Can a sketchbook from the past help Juliana move forward?
Juliana and Rachel have been best friends for years. Which is why living so far from one another has been so hard. When tragedy strikes Rachel’s family, Juliana begs to be by her friend’s side, but her family forbids the cross-country journey. Scared this tragedy could threaten her friendship with Rachel forever, Juliana once again seeks guidance from her great-grandmother’s sketchbook.
The war has left Elisabeth’s cousin Georg with horrible nightmares. Everyone fears and ridicules him, and the pastor declares Georg’s suffering a punishment from God. But Elisabeth wonders: Does God not call on His followers to help those who are suffering? When she tries to help him, though, customers threaten to stop taking their shoes to Mammi, and Mammi also reveals why she believes Georg deserves these nightmares. Does Elisabeth obey her mother and stay away from her cousin? Or does she try to help a former solider whose mind is surrendering to memories of the horrific war?
As Juliana struggles to support a mourning Rachel from afar, and Elisabeth toils with conflicting feelings about Georg’s anguish, both girls face difficult decisions about how they can best help people they love grieve.
What Friends Do is the fourth book in Lori Wolf-Heffner’s contemporary/historical series, Between Worlds. For those who love history, the arts, and family ties, pick up a copy of What Friends Do and enjoy a story that spans generations.
"A very educational story about empathy, family bonds, the effects of war, deep friendships, loss, grief, acceptance and maturity. A very worthwhile read!"
"I have to say it was heart-warming and uplifting to see how these girls face their difficulties with such maturity and in such a positive, affirming way."
The greasy smells of hamburgers and sausages greeted Juliana as she dropped her bag on the floor.
“Hey!” Dad looked up from the stove, a smile on his face. “How was your first day of the semester?”
Juliana couldn’t answer. She swallowed but she could no longer hold in her tears.
“Jules?” He now looked concerned. “What’s wrong?”
Emotions rose up in her but no words. She ran into her room and slammed the door behind her. She reached for her bag so she could call Rachel right away, and remembered she’d left it in the kitchen.
“Great,” she muttered and swung her door to get it, almost crashing into Dad, who had followed her.
“You need to tell me what’s wrong.”
Where would she start? With the fact that moving inthe middle of grade nine was the worst thing that hadever happened to her? That she sucked at her new dance studio? That life had been just fine back in Calgary? Or would she start with today’s news and work her way back?
“Rachel’s mom is on life support,” she blurted out, choosing the last option.
Dad’s eyes got big and his jaw dropped. “Kim? What happened?”
“Car accident and that’s all I know. Now let me get my phone.”
Dad stepped out of the way and followed Juliana back to the kitchen. “Jules, I’m so sorry.”
Juliana whipped around to face him. “I could be there with her right now if we hadn’t moved to Kitchener!” she yelled. She found her bag in the kitchen, stomped back to her room and slammed the door again.
She dialled Rachel’s number, but no one answered, so she texted in case Rachel could see her phone but couldn’t pick up.
Dad knocked and came in. He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, took a deep breath, and then sat down in Juliana’s office chair. “Listen, I know you’re angry.”
“You have no idea what I’m feel—”
Dad held up his hand. “Jules, just listen to me. I’ve watched bad things happen to friends of mine, too. I can help you through this.”
Juliana looked up. Why did he have to bring that up now? She was as mad as a tiger and he raised the one topic that could cut through that: his past, something he rarely spoke about.
Dad continued. “I know it’s a horrible feeling when you can’t be there to help your friends. But getting angry at me isn’t going to help. Come have a snack. You know how you get when you’re hungry. Then text Rachel.”
Juliana wiped her eyes. “I already did. No answer.”
Juliana could tell Dad wanted to hug her but was holding back. She wanted to hug him, too, but she was still pissed off that he and Mom had forced her to move halfway across the country. It had already been six weeks since they had moved and things hadn’t improved. And now this with Rachel’s mom.
“I have to flip the meat. Come out and eat something, even if it’s something small. She’ll respond when she’s able to. Besides, you still have your homework to do, and dance tonight.”
“I know that!” Her best friend’s mom was on life support and all he could think about was her schedule?
Dad stepped into the hallway and waved for her to follow him. “Whatever happens, you need to take care of yourself. Trust me: it’s the only way to get through these things and to be there for the person when they need you.”
“Five, six, seven, eight!" Miss Denise yelled and all twenty-four dancers in Juliana’s class began a series of flaps into a new formation while Miss Denise clapped out the beat. Their first competition was in a few weeks so every class they practised different sections of the dance.
Juliana arrived at her spot, threw her arm up, her fist exploding into a jazz hand, and immediately ducked as she saw someone else’s hand coming at her. She realized she had used her left hand when she should have thrown up her right. Miss Denise stopped and sighed.
“Okay. Let’s try again.”
“Sorry,” Juliana mumbled and she dragged her feet toher starting position.
“Five, six, seven, eight!” Juliana started her flaps. Rachel had finally texted. She was with her dad. No change in her mom. She wished Juliana was there with her.
Juliana hadn’t known what to say so she had replied, “Text me as soon as you need something.” Was that cold? But what else could she do from across the country?
“Juliana!” Miss Denise called out.
Everyone stared at Juliana, and she shrank under their frustration and impatience.
“You’re in my spot,” Mackenzie said, pushing a purple strip of hair out of her eyes.
Juliana mumbled another apology and trudged back toher starting position. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a look of concern from Jasmine, the best dancer in the group.
“Juliana,” Miss Denise said, her tone softer now. “You seem really distracted. Is everything okay?”
“Are you sure?” Miss Denise asked.
Juliana glanced around at the class again. Jasmine looked skeptical but everyone else looked annoyed, obviously wanting to get on with practice.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Okay. Then let’s take it from the top.”
This time, Juliana got the arms right and landed in the right position, but when it came to the kick, she had to jerk her foot back before she broke Mackenzie’s nose.
Miss Denise clapped to signal everyone should stop.
Juliana crossed her arms and looked down at the floor.“Sorry, everyone.”
Jasmine touched her shoulder. “You’re usually more focused than this. Something must be really bothering you. Whatever it is, we’re here for you.”
A few of the dancers nodded in agreement with Jasmine and the tension in the studio relaxed.
Juliana looked up. “Rachel, my best friend from Calgary? Her mom’s on life support.” Tears formed in Juliana’s eyes.
Murmurs of concern rippled through the team and two girls gave Juliana a quick rub on the shoulder.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Miss Denise said. “Do you need to take five? Get a drink of water or something?”
Juliana nodded. Her arms still crossed, shoulders hunched over, chin down to hide her face, she walked out of the studio, down the long corridor, and into the junior girls’ dressing room. She zipped open her bag and pulled her phone from its usual pouch.
Nothing more from Rachel. “Maybe she doesn’t need me,” Juliana whispered but she stared at her phone for the full five minutes, hoping a new message would come through.
“That’s not all I have to show you,” Maria said. She pulled a postcard out of her satchel.
“What is that?” Elisabeth took the postcard. The picture was of a rather large, plain house with two floors of small windows.
“A cigar factory from Harrisburg.”
Elisabeth gasped. “Is this where Tata works?”
“Turn it over.” Elisabeth jumped out of her chair.
Tata had written!
To my dear family,
I trust you received my first letter. I have not received your reply yet. But when I saw this postcard, and knew Maria would be sent a gift, I had to ask if I could include this. The factory I work in looks like this one. I am earning well and am saving all I can. I hope you are all doing well. I also know my Golden One will be confirmed soon. Study hard, like I know you can, Elisabeth. Jesus is watching. And please give my regards to my brother.
Golden One was what Tata called Elisabeth sometimes. She bent over and wrapped her arms around Maria, who was still sitting. “I can’t wait to show Mammi and my brother and sisters!” She took one step toward the door and stopped.
“What?” Maria asked. “Is something wrong?”
Elisabeth sat back down. “Mammi got into a fight outside church today with Tata’s family. This afternoon, Mammi forbade me from having anything to do with them again, and now Tata asks in his postcard to give his regards to them. I don’t want to get Mammi upset again.” Especially with her baby, she thought, though she couldn’t say that.
An uncomfortable silence followed. Maria intertwined her fingers and stared at her hands. She looked like she wanted to say something but was too scared to.
“What is it?” Elisabeth asked.
Maria still stared at her hands.
“Best friends tell each other the truth.”
Maria smoothed out her apron, but she still would not look up. “People are saying that you should not be spending time with Georg if you know what’s good for you.”
Elisabeth could hardly believe her ears. She and her cousin were the topic of the rumour mill? “What’s good for me? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Maria cautiously looked up, scratched her nose and ran her hand over her braided hair. Was it that serious that Elisabeth’s best friend couldn’t answer her question directly?
“It means...you’ll have a hard time finding a good husband if Georg is one of your friends.”
Elisabeth banged her fist on the table. “He’s a member of my family! What do they expect me to do: get rid of him?”
Maria jumped in her chair at Elisabeth’s outburst. Elisabeth tucked a few wisps of hair behind her ears and lowered her chin. “I’m sorry,” she said in a quieter voice. “I just don’t see why this is anyone’s business.”
“They’re afraid Georg will kill anyone he doesn’t like. No one would want to marry someone... associated... with him.”
“Why...? How...?” Dozens of questions formed in Elisabeth’s mind, but they all jumbled into one mess that couldn’t untangle itself, leaving her speechless.
Maria adjusted her apron again. “When he gets all crazy, he sometimes pretends to shoot people. People are saying he’s imagining who he’ll kill next.”
“People? What people?” Elisabeth wanted names.
“Wagner Anna said she heard it from Tiny Hay, who’s of course cousins with Stefan, who’s Georg’s only friend, so he may have said something, but Omi heard from Hagel Samuel who heard it from Meier Josef who actually saw it, but I think he also heard it from Müller Anna who also told—”
“All right,” Elisabeth said. “In other words, everyone.”
Maria leaned in, looking a little perplexed. “Haven’t you seen him? He has at least one episode a week, though I hear lately it’s been more.”
Elisabeth sighed. She disliked gossip, but at the same time, what else was there to talk about? She explained the one time she had seen Georg collapse in a fit of shakes in his home and how she had seen her aunt slap him in a futile attempt to force him to stop. “But he didn’t look like he was shooting anyone—he looked like he was seeing something horrible.”
“Probably what will happen to him if he does kill someone.” Elisabeth gave Maria a disapproving look.“Fine, fine, that was too harsh. But what else would he see? How many men went to war and came back fine? Look at your father.”
Elisabeth had to admit that Maria was right. Tata had been to war, and although he never talked about it, he didn’t shout out like his nephew or collapse—as Mammi had once described Georg—like a sack of potatoes.
“I feel sorry for your father,” Maria continued. “To be related to someone like that, and who’s the oldest son in his own family, no less. All your uncle’s land will go to him instead of your fine family.” She shook her head. “That must be embarrassing.”
Elisabeth hadn’t thought of it that way before. If Mammi didn’t want her spending time with Tata’s family, and Tata was embarrassed by Georg’s behaviour, then maybe she should obey their wishes. Tata probably just wanted Elisabeth to pass on his greetings to be polite. But what could she do about the fact that Georg had helped her out several times precisely because Tata was away?
“No, Maria, that can’t make sense. Tata and Konrad-Bátschi don’t get along—everyone knows that—but Tata has always tried to at least be nice to him and his family, or if not nice, then at least polite. But Georg helped me on our fields on Friday, and with the pigs and all of that mess. Never once did he look like he was going to kill someone. Not even Hagel Samuel.”
Maria’s expression became serious. “Lissika, you see so much good in people, I think you sometimes aren’t careful enough. Just because Georg is good for a few minutes once in a while doesn’t mean he isn’t crazy. I even heard some people say they might stop bringing their shoes to your family, especially because you forced Hagel Samuel to work with him.”
Elisabeth jumped out of her chair. “What?! Because Hagel Samuel couldn’t keep his son in line to properly fix our animal stalls?” She paced up and down the room.“What would they have me do? Fix the stalls myself ? They have no idea what’s happening here.” She shot a look up atthe crucifix. Jesus, how can You let this happen?
“What do you mean?” Maria asked.
Elisabeth realized she’d almost told Mammi’s secret. “Just... just...” She tried to think of something to say. “Just that Tata’s away, we have no other men in the house, Mammi’s brothers aren’t much help—Omama even spent a week here when that whole pig problem happened because Peter-Bátschi and Sophie-Néni couldn’t keep their children under control—and the war has taken many good, strong men from us. I’m doing my best to help Mammi. What do people expect?”
Maria tucked the magazine back into her satchel. “They expect you to act like a woman, Lissika. To know where your place is, to let the men do their work, and to associate with the right people.” She passed Elisabeth the postcard. “Your father only says to give his regards to his family, not to help them, be kind to them, or anything like that. He’s being polite, as you said. No one is asking you to be rude, just to stop spending time with them. You know these rumours will pass, but only if you stop feeding them.”
Elisabeth held the postcard in her hands. Both Tata and Mammi would want Elisabeth to act in the best interests of the family, and she did not want to be the one to cause the family to fall, as Pastor Fröhlich had warned. Maybe that’s why Tata tries to be nice to his brother: to keep his family together. She suddenly felt an even deeper respect for her father and even more scorn for Konrad-Bátschi.
“I will try,” she said.“I’m sorry,” Maria said. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. But we both want to marry well, and we can only do that if we know what others think about us.”
Maria changed into her boots at the house door while Elisabeth got her shawls.
“To be honest,” Maria said, “I do feel sorry for Georg. Whatever is causing these shakes, it’s embarrassing enoughfor him, and I think the others are being too cruel. But if these shakes are God’s punishment, then is everyone’s behaviour wrong? What if the people are helping God punish Georg?” She threw her satchel over her shoulder.
Elisabeth hadn’t thought of that either. Luther preached that God punished those who did not follow His word, and she remembered Luther’s admonishment about anyone who did not follow the Ten Commandments. Georg had been a frightening and scornful man before the war. Maybe God was finally paying attention. Maybe Georg’s shakes were indeed of his own doing and he wasn’t taking responsibility for them.
Mammi was right: Elisabeth should stay away fromTata’s family.
She glanced at the postcard. I’m sorry, she thought, but this time I need to disobey you and listen to Mammi.
How can family rifts be healed when problems from the past keeps pulling them apart?
Growing up is hard enough. Why does family have to make it harder?
Friends hold our hands and light the way through tragedy, no matter how far away they live.
When do you give up on a search for a family treasure?
Can a move half way across the country be a blessing in disguise?
Time will march forward, no matter how terrifying the future seems.
Sometimes a parent’s love, even when deeply desired, can become overwhelming.
Lori Wolf-Heffner began baton twirling as a toddler. But one bonk on the head from that shiny stick sent her to jazz class instead, leading Lori into a successful competition dance career that culminated with becoming an inaugural member of the Canadian National Tap Team in 1996.
In 2015, the Canadian Senior Artists' Resource Network accepted Lori into their one-year mentorship program. Mentored by Carol McQuaig, Lori wrote the first version of Postcards in a Closet, a creative non-fiction memoir about Katharina Wolf, a great-grandmother who was a single mom-to-be in the aftermath of World War I. At first printed only for family, Lori published it later for the public.
Inspired by her great-grandmother’s story, Lori wrote and published Between Worlds 1: The Move in 2018. The rest, as they say, is history.