For Hanna

My older sister, Hanna, died this week. She was the gentlest soul I know; kind to people, kind to animals – a very “giving” person. Hanna’s home was many miles outside Dawson Creek in a wooded area. She loved it there among the birds. She reminded me of Snow White. When I visited her I was amazed at the concert going on in her backyard.

I gazed up at the forest. “You sure have a lot of birds here. It’s like an orchestra.”

“Yeah,” she said with a humble smile, “one for every tree.”

In the space of only a few minutes, I noted many of the usual songbirds, but also red-winged blackbirds, an oriole, and three varieties of woodpeckers.  It makes sense that Hanna would feed the birds, being the caring person she was. I had brought her some little gifts, but although she accepted the fancy soaps and face creams graciously, I knew that the small gift I brought her the second day was much more to her liking. She ran for the scissors, took the bag of sunflower seeds from my hand, and filled her birdfeeders immediately. More than personal gifts for herself, the birdseed made her happy.

I wished that I could have had her visit me on Vancouver Island, but it was so far away. I would like to have taken her to the bird sanctuary near our house where the chickadees and nuthatches come to your hand if you hold out birdseed for them. I know she would have been thrilled.

In this blog, I’d like to tell about one of the visits to the bird sanctuary, and hope that somehow she can know that I wrote the following anecdote for her.

My in-laws were elderly, close to 90, when they came to visit us. My father-in-law was in poor health but my mother-in-law was, and still is, quite spry. In spite of the cool day we all felt a need to go for a walk before dinner. I filled a plastic bag with birdseed and drove them to the little bird park.

“Wait till you see how the birds will land right on your hand,” I told them. “It tickles a bit but it feels so wonderful.”

“But they won’t really land on our hands, will they?” my mother-in-law asked. “They don’t know us.”

“You’re kidding us, right?” my father-in-law said.
“No, you’ll see. I’ve done this before and they really do land on your hands—or your head, or your shoulders.”

“Will we have to walk far?” he asked.  “I can’t walk too far.”

“No, it’s not far.”

At the bird sanctuary, we walked along the trail that loops through the woods. Almost right away, we saw birds. I took out some birdseed and poured a bit into each of my in-laws’ hands. But wouldn’t you know it? This was the time the birds were going to make a liar out of me. They flitted here and there, but wouldn’t come to us.

“I know a place along the path where they’ll come for sure. It’s like a feeding station.”

“I’ll just wait here. You girls go on ahead. I can’t walk that fast or that far.”

“Okay… well…, don’t go anywhere. We won’t be long,” I said, and we two women walked briskly along the path to a bench where people sometimes sat to feed the birds. We were chatting quietly as we got out the birdseed. Suddenly, through the trees, I heard my father-in-law shout my name very loudly.

“Oh my God! I hope he hasn’t fallen down and hurt himself,” I said. “You take your time and I’ll run back to see if he’s okay.”

My lungs were on fire as I tore along the path.  If he had fallen down and broken his hip I’d never forgive myself for leaving him alone.

“Are you okay?” I panted as I came up to him.

“Oh yeah!” he said, “but look! Just a sec. Here they come again.” And he stood stock still with a delighted look on his face as the little birds tickled his fingers and picked the birdseed from his hands.

37 thoughts on “For Hanna

  1. Just loved your story this week! I am sure would have Hanna appreciated it as well, being the nature lover that she was. Yes, it is unfortunate that she lived so far away. She would have really enjoyed the sanctuary and the thrill of having the birds land on her hands. Thank you for sharing the photos of your in-laws. They both looked so happy in the pictures. Wonderful story!

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  2. This very early morning a big fat singing bird woke me up. It was sitting on a tree right in front of my bedroom window. At first I thought why does the bird have to wake me up so early (you know that I am not an “early bird”). But then I listened to its beautiful singing and got up – full of energy. I am almost sure the bird sang this song for Hanna.
    What a lovely story!

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  3. I too am sorry for your loss. It’s never easy but I can feel the warm memories you treasure.
    Thanks for sharing your sweet story and the wonderful photos. Isn’t it remarkable how such a simple experience can be so incredibly meaningful?

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  4. Yes, very meaningful. The birdfeeding incident was brief, but the thrill of the birds on my in-laws’ hands was a touching moment for me to see. It fit perfectly with my sister’s love of birds. Thanks for your kind thoughts.

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    • There, there. I suppose it means that I reached you. Hanna would be pleased to see that so many people cared. I only wish she could read these comments herself.
      For sure the world’s a poorer place without her.

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  5. Thanks for the story, Anneli. I wish I could have met Hanna, but I actually feel like I have through you. My oldest sister from Sask. is visiting us this week and she will be joined by my 2 younger sisters next weekend. It will be a very special time to have us 4 together; one that may never happen again.
    Happy Easter.

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  6. Hello Anneli, (what a beautiful name). I grew up with Hanna and my Mom Anne as best friends, they talked every day for over forty years until I had to move my Mom away from Dawson Creek to Kamloops about 10 years ago to live with me. I would love a story about yours and Hanna’s childhood, how you came to Canada and your parents and their lives in Dawson Creek. I did not realize Hanna lived in Dawson since childhood until I read “Leslie story”. Very nice, thanks for posting it, very heart warming blog. I was lucky enough to have just visited Hanna. She was very uncomfortable but as sharp in mind as ever. She was a wonderful woman. Margaret (Dertschal) Canty.

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  7. I just wanted to stop by and say thank you for following my blog and I’m so glad that I did..I am now following you. I am so sorry to hear of your loss.
    Your sister sounds like a wonderful person, and she would love this..So sweet.

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  8. very sorry to know it…can understand as i too have siblings…the connection we have with our sisters and brothers is so cool and different..a little like friends little like godfathers/mothers..its beyond words

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    • Thanks Noeleen. I still think of Hanna so many times because she was the one who made it possible for me to write my third novel, Julia’s Violinist. Sad that she didn’t live to see it published.

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  9. I just stumbled across this as I was looking up my omi’s obituary. (Anne Dertschal) I remember Hanna. She used to come visit us often at omi’s house. My Omi pronounced is “hunuh” with her heavy german accent. I was quite young then but I remember always being in awe of the two. She was a nice lady and had great stories she would always entertain me with them! I am sorry for your loss may she rest easy.

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    • I seem to remember a daughter of “Frau Dertschal” (your grandmother), named Annemarie. Is that right? And yes, you have the pronunciation right. I remember that your grandmother and Hanna were good friends. They only lived a block or two away from each other. Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your memories.

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  10. This was a special and older post which was sad and poignant, Anneli. Much belated hugs and I am sure you think of your sweet sister every holiday. Wishing your sister, Hanna were there still. The photos were of a beautiful person, young and then old. ❤

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