Acute Memories & Promises to Children

Excerpt from the Memoirs of Frank F Enns

Black and white photo of a young boy playing an accordion

This is not Frank F Enns

When children have acute memories for promises made to them by adults what may seem a minor triviality to an older person, may appear as a thing of greatest importance to a child. But a child expects that a promise made by an adult must most certainly be kept. Uncle Abram Dürksen, who I’m supposed to resemble quite a bit, had an accordion. He played it well and soon I wanted to make music too. He put me off with the promise that he would give it to me when I was big enough to go to school. Uncle did this to get rid of me and because he did not expect a child to remember it until the next day.

But I remembered because I had taken him seriously and waited longingly for the time when I would go to school and become the owner of the deeply desired instrument. When I entered school at Memrik, I still thought of that promise and occasionally asked someone going to Molochna to bring “my” accordion back. But it never came.

Quote of today

Grace Paley writes:

My father had decided to teach me how to grow old. I said O.K. My children didn’t think it was such a great idea. If I knew how, they thought, I might do so too easily. No, no, I said, it’s for later, years from now. And besides, if I get it right it might be helpful to you kids in time to come.

They said, Really?

My father wanted to begin as soon as possible.


Please sit down, he said. Be patient. The main thing is this — when you get up in the morning you must take your heart in your two hands. You must do this every morning.

That’s a metaphor, right?

Metaphor? No, no, you can do this. In the morning, do a few little exercises for the joints, not too much. Then put your hands like a cup over and under the heart. Under the breast. He said tactfully. It’s probably easier for a man. Then talk softly, don’t yell. Under your ribs, push a little. When you wake up, you must do this massage. I mean pat, stroke a little, don’t be ashamed. Very likely no one will be watching. Then you must talk to your heart.

Talk? What?

Say anything, but be respectful. Say — maybe say, Heart, little heart, beat softly but never forget your job, the blood. You can whisper also, Remember, remember.

Happy Mother’s Day – from my mother’s memoir

This story prompted the poem “Look”, which can be found in the Letter E. My mother told this story about her mother and her brother.

Mother loved to go visiting and she usually did this by horse and buggy. She always had to have a “runner” (pacer) so she could go fast with a good stiff reign in her hands. Dad had bought his first car, the McLaughlan, in 1926 and what a prize it was considered to be!  Of course only men drove cars  those days. The car was only used in summer. Roads were not kept open in winter. The car was then placed on blocks to save the tires. The car had eight cylinders and all leather seats and celluloid flaps for windows.

I remember working hard on the yard at home all day. There was raking, hoeing weeds in the garden, etc., just to get a ride to town. In town we kids were not permitted to get off the car to go into stores unless accompanied by a parent. One trip I remember when Mom and Dad had gone in to shop at the General Store of Mr. Goldberg.  I couldn’t wait so I went into the store in spite of orders to stay put in the car. Low and behold I saw boxes of oranges on the floor and on the counter a box of spectacles which adults tried on to see which pair would fit his or her eyes. Oranges wow – people were picking them up by the dozen – so why couldn’t I have just one? I took it and then went back to sit on the car quite pleased with myself. When Mother finally came, she noticed what I had done.  So back she marched me and made me apologize for what I had done. I had been quite unaware that people took and then paid for them. Well, it was a good lesson and one I never forgot.

Getting back to Mom and her buggy trips, I recall the sound of the horse’s hoofs on the hard dirt road as we went through the village of Chortitz where she had some relatives. What an ambitious lady she was! She was well educated in spite of the fact she had only attended German Private School. Girls did not have to go to school beyond age 10 or 12. There were more important things to be done at home.

I was not born yet, when my older brother drowned at the age of 3–but she knew and attempted to apply artificial respiration. Later my oldest brother, John, had a serious accident when he and his younger brother were plowing with horses. John was swinging his leg  when it caught in the spokes of the large wheel which twisted it around the axle and broke both of the bones (tibia & fibula) and generally mangled the leg terribly. The boys came home on one of the plows, John hanging on to his leg. Mom, though she had no First Aid training, knew that the pant leg had to be cut open to free the leg.

Altona had a doctor who was a veteran from the World War I. He was sent for by horse and buggy.  There were no hospitals near by and an ambulance was unheard of. The kitchen table was turned into an operating table. Mother was the assistant and nurse.

She had to boil the instruments on the kitchen stove as well as look after the administration of the anesthetic – mask with chloroform I assume. The Doctor was ready to amputate but Mother cried and pleaded to save the child’s leg  and he decided to try his best to reattach all the  tendons and ligaments and set the bones as well as he could. The Doctor had done this many times during the war. The leg was put in a splint and mother now had the job of nursing the boy back to health all winter long.  What a chore and with how many prayers must she have gone about this duty!

Victor Enns reads and writes poetry and fiction. Afghanistan Confessions, poems in the voice of Canadian soldiers, was published in 2014, boy in 2012. Lucky Man (2005) was nominated for the McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year award.