always baked an amazing coconut cake. I can still picture it now. Perhaps that is why I have a fondness for coconut.

Clara (Klara) Harms was born in 1926, Ural, Ukraine. My mother's parents came from the world of old Russia. Her father was sent to Siberia with a number of her male relatives during WWII and were never heard from again. My grandmother searched for my grandfather and her brothers through the Mennonite newspaper after the war but was unsuccessful in finding them.


Like many people of her generation the stories my mother shares of her early life are touched by episodes of happiness and tragedy. Happy memories of her beloved papa remain. He was a civil engineer and would draw humorous pictures to entertain her when she was ill. Driving in a Troika (a traditional Russian carriage drawn by a team of three horses) with her papa covered in blankets and holding a new fur muff remains a cherished memory. My mother was particularly proud of her fur muff.  "It made me feel so grown up" she says. 

As the youngest member of her family my mother was somewhat spoiled; this she readily admits. She had one sibling Therese whom I am named after. Clara and her sister were extremely close through out their lives.


The women in my mother's family all loved to read the classics: Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov and The Count of Monte Cristo, which was my mother's favourite. One story my mother shared with me: their copy of the The Count of Monte Cristo was falling apart and as each page was read it was passed along to the person next to you. Reading speed dictated your position in the line. My aunt Therese was first, then my mother, and finally my grandmother who I guess was the slowest. They read by candle light and my mother remembers the excitement of that moment as she waited for the next page to reach her. A smile comes to her face as she recounts this story. Sadly, she remains the last of her immediate family.


My mother has always told me” trust your intuition.” Listening to that small voice could save your life or the life of a loved one.

During WWII she saved the lives of my grandmother, aunt and her niece Linda on two separate occasions.The first incident involved traveling with her family by foot in knee deep snow, ice and water. My mother refused to follow the group they were traveling with and insisted on taking another path. Everyone taking the path she refused to follow fell through the ice and died. 

Recently, she recounted this incident to me in detail. It remains a vivid memory of the harsh conditions they endured. Watching so many people suffering during this pandemic has brought back memories of past struggles.

The second incident involved a ship that she would not board. They were later informed that the ship was torpedoed and sank the next day. All lives were lost. 

In both incidents my mother said she sensed that they would die if they followed the others.


After WWII my mother came to Canada on her own and worked as a domestic. She continued to work for a few years and then met my father. They married and had five children. I am the fourth of five children.

As my mother's primary caregiver one important lesson I learned is that as our parents age their role in the family constantly changes. It is essential that as children we find ways to make them feel that they still have something meaningful to contribute. It requires patience,  imagination and resilence in the face of financial and/or age related issues. I often sit with my mother showing her through my actions that she is respected, loved and valued.  - Theresa


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