There is no question that my mother-in-law Henny Scherer left us far too soon but perhaps we shouldn’t have been too surprised because the thing is, Henny never stayed put for long.
Henny was a whirlwind. She shopped. She cooked. She gardened. She painted the house. She took a short break for a cappuccino. She played tennis. She learned about computers and home renovations. She laughed. She loved. She lived with passion and verve and humor.
She was my inspiration.
I first met Henny on a Sunday afternoon almost 11 years ago shortly after I started dating her son Robert. I learned later that she had demanded it after my name had been repeatedly dropped at a family dinner the night before. Apparently she had turned to Robert and said “That’s enough – now who the hell is this Kelly?!”
She couldn’t have yet known that soon I would be her biggest fan.
There are two things that no one can deny. The first is that Henny’s sons Robert and Peter both married very strong and outspoken women. The second is that both Robert and Peter adored their mother.
I like to think that perhaps Henny’s sons see a little bit of their mother in both LeeAnne and I, but perhaps I flatter myself, because truly, Henny was an original.
Henny was born in 1935 in The Hague in the Netherlands. Much of her childhood was spent under Nazi occupation. She didn’t like to talk about those years but she allowed this: there was hunger, there was pain and there was the constant fear that her older brother Eugene would be caught and punished for his role in the underground resistance.
Eugene was eventually caught and his death in a concentration camp was followed a few years later by her mother’s death, of a broken heart, Henny said.
But Henny, the baby of the family was already showing the determination and the resilience that we associate with her all these years later. At the earliest possible opportunity she joined the Dutch air force and immigrated to western Canada. A few years later in Toronto the gorgeous Dutch girl met a dashing Austrian immigrant named Karl Scherer and fell madly in love.
When she dated Karl Henny worked as a flight attendant. She said they would routinely pile into his little car and break all land speed records trying to get her to the Toronto airport in time for work where she was supposed to board the plane a half hour before passengers.
They never made it on time. But they didn’t care: They were on Scherer time.
Scherer time, for those of you who don’t know, runs approximately a half hour behind everyone else’s time.
Rob says one of his earliest memories was of his mom driving him to school every day and breaking more land speed records in the process. He remembers that one day the priest came over the intercom and advised all the students to keep a lookout and report on a green Chevy Nova that was loudly peeling into and out of the parking lot every morning.
Rob says he remembers how his classmates’ eyes widened around him and a whisper rippled through the room – “THAT’S ROB’S MOM!”
Yes, Henny was always in a hurry. But that was only because she was determined to make every minute of every day count. She had no time to waste and no patience for wasted time.
Right up until Christmas Henny looked after my son Graham one day a week while I was at work. I grew accustomed to arriving home to find our grocery shopping done, our house cleaned, our windows washed and our lawn and garden tended. And as for our son? He would be thoroughly loved, thoroughly exhausted and thoroughly proud of his new found ability to swear in Dutch.
Yes, I was spoiled to have a babysitter like Henny. We were all spoiled because Henny loved and cared for her family with the same zest and enthusiasm she brought to every area of her life.
Henny’s grandchildren Jordan, Cailey and Graham were her pride and her joy. She loved them with a ferocity that was absolutely beautiful to behold. She went out of her way to make each of them feel special and spend time with them individually. She really considered their personalities and thought, really thought, about how she could best try and meet their emotional needs.
Henny was thoughtful that way with all of us. She was always thinking about what we might need and was often stopping by with groceries we were short of, incidentals we hadn’t had time to buy and clothing and small gifts that she thought we would enjoy.
As a newlywed I will admit that it took me some time to adjust to having a mother-in-law who was such a big part of my day to day life. But very soon, and especially after the birth of my son, I took it for what it was: a true blessing.
I already have a wonderful mother and I like to think it is she who taught me how to be a mother myself. But Henny became my second mother and she taught me something different. Henny taught me how to be a mother-in-law: she taught me that when you have a son, if you want to stay close to that son, you must open your heart and love his wife as if she were a daughter.
And so she did.
And I loved her back. And I am all the richer for it – we are ALL the richer for her love. Karl, Peter, LeeAnne, Robert and I and especially her grandchildren. Our family’s challenge from this day forward will be to continue to love one other the way she loved us.
And I think we will.
I think we will try and love each other with the same kind of passion that she had for us. Because that is what Henny would have wanted and everyone here knows that when Henny wanted something she usually got it.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that by now that all the souls in heaven – God, the angels and all the saints - they’re all running on Scherer time.