Anne-Shirley and I were surprised this Saturday morning to hear her son Chris invite us to go on a day trip to Vita, Manitoba, where his grandmother is buried and his mother was born.

Anne-Shirley is my partner. She and I are very social, eating in restaurants often or visiting friends, but Chris is, in his own words, a bit of a recluse, living in an ensuite in her house.

So it was a surprise to hear his invitation. The idea had hit him while coming home from shopping.

“Sure, let’s go!” Anne-Shirley exclaimed.

“I’ll go too,” I said.

Chris makes life easier for Anne-Shirley at 77 and me at 83. He does our shopping and runs errands because getting in and out of the car is difficult for us. Whenever I have a computer problem he looks at it and in no time comes up with a solution.

It was a special treat for Anne-Shirley to have Chris drive. He proceeded north on Main Street to the Perimeter and around Winnipeg on Lagimodiere to the Trans-Canada Highway, then west to Highway 12, and south to Steinbach. I wanted to eat Mennonite food in a restaurant named in honour of the Toronto Blue Jays. But Chris is an avid LA Dodgers fan, so he was not all that excited about verenike and crackling at Jay’s. Problem solved. It was about to close. Activity ends at 2:00 o’clock Saturday afternoons in Steinbach.

I’m a Mennonite and have not forgotten my culture. Anne-Shirley and I have a standing exchange about who first made perogies with cottage cheese, the Ukrainians, who call them pierogi, or the Mennonites, who call them verenike.

“Did you know that…” I start.

“Oh here we go again,” Anne-Shirley interrupts.

Continuing south on Highway 12, with a few turns, we got to our destination, the Orthodox Ukrainian Cemetery a few miles east of Vita. Two groundskeepers let us in and pointed the way around to the grave of Dorothy Wish, Anne-Shirley’s mother, who somewhere in her life shortened her last name from Ukrainian Wiwsianski.

Grass around all the other graves was newly cut, but the Wish grave had an unusual mound of sandy soil that made it stand out from the others. It needed care.

The groundskeepers left, having told us to close the gate when we left.

Chris trimmed the long blades of grass from in front of the tombstone. Anne-Shirley looked on, and I took pictures.

Then Chris asked for a moment of silence as he and Anne-Shirley remembered her mother and his grandmother. The countryside around the cemetery was still, except for a light breeze that rustled the leaves of trembling aspen nearby.

“That was quite a moment,” Anne-Shirley said.

Chris called his sister Leslie and ended the conversation with a surprising “I love you,” and sent her a picture.

From there we went the short distance to Vita which has the hospital in which Anne-Shirley was born in 1944. She lived on the Strumbisky farm (her grandparents) until the age of five, claiming to have never played with children her own age during those early years. Flowers and animals were her only friends.

In town we came across a bake sale run by locals under the canopy of the town’s central park. Chris bought three butter tarts, two slices of delicious pineapple bread and a blueberry pie.

While there, a horse-drawn wagon pulled into the parking lot carrying a farmer and his daughter. The horse was beautiful, a big animal with long legs, looking much like an Arabian. Chris was in a talkative mood and went to chat with them. Well, to tell the truth, to talk with the daughter. Her name was Betty. Chris is interesting that way. Much of the time his conversation consists of short responses, but put him in the company of a pretty woman, he schmoozes with a quick wit he learned from working for 21 years in Hollywood on sets with actors and actresses.

Our stopover was done and we left, Chris waving goodbye to Betty.

The second half of our ancestral day trip was a visit to the old farm site several miles northwest of Vita. We turned up Antonowich Road, named after the Strumbisky farm’s neighbor. Judy Antonowich still lives there, a tough and friendly spinster, single-handedly running the old place.

There it was, sure enough, a faint trail to where the Strumbisky house once stood, leading from the road to a farmyard now overgrown with bushes.

On the way back along Antonowich Road we saw a small herd of cattle. Closest to us were a cow and two calves, who scampered away when the car drove by.

“That would have made a cute video,” Anne-Shirley said.

On the other side of the road were a bull and cow inside a small fenced-in pasture, obviously put there for mating.

Since we had not eaten in Steinbach, we stopped at Oma’s in St. Pierre, but the owner asked us to leave because Chris did not have his Covid-19 paperwork.

We finally ate at home, ordering take-out Spaghetti Bolognese and Fettucini Alfredo from Santa Lucia, our favourite Italian restaurant.

That ended our day trip to Vita. Chris had decided back at the cemetery to spruce up the gravesite, so we’ll go back. Only next time Leslie will hopefully come along. We’ll have another great day then. Chris hopes there will be another bake sale so he can buy a full loaf of pineapple bread. He also hopes Betty and her father will drive by.

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