Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A lasting lesson taught in kindness

Drawings in the snow spur a memorable talk

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Debby Lexier (left) and Marnie Barker meet again at the spot where they talked many years ago about what Barker and her friend drew in the snow.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Debby Lexier (left) and Marnie Barker meet again at the spot where they talked many years ago about what Barker and her friend drew in the snow. Photo Store

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how they made you feel.

-- Maya Angelou

 

Marnie Barker was only a child, yet she has never forgotten how one woman she met only momentarily made her feel on a long-ago winter morning.

For some reason, the memory always returns at this season, when people are celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah. Which is why she finally decided to share it now.

"It is about the things we teach each other in the small moments of life that can have a profound and lasting effect," Marnie wrote by way of introduction.

She called it: A Winnipeg Story, because that's what it is.

And she began to write...

'It is about the things we teach each other in the small moments of life that can have a profound and lasting effect'

-- Marnie Barker, who was taught an important lesson as a child

-- -- --

In the winter of 1967, I was eight years old. Our family lived on Lanark Street near Mathers on the edge of River Heights, and my journey to Grade 3 classes each morning consisted of a stop at my best friend Gail's house before heading north past the Ramah School to John Dafoe Elementary.

This particular day had seen a light dusting of new snow and Gail and I had picked up willow sticks and were ambling along etching our names in the crusted snow. When we got across from the Ramah School, we noticed drawings on the side of the building and were meticulously trying to re-create them in a snowbank in front of my classmate Jonathan Lexier's house.

We had been at it for a few minutes when an attractive dark-haired lady we assumed was Jonathan's mom emerged from the house. She quickly took in what we were doing and knelt down to talk to us. When she asked us what we were drawing, we pointed to the Hebrew school and told her we were making pictures like the ones on the side of the building. We didn't know the "pictures" we were copying in the snow were swastikas. We didn't know what swastikas were.

I do not remember the exact words she used, but I will never forget her kindness.

She quietly told us that what we were drawing was the symbol for a very bad man who had killed many Jewish people and caused great sadness to families just like hers.

Horrified, we dropped our sticks and apologized, ashamed. She smiled at us. She went back in her house and we carried on to school.

That encounter was more than 45 years ago.

As an adult, I often think back and wonder if I would have been as calm and kind in a similar situation, and also if my impression of this lovely lady would have been very different if she had come out of her house in anger, as she surely would have been justified to do. As a result of her quiet explanations, however, my memory of that day is only of the lesson I was taught, which resulted in an enduring curiosity and compassion for the Jewish people of the Holocaust. It was what we would call now a teachable moment. And the lesson stuck.

So, in this holiday season, I remember Mrs. Lexier and that walk, and the importance of teaching one another with sensitivity and compassion about what is important. I do not know if Mrs. Lexier is still with us, but she has remained, in that small moment, one of the most memorable teachers of my life.

-- -- --

I went in search of the woman whose kindness and sensitivity Marnie has never forgotten.

And I found her.

Debby Lexier, and her husband, Easton, still live in the same Lanark Street house little Marnie Barker saw her step out of that otherwise unremarkable winter day at the end of Canada's centennial year.

Debby, a retired interior designer, is 83. Easton, a retired structural engineer, is 87. And on Sunday they were both there when Debby and Marnie were reunited at the Lexiers' home, and on the same snow-covered sidewalk where the lesson that has lasted a lifetime was taught.

The Ramah School that had been across the street is gone now, replaced by condos that block the sunsets the Lexiers used to enjoy watching through their front windows.

Gone too, for Debby, is the memory of that day.

Strange what events mark our memories, and which don't. And how, without our knowing it, just being who we are can leave an impression that lasts, and perhaps influences, a lifetime.

Which brings me to what might serve as the end of the story.

Whatever happened to that little girl whose memory was so indelibly marked as a child by how sensitively she was treated by a woman who didn't even know her?

The answer is Marnie Barker grew up to be a social worker who specializes in helping families and children in need. She, like Debby Lexier, may never know how many children will remember her forever.

Simply because of her kindness and how she made them feel.

For even a moment.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2013 B1

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