Mona Parsons Haiku

Pros of nun schooling –

Skills to stay so cool before

Nazi judge, death stalled.

You might have inferred from my post about my dear Grandpa Ivan that beneath the plaid exterior of the Nova Scotian man potentially lies the heart of a badass. Turns out, that applies to the women too.

Mona Louise Parsons was born in 1901 in Middleton, Nova Scotia, to Mary and Norval (a businessman). The family jumped over to Wolfville in 1911 after a fire put paid to Norval’s store and many others beside and Mona wound up being educated at the local seminary. When a certain war broke out, her pops and her two big bros signed up. Fortunately, they made it back alive. While the phenomenon wasn’t pronounced as it was during the next world war, you did get still get a substantial uptick in women filling in for our boys overseas at the workplace, granting them a certain degree of independence that they hadn’t enjoyed before. Mona looked at this and thought, “Fuck yeah. A job.”

So (after alternately teaching and taking classes) she aimed for acting. Not… the most stable of professions. She did land a role with the Ziegfield Follies (a Broadway stage revue that ran for over two decades), but she eventually realised that she was getting older, the acting profession was not kind to women getting older, and thus she wasn’t likely to be cast in any role that had any depth. Then the Depression hit and her mom died of a stroke, so she figured… Nursing? Yes, nursing. And she was good at it!

And then in 1937, she met Willem Leonhardt, a Dutch millionaire, via her brother. They fell in lurve. Willem let her know that he was divorced, and that his wife had a son via an adulterous affair. Mona decided she was cool with that and nuptials proceeded. Off to the Netherlands!

If you take a look at that date in the prior paragraph, you might remember that this wasn’t the best timing for a move to Europe.

But hey! 1940 comes, the Nazis have just invaded; what else can you do but join the local resistance? Mona and Willem’s contribution: stashing downed Allied airmen in their house. From their, others in the network would get them to Leiden. Fishing boats would then ship these strapping young men off to waiting British submarines.

In September 1941, it all went wrong. The resistance network was compromised. The two latest airmen couldn’t be moved as planned. After six days, they decided to make a break for it – only to be captured by the Gestapo. On the 29th, Mona was arrested. She was sentenced to death by firing squad on December 22, but judge, amazingly, let her appeal. Whatever she said must have worked, because her sentence was commuted to life with hard labour.

(Although to be frank, that’s still pretty much a death sentence in Nazi terms, just more drawn out.)

Eventually, she wound up at the prison camp in Vechta, Germany. Through sickness and malnutrition, Mona came to tip the scales at 94 lbs. She was 5’8. Her brain suffered too, from a lack of stimulation – conversation during the 12 hour work shifts was not allowed. Not that they had anything to talk about. Or had the energy to talk. This went on for years.

In March, 1945, the Allies bombed the prison camp. Parsons took this opportunity to escape, in the company of the Dutch Baroness Wendelien van Boetzelaer (whom she had previously befriended with a potato.) The two tramped through 125 km of German countryside – the baroness always doing the talking as, though she could speak German very well, thank you, Mona thought her accent would give her away. So she pretended to be Wendelien’s dim relative. They got separated at the border, but Mona made it across the Dutch border.

Where she met a farmer. Who led her to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Some of whom actually knew her from way back when and were able to confirm her identity. It’s a small world after all!

And it turns out her husband survived his imprisonment too! Great! Everything’s coming up Mona!

Yeah, no. Willem’s physical condition wasn’t too hot post-imprisonment, and Mona was essentially his nursemaid until he died in 1956. And then! (drumroll)

Hey, remember that illegitimate son of his ex-wife Willem told Mona about? Turns out, ha, the kid was in fact his son and under Dutch law, entitled to 3/4 of Willem’s estate. The other quarter, he left to a goddamned mistress that he’d been carrying on with during his decline. Mona was left pretty much destitute, and no amount of legal action was going to change that.

Christ on a crutch, what an asshole.

Parsons returned to Nova Scotia and married childhood friend Major General Harry Foster in 1959. Cancer made her a widow again just five years later.

As the years passed, Parsons began suffering from slurred speech, memory lapses, and nightmares. The neighbours attributed this to alcoholism. Nope, strokes. Eventually, her physical condition degraded that her only recreation she was capable of was watching TV.

Mona Parsons died in 1976.

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