New memoir helps singer-songwriter Veda Hille see her mother in a new light
Rosanna Hille thought the years she spent travelling the world running a humanitarian agency would make for a good book.
Her new memoir, Swimming in Stories: The River of My Life, traces the path that led her through the West Coast counterculture of the 1960s and 70s to her current journey living with Parkinson's disease.
The textile designer and gifted writer was born in South Africa and spent her early childhood in Denmark before settling in B.C.
Her daughter, singer-songwriter and storyteller Veda Hille, says the book has helped her see her mother in a new light.
"We just look at our parents and we see them as the person they are in relationship to us," she told CBC's North by Northwest host Margaret Gallagher. "So being able to see her as a whole person is a great gift."
The title of the book comes from one of the chapters called "Swimming the World," which lists all of the places where Hille jumped in the water and swam.
Hille says her mother kept letters from her childhood, which helped the writer tap into long-forgotten memories.
"I'm very grateful to her for having kept up my voice," Hille says.
In the book, Hille writes about her first job as a waitress, before she started her studies at the University of British Columbia.
"The last summer, before I left for university, I worked as a carhop at the Riverside Drive-in restaurant, a little west of town on the Yellowhead Highway to Prince Rupert … I learned a lot about life and human nature," she writes.
In a later section, she talks about the counterculture movement, the Vancouver scene around West 4th Avenue, the tensions between "hippies" and the city government and how the city's history has shaped its cultural landscape today.
"I think it was a very rich time for me," Hille says.
The book also explores the family's connection to spirituality through Subud, an interfaith movement that began in Indonesia in the 1920s.
Veda says it's based on the experience of opening oneself to the grace of whatever higher power one believes in.
"It's based on an experience rather than a book … It's something that just enters your life … But it's not for everyone," she says.
The book also highlights Hille's travels where she examines her privilege as a western traveller.
"I've been fortunate to witness and learn firsthand about social injustice and to observe power dynamics, to see the impact of the gap between rich and poor, and gradually to understand through different cultural lenses," Hille writes in the book.
Hille says the book also looks at what it's like to live with Parkinson's disease.
One section of her book talks about the splendour of walking, one of many challenges people with Parkinson's face.
"It's been useful … [I have] gratitude and hope," Hille says.
"That's an incredible attitude, mom," Veda says. "I really admire that."
Swimming in Stories: The River of My Life is available for purchase on Hille's website.