General TPL Talks and Programs

Flourishing Knitting Circle at Kennedy/Eglinton

I dropped into my home branch, Kennedy/Eglinton, this evening to pick up a book on hold (Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler). As I passed the open door of the program room, a jolly sight met my eyes. Members of the Tuesday evening knitting circle were closely gathered around several tables. Deeply engaged in conversation and textile production, this multigenerational and multicultural group of knitters numbered about twelve.

The sign outside the door listed the meeting time as 6-8 pm and informed participants that they needed to bring their own yarn and needles. Refreshments would be provided on the house.

Thank you for brightening my evening, Kennedy/Eglinton knitters! Your presence infused the entire building with warm community spirit!

General TPL Talks and Programs

“Duppies, Jumbies, and Old Time Tales” at Weston Library

Due to a series of transit mishaps, I arrived late for this Black History Month event at Weston Library. When I came into the program room, three adults and five children were watching an animated film called Mind Me Good Now! (2005) in attentive silence. I was soon absorbed in the story, which is based on a book by Caribbean writer Lynette Comissiong.

Even though Dalby and Tina’s mother warn them never to cross a certain footbridge that leads to a jungle path, Dalby disobeys and his older sister follows him. At the end of the path, he discovers an isolated hill with a tree on top that is also a house. Before Tina can stop him, he’s standing at the door of an evil tree-house.

A tall stranger in a long purple gown beckons the children inside, promising them food. She tells them she is Mama Zee yet neglects to inform them that she is actually a cacoya (witch). However, her home decor provides some clues to her true profession: large bones serve as curtain rods and a skull rests on a shelf. Magic vines have tangled themselves around the door handles to prevent escape, and Tina soon realizes that she and her little brother are in the wicked clutches of a cacoya.

Mama Zee serves them bowls of green soup, and Dalby becomes sleepier and sleepier. Mama Zee begins a terrifying chant about the best way to cook little boys, but Tina interrupts her with a request, knowing that cacoyas are required to do anything a little girl asks. She says, “At home, me mommy always shells peas before I go to bed.” So Mama Zee obliges and shells a bowl of peas, assuming she can resume her evil cooking preparations after the task is done..

When the witch starts to reach for the sleeping Dalby, Tina quickly shakes her hair out of its braids and says that her mom always plaits her hair before bed. Mama Zee is more grudging this time, but she complies with the plaiting request. Then she turns her attention once more to Dalby, only to have Tina employ another delay tactic. She sends the cacoya out to fetch water with a non-watertight bucket. Mama Zee departs with obvious ill-grace and has a very frustrating time trying to collect water. When it spills all over her gown, she has a tantrum.

Mama Zee realizes she has bigger problems than a faulty bucket when she sees that it’s almost dawn. Too late. The sun comes out and she dissolves into a mere puff of ashes. The vine-locks on the door also disintegrate and Tina and Dalby are free. The film ends as they are reunited with their worried mother, who has come to fetch them.

After Mind Me Good Now! ended, gifted storyteller and Children’s Services Specialist Laurel Taylor-Adams read from La Diablesse and the Baby by Richardo Keens-Douglas. In this story, a wise grandmother foils a diabolical visitor’s baby-stealing plans on a stormy night.

The glamorous stranger is dressed in a long blue gown which covers her feet. After gaining entrance to the grandmother’s house by appealing to her sympathy, the diablesse asks her reluctant hostess three times to hold the crying baby, but the child’s grandmother politely refuses. The stranger eventually goes away but leaves some evidence of her visit. In front of the house, the morning light reveals one muddy red human footprint and one muddy red hoof print!

Before she started reading, Ms. Taylor-Adams graciously invited me to move forward so I could see the pictures. From the front row, I was better able to admire her dramatic storytelling style. I liked how she made whooshing sounds to imitate the wind and the rain, and she also sang the lullaby that the grandmother sang for her grandson. These details took us deeper into the world of the story. Later, Ms. Taylor-Adams told me that she’d been a children’s librarian for 30 years, experience which shone in the masterful ease with which she simultaneously read the text, showed the pictures, and made eye contact with the audience.

The last story of the evening was a personal one about the facilitator’s great uncle Bob. His boat, The Spanish Rose, mysteriously disappeared in a fog bank for two weeks in the Bermuda Triangle. The biggest mystery of all was that the six boatmen thought they’d only been in the fog bank for one day!

Even though I missed the first half of the program, I thoroughly enjoyed “Duppies, Jumbies, and Old Time Tales.” Don’t let Black History Month dissolve like Mama Zee before you take advantage of the many programs on offer at the Toronto Public Library!

General TPL Talks and Programs

“My Personal Testimony” by Holocaust Survivor Hedy Bohm

This morning I went to Mount Pleasant Library to hear Hedy Bohm tell her story of survival. A quietly charismatic woman with a vivid orange scarf, Hedy didn’t waste a moment of the pre-talk waiting time. She greeted two classes of grade 7 and 8 students and passed around large photos of Auschwitz-Birkenau as it looks today. She also showed us a memory book which dates from her school days in Oradea, Romania before the war. Later she told us that her aunt, who was married to a Christian man and escaped deportation, had managed to save the book for her.

Hedy’s storytelling style was deeply engaging, and she had a gift for recollecting details that helped the audience visualize scenes from her past. The smell of fresh wood shavings in her father’s furniture shop. The grade 10 assembly where she and her classmates learned that schools for Jewish children had been closed. The single window with barbed wire on the cattle car. Fanning her mother with a hankie because the car was so stifling. The single pail that served as a toilet for 80-90 people trapped for three days in a dark box on wheels.

Most excruciating of all were Hedy’s final moments with her parents. When the train stopped at Auschwitz, the German soldiers immediately began separating the people into groups. Hedy’s father was sent to the left and she didn’t even have time to say good-bye. Her mother was ordered to the right. When Hedy tried to run after her, a soldier blocked her way with a loud “No!” She started to cry and then yelled her mother’s name. “She turned and looked at me. I’ll never forget it. She didn’t seem to know where she was. Her face is seared into my memory. Within a few minutes, I became an orphan.”

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Hedy endured chronic starvation and the terrifying uncertainty of daily “selections” from line-ups. Eventually she was sent to a former Volkswagen factory in Germany that had been turned into an ammunition plant. As an enslaved labourer, she worked on V-2 rockets and landmines for twelve hours a day and often had to hide in an air-raid shelter. To raise morale during bombings, Hedy and her companions would recite poems, sing together, and exchange recipes. “One woman told us the secret of her stuffed cabbage recipe. She used a little bit of caramelized sugar that she burnt on the stove.”

The final segment of Hedy’s wartime nightmare occurred when her group of munitions labourers was sent back to a concentration camp, where they went a week without food. Much to the inmates’ disbelief, this camp was liberated by the American army, and they were allowed to go into the local village and take what they needed from the textile shops and grocery stores, even the candy shops. Hedy smiled when she recalled the material she picked out for a peasant skirt, “which was very fashionable at the time.”

Ms. Bohm’s passionate mission to share her story shone through every single word she uttered. When she said that she had kept silent about unspeakable experiences for 50 years, I was struck by the courage it took to wrench words from a place of anguish to help others comprehend what she suffered. What caused her to break silence was outrage at Holocaust denials and the imperative to speak now for the sake of future generations.

Near the end of her testimony, the entire room was electrified when Hedy looked all of us in the eye and said, “I want you to remember what happens when good people do nothing. From now on, you be my witnesses.” Encouraging each of us to stand up and speak out against discrimination, she had us on our feet when the talk finished. The schoolgirls sitting to my right had tears in their eyes, and they waited patiently in line to speak to Hedy. She was busy receiving warm hugs from some of the other kids, shaking hands, and inhabiting the centre of a huddle of students who wanted to talk to her. My throat constricted as I witnessed so many young people responding to the presence of a truly beautiful and resolute spirit.

General TPL Talks and Programs

Today’s Program at Deer Park Library: Personal Testimony of Holocaust Survivor Helen Schwartz

During the 30th Annual Holocaust Education Week, I attended an unforgettable afternoon talk. In Deer Park Library’s program room, 85 year-old Helen Schwartz testified to the loss of her entire family and “everything that was dear to me.” In the face of monstrous cruelty, she survived the Bialystok Ghetto in Poland, numerous concentration camps, starvation, beatings, and two trips to the crematorium. She said it was her natural chubbiness which saved her both times; the Germans said she still had enough “meat on her bones” to work.

Many of us in the audience cried as we listened to this petite great-grandmother remember the Germans “packing (Jews) like herrings in a synagogue and torching it,” having to hide her younger brothers in boxes, and carrying out the bodies of the dead at Bergen-Belsen. She can never stop hearing the typhus-stricken girls calling for water.

In attendance at the talk were about twenty adults and a group of middle-school children sitting on the floor. Towards the end of her testimonial, Ms. Schwartz addressed the children specifically, although we all need to cherish these words: “Be good to each other. Respect your mother and father. Be good to your brothers and sisters. I would have given anything to see my family after the war.” She almost broke down and then apologized, saying it happens more as she gets older.

I loved what she said at the end of the talk. “Anybody wants to ask me something? I’m still here.”

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches TPL Talks and Programs

Blog Talk at Kennedy/Eglinton Library

I’m blogging live from Kennedy/Eglinton branch with Joan, Raymon, and a few others. I’ve been talking about my library blog and details like the window seats and tall grasses!

I’ve just asked the participants at today’s event what they like about the library. Joan likes the smell and the feel of books, the printed page. Raymon likes the resources such as the ProTech computer lab. He also likes the self-checkout. One person liked the library’s friendly appearance and the helpful staff. The lady sitting behind him was amazed by the huge collections and size of North York Central Library. Finally, another participant has encouraged me to write a book!

I really enjoyed this opportunity to share my blog with Kennedy/Eglinton patrons. Thank you for inviting me!