Agnes Spicer. She carried a bazooka. Drank vodka. Swore like a trooper. And oh, yeah, my mother wore army boots. At last count, she had six alias’s, three husbands, three kids, three grand-children, and four great grandchildren. And one hell of a story. This is her story, told for the first time, as best I can.
I am not a historian. I am the Traitor’s Daughter.
She was a kid when she joined the Soviet Red Army. 19? 20? I don’t know. It’s a detail lost to the grave now, like so many details of her life. She had some parachute training in Russia. Landed on her ass. “Disgraced myself!” she laughed! In Nazi Germany, she saved the life of a French POW running for freedom. (You’ll see how in the film we’re going to make together.) She trained a cow named Emma to let her hitch a ride back to the prisoner camp, after 18 hours in the field work for her slave labour/owner. I met the grandson of that family 25 years ago, when I made my first serious foray into the Nazi chapter of my mother’s life-story. It was a surreal experience and my first taste of how tricky the whole business of telling her story was going to be. Let’s just say for now, the adult German grandson serving me tea in the lovely farmhouse didn’t remember the stories quite the same way.
When Mom told me the story of how Emma slipped into a water-filled ditch one day, and drowned, she wept. It was the first time in my life I ever saw her cry. I was ten years old. Now it’s my turn.
I make this film through tears, longing and laughter for the moments we shared together. She was my best friend, my muse, and her story became my bête noir. She inspired me, exasperated me, infuriated me, and shaped me into the person I am today. I loved her beyond words.
She is a reluctant subject, even now beyond the grave, her voice reaches out to me, warning me, not to tell her story at all. But this is an obsession: It started in the midnight hours off the Number Seven Highway in Saskatchewan as a kid mesmerized by the Russian woman, blasting the Red Army choir on the family HiFi, and telling fragmented stories, when she thought no one was really listening.
Mom was so much more than her war-time experiences, of course. Around Netherhill, Saskatchewan (Goggle’s number one ghost-town!), back in the Cold War days, she was a legendary cook. My Dad built her a coffee shop off the highway to entice traveling salesmen and whatnot. It had one table and four seats at the counter, and locals lined up to grab one of them at dinner-time as we called ‘lunch’ on the prairies. She made former NDP leader Dave Lewis take off his muddy shoes, before he came in for a roast beef sandwich, swimming in gravy. Anyone who asked her about her Russian accent got an icy stare. She wrapped herself in a private iron curtain.
Is there an expiry date on secrets? Do I have a right to tell this story, exposing a world my mother hid from her children, her family, and friends for an entire lifetime? Will I regret I didn’t heed her final warning?
As a journalist, I want the answers. As a daughter, I fear the truth.
For all of those who loved her so much, and knew her so little, I take the leap.