Dundurn|February 16, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-1459704510
In this true story, Armande Martel, a young nun from Quebec, is arrested by the Germans in 1940 during a stay at her religious order’s mother house in Brittany. She spends the war years in a German concentration camp. After her return to Canada, she leaves the Church, finds the love of her life in Montreal, and adopts, Lise Dion.
Growing up, Lise is familiar with only a few facts of her mother’s past. It’s when she clears her mother’s small apartment after her death that Lise Dion discovers the key to the blue trunk, which was always locked. This key unlocks the mystery of Armande’s early life, and Lise decides to write The Secret of the Blue Trunk.
Lise Dion had been trying to phone her mother, Armande for two days but didn’t get an answer. Worried, she phoned the superintendent of her building and asked him if he would mind going to her apartment and checking on her. The superintendent was more than happy to do that for her and said he’d call her back in fifteen minutes.
Half an hour later, Lise still hadn’t heard back from him and she was worried sick that something was very wrong. Finally, after forty minutes he called her back and told her to come to her mother’s apartment right away. He wouldn’t tell her over the phone why.
When, Lise drove up in front of her mother’s apartment building she saw police and paramedics. She found out her mother had been dead for two days. She had died from a pulmonary embolism and had lost consciousness immediately so hadn’t suffered which was a relief for, Lise.
Before they closed the casket, Lise and her children put various items in beside her mother: drawings done by the children, her eye glasses, affectionate notes they’d written, photos of her husband and brother, and some of her favourite flowers.
Not quite twenty-four hours after the funeral the superintendent called, Lise to notify her that the apartment needed to be cleaned out immediately as he had new tenants moving in.
When, Lise entered the apartment she could still smell the decomposition odour and flung open all the windows before setting to work. When she looked around she wondered how she was going to get rid of everything that belonged to, Armande after having lived there for eight years.
Although, Lise was thirty-seven-years-old, she wondered how she was going to live without her mother. She felt she’d lost her “security, the consolation, and the sympathetic ear of her adored mother.” Never again would she be able to take refuge with her.
Reluctantly, Lise began packing up in the kitchen. Once it was empty she headed for her mother’s bedroom. She removed the sheets from the bed inhaling her mother’s scent one last time. Once the bedroom was cleaned out all that remained was the big blue trunk. The trunk had always been locked and, Lise had no idea what was inside. She said: “the mysterious, unfathomable, untouchable blue trunk…intrigued me throughout my childhood because it was always locked.” Attempting to open that trunk was strictly forbidden and would bring severe punishment if tampered with.
After some looking around, Lise located the key that would open it. Upon opening the trunk she found photographs of her mother and father, Lise’s adoption papers, a well-worn black rosary, medals of various saints, and a few other things. At the bottom was a black box, inside she found some old yellowed papers. One of them “commanded my mother to obey orders under penalty of death.” She also finds a photo of her mother in a nun’s habit!
Armande, a young nun in Quebec at the time, was arrested by the Germans in 1940 while staying at her religious order’s mother house in Brittany. She spent the war years in a German concentration camp.
At the very bottom of the trunk there were five notebooks tied together with ribbon. There was also a letter addressed to, Lise from, Armande explaining that she decided to tell Lise her life story through the notebooks so, Lise could know and understand what her life was like. Armande had left, Lise all her secrets.
The Secret of the Blue Trunk was a phenomenal read! A very sad read to learn what, Lise’s mother endured all those years. Life was not kind to her. I would highly recommend this memoir to anyone.