14, Number 78, April/May 2011 Life in a Canadian Village by Hilda J. Born
The friendly village of Blumenort in which I was born is located in Southern Saskatchewan. Lying just east of the number four highway, it is right in the centre of a fertile farm area. Twenty-one brown frame homes occupied by twenty-one families stand there on either side of the road running east and west. Each home is built on a yard lot of similar size, and is joined to the next by a common fence. Around this group of homes is the community pasture and beyond stretch acres and acres of golden grain.
As you come along the highway and approach Blumenort at dawn you will hear the tinkle of a bell and the trampling of cattle hooves. The village herdsboy is just rounding up cattle and will take them to the community pasture. As soon as the bell is heard, each villager opens the gate and lets
his cattle join in the general concourse of beasts.
Unique architecture is employed in the construction of the Mennonite homes. The house, pump-shed, barn, garage, and granary are all harboured under one roof. At one end of the structure are the rooms used by the
family. A hall usually used also as pumphouse separates this from the barn. On one side are several stalls for the cattle and beside this is a shed called the “ovenside” used for storing chop and bags of sunflower seeds. Along the other end of the building is the granary and above this is the hayloft.
The church, the centre of community life, is situated in the middle of the village, opposite Flowerville School. All are welcome to worship here. When the harvesting is finished, ladies bake a cake, some buns, and roast a fat
fowl for the Thanksgiving Festival. Very few people are absent at this occasion because it gives them an opportunity for meeting not only people from our village but also from other nearby villages that have been cordially invited. Hopefully every one forgets his own needs with the result that the collection plate will groan under its weight.
The wealth of the harvest is exhibited in the feast that is provided. An ample supply of provisions is on hand. As soon as one lady notices that there are only a few golden buns left, she calls Johnnie to her side. She whispers something to him and he dashes off toward home. In the wink of an eye he is back with two more pailfuls of buns that she had put away in the pantry to be ready just in case they should be needed. Families bring a variety of tasty food and pickles cooked from the choicest vegetables. After having a delicious brown drumstick each visitor receives a slice of cake topped with frothy icing. When all the appetites have been satisfied the villagers divide the remaining delicacies and happily return home.
As soon as the snowflakes appear on the ground we begin to wonder whether it isn’t time for the pig butchering bees. One morning on our way to school we notice the men are gathered in little groups near Funk’s, Friesen’s, and Schmidt’s gates discussing the weight of the hogs. Now we are sure that there will soon be fresh spareribs. Typical Mennonite co-operation is shown at this time. Friends help each other on that long and tiring meat-preparation day. The hams are salted, smoked and hung in a granary, while the lard pails are stored in the attic.
Because there are quite a few young people living so close together they can conveniently gather for sports all year round. A glassy ice rink is constructed on Mr. Koop’s yard. Keeping this rink in perfect condition provides a pastime for husky young fellows who have completed school. The dense shelterbelt around the school yard attracts huge drifts of snow. These drifts are sculpted into an excellent slide that gives pleasure to youngsters from December to March.
In springtime the young people gather
on the schoolyard to have softball games and wiener roasts on warm June nights.
During the long cold winter months social life continues. The short paths leading from house to house are often traced and retraced by jovial neighbours. The men, usually dressed
in overalls, are invited into the living room to discuss the prices of grain and the varieties of gopher poison. Women gather around the kitchen table to practise new embroidery stitches.
Whenever Death comes to visit the sunny vale, neighbours try to share the
grief. The yard of the deceased is cleared of refuse and raked in preparation for the funeral. Two nights before the funeral almost every woman in the village sends her little Peter to the afflicted home with a pound of butter and a pail of milk for mixing bun batter. The following morning a man drives from home to home delivering a large lump of dough which will be baked into tiny buns for the meal at tomorrow’s funeral. Chairs and tables are also collected from homes to provide seating for guests at the funeral luncheon.
A minister clad in a long black jacket, black shirt, and high black boots speaks at this solemn occasion. He slowly reads a sermon. A few pauses are made in which the audience can reflect on its own past and sympathize with the mourners. When the body has been buried in the graveyard, which is located in the centre of the common pasture, the funeral guests return to share in a meal.
A friendly relationship exists between neighbours in our little village. When unexpected company arrives at Mrs. Enns’s place she doesn’t hesitate in going over to ask Annie Dyck to come and help her. Mrs. Gunther has a knack of baking peppernuts but she can’t turn out edible Easter bread. Her neighbour is an expert along this line, so they exchange delicacies. This exchange of goods is also of economic value. Lena and Tena carry the “Rundschau” and “Courier” across the street and exchange them so that their parents benefit from two papers and only pay for one.
The village of my childhood was surrounded by open stretches of prairie that go as far as the eye can see. However, inside the small community the people are linked by a persistent spirit of caring for each other. In times of illness, fire or death, willing hands and sympathetic hearts reached out to help. Will people treat you as well anywhere else? Oh how I wish I could stay in Blumenort!