Farm Memories

The last big health scare happened 100 years ago. It was the Spanish flu of 1918, the year my parents got married. Dad was very sick with flu the day of their wedding.

They moved onto land seven miles southeast of Winkler, cleared the bush for a farmyard, planted a vegetable garden and built a garage in which they lived the first winter.

They built a house and moved in well before the next winter. My oldest sister Helen was born.

Dad was an artistic gardener. A lot of planning went into the farmyard he established with rows of poplar trees and caragana bushes. A park next to the house became a beautiful area of flowers and shrubs with rock garden mounds in the middle of the lawn he kept trimmed. Through the rocks grow big white peonies. He had his friend Abe Goertz write poetry in fine calligraphy on metal plates that he placed in bare corners. People came from town on Sunday afternoons to see the park and eat watermelon and rollkuchen (deep-fried pastry) under the canopy of a huge picnic table.

Our place was a social centre. One year it won an award for being the most beautiful farm in Manitoba, and people from miles around came to see it. While there they would be served a bowl of Mom’s famous chicken soup. It was called Poplar Grove Farm.

Dad was a good host and built playthings on the yard for visitors to enjoy, including a volleyball net, a merry-go-round and a playhouse.

One summer my cousin Don Kroeker got a mini-car driven by a Briggs and Stratton motor.

I wanted one, so my Dad and I went to the village smithy in Neuenburg where Dad explained to Mr. Duerksen what he wanted. Two weeks later it was ready. What fun I had driving up and down the road to the pillared farm gate.


I crashed the car into one of the pillars, and that was that. Dad never got it fixed.

One Sunday, late in the afternoon, I decided my tricycle needed a paint job. I went to the woodshed, opened a quarter-gallon pail and threw red paint all over my trike, also the workbench and floor of Dad’s beloved shop.

He came to check what I was doing. His eyes went wide as he surveyed his beloved workshop splattered with paint.

“What am I going to do with you,” he said.

“Give me a licking and let me go play,” I said. I got the licking but had to go straight to bed. No more playing that evening.

We had a hired man. His name was Ed Unrau. He and Netta with their new little boy Leroy lived in a small house at the east end of the farmyard. (That little boy later became head of communications at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

A radio show called “Jake and the Kid” was popular on the CBC. It was about a hired man in Crocus, Saskatchewan, based on a book by W. O. Mitchell.

I listened to it every week, strongly identifying with the son of Jake’s boss.

Ed and I were like those two. Sometimes when Dad was off the yard for the day, Ed would build me things in the barn’s worskshop.

One Wednesday evening when Mom and Dad went to mid-week church in town, Ed and I went to visit the “Gypsies” camped by the bush just outside the pillared farm gate. They were Lakota Sioux from the Black Hills. Each summer the men worked the harvest, following it from south to north.

I never told my Dad we went to visit them because that was verboten!

A big event in fall was hog-slaughtering day when the neighbours would come to help. My Dad was a conscientious objector. No guns on his yard, thank you! But for this event my cousin Walter Kroeker was allowed to bring a .22-calibre rifle. The barrel was shoved up the pig’s snout and the bullet was fired straight into the brain, an instant kill.

All kinds of wonderful things emerged from the carcass that hung from a big hook off a rafter in the pig barn…bacon slabs, pork chops, liver, pork hocks, crackling and lard. A huge pot of boiling water was used to prepare these products for winter storage.

Farm life ended for me when I was just a teenager. Dad sold the yard and buildings to Kroeker Farms, and we had an auction sale of our furnishings and belongings, and the farm implements.

It took a while to settle into the new house in Winnipeg,, so we lived for a month in a cleaned-out chicken coop on the farm that was no longer ours. There was no electricity in that little shack, so we spent our evenings reading by candlelight.

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