The Canadian years, 54 our father

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Sunday 11 January 20:31


Father Ohler

The church was Lutheran from origin but was also open to other denominations as well. My father had parked the van next to the church and my mother beamed as she was helped out of the open door. As always on Sundays we were dressed to a T, the little sisters with a bow in their hair, my big sister who always looked good , even if she would have worn a potato sack and my father and I smartly dressed. My brother was missing, he probably helped his girlfriend now out of his car at the zoo .. Pastor Ohler came forward to meet my mother. He embraced her, ‘welcome to the house of God,’ he said, and ‘I thought you'd never be able to visit us.’ He looked bigoted and was at the end of his career. A long lean and somewhat gloomy-looking man. My mother beamed. She wanted to say something back but the walk and talk was too much of a good thing. She became very breathless. I suddenly realized that she would never sing in church to praise the creator. The entire Lutheran liturgy is almost sung, in question and answer combinations, between pastor and his flock.

 God would not hold that against her, I thought. The service was short and focused on the prodigal son, and I thought how appropriate my father would find that. He would pick out only those elements which he thought desirable. After the service, the pastor located himself at the exit, and as was customary in our church, you gave him a hand when walking out. I had deliberately let people slip in between. And so there was some space between me and my family. Father Ohler always said something, even if  it only was, ‘good to see you.’ ‘Father,’ I said, when I shook his hand, which I did not let go, to have the opportunity to talk to him. ‘Father,’ I said, ‘I have got problems, can I make an appointment with you?’ ‘What kind of problems, son’, said the old man kindly,’ then I can prepare myself better on how to help you. ‘My father is misbehaving at home and I want your opinion on this in a private conversation.’ The face of our pastor became concerned, my father was a popular Christian thanks to his donations to the church. He was the epitome of civilization and piety.’ I am sometimes afraid of him,’ I added, ‘ do you want to keep this between us?’

‘I’ll call you,’ said the shepherd of our flock. ‘Father, this remains between us,’ I asked, ‘otherwise I consider it rather, as not said.’ ‘This is between us’, smiled the friendly face of pastor Ohler. He let go of my hand and turned to the next believer. ‘Thank you father,’ I said, catching up quickly with my family members. After the service there was always a gathering with coffee and donuts and it was here that I saw Judy, for the first time. She turned around and I saw that she was my age and the ice was broken, we smiled at each other.


‘Can I get coffee and a donut for you, ‘I asked.’ I'd like that very much,’ she said, ‘then I'll find a place for us’. It was not easy, moments later with two donuts and two cups of coffee, I came wriggling through a crowd of people around me. It went well, without spilling any coffee. She was beautiful, but you’d expect that, because the first attraction is always a physical one. She was beautiful inside as well, I realized. We talked about anything and everything and it was like we had known each other for years. She had two sisters and her father was a broker. My father came to get me, ‘come on boy,’ he said, ‘we are going to Frank Slide, we don’t have all day. ‘Dad’, I said,’ this is Judy.’ She smiled and said, 'pleased to meet you.' My father took her slender hand and shook it ,’ likewise,’ he replied. ‘I did not know this was your father,’ and she looked approvingly at us. ‘No,’ I thought. ‘you don’t know how deceiving appearances can be.’ ‘Are you coming next week to the service,’ I asked. ‘Yes’, she said,’ I'll see you at the donuts’ and she darted away. ‘That's a nice young lady,’ my father said as he watched her walk away and I actually thought without reason,’ I want you to stay far away from her.‘ But, I answered in the affirmative.

Frank Slide was a few hours drive from Calgary and we understood immediately why the village on arrival was called Frank Slide. It was one mass of stone boulders. A memorial board told the story of Frank Slide.

Early in the morning on April 29, 1903 a piece of mountain, 'turtle mountain', broke off. The miners village, Frank, was in the lee of the mountain. The piece of mountain that fell over the village was 1,000 meters by 425 meters with a height of 150 meters. 90 million tons of rock wall fell over the village and caused a landslide that lasted only 100 seconds and buried the village and 90% of the inhabitants, blotting them out as if they had never existed.

Cowboys who were with their herd outside the village, heard and  watched the landslide take place, it took about 1 to 2 minutes of raining down boulders and then a deathly silence. The distance covered was 90 seconds indicating a fallingdown speed of 112 kilometers per hour. The villagers had no chance. The blow of the crashing mountain was heard in Cochrane located 200 kilometers north of the town of Frank.

It was known that the mountain was unstable and the Blackfoot and Kutenai Indians called the mountain since people recollection, ‘the mountain that moves’. They avoided the mountain for that reason. There were reports of the miners, in a logbook, some weeks prior to the downturn of the mountain, sounds of the shift had been heard in the tunnels

 A team of miners had just entered the pits, when the slide occurred. The three who were still outside were killed  immediately. The team that had just descended found themselves cut off from the outside world when the entrance collapsed behind them and closed  them in by tons and tons of boulders. They followed the tunnel shaft to the interior of the mountain and worked in rows to open an air shaft that brought them up from the collapsing area. All survived. When they came out and looked around they saw only a vast plain with boulders where the village had been. The 15-year-old Lillian Clark for was at the lodge,  and she alone  of her family survived the slide.


We stood and read the story in silence. I walked to the edge of the road and leaned over a fence and looked out over the stone mass. The people were still buried under the blocks and it was impossible to move 90 million tons of rocks. We humans are but puny, I realized, we are all people that die when it is our time. I moved into the village and let my thoughts go out to them. I thought,’ people of Frank, so roughly torn from your life, I stand here and think of you. I wish you peace, and tranquility. How awful that this has happened to you.’ My thoughts were roughly interrupted by my father. ‘Come on’, he said,  ‘don’t be standing there staring, those that are dead, will not come back and realize that every life can be extinguished, just as easily, For no reason. Let’s find somewhere to have a cup of coffee.

We were all silent and felt sad by what we had just seen and a little later we took a coffee in a cheerless reataurant. Death had shown it’s face in all its ugliness. Seeing a disaster is different to hearing about it. We drove back more or less in silence. My brother had indeed missed something impressive. Impressive in its horror. My mother was asleep and I told the children a fairy tale.

When we parked the van and we walked our mother gently home, between us, we heard  the phone ringing. We were too late, it stopped when my father opened the door. Moments later, it went again, my mother was by then already in her easy chair. My father picked up the receiver. ‘So’, he said,’ is that a fact,’ and he listened attentively. ‘No,’ he continued, ‘that doesn’t ring a bell.’ ‘You a blessed day as well father,’ and he hung up. ‘That,’ said my father, ‘was pastor Ohler, it seems that you're worried about me. He has asked me to give you more attention. I will see to that.

San Daniel 2015

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Ik krijg gewoon weer de rillingen bij die laatste zinnen.....
een goed verstaander...