Table of Contents
Chapter 1: My Story!.......................................................3
Chapter 2: My Ancestry...................................................6
Chapter 3: Childhood Memories.....................................15
Chapter 4: Courtship.......................................................34
Chapter 5: My Marriage..................................................39
Chapter 6: The Early Years - Business...........................46
Chapter 7: The Tour.........................................................48
Chapter 8: Trip to Crimea................................................53
Chapter 9: The Business....................................................55
Chapter 10: World War I - 1914.......................................59
Chapter 11: The Revolution - 1917...................................62
Chapter 12: The Famine....................................................73
Chapter 13: Blumenort in Flames.....................................76
Chapter 14: “Auswanderung” - Emigration.....................81
Partial Family Tree.............................................................91
December 20, 1980
I shall attempt to translate my father’s memoirs from the German
language into English. My German is poor, my English “so-so”, my
Russian non-existent, and my ability as a translator -- lousy! A
translation from the original language to another loses much in the
process. My father was a qualified writer and a gifted poet. As a
youngster, I remember his submitting various articles and editorials to
Canadian Mennonite Weeklies, and his “nom de plume” was “Jake, who
loves his people” (literally translated).
At best, it will not do his story justice, but please bear with me ,
because I think you will find the following interesting.
J. G. Dyck,
95 Erie Street, North,
A youngster was climbing a tree,
He climbed so high that you could barely see him,
As he jumped from limb to limb,
Towards a bird’s nest,
You could hear his laughter.
And then a crash
As he fell all the way down to the ground!
That begins to describe my biography ... my life’s story. I could shorten it further: born ...
lived ... died. To condense is not to simplify, however, for I have seen that life’s pathway is
seldom simple since being born, living, and then dying are under the watchful control of the
Almighty. When He states, “a child shall be born”, it happens --- never otherwise, even though
thousands of women yearn for children and millions of would-be fathers long for heirs - in vain .
Sarah, Abraham’s wife was barren and unable to deliver a child until she was over a hundred
years of age. Then the Lord gave direction from above, and a son, Isaac, came into the world
before a year went by. So you see, this “being born” is not always so simple - be it an Isaac or a
Jacob like me.
“So you got a boy. Wasn’t it supposed to be a girl this time?”, asked a curious neighbour
lady as my mother, Mrs. Gerhard Dyck (born Anna Enns), had barely overcome her labour pains.
“No”, answered the comely, young mother, “the Lord has presented us with a handsome, healthy
boy and together with his older brother, Gerhard, I want to raise them in the fear and admonition
of the Lord”. (I wonder if my mother succeeded?) “God has given us both boys, and I shall give
them back to Him.” The midwife, Tante Boldt, from a neighbouring village called Tiege, was
finished with her job and was heard to say, “I”ll come again soon!” as the door closed behind her.
And so the news of my birth spread through the village of Blumenort where we lived.
Soon after, I was laid in the big family cradle, in which, as a youngster, I often rocked my
brothers and sisters that followed me, four in number, with such enthusiasm that their little heads
would roll back and forth. Soon they were sedated, or possibly dizzy, and would fall asleep.
Then I could go out into the barn and take care of my horses. They were “stick horses”, the type
you straddle and pretend to ride, made from the limbs of the mulberry hedge. I fed them hay as
they were securely tied in an empty horse stall. I had whittled them with my pocket knife which
my father had presented to me from the Prischiber auction in the spring. They were beautiful
horses in spite of the fact that I had to do the neighing for them.
But back to the cradle. Where did it stand? Ah, yes, in a corner room that had been
added to our large house for the young married couple, Gerhard and Anna Dyck. The
extraordinarily large yard was located just beyond the outskirts of the village, Blumenort
(literally translated - “Village of Flowers”). July 22nd was the day of my birth and the year was
1884. It was, as usual in our area, a hot summer day, but for me it was a lucky day, and I have to
this day (I’ll soon be 68) never cursed it, as some have. Yet, I do remember looking up as my
dear wife, eight children, and I were surrounded by the fires of the Revolution, practically
smothered in its smoke, and crying out, as did our Saviour on his cross, “Oh God, why hast thou
Yes, I know where the cradle stood, but where the coffin will eventually lie, I cannot say
at this point in time. Although we have, at this time (1951), a nice home, a large church
congregation with a splendid church (The Essex County United Mennonite Church to which we
belong), and have acquired several grave sites in a nearby cemetery, we only know too well, after
living though two world wars and a third possibly approaching, that the time may come again
when we must pack up and leave. I remember a line from a Spanish song that I used to sing as a
youngster, “Here under the shade of the chestnut tree may they someday bury me”. It is logical
to harbour such precious thoughts as the tired body yearns for peace - everlasting peace. We
have changing times, and, though today I am separated from the village where my cradle stood
by an abyss of approximately 5000 miles, I feel safe at present in the “New World”, as we called
America in the olden days. Yet, it is not out of the question that, before the end, we may have to
tread far fields once more - perhaps South America or even South Africa (the latter of which was
very interesting to us in South Russia as the land of the Boers). Suffice it to say that, in our life,
we have experienced what God stated in the Scriptures, “Your thoughts are not My thoughts and
My ways are not your ways”.
And so the rift between cradle and coffin is often wide - the former stands at the entrance
of life, and the latter at the exit: both are usually made of wood and often even cut from the same
tree. In both, man sleeps, and in both he is laid. Cradle. Coffin! Between both there is hope,
and there is prayer. Cradle. Coffin! Occasionally they stand side by side, yet, near or far, both
are cradles .... for earth or heaven.
It is, since I am a Mennonite, a long, dusty and bumpy road: one must go back hundreds
of years to search for the origins, but let us be satisfied with the last century, particularly with the
last three generations.
When my grandfather, Frank Dyck, married Anna Wiens (mad blacksmith Wiens was her
father, and apparently one of those who emigrated from Prussia in 1800 -1804) in Blumenort, he
was a teacher, indeed a private teacher to some of the estates in south Russia. He boarded at the
Steinback estate with a Schmidt family. To all the sons from the various surrounding estates, he
taught the Russian language, drawing, and design at which he was very proficient. I remember
clearly, various pictures of the Czar and his family (from St.Petersburg, now Leningrad) with
whom he came into contact during their horse and wagon travels in Southern Russia. My
grandfather, who died before my birth in his 55th year, was a Christian of good character and
lively nature. He possessed a sense of humour which was inherited by some of the following
generation, even by some of the great, great grandchildren. Our youngest son, Harry, surely
inherited that trait for, at any time, anywhere, even when he lectured to our young folks in
church, he displayed that gift of humour. I will mention two examples that my father told us of
my grandfather’s humour.
As Frank Dyck was studying the Russian language in Jakaterinoslaw (presently called
Dnepropetrovsk) in the year 1850, there were Jewish students enrolled at the high school.
During the recess, which most of the students spent out in the yard, my grandfather often ate the
dried cherries that his mother had given him in the Fall when he left for his studies in town. One
of the Jewish students took a great liking to these cherries and plagued my grandfather to give
him a whole handful. Grandfather said to wait to wait until the next day. The following morning
at recess, this student punctually held out his hand for his cherries. Grandfather was in no hurry
to comply until the school bell rang to return to class. “Here you are,” he said as he filled the
fellow’s hand full of whole black pepper kernels which the student, in his haste, immediately put
into his mouth so he could finish his “cherries” before he reached the classroom. Well, we can
imagine the rest! To my way of thinking, it was a rather cruel joke, but, needless to say, after that
incident, Grandfather had the cherries all to himself, and this student took a wide detour around
him whenever they were about to cross paths.
The second example I remember arose when he was a teacher on the Steinback estate. He had his riding camel saddled at dawn and left for the neighbouring village of Elizabethvale. The village students were in the process of walking to school, and, since the street was very muddy, they were walking near the picket fences to keep their red stockings dry, since most of them wore wooden shoes in those days. Frank Dyck rode down the middle of the muddy street and, from time to time, gave his camel the whip, whereupon the camel gave out a terrible scream and took off helter skelter with mud flying in all directions, frightening the children. The more the camel was spurred on, the more terrible the camel’s cries became, and the faster the boys and girls hurried to school. At last, fear got the better of the children, and they raced toward the school, wooden shoes flying in all directions, until they breathlessly reached the classroom in their muddy red hose, early for class. After this episode, Grandfather rode on to school with a satisfied grin on his face, and began teaching his older pupils. Such “innocent” incidences were not infrequent. As the years passed, he developed a business sense, and this trait is more interesting to me because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as you know. This apple (me) is happy that he comes from a fertile apple tree instead of a poplar. As the ancestry of an individual is so important, I am happy that the story of the Dyck family reveals a proud and thankful heart towards God. I hope that, someday, I and all my descendants shall stand with bowed head before our Maker on that great day and declare: “God have mercy on us sinners.” There was much sunshine, but also many shadows in our lives. I shall try to portray the events of our lives as faithfully as I can.
As we know, my grandfather was first a teacher, then a business man. His father-in- law,
my great grandfather “Wiens”, was a blacksmith and had a large shop beyond the outskirts of
Blumenort where he would build various wagons for the estate owners. The Russian nobility
(estate owners) apprenticed many of their young men (workers) to him where they learned the
blacksmith trade. It came about that the street was filled with wagons that needed fixing. The
famous Johann Cornies, who always passed that way in his travelling vehicle (a present from the
Czar), when he left Ohrloff village for his estate, suggested that Mr. Wiens enlarge his yard to
make more room, so great-grandfather acquired about 10 acres along the road between
Blumenort and Rosenort. That is why the “Dyck yard” was so large. The big business being
transacted led to a good income. Iron was bought directly from Rostov, Tagamog, and
Berdjansk. After my grandfather (Frank) had observed this growing business for several years,
he approached his father-in-law with the following offer: “Let’s begin an iron business. Instead
of ordering for your needs in the shop, let’s buy much more and sell it for a profit. Since there is
a blacksmith in every village there should be much demand. You would have an easier life
without suffering from an income loss.”
Great grandfather Wiens was of the opinion that only a person with a trade (not a teacher)
could be smart in business matters, and thus was hard to convince. Eventually, however, he
conceded that it might be a good venture. This was the beginning of the widely known and
famous “Iron Business”. When my grandfather, Frank Dyck, became part owner of this
business, there was much pioneer work to be done. Draftsmen drew up blueprints for carriages,
heavy wagons, ladder wagons, buggies, ploughs, etc.. These plans, along with orders for the
required parts, were sent to the iron mines in the Ural mountains. Thus, the blacksmith’s work
became more varied, and, in 1890 when I helped in the business, we could sell the
customers ready made axles, wheels ties, plough shares, step ladders, scythes, bellows and the
hundreds of other items a modern shop could provide.
Iron and the various other products for the business were bought annually in Rostov on
the Don (the Don was a river), and the buying trip usually took about a month of travel.
Primarily the journey was made by ship. My grandfather, with his hired help, would leave by
horse to Berdjansk, 75 miles west, and from there by steamer to Rostov. Sometimes a whole
boat was loaded, and sent back to Berdjansk where Isaac Dyck (a relative of grandfather’s)
received the goods which were then loaded on wagons drawn by oxen and sent to Blumenort. In
this way, with grandfather’s wisdom, the business flourished and much profit was made. After
several years, the Dyck yard boasted a very large house and many farm buildings (since farming
was done as well).
My great grandfather Weins died after several years. As a youngster, I often visited his
grave in the cemetery in the woods with my companions. It was surrounded with a wrought iron
fence and featured a tall marble gravestone from Odessa. This memorial had been ordered by the
noble prince, Dzemidow, as an honour in recognition for the Prussian blacksmith Wien’s
contribution to the iron industry. On a black iron panel, which was fastened to the heavy entrance
door to the grave, one could read in Russian, “In memory, from the noble Paul Dzemidow,
Rostov on Don.”
The iron mines were all located in the Ural mountains: there, they were founded 200 -300 years
before by the Russian, Bojren, and other merchants who enjoyed the protection of the
“Jermacks,” an Ottoman who conquered Siberia under the Czar, Ivan the Terrible. Big
businesses and mines were established. It is from here that we received the iron.
My other great-grandfather (paternal), Gerhard Dyck, lived in Lichtfelde, a village 13
miles southeast of Blumenort, where the famous bone setter (chiropractor ?) lived. Dietrick
Wiebe, about whose practice one could write a book, had no formal medical training, yet he
helped thousands with various fractures. He received patients twice a week - on Monday and
Friday, and often there would be more than 100 vehicles lined up in front of his yard. Waiting
took much patience, but, if one had a small bottle of spirits, his turn came much sooner.
Anyway, what I know about my great-grandfather Dyck is that he lived in a modest home, he
had been a teacher, he had been married four times, and he lived to be 90 ½ years old. He was
born in 1793 in Prussia, and my notes state that he died in 1883, a year before my birth.
From my mother’s ancestors, I find my notes sadly lacking. My grandfather, Jacob Enns,
was born in Ohrloff in 1824. In 1851, he married Maria Froese who died in 1855 leaving behind
2 sons, Jacob and Abram. The latter emigrated to America in the 1870's, got married in Chicago
where he apparently worked in a bank. In 1925, one year before we came to Canada, he died
leaving behind a daughter who was a teacher in Chicago. Uncle Jacob Enns remained in Tiege
and in Ohrloff, became a landowner, and raised a large family.
In the year 1856, my grandfather Enns married again - Anna Wiebe (originally
fromTiege) whom we knew for many years as Grandma from Ohrloff. The stork brought them
many pretty daughters, the oldest of whom, Anna, became my mother. In the early years,
Grandfather Enns did much business in Halbstadt. He would buy hundreds of loads of oats from
the Kharkov government (Russian interior), and send them to Halbstadt where Grandmother
would receive and pay for them. He then journeyed to the Crimea to buy salt which was sent to
northern Russia with the waiting wagons. The two sons, Jacob and Abram, had large business
dealings during the so-called Crimean War. During this time, they would deliver various food
and feed items often under dangerous circumstances.
My grandfather, Jacob Enns, also engaged in other business dealings, and, as a result,
bought, with his two brothers, land in the government area, Jakaterinslav (Dnepropetrovsk).
After a time, the brothers went their separate ways because of family disagreements.
Grandfather Enns then rented an estate near the city, Marinpol, and occupied himself with sheep
farming which was common at that time. It was here that he lost his whole fortune. The
Molokaner, a Russian sect, used to move their great cattle and sheep herds to the area. They
would settle there for weeks when the sheep needed shearing, making use of the hospitality
offered, while they administered the sale of the wool and various other business matters. Grandfather bought and sold wool, and, although great sums of money changed hands (Grandmother often told us of the drawers of money they had in the house), large sums were lost, so that in time, they were bankrupt. Since the estate was not far from Berdjansk (Sea of Azov), the older children, including my mother, went to a German village school. Mother had previously received her early schooling in Halbstadt, where she was taught by the famous poet and minister, Bernhard Harder, a pious Christian. Thereby, Mother received a good foundation in her childhood which contributed to her becoming a quiet, gentle, and pious wife and mother in the later years.
After the Enns family finally had to leave the estate, they moved to Blumenort (my home village), and settled in a modest home not far from the Dyck place. Grandfather Jacob Enns died shortly thereafter on March 27, 1880. My father, Gerhard Dyck, was 20 years old at that time and unmarried. My mother was the same age. Both homes were in the same area outside the village, and it is apparent that the two got to know and like each other, fell in love, and married on January 28, 1882. For considerable time prior to the wedding, they were parted because my widowed Grandmother Enns moved to Ohrloff (about 3 miles west of Blumenort) with her family. Ohrloff was the village where the famous Johan Cornies lived. It also boasted a church, high school, doctor, drug store, and hospital. The well known midwife, Tante Boldt, lived there and delivered thousands of children including myself - the popular stork was a busy bird. There wasn’t a village around where one could not see their numerous nests on the tops of the big barns.
Father (Gerhard Dyck) tried to pursue his romantic inclinations several times a week
when he rode his proud black riding horse to the home of his loved one in Ohrloff. An older gentleman once told me how he would watch my Father race past on his way to visit my Mother - not a minute wasted! Even the horse was trained to remain standing before the front door without being tied while the young lover rushed inside to see his “Anna”. It wasn’t easy, however, as her younger sisters interfered with his progress, laughing, teasing and clamouring for attention. Yet, in the ensuing tussle, Father remained the victor.
The Enns family made their living chiefly through dressmaking. My mother’s brother, Jacob (Abram had already emigrated to America), owned some land on the bank of the river Juschaube (4 miles southwest of Ohrloff). It was not easy land to work, and, during harvest time, all the girls were out in the fields where they also camped overnight. My ancestors sidestepped no jobs, menial or otherwise. I too, during the war years of 1914, later during the bloody revolution of 1917, and again in 1926 in Canada learned not to draw back from any duties and work necessary to support my big family, in spite of circumstances that were difficult, to say the least.
It has taken much “knee work” in my room to begin each new day with new courage, whether in a factory, on a farm, or in the store. The verse on the wall “Pray and Work” encouraged me. Also, the whole family did more than their share - often under extreme hardships like the depression.
The race after the almighty dollar in my new home, Canada, has interrupted the writings
of my memoirs. I am writing this for our 8 children who are all still living, although a son-inlaw, Captain Jake Penner, died suddenly on the lakes several years ago.
From the cradle, I grew up like all the others in the world except that my life has always been lively and full of variety. I grew up in two homes - at my parents’ and my grandmother’s. I even would eat my meals at the two houses - first at my parents’ and then again at my grandmother’s. As previously mentioned, I was born in the corner room at Grandmother Dyck’s. After 2 or 3 years, my father acquired the neighbouring farm from a master blacksmith called Shorty Epp who, at that time, emigrated to America. I have read recently about his descendants in the “Rundschau” (a Mennonite newspaper) in Canada. The old house and the “Smitty Shop” by the street were demolished but the barns remained. A big house was built along the street and connected with the barn through a small corner hall that ran off the galley kitchen. The courtyard was impressive with two massive gate posts and a gate that could be locked on occasion. Our yard was located along the south side of the road that connected Blumenort and Rosenort (village of roses).
Across the road from our yard were the meadows, about 300 acres owned by the village,
and along the road was a long line of 100 year old poplar trees. In the spring, the meadows were
often under water, and, when they drained towards the west (village of Tiege), the storks would
land looking for food, mostly fish. When this occurred, all we children would sing a little ditty to them, “Stork, stork, please bring us a brother or a sister”, as the case may be. Perhaps that is why the Mennonite families were richly endowed with children. On almost every granary there perched a nest. In the evening,
when the sun sank in the west, the parent storks would return from their busy day to feed their
young with even the occasional snake in their beaks. Their home, of course, was Africa. In the
fall they would take off with their young, heading in that direction, across the Mediterranean Sea.
There were other birds in our area; crows, hawks, coo-coos, swallows, sparrows,
starlings, nightingales, larks, wild ducks, pheasants, and various swamp birds. In spite of this,
hunters didn’t seem to have much luck. They would often return after hours of crisscrossing the
woods with no booty. I always had two rabbits with me. Unfortunately, they were the kind that
my mother or two sisters had embroidered into my belt as a Christmas present.
My father, Gerhard Dyck, administered his own farm as well as Grandmother’s (about
300 acres). This, along with the iron business, kept him extremely busy. Later, when I was 5
years old, Grandmother’s help consisted of a hired hand, Aaron Gossen (a bachelor with a
beard!), two German farm hands, two German kitchen maids, and a housekeeper and companion
to Gram, my cousin, Anna Neufeld. My mother had only a cook and a young nursemaid for the
children. Later another girl was hired, Margaret Unruch.
My older brother, Gerhard, and I tried to fill in where needed, first in the iron warehouse,
then in the fields, in the stable, and occasionally in the maid’s room where we were thoroughly
Unfortunately, my memoirs aren’t written with the speed of the cars that we have here in Canada. I still run a feed store, and after work my yard occupies my time, especially in the summer - cutting lawns, trimming bushes, etc. In the winter, taking care of the coal furnace and corresponding with eight scattered children and the many friends and relatives my dear wife and I have in Europe, California, and Siberia seems to devour any spare time granted to me. And so it is hard to concentrate on my youth in my parent’s house ....
I shucked the diapers, and, although I wasn’t yet big, I did my best to act grown up. When we weren’t attending school, my brother, George, and I played together a great deal. As there were no neighbour children growing up with us, we became quite close - we even slept in the same bed. Before bedtime our family would gather in the living room (a sister, Anna, had joined us by this time), and sit on a sofa with the velour landscape on the wall behind us. Mother, with her knitting in her lap, and father, with his daily bible reading book he was reading, would sit at the table in the middle of the room. Father would read to us from his book, we
would sing a hymn, and then, too soon, it was “off to bed”. Often the maids would come to check that we were properly covered. If we wanted a change in the evening, we were permitted to go to the stable where the workers had gathered to smoke Machorka and play cards. Sometimes, we would slip into the maids’ quarters, often frequented by youths who would discreetly tap on the window and ask to be let in. We were much too young for adult company, however, and we learned things that were of no benefit to us in the later years.
In comparison with our Canadian way of life, life in our parents’ home was rather
monotonous. We grew up, as it were, inside the four walls. We seldom had company unless
relatives with their children visited.
There were only two families of relatives, the Neufelds, who were my Father’s sisters.
When they came, things would really liven up. We had, at our disposal, two large yards in which
to play, gardens with various fruit trees and many hedges. The horses made from the mulberry
hedges really got a workout, and the bow and arrows did their share as we played war behind our
big fortress - the haystack. Ball was played differently than here in Canada, as was
“horseshoes”, a game that consisted of an iron ring that was tossed from a distance of two
hundred feet, and which the opponents would attempt to stop with long sticks. Croquet was also
a popular game as we got older. In the area surrounding the village lived many tradesmen,
painters, carpenters, cobblers, etc., and some of their children also became playmates. By being
“suburban”, we were cut off from the so-called “village elite”.
As my Uncle Heinrich (father’s brother) was not yet married, nor was Tante Lena
(father’s sister), we were often in their company. It was especially enjoyable to swing under the
huge hundred year old oak tree. Annually at Easter, it was customary to attach a swing to the
largest and strongest limb, around which a huge crowd of boys and girls would gather to
participate in the fun. Another interesting game, bowling, also kept us occupied. It was not done
with a rolling ball, but with a suspended disk.
The adults organized a band with wind instruments, and my Uncle Heinrich played the
largest horn (bass). When the band gathered together to play, the appointed conductor would
raise his baton in order to begin the music. On the downstroke of the baton, my uncle would
blow mightily into his bass, directing the opening towards the hanging lamp. The sudden gust of
air would, quite naturally, extinguish the flame of the lamp. Since they could not practice in the
dark, someone would have to get up, light the lamp, and they would begin again. My uncle had
a great sense of humour , and often the lamp would be extinguished several times throughout the
evening. I remember these episodes well - they were the highlight of the evening.
We often visited my mother’s mother, Grandmother Enns, who lived in Ohrloff with her
daughters who were all excellent seamstresses. They were a happy, lively group, and all married
into money eventually. In the morning, mother, we two brothers, and sister were taken there in a
fine coach drawn by two fiery horses, and, in the evening, we were picked up. Once father came
to pick us up without the coachman. On the way home, approximately three miles, the horses
became rather wild. Father had trouble holding them back. They began galloping so he directed
them toward the picket fence along the road. It was his only hope to stop them! It worked, but I
still remember the racket the buggy made as it fell into pieces. No one was hurt, not even my
sister Anna who, at that time, was 10 months old and still in diapers.
Every summer my parents drove about 100 miles to the city of Berdjansk, which was
located on the Sea of Asov. Father had to settle business matters with old Uncle Isaac Dyck who
had a large yard. Our goods, sometimes a boatload of iron, bellows and various other items had
been transported to his yard from the harbour. From here they would be loaded onto wagons
drawn by oxen, and sent towards Blumenort. On one such trip, my brother and I were allowed to
come along in a covered spring wagon with our coachman, Abram. We journeyed through many
Mennonite villages; Lichtfeld, Neukirch, Prangenau, the large estate Steinbach, Elizabethvale,
Alexanderthal, and many others. We passed though some Schwaben villages - Huttertal and
Durlack - and then several Bulgarian villages after which the long day’s journey ended at
Berdjansk, a city nestled on the seashore. Whoever sighted the city first received 5 pennies. A
For us villagers, the visit to Berdjansk was quite a change. We attended a circus and the Royal Gardens. We wandered along the seashore to see ocean liners and watch the loading of grain into big steamers. We looked over Uncle Isaac’s large warehouses where our goods were being stored. The oxen drivers were in no hurry to load up as it was a 3 to 5 day drive to reach Blumenort. As the men from the caravan gathered around the campfires at night, telling tales and singing Russian folk songs, eating their simple meal of black bread and bacon, we rather envied their primitive, carefree life style. Often we sang with the Russian help:
When I was still a carefree lad,
I knew not pain or sorrow,
Parents and friends, they loved me all,
As I played and romped with my ball.
It didn’t take long for our carefree years to pass, and the start of school was at hand.
I had three brothers and three sisters; Gerhard, Frank, Anna, Heinrich, Maria, and Helena. It was the day before Christmas, December 24, 1899. We had just received a pump organ that had arrived from the local railway station and that father had ordered from a travelling salesman from Odessa. It was imported from America! As we were unpacking it, my mother was holding little Helena, who was sick at the time, on her lap in the other room. She felt a little twitch and saw that the child was dead. She had a contagious disease called croup which choked the child. The happiness of the days turned to sadness and grief. She was barely three years old, and mother took care of the corpse herself. As I passed through at the time, she told me “I will
prepare for her funeral like I would for her wedding. Now I know where she is.” On her
gravestone in the cemetery were the words:
“A little angel took your hand
And led you into the promised land.”
Although we often went to the grave with mother to adorn it with flowers, the sorrow and
sadness was soon forgotten by us children.
My first teacher was Abram Unruh (later an instructor in the school for the deaf and
dumb in Tiege after he completed special training in Germany). He was very strict, but in social
circles he was jolly and well liked. The school janitor was “Tante Sonnyti”. Since the school
was located in the village centre, and we lived beyond the outskirts, we took a cold lunch along,
usually of black bread with bacon fat, sausage and milk. Later, in the city, Dad was able to buy
a new metal lunch container that had three tiered compartments. This allowed Mother to send
the hired man down to the school with a hot lunch for us, usually consisting of soup, roast, and
This same hired man, in inclement weather or if the roads were bad, would take Gerhard
and I to school on the back of a horse. Usually we walked home. My parents had a fur coat
custom made for me, but, as it was to last me for all my school years, it was naturally very large.
It was so long that it dragged in the dirt, and a school friend, Dave Rogalsky, would walk behind
me on the way home from school carrying the train of my coat. By the time we reached the edge
of the village, we were often so tired that we would stop to play in a big empty house that was a
former deserted school for the deaf and dumb. (I acquired this building in the early years of my
marriage - approximately 1908.) From there we parted for home.
Our teacher, Mr. Unruh, left us after several years to go to Germany where he studied in
Frankfurt to become a teacher for the deaf and dumb. We welcomed another teacher, Wilhelm
Neufeld, from Liebenau. Although he was a bachelor when he arrived, he soon married Helena
Fast, the sister of my school chum, Abram Fast. Mr. Neufeld was a quiet man, not very cheerful
and not much interested in sports. Our school life, therefore, became monotonous through his
tenure there. I learned quite well, however, passed my examinations, and entered high school in
Ohrloff, about two miles away.
My childhood memories of home, school, and playmates are happy ones. Our recesses
and spare time were spent playing ball in the summer and skating in the winter on any available
piece of ice. Competing and sometimes fighting with kids from neighbouring villages
occasionally added a bit of spice to our otherwise hum-drum existence in the years 1890 - 1900.
Snow was usually scarce, but we all had our own homemade sleighs at our disposal in spite of
this fact. After supper we had to do our homework under the supervision of our cook, because
mother and father did not want to be disturbed. They received company very seldom, and did
not go out much since, as I have stated before, we lived beyond the village outskirts, and
harnessing the horses was apparently too cumbersome. And so they led a quiet, lonely life.
We weren’t spoiled. Hanging around in the stable with the Russian hired man (in earlier
years they had been German), we youngsters learned their beautiful Russian folk songs. They
were enjoyable, but we also learned to smoke and drink along with other bad habits such as
playing cards. The Russian hired help came from the central provinces: Kurst, Zaprkov, Paltava,
etc. In the spring, when they arrived from their homes (most were married men who left their
families behind), they would settle along the street under the big poplar trees and beg food from
the farmers until they could land a job. From May 9 until October 1, they hired out for 70 - 80
rubles, about $40 at that time. This is a paltry sum here in Canada, yet they were happy as they
also got their board which was surely better than they received in their straw covered, clay huts
at home. In inner Russia, a farmer usually owned one horse, one cow, some chickens and a pig.
He worked in the forest in the winter, while his wife weaved cloth from hemp or wool to make
clothes for the children. On their feet they wore Raffia shoes which they wove themselves from
some kind of palm fibre. These were warmer and drier than the leather boots we wore.
So we partly grew up under Russian influence. For example, when I was a youngster at
school and father sent me to tell a bearded Russian to harness the horses, he would bow from the
waist and say ”choroscks” or, as we say here, “O.K.”
In our holidays, which stretched from May till October, we had to help at home.
Beginning in May, father took us along to the market at Tokmak. That was a big thrill! For
lunch we would have shishkabob. We were permitted to buy something - usually a pocket knife.
As I grew older, I bought a white watch chain (not silver), which, as fashion decreed, I wore
prominently displayed across my stomach. The bustle and noise in the market was
overwhelming. A cattle market was usually nearby, and was run by gypsy traders. Sometimes
father took us to other markets in Prischib and Melitopol on the Molotschna River where he
collected money from his customers who had earlier bought on credit. He also promoted sales of
the variety of wagons, carts, buggies, covered wagons, half covered wagons, box wagons and
carriages which we usually sold from home. Thus, as young ones, we became acquainted
somewhat with business which certainly paid benefits in later years.
We also helped on the farm and the garden, trimming hedges (we had many), spraying
trees, hoeing, etc. We also tended large fields of watermelons, pumpkins, and squash for the
cattle. I often plowed as well. We had several kinds of ploughs. To one, I remember, we hitched
5 horses, 2 behind and 3 in front. I sat in the saddle on the left rear horse, and the hired man held
and guided the plough behind the horses. The drill plough was pulled by four horses in front
with a man sitting on the plough to which was attached a seeding device. We cut hay with
scythes in those days, but used machinery to harvest the sheaves of grain. We hauled the grain
from the fields in long hay wagons, standing on top of the load to keep it from shifting. I would
sit in front of the wagon with a hired man, Stephen or Martin, at the back. When we arrived at
the thresher, we tossed the sheaves to the ground with pitch forks.
The grain, mainly wheat, but also barley and oats, was threshed with a stone using two
horses which we rode around and around the threshing floor. The separated grain was then
cleaned with a machine and stored in the granary while the straw was stored in the barn. In 1895
we already had a regular threshing machine which was powered with horses, but, several years
later, was run by a motor. It separated and cleaned the grain in one operation. This was a far cry
from the beating device used in Prussia by my great-grandfather.
The cows, calves, heifers and young horses grazed all summer on the surrounding
meadows, watched by a shepherd. On Sunday we mostly went to church because we had no
Sunday school. In the afternoon, while the “old ones” were taking a nap, we would fool around
in the woods, play ball or play games with some Russian children. Occasionally, we visited our
watchman who lived in a little garden house. He would amuse us with war stories. When I
would cut his hair, he would insist on the military cut he had when he wore a helmet.
The religious side of our lives was not stressed a great deal. We had no Sunday School,
but had daily religious instruction at school and also, as mentioned before, a little service before
bedtime at home. Sunday morning we drove to church. If the weather was inclement, we
gathered at Grandmother Dyck’s, and father would read a sermon. Grandmother had been a
widow for ten years. Although she had the opportunity to marry rich widowers, she preferred to
remain alone so that her estate (she was quite rich) would not leave the immediate family.
I was 12 years of age when I began high school in Ohrloff. My brother, Gerhard, had
already attended the school for one year, but had decided to remain at home to help on the farm
and in the business in spite of father’s preference for him to continue his studies. I was boarded
out with my Tante Tien and had a room of my own. I didn’t enjoy this because I frightened
easily. Often at night, the Russian transport drivers would stop at a well on the main street to
water their horses and they made a lot of racket which used to scare me enough to cause me to
stick my head under the blanket. I often would awaken with nightmares. Later I boarded with
my Tante Marie (Dirks) where there were five other students in one room. This was better.
The high school was across the street. It had been founded years before by well to do people and
estate owners. The original teachers had been imported from Germany, but were often
disrespectfully treated by the arrogant landowners who demanded that they assume farm chores
in addition to their teaching duties. My grandfather, Frank Dyck, was a school trustee in the
early years as well as an administrator of the Halbstadt area which included roughly 35 villages
and estates, factories and mills.
During my attendance in the years 1897 -1898, we had 3 excellent teachers: Cornelius
Unruh, who taught German language and religion; Johann Braul, a very strict teacher of music
and world history; and Johann Janzen, who taught geometry and arithmetic. The latter two
taught in the Russian language. There were 95 students - all boys, no girls (unfortunately). A
girls’ high school was founded in l910 in
Tiege (a neighbouring village) by a teacher
named J.H. Janzen who later became a
minister in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
The studies were not difficult and I
learned quickly. I was very ambitious, but
often preferred playing ball and other sports
or just “passing the time” to intellectual endeavours. Yet I was promoted to the next grade
without having to write exams. My summer holidays were spent at home in the manner
previously mentioned. I think they found me to be an obedient and pious teenager most of the
Father usually journeyed to Rostov for several weeks in July to buy iron goods, and he
often took my brother and I along. To us, it was an informative experience. I enjoyed riding on
a train. Our closest station was twenty miles away - Fjodorovka (typist’s note: many spellings
seem to exist for this railway town ie. Fezdorovka, Fzodorovka, Feodorowka. It is pronounced
“Fee OR doroff ska”, and the spelling seems to change in the translation from Russian, High
German, Low German, and English). The train would then go through a long ravine onto the flat
prairie-like steppes. At Stzepmoza we usually had to spend several hours waiting for the mail
train from Sebastopol. Then, in we got, third class (wooden seats), and went on to Sienzelzikovo
where we caught the courier train, a faster train, second class to Rostov on the Don. The whole
trip took one day. Since father carried much money strapped to his body (10 - 20 thousand
rubles), he did not doze off on the trip, and he encouraged us to keep an eye on him because
there was much stealing on Russian trains. We were always fortunate in that regard. After
arriving, father first called a porter and then a taxi which delivered us to a European Guest house
run by a Swiss gentleman in a dark blue suit with two rows of gold buttons. He would bow
deeply and lead us to a room while his help trailed along with the baggage. We young ones
always had to search the drawers for souvenirs left by former guests, but we never found more
than the occasional button. Father would get a good laugh over our disappointment. Our meals
were served in the room, although we also attended the large restaurant for big meals, which we
did not enjoy as much since we had to be dressed “just so” and behave as gentlemen.
Father’s first job was to buy iron goods which were housed mainly on the shore of the
Don River. The iron was delivered on barges pulled by steam river tugs from the mines in the
Ural Mountains. The goods were then loaded on a boat and brought to Berdjansk were Uncle
Isaac Dyck accepted them and stored them in his yard. From there, as mentioned before, they
were sent to Blumenort by oxen transport. When the business matters were taken care of (during
my Grandfather’s time, it took up to 5 weeks), Father filled a huge trunk with goods he bought
for the family: shoes, shirts for the Russian hired help, and various other items. Often he would
go to a nearby Armenian town where he bought some Caucasian saddles for various estate
owners as well as for us. I remember receiving a leather belt with a beautiful silver buckle.
Evenings, as I mentioned previously, we would attend a circus or wander through the
Royal Gardens. I want to mention that, during my Grandfather’s time, so many purchases were
made that it took one boat to carry them all. Originally, trading was done with gold pieces - later
we used bank notes. In the good old days, there were few iron merchants, and much profit was
made. In my time the competition became much keener.
Now, when we finally arrived home after our trip, it was just like Christmas because
everyone received a present. The store houses and warehouses were cleaned up to receive the
goods coming by oxen wagon train - often a mile long. When we arrived at Fjodorovka again,
we eagerly searched for our coachman, who sat on a covered spring coach wagon drawn by two
dark gray horses. It was a piece of home again, although the eighteen mile journey back usually
took two hours. There then was a great welcome, a look at the horses in their stalls, and a rush to
the garden to greet the old watchman in the garden house. Anyway, by supper time, we had tired
Since I had quit high school after two years, my brother and I were put to work in the
business and on the farm. Father only kept the books, and had a large desk from where he
observed the goings-on. He was about 45 years old at this time, and we never remember him
working physically. Often he would deal with customers while having a glass of “schnapps”,
smoking, or cracking sunflower seeds together.
Time went on and progress ensued. We were among the first to buy a threshing machine
which was powered by three pairs of horses (6 horsepower). I would stand on an adjacent
platform and, with my whip, keep the horses going around and around. The grain was
transported by an elevator into the granary to be cleaned, whereas the straw, ejected behind the
machine, was caught in huge strong nets and dragged by horses to the straw stack. When 3 to 4
haywagons had been threshed, we would all go to the fields for more grain. Several of our fields
were 7 - 8 miles from the village. From sunup to sundown, the machine kept humming.
Harvesting grain occupied us from the middle of July to mid August. During this season we ate
in the fields. Much grain was cut with a scythe before my time, but we had a cutting machine,
and, later, a combine from America.
Haying was usually done with a scythe since most of our land was planted in grain.
Gerhard and I worked with crop rotation: corn, wheat, barley, oats, farm animals, horses, cows,
fattening hogs, etc., etc. We had no meat markets in the villages. Sometimes a Jewish vendor
would come by with a horse and buggy selling the various meats, but never pork.
November was the time to kill a fat pig. Our seniors called it a “Pork Festival”. Up early
in the morning to heat the water in a large tub, we would bring it to a boil in order to scald the
killed pig. Neighbours and friends gathered for breakfast, and big meals were consumed. It was
a big event in the village, and toasts were drunk to the occasion. Uncle Schultz (a very portly
landowner) had the job of disembowelling the hanging pig. He would keep looking around, and
wouldn’t get to the job until he was served a schnapps: everything would then run smoothly.
Everyone had a smile on this day. Women peeled potatoes, men made sausage, other women
made lard, etc. ..... and so it was the entire day - everyone happy. The big hams were well salted
and, after several weeks, smoked together with the sausage for about a week.
Thus, the meat and lard were prepared for the coming year. Occasionally, for a change, a
calf was butchered as well. As rich as many were, their life style was simple and inexpensive.
Their spiritual life consisted of church on Sunday and then peace and quiet reflection for the
remainder of the week - a shallow Christian Stewardship.
Note: To bridge the years of his youth till his sixteenth birthday, Dad (Jacob) uses four long
verses from a long poem which he wrote in his 70th year here in Canada. It is rhyming verse and
describes his struggle through the teens to settle down and become sensible again after a flighty
style of life. It is a long poem in its entirety, and covered his lifetime and Mom’s (Katharina). I
am indebted to my sister-in-law, Erica (George’s wife), for the translation of the following verses
from the poem.
The next episode of my life came quite unexpectedly -
A time I’d rather not speak of.
One can, in this life, endure almost anything
Except a series of prosperous days
So they say; Hence oft in my youth
The Tempter ensnared me.
For duty and labour I was quite prepared,
But for worldly pleasures I was also alerted,
And my weakness for them could not be skirted,
Thanks be to God who so firmly stayed
My hand from the evil which I could not avert.
I was too young, too immature
To be trusted with choices so tempting, so alluring.
As a bird released from its cage,
I flew here and there - seeking pleasures unending
Such that I knew not what to do next -
Hob nob with friends? Read? Or frolic?
But Father rebuked my senseless diversions,
And pointed me wisely in another direction:
“Surely, my boy, you are courting disaster!”
When I perceived the gravity of my follies,
I decided to mend my ways,
And strive to accomplish what honour demands.
With the help of my mother, I fought the good fight.
Then succeeded in swinging from left to the right.
And so, at sixteen, it became clear as a bell,
I must make a decision: This path leads to hell!
“Please, dear Jesus, make me pure,
For I am lost, that is for sure!
“Please take me to Heaven
To live with thee there.”
This, as a child, I had prayed long ago,
But its meaning was suddenly new -
I felt reborn!
The turn of the century, 1899 - 1900, brought more industrialization and mechanization to
farming methods. Brother Gerhard was progressively minded, and we bought a Swedish
gasoline motor. It proved to be a big headache since we had no competent mechanic to attach it
to the threshing machine. Furthermore, instead of sending us naphtha gas, we received 200
pound wooden barrels of Russian tar. My brother, Gerhard, had to serve in the government
service for three years, and I was left alone with the mess. At dawn, the motor invariably refused
to start which made the hired hands happy. I tortured myself until it finally began to putt, and we
could resume threshing. When we streamlined our operation, we would even do some custom
work for other farmers, and so extra money flowed into the coffers.
In the winter there was not much to do since I had quit school. We usually sat and read
adventure stories about Indians, or kibitzed around with the hired help in the barn where we
played cards or smoked a cigarette. When the fields iced over, we skated with the youth from
Rosenort, a neighbouring village, often getting into a fracas with them for excitement. I should
have continued my studies because it certainly would have been possible. My two younger
brothers continued their studies, Frank in Berdjansk, and the youngest, Heinrich, at the school of
commerce in Halbstadt.
In 1900 our spiritual life took an upward turn in the villages, and many young people
found true inner peace. There were now weekly bible studies and prayer meetings at various
houses. Various visiting ministers spoke to us. I remember a missionary, J. Fast, who was home
on leave from Java and who was interesting to listen to. I had a friend, Jacob Bergen, who
worked in a neighbourhood store and to whom I owe much as he was largely responsible for
keeping me on the straight and narrow. He was a bit older than I, actually brother Gerhard’s age,
and we became friendly when Gerhard had to serve his civic duty for three years. Around that
time, I became interested in a certain young lady, and for that reason, we did not see each other
as much, but we remained friends even here in Canada. He was largely responsible for our
remaining in this area (he resided in the Waterloo-Kitchener area) instead of heading west with
many of the other new immigrants. Today is February 12, 1964: he and his wife have been dead
a number of years - may God rest his soul!
In those cavalier years between the ages of 18 to 20, my interest turned to the young
ladies. I was rather shy, however, and had little opportunity to mingle socially except at funerals
and the weddings to which my parents had been invited. Possibly the iron business held me back
somewhat as I was the only one, aside from Father, to run it. Also, there was the farm work to
keep me busy as well. Times changed, and, where once our business had been a gold mine, there
was now much more competition, and the profits dwindled as the sales decreased. Iron
manufacturing became easier, and many other businesses began to flourish in the south. I
intended to try and improve the situation, but never quite got around to it, and so, things
remained the way they were. The proverb states that if things stand still, you go backwards!
Grandfather Frank Dyck had died in 1881, and Grandmother retained control, but paid my Father
a good salary to run the business. Since there were four heirs, jealousy developed among the
family members, and this was especially hard on my dear, pious Mother who found the pressure
difficult to deal with. My grandfather had accumulated a fair fortune in 30 years, and had a large
amount of gold on deposit at the bank in Berdjansk. I am still astounded, to this day, how
grandfather acquired so much in so short a time. Every heir received a temporary token share of
8,000 rubles. Father at that time already owned two farms with approximately 100 acres which
he worked with Grandmother’s horses and farm machinery. As I mentioned previously, he had
built a large house when I was three years old. I remember well how I played in the sand there.
After 5 - 6 years of living with my Grandmother, the family rejoiced in having a home of their
My teenage years passed in peace and quiet. We heard about wars, but they were
thousands of miles away. The Boer War, for example, was in South Africa, but it was evident
that our elders had sympathy for the Boers since they, like us, originally emigrated from areas of
Holland and Germany. In general, though, we cared little of the politics at the time: we cared
more about the village politics which consisted of local gossip and the occasional fights that
broke out because of girls. Occasionally, some Mennonite boy would become entangled with a
Russian girl, or vice versa, but that was rare. There were few temptations, and so we usually
behaved as our Christian ethics demanded. Life in Blumenort flowed along as a muddy stream,
wending its way through woods and swamps and fields, slowly and uneventfully except for the
occasional funeral or wedding.
Our local weddings had their receptions in our hay barns. The hay and straw were
petitioned off with large tarpaulins: chairs, tables and benches were set up in rows. On one end,
a sofa was placed where the young bridal couple would sit, with a lace covered table for the
minister. Behind the young couple sat the couple’s parents and friends - men on one side and
women on the other. Everywhere you could see floral decorations. After the minister
pronounced them man and wife till death do they part, chorales were sung and the good wishes
and congratulations of parents and friends followed. The first kiss between bride and groom
occurred during the meal when the youth clamoured, “Kiss, Kiss!” Then the tables were cleared
and it was time for games.
Dancing was frowned upon in our time. Songs were sung as the girls would walk, hand
in hand, in circles around the bride who was blindfolded. When the song stopped, the bride,
with her eyes blindfolded, would carry her wreath toward one of the girls, signifying the next
bride to be. The bridegroom played a similar game, giving his boutonniere to a young man.
Now the fun started. The winning couple was then seated, facing each other, on two chairs that
were lifted into the air by the locals, amidst much merriment. They were held aloft and not put
down again, until they kissed, often against the wishes of one or both of the individuals involved.
On one occasion, an incident of this nature had unhappy consequences. The young man took full
advantage of the “kissing privilege” in spite of protestations from his partner. Later that evening,
the fiancé of the young lady involved, took revenge upon the lusty youth and gave him a
trouncing he didn’t soon forget.
The funerals in our villages were very simple. The corpse was usually stored on sand in
the basement and covered with ice. This ice was cut in the winter and stored in a large ice cellar
maintained by the village. The ice was well insulated with straw, and anyone in the village had
access to it. After three or four days, the funeral took place. The deceased would be laid out in a
black coffin in his or her finest clothes, and slowly drawn to the graveyard in a hurst pulled by
two horses. At Grandfather’s funeral, the horses were covered with black streamers edged in
white. Our graveyard was located in the woods (later a new cemetery was provided on the
outskirts of the village and all villagers received plots), and, as soon as the coffin was lowered
into the ground, the grave was filled. All of the people would then return to the house for coffee,
zwieback (traditional buns), etc. which the neighbour ladies had been preparing for days prior to
the burial service. Usually two or three ministers spoke at the services, and, if possible, the
Bishop attended. I remember very well, at the death of my great aunt (Wiens) (now 65 years
ago), how I sang, in the choir, the traditional song “God be with you till we meet again”. It was a
very solemn occasion.
But, back to my youth. In the spring of 1900, something momentous happened. It
occurred at a silver wedding anniversary in the church of a neighbouring village. It was during
the service that two pairs of eyes quite innocently met. There sat a beautiful, young girl with
wavy chestnut brown hair listening intently to the minister’s words while I had allowed my eyes
to roam. She must have felt my unabashed stare, for our eyes met and locked ... forever! I had
never seen her before, although she had lived in our midst for three years. She wasn’t any older
than 15, and had moved here from the Crimea with her widowed mother and two older brothers.
She had been raised by a loving but strict mother. They usually boarded 3 - 5 high school
students, and sometimes twice that number, so she was kept very busy preparing meals. In
between times, she was kept busy sewing for herself and others.
Note: To let us know this girl somewhat better, Dad resorts back to several verses from
the aforementioned poem he wrote in his 70th year. He describes her life, and the early death of
her father, again in rhyming German verse. It is quite beautiful and sad. The description of her
beauty could only come from a man in love. Thanks again to Erica for her translation. V.D.
For Tiene: Verse 5
When her chestnut brown braids hung to her shoulders,
A beauty she was - with a glorious voice:
She so enthralled me! Also parents and teachers
Were pleased with her talents and gifts.
She captured the hearts of all who knew her,
Especially the boys, and for her attention they vied,
But she had a way of eluding them all.
Then, for a time, she suddenly vanished:
She had a momentous decision to make.
The way of salvation became her burning desire.
When, at last, she found peace for her soul,
The peace that our God, the Saviour gives,
Her joy and her happiness knew no bounds,
And Tiene Goertzen, once again, was glad be alive.
Then suddenly, one bright summer day,
Tragedy struck: Her father was found
Dead in the field - “O merciful God,
Can this be? Have you forsaken us?”,
She cried in her misery.
Her happiness fled. Her loss was so great
That to her mother’s arms, father’s darling now fled.
“Father, dear father, you know how I loved you,”
She sobbed at his grave side.
“The Lord’s holy way I don’t understand,”
Her eyes wet with tears which rolled down her cheeks.
“O Father, I feel so lost and alone,
And my longing for you is hopeless and vain.”
The wound was still deep in that young breast
When another blow struck - a great misfortune-
To her hearth and her home she must bid adieu,
Her beloved Crimea which scarcely she knew.
Her beautiful home, the woods, and the trees,
Where in childhood she’d spent so many happy years,
With grief and much sadness, she gave one last glance
To the flowering meadow which no more she would see.
As the tears clung to her wet brown lashes,
Tiene Goertzen looked to the future and happier beginnings.
And so we found each other quite innocently at a Silver wedding celebration in Tiege. The meeting was like a dream to me, and I did not want to wake up. In those days, where romance was concerned, our parents were very strict and watchful. As soon as I arrived home, with my parents’ permission (my folks thought it not unusual for a young fellow to attend the evening celebration of a wedding), I rushed to saddle my horse and make my way back just to catch a glimpse of her again. I just wanted to be close to her because I felt that such beauty would not remain unattached for long. . That was our first meeting where we became somewhat acquainted. I was shy, but bold enough to arrange another date for the following Sunday. It happened that she had a friend who was going with a young fellow that I knew, so we arranged a meeting in the meadow, on the boundary between our two villages that Sunday afternoon.
We met secretly throughout the summer; sometimes at the cemetery, in the woods, in the
meadow, anywhere we could .... we dared not let our parents know or guess our relationship for,
of course, we were very young. We walked because using my horse was too risky. Somewhat
later I bought a bicycle which helped speed me to my loved one.
I could have gone to see her on horseback easily enough, but I dared not. I was from
another village, and to be seen in her village in the evening was something that the dogs and the
young men there would not permit (to put it mildly).
Winter came and seeing each other became very difficult, so we corresponded regularly
with little notes sent through high school students that we both knew. We were not often able to
see each other, but we were in love , and each time I saw her, I was determined to strengthen our
ties for the future. She sang in a choir which I occasionally heard, but she and her mother
attended a different church than ours, and a serious division developed between the churches
such that we seldom met at services. On rare occasions Tiene and her girlfriend would come to
visit my sister. I would then slip a little love note into her hatband, and tie the knot a little
tighter! Years passed, and the path of true love was not always smooth. Attempts were made by
some to separate us, but true love triumphed, and may it continue to endure. I am writing this in
1964, and I can affirm that this bond of love and trust has endured to our old age. In 1966 we
shall be celebrating our Diamond wedding jubilee (60th anniversary).
I worked at home with new purpose, but kept my preparations for the future a secret from
my parents. I often used some white lies to explain my absences during the long evenings. With
my brother, Gerhard, away in the state service, and my father often away on business in Rostov, I
worked long hours throughout the summer, often eighteen hours a day from four a.m. until
sundown. After a busy week, I looked forward to Sunday which, unfortunately, often passed
without seeing my girlfriend, as she would be called today.
In 1905, after a 4 to 5 year acquaintance, we both began our baptismal (catechism)
instruction. She in the Lichtenau church under the minister, Jacob Toews, and I in Ohrloff under
the minister, Gortz. This occurred on Sundays, and so, after long hours of work during the week
at home, having to spend my Sundays in these classes left me depressed, especially so since my
sweetheart was in the company of other “cavaliers”. This brought out a jealousy in me that took
great control not to show.
In the spring, we were both baptized in our respective churches. Her mother took sick at this time and died after several months. She became an orphan. Her sisters were already married, and her two older brothers, Johann and David, went their own ways, but, when at home, it was my “Tiene” (Katharina) that had to cater to their wishes. Johann Goertzen was engaged in a grain handling business with his uncle, Frank Goertzen, a bachelor.
Note: Dad inserts a verse describing the funeral of my grandmother (Katharina’s mother)
here. Please bear with my translation. V.D.
Now her dear mother lay in her final slumber,
The lonely orphaned daughter stood before her in greatest sorrow.
Shortly the casket will be carried from the home,
And a new hillock will appear in the graveyard.
My sorrowful lonely one oft sat by the grave,
And shed her tears upon the cemetery grass.
So, love as long as you are able,
The hour will come, the hour will come
When you’ll stand at the graveside and weep,
‘Cause mother, my mother, will never return.
O God, give me strength to bear this heavy burden.
I was still a shy young man, but that summer I became bolder. The student boarders had
left, and Tiene, then 18, had more free time. Our visits with one another became somewhat more
open, but still secretive (according to custom). As I was approaching my 21st birthday, I became
concerned about being conscripted to serve my time in the military, even though I was classified
in a different category because I had a brother already serving time.
At this time the Goertzen estate was in the process of being settled. Her three married
sisters from the Ufimer Government Area (Siberia) arrived. The sons-in-law were eager to
salvage everything possible for themselves, leaving the youngest, who had helped her mother for
the last 10 years until her death, with little. On the day of the household auction, even the
sewing machine was brought out for sale. Tiene had treasured this machine dearly and had
become very adept at sewing clothes, a skill that she still retains today at the age of 78.
Her only uncle spoke up, however, and brought the machine back inside. ( It was later
added to her dowry.) Her home, including some land, was sold as well. How all these incidents
reached my father’s ears, I never did find out. I had never discussed my hopes and dreams with
my parents. I felt sad and helpless: my head never stopped aching!
Typist’s note: I have learned that my Grandfather’s pet name for my Grandmother, although
spelled “Tiene” in German, is properly pronounced “Tina” in English.
One evening in the fall of 1905, my father was sitting at the window in his office. I was
just finishing some odds and ends at the stable when I heard a tap on the window, and was
motioned into his office. “What have I done wrong now?”, I thought as my heart began to beat
faster and my face reddened, as it too often did under similar circumstances. I sat down on a
sofa in the corner and waited. Quietly, he reviewed what had transpired in the last 4 to 5 years in
the romance department without remonstrations, and concluded with “we daren’t let the bird out
of the cage or it’s gone”. He had heard that her sisters were taking her back north with them
after the estate settlement. And so my father, according to custom, stepped in as a mediator.
Note: Here, Dad again resorts to three long verses describing his joy and happiness and
the customary plans for the engagement and forthcoming marriage. Again I shall attempt the
translation. Dad states that his Tiene will describe what followed after her future father-in-law
stepped in as mediator. V.D.
And dear friends, I would like to explain
Why everything had to move along so quickly.
On a beautiful autumn day I was confronted unexpectedly by a man.
The coachman drove on as the man entered,
And, with a smile, proffered his hand and stated,
“My son has sent me to you today.”
And, as my relatives happened to be visiting,
They were immediately included in an advisory capacity.
We two had known each other for several years,
But still I felt somewhat intimidated.
There had been other plans made for me
Of which I wasn’t fully aware.
I was to be sent to the far North
With which my relatives fully agreed.
Yet I had already found my happiness here,
And perhaps I would never return from there.
And so I agreed with the wishes of this man,
And soon we heard the carriage leave.
The engagement then soon took place
As was the custom in that land.
The length of the engagement was greatly shortened,
And soon the planned wedding arrived amid great pomp and circumstance.
Soon I was settled in a new home
Fulfilling my wish to always be with Jacob.
And we’ve remained together to this day,
Sharing happiness and sorrow equally.
And it’s difficult to believe that we’re about to celebrate
Our Diamond Jubilee - is it really true?
I received notification that for the present I was quite free from conscription, but should
an emergency occur, I would be called at once - as happened later in 1914, WWI
Our engagement took place in her home in Tiege on November 19, 1905. As her relatives
were still visiting, there was a houseful of guests to enjoy the celebratory dinner. According to
custom, it was a chicken supper. My bride-to-be then moved into her uncle’s home in Ohrloff
where I often visited her - quite openly now! My riding horse was not enthused about my
frequent visits there. As was then the custom, we were invited to various friends and relatives. It
was a busy time of planning and preparation, and I rather neglected the farm and the business at
Since my parents, G. Dycks, were celebrating their silver wedding in early 1906, it was
decided to have our “green” wedding on the same day. And so, on January 14, 1906, we
celebrated a double wedding in our big barn. The young folks had beautifully decorated the
large room in the manner that was then customary, and in the way that I previously described. A
big iron stove was set up to heat the room as it was very cold in the winter.
Note: Again a poetic verse (this one in low German) describes the wedding day ...
victory! Thanks again to Erica. V.D.
At last the wedding day arrived,
We had not guessed it was so nigh!
Before the altar, hearts aglow and heads held high,
We stood with wreaths and ring
To make our sacred vows.
I was not in a church as you might suppose,
But both the Bishop and elders had nevertheless
A good word to say from the Holy Book.
No wonder it lasted 60 years!
The evening before the wedding day, we had the usual “polterabend” (shower) at which
poems were recited, humorous skits were performed, games were played, and everyone was fed.
Of course, many gifts were received, including a broom which was brought in by a cute little girl
saying, “I can’t read, I can’t write, but I can drag in the broom.”
The day of the wedding, guests arrived early from out of town, and their horses and
vehicles were parked on the neighbours’ yards. Two of the senior ministers, A. Goertz (Ohrloff)
and Jac Toews (Lichtenau) were present, as were my two grandmothers, Enns and Dyck. As
stated before, I never knew my grandfathers.
At the appointed time, Tiene and I entered the room together, arm in arm, followed by all
the newly married couples. We seated ourselves on the red plush sofa next to our parents and
two grandmothers. The room was crowded with relatives and friends, and was very warm.
Finally “till death dost thou part”, and we sat down on our decorated chairs somewhat deep in
thought. A short prayer and a congregational song ended the formal part of the ceremony.
Congratulations from everyone followed. To get to the house and the meal, we naturally had to
go through the stables, and past the mooing cows and staring horses. I recall one of the group of
young men winking slyly and cautioning me as we passed, “Watch that blue eyed, brown haired
beauty, Jake.” with his finger pointing at my young wife.
After a veritable feast, the young folks took over with various games, and, of course, the wreaths. The flowers were tossed by the blindfolded bride and groom into the young crowd. Many folk songs, German and Russian, were sung, some accompanied by guitars and the harmonium (a parlour organ).
The next day we had a small “after celebration”, and slowly the out of town guests disappeared. I had finally, after four or five years, accomplished what I had been determined to do; marry my very beautiful, spirited, and healthy sweetheart. God be praised! We found a home with my parents for the first few years of our married life. “Honeymoons”, at that time weren’t customary, so it was back to the daily routine. Happily I “trucked” my new wife’s furniture from her uncle’s house to our little nest, agreeing with the poet who said, “Our belongings are not many, but free of debt and worry.”
I then learned that my little Tiene had inherited quite a tidy sum which her uncle had
stowed away in a fireproof box in the oven. I want to confess here that this was a big surprise to
me: it was only on her that my eyes had been focused. Now the problem was how best to invest
this money. Her mother’s property had been sold, a fact that I regretted because it had been
excellent real estate, centrally located in the village with a high school, church, hospital,
drugstore, and school for the deaf and dumb. Had it been available now, we could have acquired it.
Business was still a major factor in my daily life, and we decided, with my father’s
advice of course, to found a lumberyard and hardware business. I persuaded my father to allow
me to buy into the business for a designated sum of money. Initially, he had offered to borrow
the money from me at 3% which, as it turned out, would have given me one to two thousand
dollars more annually. I, as a good Christian son on the other hand, felt obligated to help my
father as he was already having, not only health problems, but many other unpleasant family
headaches concerning the farm and iron business of which he was only part owner.
We set up strict, clear-cut, business guidelines from the beginning and worked together in
harmony. It was run separately from the iron business. Father bought a large village warehouse
with two acres of land since lumber required much space. The warehouse was remodelled into
an office which boasted two green covered desks, and I thus became a businessman in my own
Landmarks of the Blumenort, Tiege, and Ohrloff Area
The Early Years - Business
In 1906 we were the only lumberyard within a fifteen mile radius, and, as a result,
business flourished. Our clients were the area tradesmen and the district farmers. Construction
was booming, i.e. houses, barns, granaries, etc. Lumber was cut to specific lengths. We carried
nails from ½ to 6-7 inches long, beams, tin for eaves troughing, glass for windows, etc. In
addition to all this, we also supplied materials for wagon construction, tools, anvils, bellows,
files, hammers, and lots of coal.
We bought our lumber in Jekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk), Kamenka, and directly from
the north, up to ten wagonloads at a time. We built 2 large warehouses to store the best lumber.
The iron came from Rostov, usually from Prince Paul Djemidov, who imported the best directly
from a 200 year old firm in the Urals. Our hardware goods were ordered from Hamburg, our
milk separators from Sweden, and in time, we also sold threshing machines, hay cutting
machines, drills (grain), sewing machines, etc. We also began to manufacture grain cleaning
machines for which we found a good market in northern Russia and Siberia.
Life continued in a peaceful manner, undisturbed and uninterrupted, during the years of
relative peace and quiet which our dear Russian motherland enjoyed from 1906 to 1914. The
Boer war in South Africa was over, but in 1905 Russia fought a bloody war with Japan.
Although the theatre of the war was about 7,000 miles distant, the effects were felt throughout
Russia because it suffered great losses (hundreds of thousands of lives were lost as well as the
great destruction of naval battleships and land fortifications). After the end of this war, there was
unrest throughout the country to the degree that the minister of the interior, Stolypen, tried to
restore stability by making promises of land to the people. Those uprisings that got out of
control were quashed by the Cossacks in bloody encounters. Revolutionaries shot Stolypen,
however, in full view of the Czar in a theatre in Kiev. Many large landowners suffered fires and
robberies, but the Russian government eventually regained control, an outcome that would not be
so ten years hence. Fortunately, in our area, we suffered no great upset, and the business
continued to grow.
Often after work, my young wife would meet me and walk me home. Our lumberyard
and office lay somewhat distant from our home. Evenings were spent socializing with friends or
visiting her two brothers who soon married and lived in Ohrloff, three miles away. Johann
Goertzen, the oldest brother, purchased his uncle’s windmill and brickyard: the uncle, fearing a
revolution, had emigrated to America with his whole family in 1905, shortly before our wedding.
David, the other brother, owned a general store in the neighbouring village of Tiege. We found
these visits very enjoyable and the only change of scene we had, aside from going to church on
Sundays and attending the weekly bible and prayer meetings that were now common after the
great “Revival”. We were thankful to be blessed by our heavenly Father.
In about two years, the flutter of the stork announced the birth of a red cheeked daughter.
It was 6:00 a.m., December 1, 1907, and the stork should have been in the southern climes of
Africa at this time, but it had delayed to bring us our little bundle. We named her Anna, after my
mother as well as my older sister. Anna is a famous old name popular among the oldest nobility;
Anna Boleyn (1507, one of the wives of Henry VIII), Anna of Austria (1615, queen of France
and a descendant of the Spanish house of Habsburg), etc. Mother and child were both well, and,
within a year, Anna was babbling and walking.
At this time, with business going well and grandmother volunteering to babysit, we
decided to take a “wedding trip” for four to five weeks in the lovely month of May. My father,
of course, would manage the business in my absence. Crossing Russia’s largest river, the Volga,
at Saratov, we went by rail to Uralsk where one of Tiene’s sisters (Warkentine) lived on a large
estate. With their riches from the Crimea, they had purchased several thousand acres of fertile
land there. Although the land was fertile, the desert east winds began to blow in June, and it
killed the promising harvest for 5 years in succession. As a result, the whole colony moved and
relocated in an area about one hundred miles from “Ufa” which lies on the trans-Siberian
railway, this side of the Urals.
Typist’s note: See the chapter “Between Volga and Ural”, starting on page 128 of the
book, In the Fullness of Time: 150 Years of Mennonite Sojourn in Russia, written and compiled
by Dr. Walter Quiring and Helen Bartel, and printed in 1974 by Reeve Bean Limited, Waterloo,
Ontario, Canada. This book contains many photos, maps, and descriptions of this time period
including Blumenort, Ohrloff, Tiege, etc. A picture of Heinrich Dyck is seen on page 85.
From the Warkentines, on to “New Samara” where we visited my mother’s uncle,
Heinrich Klassen. This was an area of great poverty. From there we travelled with my brotherin-
law, Warkentine, across the Urals, and into Asia where I had a good look at the camel
caravans. In Uralsk we visited the famous statue of “Ermasks”, the conqueror of Siberia who
drowned in the Ural River during the war, and saw other antiquities in the town.
After a week and a tearful farewell, we departed by boat on the Volga, heading north to
the city of Orenburg, and from there by train to Ufa. The journey by steamer on the Volga was
truly interesting. We landed from time to time, and watched the labourers load and unload while
singing the many nostalgic songs of their river. The right shoreline of the Volga is very steep and
rocky with many caves, while the left bank is low and flat stretching far out to the west. This
land was very fertile, and had been settled during Katharine II’s time (before 1800) by Germans.
They prospered and even founded their own city, Katharinencity. As the river boat went slowly
by, I had a good look. Today, in 1965, the settlement is totally destroyed, and the inhabitants
banished to Siberia, even though its youth was true to Russia, thousands spilling their blood
during World War I fighting against the Germans.
From Ufa, we embarked again on the river boat and wound our way north along the Volga and its tributaries until we reached the Belaya River where Tiene’s two sisters lived -- the Bergs and the Enns, the latter of which owned a large flour mill with facilities for drying grain. Fortunately, with our home being farther south, we did not need to dry grain. My brother-in-law, John Berg, had died, leaving Tiene’s sister, Lena, a widow. After a week’s visit, we left to go to Kazaug on the Volga where there was a large exhibition that they called a World Exhibition. After several days of sightseeing, we headed straight north to Navgorod. At one time during its one thousand years of existence, it was Russia’s capital, although at this time, St. Petersburg and Moscow have taken over in this respect. The walled city of Navgorod, with its forts, made a big impression on me. I marvelled at its battlements and fortifications with 3 - 5 metre thick walls, and I shuddered at the tales of gruesome deeds perpetrated within by cruel overlords. It emphasized to me the bloody heritage of our fatherland.
Especially cruel and bloodthirsty was Ivan the Terrible. He had thousands of high
government officials, nobility, and even ordinary farmers, who at that time were slaves, thrown
into the prisons. Then, the night before the executions, he and his followers would witness a
bloody and cruel torture exhibition. This was performed only after a religious ceremony ordered
by the Czar. Then the action began. These so called criminals (dissidents maybe) were lined up
in long rows, and the guards would then charge at full gallop on their horses, piercing their
bodies with their lances or beheading them with their enormous swords. If a would-be victim
refused to stay in line, the czar himself would lunge at him, driving his lance through his body.
This is but one small example of the many horrors that occurred during his reign.
During their history, the Russians had themselves had been subjugated by the Tartars, and
had been slaves for four hundred years. Their Khan was even more brutal in tyrannizing his
subjects. He had methods that my pen refuses to describe. The reason I mention these facts at
all is to emphasize the bloody heritage of the country from which our heavenly Father has
As we left this city behind, we headed for Moscow where the Kremlin with its 3 - 5 metre
thick walls told similar stories. As we all know, it was from these heights that Napoleon
Bonapart looked down upon the burning city and finally admitted to himself that victory was
impossible, giving the order to retreat. This was the beginning of the end of his illustrious career,
as his return to France was very costly as the spring thaw revealed. Mile long stacks of corpses
were found. Practically his entire army had been defeated by the severe Russian winter. But,
back to the present. Inside the Kremlin, we saw some remarkable sights, e.g. the huge bell which
had never struck a note. It fell in the process of being pulled up into a church steeple, and a
piece of the bell was broken. Its size was such that a team of horses could enter through the hole
and turn around inside. We also saw the “czar cannon” that Czar Purschka had built. No shot
had ever been fired from this cannon, although I have never been able to discover why.
The city of 1000 churches was worth seeing, and before I leave this world famous
historic city, I want to report something that I recently learned. The last prince of Moscow,
Jusupov, whose ancestry dates back to the Tartars, is still alive and is presently (1965) living in
France. In 1914 he inherited a three storied wooden hunting lodge about 30 miles from Moscow.
It was hidden deep in the forest, and, according to reports, had been locked up and neglected for
over three hundred years or more. When its old rusty iron doors were pried open, they revealed
rooms of palatial proportions: the architecture was beautiful. Evidently, the Czar, Ivan the
Terrible, had engaged a French architect to build it. When he was told that there was no palace
in all of Europe to compare with its beauty, he determined that there should be none other like it,
and so had the master architect’s eyes gouged before sending him home to France.
As this young Jusupov, newly married in 1914, examined his prize, he discovered a
subterranean tunnel leading directly to the Kremlin in Moscow (twenty to thirty miles away), and
the high sidewalls were crowded with human skeletons. How terrible!
From Moscow we headed, downhill as it were, toward our home in the south by train.
Arriving at our station, Fzodorovka, our coachman welcomed us in Russian with “Thank God
you are home safe again.” We had been gone for five weeks and travelled about three thousand
miles by water and land. Our young daughter (1½ years) ran to meet us, stopped halfway, and
returned crying to the arms of her grandma. We had become strangers.
Our trip became a memory as my responsibilities turned again to the farm and business.
During my absence, sales had been brisk, and now, in the spring, much building was in progress.
In a matter of weeks, I was compelled to set off for Jekaterinoslav to buy supplies.
At that time, we were not much concerned with politics. The short uprising in 1905 had
been quelled by the Cossacks, and life continued in peace and prosperity. We had only
agricultural and business concerns.
Trip to Crimea
I should backtrack a little at this time to mention a trip that we took during our first year
of marriage. We went to the Crimea, the birthplace of my young wife, although we never got
around to seeing her village. We went directly to the Black Sea city of Sebastopol which Russia
forfeited at a cost of thousands of Russian soldiers in her war against England, France, and
Turkey. Two of my single friends, Bergen and Fast, accompanied us on this trip where we met
with my brother, Gerhard, who was spending his government service in the vineyards of the
It so happened that we attended a large military funeral such as we had never seen before.
It was most impressive. Apparently, one year previously, when the sailors of the large fleet
mutinied, the ship’s officers were liquidated in brutal fashion. They were tied up and laid on the
deck: then boiling borscht was poured into their mouths. When they were half dead, they were
tossed overboard. This particular funeral concerned one of the officers whose body had just
washed up on shore after a year, and yet was recognized by his papers which were sealed in a
After some sightseeing, we boarded a steamboat heading across the Black Sea to Odessa.
As the waters were rather unruly, it was not long before we three “heroes” (the men) stayed in
our cabins, sick, while my young wife promenaded on the wave washed deck with a smile on her
The Odessa harbour lies at the base of high cliffs, and we climbed many steps, 60 at least,
to reach the top. This city had still not settled down completely after the “small revolution”, and
the next morning a number of corpses were collected. That evening we attended an Italian opera
which, of course, we couldn’t understand. We then headed home, settling into peace and quiet
Typist’s notes: The famous Potemkin Steps, leading up to Odessa from the harbour, had a
total of 200 steps at that time. When Victor and I visited in 1995, we were informed that 8 steps
were lost in the rebuilding of the harbour, and thus 192 remain. G.D.
With our business venture proving to be very successful, we had the good fortune to
purchase the very large house (the former home for the deaf and dumb) directly across the street
from our business. The purchase included not only the house, but also a barn complete with
domestic animals (horses, cows, chickens, etc.) on a good sized lot. After we furnished the
house, we were quite well established and independent.
Our daughter was barely two years old when we were blessed again. This time, a boy to
carry on the family name. We named him Gerhard, after his grandfather, rather than Jacob, a
name I never cared for. That way, also, the name of our business firm would not need to be
altered later. The two young ones were a joy to behold, and they played together beautifully.
Often, when we visited my parents across the street, little Nyuta (Ann) toddled along with
Gerhard, wrapped in a blanket, carried in the strong arms of our Russian hired man.
Outside and inside we were blessed. Our business thrived, and we forwent the farming, leasing out the 30 acres, so as to concentrate all of our time on the venture. Another two years went by, and a little brother arrived for Anne and Gerhard (George). We called him Rudolf, a name popular with the princes and noblemen of the day, especially in Austria where Rudolf of Habsburg held sway. (I must admit, however, that only later did I discover just how famous the name was.) My father did not take to this name, and, in the beginning when he looked down at the young one in the cradle, he would call him “the Prussian”. But we wanted to get away from the popular Mennonite name, Jacob.
The young mother was only 24 years old at this time, and certainly had her hands full. Help was plentiful, though, and we managed to lead an enjoyable life. We owned 5 cows (Holsteins), 2 horses for our coaches, 5 pigs for butchering, chickens, and our two young sons soon had a pony to ride. For travelling, we had a “droschka”, a single horse carriage which had firmly upholstered seats and a type of trunk for luggage, etc. Our “Oboyaner” was an open carriage (convertible) with springs and plush red velvet upholstery. The necessary “Lastwagon” was a box wagon for heavy loads. We even had a “two wheeler” for the muddy streets in the spring and fall.
The sewing machine that Tiene had inherited got a real work out as she was sewing all the children’s clothes. She was very proficient at this and seemed to enjoy it as well. I worked out a barter system with her brother, David Goertzen, who owned a country store in the next village of Tiege. In exchange for hardware that he needed, we got groceries (sugar, coffee, etc.) and cloth and materials for sewing purposes.
And so we entered the New Year in 1913 with hope, happiness, and without worries. But
things were to change, and we got to know the meaning of the Biblical verse “My ways are not
Our youngest, Rudolf, was hardly two years old when another addition arrived on March
1, 1913 - a strong, healthy boy. But suddenly and quite unexpectedly, he died after 2 ½ hours in
the arms of the midwife. We had given him the biblical name, David, after my wife’s uncle
(David Klassen) and brother (David Goertzen). Since we employed our own cabinet makers in
the business, we had them build a tiny coffin, and we buried him in a deep grave in our
graveyard with tears and the words:
An angel bid thee come
And carried you into a better land!
The sad mother cast one more tearful glance behind her as we slowly made our way
But the Lord reached into the Dyck household once more in 1913, and took unto him my
father. He had been suffering from chronic festering glands in his neck for some time, and they
gradually became worse. He was successfully operated on by Dr. Prinker, a German doctor in
Ohrloff, but his condition became more painful ( it could have been cancer ). On our way to the
hospital, we met father’s longtime friend, Onkel Epp. Father halted, opened the wagon door and
Mr. Epp said, “I just wanted to shake your hand once more.” As we drove on, father turned to
me, and with tears in his eyes said, “Jacob, look at that man, probably the strongest and
healthiest man in the village, and I must suffer another fate.”
Although he was tenderly nursed by my mother and two sisters, Anna and Mary, he
succumbed to his illness on October 24, 1913 at the age of 54 years, 6 months and 18 days. In
his last days he spoke of Satan testing his faith, but, in the end, father triumphed. The funeral
was on November 3 after which my mother became a very sad, quiet widow.
Now I must mention that this same Mr. Epp fell ill with typhoid fever soon after meeting
with father, and he was laid to rest even before father’s death. How inscrutable are the ways of
Although father’s passing left a void, life went on as before except that mother seemed to
become more quiet and sad. One day she stated, “Now I see death in another light.” She couldn’t
forget father. She sickened with abdominal typhus, and died six months after father on May 31,
1914. And so, my two dear parents lie side by side in our old homeland.
The parents’ estate, including the business, house and land was divided amongst us six
children. My share consisted of several large warehouses with the surrounding yard, the parents’
share of the business, and a tract of land. From this point on, I was my own boss, responsible to
no one else, which made the bookkeeping much easier. We had already purchased and had
settled in the big house which fronted the main highway to Tokmak. Surrounded by tall poplar
trees, a high wooden fence, and fruit and vegetable gardens, we found ourselves enjoying
pleasant country living.
Several months after mother’s funeral, on July 6, 1914, another visitor arrived at 6:30 on
a Sunday. Schiller, the poet says, “the blessing comes from above.” This was our second
daughter, and we felt that the 140th psalm expressed our feelings. We named her Agnes, a Greek
name meaning purity. The first Agnes was a Christian, martyred by Diohletian in Rome circa
300 AD. The other was a German queen , daughter of Herzogs, who married the Kaiser in 1000
World War I - 1914
Shortly before Agnes’ birth, on June 24, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-
Hungarian throne, and his wife were murdered in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (Bosnia). He was the
heir to one of the oldest German royal thrones in the world, being from the House of Habsburg
which originated almost a thousand years ago in northern Switzerland. The last ruler, Kaiser
Franz Joseph, had ruled the country, with its important capitals of Vienna in Austria and
Budapest in Hungary, for 70 years - similar to that of Queen Victoria of England.
And so World War I started. In a short time Russia had mobilized 10,000,000 men.
Practically all of Europe declared war on each other and within 1 - 2 years, 22 countries fought
against Germany and her allies; Austria, Hungary, Italy, Turkey, etc.
Since I still retained special conscription status (brother Gerhard was already serving and
I was in charge of the family business), I was permitted to remain at home for a whole year.
Since the front was 1000 miles distant and the war was supposed to end in three months, we
carried on with the usual routine. Soon we noticed that deliveries of our goods were greatly
interrupted as war material had priority. It wasn’t long before we suffered business losses, and,
since money owing was hard to collect, it was difficult to pay my outstanding debts on time. But
we lived through a quiet winter in 1914, and our four children received Christmas presents. In
1915 things got progressively worse. Thousands of Russian soldiers were killed on the
battlefields, and whole armies had bee taken prisoner as well. So new mobilization occurred,
and now it was my turn. On April 4, 1915 at 6:00 a.m., I left for Melitopol, the induction centre,
with hundreds of others.
It would take much time to describe my three years of service. At first I kept a diary, but
that soon ceased because we were constantly on the move. We were about 500 in number
(Mennonites) and practically all married. The war ministry wanted to send us to the Turkish
front, in spite of the fact we were as innocent as sheep and had no experience with war. After
several days, St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) had sorted out our orders (conscientious objectors),
and our group was divided for posting. I was included in the posting to Sebastopol in the Crimea
where we were permitted three days of rest. My diary states that we battled with lice until sleep
finally overcame us. We had little to do, and often spent time wandering on the beaches of the
Black Sea where many of the Russian Royalty and wealthy businessmen spent their summers in
their dachas near Yalta.
Much blood flowed on the battlefields, and thousands of wounded were brought back to
Russia on long trains manned by Mennonites in the medical corps. They crowded the hospitals
in Moscow and various central cities throughout the country. My brother, Frank, worked in an
office there while my youngest brother, Heinrich, served on the Turkish front.
In September, after five months of service, I was posted to Gostovskaja, about 1500 miles from home and 500 miles north of Moscow.
The news from home was satisfactory. My wife with her four children, Njuta (Ann), Gerhard, Rudy, and Agnes were taken care of. Also, the business reports from my manager, Cornelius Fast, were not bad. We did not count on profit any longer, but were satisfied with peace and quiet in the South.
The Gostovskaja was a large prisoner of war camp which housed many thousands of prisoners from the various fronts in mile long barracks that were set deep in the ancient forests. They were built with the prisoners’ help, often in forty below weather. The feeding was rather unorganized, so several large warehouses for food storage and a large store were built. I became the “store manager”. The officials from St. Petersburg were partial to the Mennonites, and so I was able to choose Mennonites to serve in the store, the bakery, the dairy, etc.. Professional Austrian and German butchers ran the slaughter house.
Although the Russian front kept crumbling, we received more and more prisoners; Germans, Austrians, Italians, Turks, etc. Before the Russians retreated from the Carpathian mountains in Greece, the area capital of Lemberg was ravaged and plundered, and factories were stripped. We received train loads of parts that we tried to reassemble, but huge piles of the most complicated machines and dynamos were left in the mud to rust and decay. What a waste! But the misery of the millions of refugees, fleeing from the western countries, was more terrible than the rusting machinery. Words cannot describe the terror of war!
Like lightening, quite unexpected, the war broke out
And fathers and sons were forced to leave home.
I too, bade adieu to my loved ones,
Left Mother alone with four youngsters to manage.
The house which for years had been filled with laughter
Was left with sadness, wrapped in doom and gloom.
The raging war brought terror and death
To millions of men now lying so stark,
With mothers and children left alone in the dark,
Unseeing the stars - that had not lost their spark!
Hope was gone, the future obscure,
O God, will our life be forever unsure?
All Europe is engaged in destruction
Of lands, home and hearth.
And then after years the end finally came:
A bloody revolution resulted
And nothing was the same!
The Revolution - 1917
In October, 1917, the second wave of the bloody revolution enveloped the whole of
Russia. With their weapons, millions of the frontline soldiers retreated from the battlefields into
the country, and the bloodletting began. The Czar was deposed: Lenin and Trotsky took charge,
leading an orgy of fire, murder, and plunder such as the world had not before witnessed.
During this chaos, I became ill suddenly, and was permitted to go home on sick leave.
Having arrived in Moscow, I tried to make my way through the city to the southern railway
stations. In the city things were frightful. I thanked God when I managed to squeeze into a
railway car heading home - only because I had money. Hundreds and thousands of people
clamoured onto the roof tops, hung from windows and doors, and jammed between the cars to
flee the city. Hundreds fell to their death or were crushed under the wheels when the train
lurched forward and started to move - a horrible death!
I had about 1000 miles to go, and the overloaded train crawled along the way through
stations that were crowded with old women, children, soldiers, revolutionaries, and many other
travellers. The conductor was happy to survive every station along the way without being shot.
And so it went, day and night, through the Steppes of Russia, and many days later I arrived at our
home station of Fjodorovka. As I tried to exit my railway car, hundreds rushed towards me with
cries and oaths, trying to climb on. Every so often a bearded Russian would cross himself and
groan, “Gospodji” (Oh God!).
I managed to push my way out and find a Russian driver with two small, skinny horses
and a box wagon to take me home. I arrived, quite unexpected, and was greeted with tears of
joy. I passed out the gifts that I had brought for everyone - things that were no longer available in
the South. For my oldest, a carved life-like horse which decorated my desk for years after, an
Indian elephant for my second son, etc..
I had hardly caught my breath when, hand in hand, Tiene and I made the rounds. First
the lumber yard, then the iron warehouse, then the hardware storehouse. The warehouses and the
lumber yard were practically empty, as was the storehouse. The yard looked neglected and
deserted. Here and there was a pile of boards and beams: a few rafters and railings lay around.
Our two German hired men had left in the meantime after ten years of service, but we still had
our home and barns with some cows, horses, pigs, and various wagons that my wife had not as
yet sold to make ends meet. Our material loss was great, but there were our children and my
dear wife who stood beside me and looked at me questioningly and hopefully with her blue eyes,
pushing her chestnut brown tresses to one side. I gazed at her after our long separation, and, as
our lips met, I knew what had to be done.
First of all, I had to have a hernia operation at the hospital (the reason for my furlough).
Dr. Dyck performed the surgery at the hospital in Ohrloff, and after a week, I was well enough to
go home and settle some of my affairs. I arranged for my farm to be run by the neighbours on a
50/50 basis. In my business, I attempted to acquire small amounts of goods from countries with
which I still had some contact. And so, we gradually got back into the swing of things.
The October revolution changed our situation again. The village administration had been
handed over to a Jewish rascal who was a Red through and through, just like the colour of his
hair. His prime purpose was to relieve the well-to-do of their belongings, and he lost no time in
so doing. The leadership in St. Petersburg and Moscow was still at odds on the direction to take.
Government officials changed frequently; sometimes the Reds (Communists) had the upper
hand, sometimes the Whites (government forces) under Kerensky were in control. Kerensky
wanted to prolong the war, others wanted peace with Germany. Things in general had been
unsettled since Nicholas II had been deposed. There was a small calm in our area, and we could
catch our breath, even though much was taken from us at this time. But it was merely a calm
before the storm! Soldiers, hungry, weary, and wounded, were returning by the millions with
guns and munitions.
The winter of 1917/18 was uneasy and dismal. The Reds, properly called the thieving
bands, became more daring. These bandits and robbers seized the moment and began to terrorize
the people by pillaging their homes. At night, there would be a banging on the door with a rifle
butt demanding entry. Any delay, and the door was smashed open. Drunk and noisy, three to
five men crowded in demanding money and food. We had no money left, and the cellar and
kitchen had been ransacked dozens of times by these bandits previously. The women (we had
only one maid left) stood by helpless and afraid, in great danger of being raped and molested by
Our heavenly father protected our houses even though we had to live through much
shooting, especially when our village, Blumenort, see-sawed between the Reds and the Whites as
one or the other got the upper hand in the fighting. Our home, being on the outskirts of the
village, usually faced the initial onslaught of any attack. Our warehouses, offices, and
storehouses were used as headquarters from which these raids were planned. Our horses, grain,
flour, clothes, etc. were taken. The leading village men were arrested and often never seen again.
Later we would hear that they had been shot. An example close to home: the father of our sonin-
law, Captain Jacob Penner, was murdered. He had been ordered to appear at the Soviet, and
he never returned. Mrs. Penner, at great risk, searched everywhere, even going to Berdyansk
(100 miles away), but found no trace of him. Much later, his corpse was found in a shallow
grave near his home village, Tiegenhagen.
And so the times went from bad to worse. Holy Russia, as it was called in those days,
was literally turning into a thieving den of iniquity. The only thing that buoyed our hope was
that, having defeated Russia, the Kaiser Wilhelm said he would occupy the Ukraine for fifty
Well, the Germans came and restored order, peace and freedom once again ... for a time.
The churches were reopened, and the crops were harvested. We had little left and were very
poor, but our courage was restored, so we began to work again. The German Military for our
area had its headquarters in Melitopol, thirty five miles away. I was trying to contact the man in
charge to see if I could be of any help in supplying their needs. It was the 162nd Saxon
Regiment. When the first military train arrived in our area (Lichtenau), the whole Mennonite
population had gathered to greet them. The ladies and girls were serving zwieback (traditional
Mennonite buns), and ham. “Look at the pretty red cheeked girls with the nice legs,” some of
the soldiers called out. The locomotive, pushing a flat car crowded with men and guns, headed
slowly eastward, their bayonets glinting in the sun. They were ready for any opposition along
the way. Having observed this military might, I was eager to report the dozen men who had
tyrannized the entire area. One officer replied, “We’ll be there early tomorrow morning.”
In the meantime, some land owners from Rosenort had organized and taken up arms with
Phillip Cornies at their head. They captured these dozen men, keeping them prisoners until the
Germans picked them up on the morrow. Two of them were Mennonites. They were taken to the
railway station, and sent to Alexandrawsk for execution. Immediately thereafter, our minister,
Jacob Janzen, and Phillip Cornies followed, and were able to have the two Mennonites released.
We truly regretted this later when the tide once again turned.
Our warehouses were empty again, but, unfortunately, so were our pockets. The few
items found here and there were sold for a little cash. I did contact the headquarters in
Melitopol, and a German officer rode up our lane on a proud horse, all by himself, to investigate
with whom he was to deal. He stayed overnight. The next morning he took off, and in two to
three days, huge empty wagons came onto our yard, each drawn by four horses and driven by
two men. Our yard was quite large, and so we were able to accommodate the horses in the
stables and the soldiers in our house. They bedded down in the corridor in a row, pulled out their
prayer books, slipped off their belts on the buckles of which was printed “with God”, and slept
the sleep of the righteous.
Shortly before 5 a.m. the next morning, the horses were harnessed, and punctually at 5
a.m. on the dot, the order came, “Forward.” Slowly we drove out through the gate. Since I had
inquired in the surrounding area where certain items were available, it did not take us too long to
fill the wagons with provisions including pigs, chickens, etc. Occasionally, some high officials
came driving through our village in their Mercedes or other cars. They would stop to inquire
where they could buy smoked hams. I recall one instance where one of these officers entered our
home and spied the cradle which the stork, after an absence of four years, had filled with a blond,
curly headed, plump cheeked girl. He pushed his side arm (weapon) to one side with a clank, put
his hands in his great coat pockets, leaned over the cradle and, for a moment, his eyes softened
and he smiled tenderly. The next moment, he jumped into his car, and ordered “Proceed” as he
raced from the scene. It must have stirred up a memory of his home.
Yes, Mother once again rocked the cradle. August 2, 1918, our Lensch (Helena) had
arrived. We greeted her with Psalm 26,8:
“Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house,
And the place where thine honour dwelleth.”
She was our third daughter. We find the first Helena, the personification of feminine
beauty, in Greece. She was abducted from her husband, the son of a Trojan king, by Paris,
triggering the Trojan War.
Typist’s Note: If Mennonite families were very poor and could not afford to feed and
raise children, or if one family had many children but another had none, it was apparently the
custom in the villages to give a child away to be raised. When I was visiting with my Aunt
Helen and telling her that I was typing up her father’s memoirs, she showed me a painting of the
windmill in Blumenort that was located on the property behind them. The owners of this mill
were childless, and food was scarce through the revolution. When Katharina was pregnant with
Helen, these neighbours apparently offered 10 bags of flour in exchange for being able to raise
Helen after she was born. The offer was obviously declined. A picture of the windmill is to be
found farther on in this book. G.D.
The year 1918 brought great political and other changes. In the fall, the Germans who
had brought us peace, freedom, and economic stability, were ordered to return to Germany.
Their Kaiser, William II, had been deposed and had to abdicate, banished for life to a remote
castle in Holland where he lived out his days in peace with his second wife. The German
generals, Hindenburg and Ludendorf, and the Nazi leader, Hitler, were waiting in the wings after
the bloody internal strife.
During the summer of 1918, with German protection, we were able, with much effort and
little machinery, to bring in our harvest and replenish some of our empty cupboards. Money was
scarce, but we had hope and courage. With my connections to the German military personnel
and my continuous efforts, we lived quite well at home. In the fall, the Germans wanted to take
me and my family back with them. Perhaps we should have gone, and so avoided another eight
bloody years of the revolution with all its suffering.
In the fall of 1918, after the departure of the Germans, full anarchy erupted. It was as if
Satan himself took charge. Hatred of Germans, especially Mennonites, knew no bounds.
Robbery, murder, burning, and thousands of other atrocities of which we couldn’t have dreamed,
became the order of the day. No one could be sure that he wouldn’t be taken away during the
night and shot behind the straw stack. Then the family in the house would be terrorized, the
children murdered, and the mother attacked by five to seven “animals”, and left lifeless on the
floor. Only when the White generals, Denukuse, Wrangel, Colochak, and others, pushed the
bandits back with their armies, did we have a little breather, take heart, and try to build anew.
The leader of these gruesome bands of revolutionaries was the infamous Bolshevik,
Machno. He and his men infiltrated our part of the country, spreading their gruesome acts of
terrorism. Land estates and villages were attacked mainly at night when they pillaged, robbed,
murdered, and performed their unmentionable barbarities. This occurred more so in our colony
of sixty villages (Molotschna). In central Russia, regular armies had been organized in Moscow
by Lenin, Trotzky, and Stalin to confront the “White Armies”. These Red armies were heading
south towards us, pushing more and more of these “bandits” who terrorized our villages before
In desperation, we were forced to organize a “Selbst schutz”, a voluntary defence force of
young men of which I was one. It was organized by several German noncoms who had
remained behind, and was referred to as the “Mennonite Army”. On Christmas eve, about two
hundred well armed riders on horseback left for the German villages which had been attacked
several days previously. We rode over the high bridge at Halbstadt toward Prischib where their
villages began. As we rode two abreast, we formed a long line, and, when the villagers saw us,
they rushed out of their houses in their excitement yelling “The Mennonites are coming ... the
Mennonites are coming!” We halted on command, and were applauded with the hope that we
would protect them from any further attacks. We did manage to push some of the bandits out of
the area temporarily, but not without some shooting.
Our group was occasionally supported by the White Army, but we were a drop in the
bucket against these “robber gangs” and the regular Red army which was rumbling in behind
them from the East. How long I remained with this protection group and their hopeless cause
has slipped my mind today (1967), but my wife and children were happy to see me come home
again for good. Here I struggled to take care of my family while the Revolution was apparently
unfolding in its prescribed manner. I tried to salvage some of what the Germans had left behind:
a little grain on the granary floor, a few head of cattle, a carriage or two, some farm machinery, a
bit of produce, etc. Some of this I sold for next to nothing.
Typist’s note: When my father, Victor, and I were on the Mennonite Heritage Cruise in
1995, I was made aware, in the lectures, of the huge philosophical dilemma that the formation of
the “Selbst schutz” caused amongst the Mennonites of the day. The focus of this debate, as to
whether pacifists should have taken up arms even in their own defence, seems to have almost
split the community, and it continues to be a topic of hot discussion, even on the Cruise almost
80 years later. G.D.
The planned Revolution now began in earnest: while the bloody fight continued in central
Russia for government control, the whole of Russia was plunged into a civil war - one without
parallel. The foreign countries, Germany, England, etc. failed with their help, and soon withdrew
from the scene leaving us under the heels of this rabble. The Russian masses were left to their
During this bloody struggle, the Czarist forces (White Army) gradually lost more
territory, even in Siberia. Our Czar, Nicolai II (Romanov), had not only lost his throne, but also
his Russian empire, and was banned to Siberia. When the White general Koltschuk, with a large
army, left Vladivostock and approached Ekaterburg where the Royal family was held prisoner,
they were murdered. About six men informed them to pack, on the pretense that they would be
secretly spirited out to safety. They were to gather in the cellar with their baggage. After having
assembled there, a volley of shots rang out, and the innocent victims collapsed on the floor on
top of each other. In the darkness, a sleigh in front of the house was loaded with the dead, and
they were taken away, their bodies dumped into an abandoned mine shaft.
To digress a moment: it was rumoured that one soldier noticed that one of the four
daughters was not quite dead. He ran out in the excitement, returned with a small hand sleigh on
which he quickly loaded her, and managed, in the darkness and the confusion of loading the
other corpses, to sneak her away to his mother who lived in the vicinity. He returned
immediately to gallop away into the dark with their gruesome load. Some distance away, the
bodies were counted as they were thrown down the shaft of the old coal mine. Not a corpse was
missing apparently. The news of this bloody episode filtered throughout the country with various
interpretations. It was said that Anastasia, this lone surviving daughter of the Czar, was taken
secretly, by the aforementioned soldier, across Russia into Romania. Later, she supposedly
surfaced in Germany where she bore this soldier a son. For years she tried in vain to establish
ties with her royal relatives in Germany and England, so as to prove her rightful inheritance of
her father’s wealth - the Czar’s millions were on deposit in a London bank. Lately (1967), not
much has been heard of this incident.
The bandit, Batjko Machno, and his hordes continued to ravage the south (except
Crimea) almost without opposition as the Red army was still engaged in the north. It was the
German and Mennonite colonies with their big land estates and villages which suffered the most.
Women were raped, and men were murdered and mutilated. These terrorists were filled with
such rage, like mad dogs, and showed no mercy. The prisons had been opened, and from Siberia
came thousands of convicts (still from the Czarist regime) full of immeasurable hate and seeking
vengeance from their homeland. Out of prison camps from the western front came millions,
many of whom were wounded: one eye, one leg, no arms, in rags, hungry, and generally still
armed. Complete chaos, and, without protection from above, it would have been even more
An attempt was made with Germany’s help to set up some sort of provisional government
in the Ukraine, but it failed, and Scoropadskie, the intended head of this government,
disappeared. Later, during Stalin’s reign of terror, Kiev, considered for hundreds of years to be
the Ukrainian capital, was purged. Tens of thousands disappeared because Moscow called them
traitors. Again, our dear old Russia was being completely destroyed.
Note: Here Dad uses a poem to describe an attack from Machno and his men. Erica deserves
thanks for her translation. V.D.
The crash of a rifle butt shatters the lock,
Another blow and the door breaks open.
Into the manor he storms with a vengeance!
Rough laughter! How cruel!
What atrocities he commits.
Not a moment to lose - on to the next -
A crack of the whip,
And the drunken bastards gallop off on their steeds,
Off to the next of their dastardly deeds.
In the dark silent night, the man lies bleeding
As his deadly pale wife beside him kneels.
She grieves, “My love, you are gone!”
Then suddenly in the blackness - a blaze of light!
The barn is a fiery inferno! - a terrible sight!
Already the flames are licking the rafters,
What does it matter? He’s gone - like the wind -
“Machno” - Yes, that was Machno!
Man’s inhumanity to Man!
Man - the cruelest of the cruel!
Words cannot describe what happened then in southern Russia. Fire and sword ravaged
the land and its people. We lost everything in the revolution. To save ourselves, we decided to
leave our beloved homes and emigrate.
Note: For their Diamond Wedding Anniversary, January, 1966, Dad composed a poem depicting
life during the revolution. He inserts it now for descriptive purposes, and I hope that I have
captured its meaning in my translation. V.D.
There comes a time when one should remain silent,
But we feel compelled to reveal the terrorism to the world.
The cannon fire had hardly halted
When already the Reds had balled their fists.
Rank hordes emerged, robbing and murdering,
With fire and sword from village to village.
Such scenes of horror followed that the desire to die came to the fore.
One cannot describe everything in a few words
When people behave like wild animals -
Shaking and moaning and bitterly crying
Was common to adults and children alike.
Russia was literally in flames.
And thus collapsed our dear homeland.
Thank God our house was spared in this bloody upheaval,
Even tho’ we were robbed of all our possessions.
And so we began the task which eventually led
To our emigration from Russia.
The year is 1921. The dark clouds of therevolution would still not scatter, but one day the sun broke through momentarily, and we were allowed to welcome a young boy into our family on January 22, 1921. He was a pleasure to behold. His bible verse was from Psalm 99, verse 1 and 4. “The Lord is King. In the realm of His kingdom, justice prevails.” We called him Victor, the first such name we find among the Italian princes. Victor Emanuel III was the Italian king crowned in 1900. The joy of this happening temporarily neutralized the gloomy political situation. The youngster grew up into a splendid youth, 6' 3" at present.
Note: I took no liberty with this translation. V.D.
The Famine - 1921
January, 1969: There has been a lapse in my writing; a pause connected with great sorrow
because exactly one year ago, my dear wife, Tiene, died very suddenly. At my age of 85, this
bereavement has dampened my enthusiasm for this project, especially since I wrote this journal
secretly: I intended to present my Tiene with the finished manuscript one day. How sorry I am
now that she knew nothing of my memoirs! I shall, however, attempt to write a short conclusion
to my memoirs because I feel compelled to finish this saga.
I believe the last year I mentioned was 1921. Of course the revolution was as bloody as ever, and our lot grew steadily worse. All the senseless destruction was nearly intolerable! You couldn’t find a cow or a workhorse, but then, there was no money to either buy or feed them anyway. The refugees, estate owners, and many others did not know where to turn. Russia was weary and hungry: everywhere there was famine in the country. No one was safe, as again, new groups of bandits, this time with the name Machowzo, frequented our area. Money, clothes, food, etc. were always demanded. This year was especially bad for us, and, without the help of the American Mennonite Central Committee and the Dutch Relief, many would have died. Our older children were already bloated from malnutrition, even though the young mother (my dear deceased Tiene) used all of her skills to put something edible, yet nutritious, on the table.
Various weeds from the meadows, crow’s eggs, pressed sunflower seed husks, etc. were
gathered, mixed in some fashion and cooked. Even our fuel ran out. The clothes were
threadbare, and this proved to be a big embarrassment for Tiene.
Somehow or other, I managed to acquire several cows. The administrator from Holland,
Mr. Youngens, who lived in Tiege at the time, had some clothes in the warehouse, but needed
milk so a trade was arranged. For a black and white Holstein cow, I received a lot of clothes
which was a tremendous help for us. This trade was supervised by A.P. Fast, a friend from my
youth, and was completed only because I was on the minister’s list in the Ohrloff church. The
church had nominated me for minister of the church at that time. And so we tried to solve our
problems one by one, and, if our village hadn’t been raided again that fall, we might have
gradually, Mennonite fashion, pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. We couldn’t work our
fields for lack of everything - no seed for planting, no machines, one skinny horse in the stable,
no help, and our business destroyed. Our buildings were still upright, although sadly neglected
and empty. The few pieces of iron or lumber that lay about were traded in for flour.
Friends and neighbours, now almost refugees, trusted me with their last hidden
possessions; trinkets, silver necklaces, gold rings, silver tobacco boxes, etc. which I then hid in
bags of straw as I trundled my way to Melitopol on my two wheeled cart pulled by a skinny
horse. I walked beside the meagre load during the day, and slept beside a straw stack at night. I
was going there to sell these items. Once I even brought along a rare pearl for which the Jews
offered so little that I brought it back, refusing to sell it. I would take along pieces of our
furniture from time to time and trade them for provisions. Fortunately, we had inherited much
furniture, and I was able to resist selling the fine furniture, the many antiques inherited from
three generations. Selling these at auction in 1926 enabled us to buy our passage to America. In
this fashion, we managed to exist.
Rumours about emigration fever reached us, and, since conditions here were impossible,
I tried to apply for the proper papers. It was not at all simple, and it took four years before we
finally crossed the border.
Blumenort in Flames
Back to 1919 which was a particularly hard year. The see-saw battle between the Reds
and the Whites was going on in Molotschna. One day, our turn came, and the fighting moved to
our village, Blumenort, which ended up totally destroyed. Twenty men, our friends and
neighbours, were murdered, and buildings everywhere torched. Two groups of Reds had
entrenched themselves in our area; one group of 7 to 10 men set up in Blumenort, with another
group in Ohrloff, a nearby town. From these headquarters, they terrorized us all!
One Sunday evening, a number of Cossacks (the good guys) rode into the village to “root
out the Reds”, as they said. Later that evening, unaware of the danger, a wagon load of Reds was
heard making its way down our street. The Cossacks, hiding behind the brick walls along the
village street, ambushed this bunch, killing a number of them.
That night, I heard a tap on the window, and the Cossacks demanded to store four of the
corpses in one of our warehouses. I refused and remained in bed. Early in the morning, the Reds
knocked on the window looking for their dead. The Cossacks had disappeared by this time. I
defended myself, pretending to be half asleep and telling them of my innocence in the matter.
They left, but the whole village was searched, and wherever one of their dead comrades was
found, that villager was taken. The teacher, P. Schmidt, was the first, followed by the reeve,
Regier, and his two young boys. About ten men in all were imprisoned on a neighbour’s yard
(the Klassen’s) in a cellar. They locked the door with a big key which they took with them. In
about two or three hours, about two hundred riders (Reds) arrived from the other villages that
they had attacked. Hurriedly, I wrote down the 46th Psalm beginning, “A firm fortress is our
God”, ran to the cellar, and handed the note to the Reverend Schmidt through the bars. The other
prisoners crowded around, and I heard Onkel Wall ask, “What did he write?” Pastor Schmidt
turned, and they disappeared into the darkness of the cellar. I heard the din of approaching
riders, and rushed back to my wife and family who were frightened by the rifle shots heard
nearby. It took but a moment and the whole village was besieged by riders, wagons, and
machine guns. Some of these men broke into the houses, raping the women whose husbands
were locked in the cellar. Then away to the cellar to liquidate the prisoners. They could not
open the door, however, without the key that the original bunch had taken with them.
Near evening, when things quieted down, I snuck back to the cellar. The heavy door had
been ripped apart, and, on the top step, lay Reverend P. Schmidt and Jacob Suderman, dead.
Unable to break down the door, and not having the key, the gang apparently threw hand grenades
through the cellar windows, tearing the 10 men to pieces.
I quickly rushed my wife and six children to the barn where we hid under the hay. My
wife hummed softly, “Be still my soul”, and finally, in the evening, the bandits retreated and
The next morning, courageous women made their way through the village to prepare the
corpses for burial in a mass grave dug by staunch men. Hardly was this task finished, when three
days later (Wednesday), another attack followed. Again, ten men were murdered in the most
shameful, vile manner, and were buried in the same grave. Thus, some of the staunch men who
had dug the grave were laid therein.
The second attack was frightful and terrible, and almost the whole village was set on fire.
I won’t describe the various occurrences, but will just report on the happenings as they affected
me and my family. The village was in flames, and we were surrounded by these hordes
(machnowzen) who rode back and forth swearing, shooting down whatever got in their way,
hacking with their swords, attacking women, and so on. My neighbour, who gave them all his
money, was then shot down before our very eyes. Was it now my turn?
They were at the door, and I was about to meet them when my family held me back, and
my wife, sister, and daughter, seemingly fearless, went in my stead to the door where these men
were shouting, while brandishing their guns, “WE WANT HIM OUT HERE!” The women
bravely held their ground in front of the wild horses, and Tiene said, “Why not let him live? I’ll
give you gold.” She handed up a heavy jewel case filled with various gold jewellery pieces
which disappeared at once into their pockets. As the riders in the back observed this, they
shouted, “What have you given them?” “A great deal of gold”, my wife replied. So the first
bunch took off in a hurry, with the ones behind in hot pursuit.
My wife returned, and threw a large shawl across my shoulders so that I looked like an old lady carrying a child. I was actually carrying our three year old, Agnes, in my arms, and we all took off in the dark. We ran through the woods, hiding in the bushes and the undergrowth. It was drizzling, and practically the whole village was hiding there. We crept towards the windmill owned by the Nass family who put us up for the night after serving us baked goods and coffee.
In the morning, very early, we men made our way down to the village, one half mile away. Practically the whole village lay in ruins. Most of the cattle and horses were burned as well. What a stench! My brother, Frank, and I harnessed two horses we found to a large ladder wagon, loaded it with the various necessities such as blankets and pillows, and left with our wives and children, intending to head south for Berdyansk, and then by boat to the Caucasus. We left all our belongings in the house, stable, and barn to chance.
We decided to change our plans on the way, and stayed in the hindmost two villages of
the colony, Steinbach and Alexanderthal. There we were distributed among good friends. We
stayed with Gerhard Derksen, a good and old friend from Blumenort. After about three weeks,
we headed back. There had been a mass burial of twenty odd corpses. The Machnarojo
(bandits) had temporarily retreated, and the Russian peasants from Trojzkal took this opportunity
to clean out the remaining buildings. The doors of our house, stable and barn were wide open,
and two cows were freely wandering through at will, leaving their tracks everywhere. What a
mess inside! When I entered the house, I noticed a flat package lying in the mud and dirt on the
living room floor. I picked it up and found it to be full of paper money. I had, at one time,
hidden it behind a green tapestry hanging on the wall. Such good fortune!
I learned that, after our departure, a relative of ours, David Enns (one arm), had, together
with the Russians, filled a whole buggy with goods stolen from us, including the green tapestry.
Later, he returned his share to us. And so again, we started from scratch, but at least I had some
money in my pocket. I negotiated with the neighbours, new refugees of different nationalities,
about our empty room. I suggested and demanded that half of everything stolen from us must be
returned, and soon our empty rooms began to change in appearance. Flour, clothes, furniture,
horse harnesses, potatoes, syrup, my expensive fur coat (which had been hidden in the straw
stack), etc. turned up.
The fires of the revolution continued to burn, but the Bolshevik government finally put an
end to the plundering, murdering gangs that had terrorized us for so long. They restored peace in
the communist fashion, of course. Now the government owned everything, and private
enterprise vanished. My business was 100% under their control, and I scarcely had any input at
In the years 1921/22/23, we fought in two directions. We fought daily to stave off the
hunger, and we fought for a passport, because we did not want our children to perish in this
heathen chaos run by the godless government that was attempting the total elimination of
The Dutch-Mennonite association in Tiege and Ohrloff, with B.B. Janz at its head, tried
everything to keep the lines of communication open regarding emigration to Canada. Kharkov
became the headquarters of our administration, and Moscow was the headquarters for our foreign
On August 16, 1923, our Edgar arrived - a healthy boy. Psalm 67, verses 2 and 3 were
dedicated to his arrival.
“God bless us and cause
His face to shine upon us that
Thy way be known upon the earth.”
He was supposed to be named Heinrich, after my youngest brother, but, because of the
German military occupation in those years, we decided to call him Edgar. The first English king
was call Edgar, around the year 1000, I believe.
Russia, one could say, was down and out from its many bloodbaths. Millions of people
had been slain on both sides, but the White armies under generals Wrangel, Denjikin, Kabtschak,
etc. were defeated, and the Reds headed by Lenin, Trotsky, and later Stalin established their
government. Their first act was to eliminate the intelligentsia. Many were thrown live down the
shafts of the iron mines in the Urals. Then, what the sword could not accomplish, the famine
did. People were on the move, searching. The trains were crowded with refugees trying to
escape, and railway stations turned into graveyards. On one occasion, I was in Alexandrawsk,
travelling as a representative of the emigration board, and could hardly catch the train because of
the weary masses milling about by the thousands, dead and dying lying right up to the rails.
Misery and suffering abided beyond belief. Russia had no bread! We too were hungry - the
children were bloated. In another couple of weeks, we would have been sacrificed to the famine.
As I stated before, but for the help from America and Holland, some of us would never have
survived. Mr. Phillip Cornies and I were the designated representatives of B.B. Janz to distribute
this relief to the Mennonite villages.
“Auswanderung” - Emigration
The political situation calmed somewhat, and, although it was not without danger, I
worked diligently for our emigration papers, for our lives were at stake. B.B. Janz was
alternately in Moscow and Kharkov. We were a group of about 20 who wanted to pay cash for
our passage. B.B. Janz procured papers for those travelling on credit though the CPR (Canadian
Pacific Railway), and telegraphed us one day that cash customers were not accepted at this time.
Note: Those immigrants who came to Canada on credit from the CPR faced the debt in
Canada. This debt grew considerably larger as the interest was compounded. Since wages were
very low, and there was much unemployment in Canada during those early years, some
Mennonites found it very difficult to repay the loan. Through the concerted effort of all the
Mennonites, this debt was finally paid in full.
I had made some money recently by having sold various articles, when a certain Gerhard
Dick in Tiege received his papers, and was supposed to leave with the next group in a week’s
time. I bought his farm, fully furnished from the cutlery on the table to the sheep in the stables.
With our own remaining possessions, we moved, and lived there comfortably for the next two
I continued to work day and night toward my goal of acquiring the necessary documents for emigration. Dealing with the communist administrators was somewhat nerve wracking as they had this habit of leaving their loaded revolvers on top of their desks while working. Eventually, when I had the required papers, I remember trading 100 acres of land for two gold watches (worth about $100.00). I was still able to sell the farm, and we had a big
auction which allowed me to prepay our trip to Canada via Moscow (around 2500 rubles).
We left our home in Tiege on Saturday, May 20, 1926. We were permitted much luggage,
and so had hired a wagon with a young Mennonite as a coachman. He brought us to the railway
station at Fjodorovka, the station on the line from Sevastopol (Crimea) to Moscow. Our group
consisted of three of my four brothers and their families, and some friends as well. I want to
thank God for protecting us that night from assault and robbery, for we had much money with us.
My youngest brother, Heinrich and his wife, and my oldest sister, Anna, with her husband
(Peter Neufeld), remained with us until the next morning when we said goodby to them at 5:00
a.m. as we boarded the train for Moscow. There were tears in their eyes as they watched our
train pull out because they sensed, rightly so, that we would never see on another again.
Typist’s note: My Aunt Ann, Jacob and Katharina’s first born, told me the story of her Uncle Heinrich.
Apparently the rest of the family pleaded with Heinrich to come with them to Canada, but he declined,
saying that the new regime would need people like himself to help rebuild after the revolution.
Unfortunately he was wrong, and he and his family were exiled to Siberia where he worked in animal
husbandry. He died in Siberia on July 9, 1960. He had two sons, one of whom, John, is a retired teacher
and lives in Germany. I cannot find out the name of the other son. Anna and Peter Neufeld were sent to
Siberia where they died in the Gulag (the prison system).G.D
Monday morning, we passed through the city of Tula, and arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, June 1st. We stayed at the “Kharkov” hotel, and I tried, as quickly as possible, to pick up my travelling documents from the office for foreign travel. I also managed to contact B.B. Janz who was secretly in Moscow at this time. Having acquired my documents, we took the time to take our children to the zoo by streetcar. In the crowded car, my vest pocket was slit at the bottom, and the enclosed money was stolen. Fortunately, I had some hidden reserves, as had my dear wife, Tiene.
On June 3rd, our group of about forty in number gathered at the Windaner railway station. As we sat waiting, we saw three nicely dressed gentlemen walking through the station with B.B. Janz, all of whom then boarded the train. After we were permitted to board, Mr. Janz, coming out of another car, passed me, saying in high German, “We don’t know each other.” I understood.
The train started to move, and we were on our way to the border where we arrived the next evening. On the Russian side, at what was known as the “Red Gate”, all of our luggage and baggage was searched. B. B. Janz and I stood opposite each other at a long counter and had to open our suitcases for inspection. He had a small worn suitcase with very few items inside. On top of them was spread a Russian antireligious newspaper, the “Besboschnik”. As the commissar noticed this, he looked at Janz, shoved his suitcase toward him and said, “you can go.” I was also fortunate with my many trunks and boxes because inside were some precious items. What a relief!
On Friday evening, at eight o’clock on the dot, we passed through the border gate, The
Red Gate, into Latvia. The train stopped, the Russian guards stepped down, and we were
pleasantly welcomed by the foreign authorities. Then we went on through the night and arrived
at Riga at six o’clock the next morning. Here we were put up in a villa. I might mention that,
since the border customs, I never saw B.B. Janz again, and do not know how he made his way to
Canada. Anyway, we remained in the villa for five days, and were able to unwind and rest from
the rigours and tensions of the past hectic days. We were treated well!
The next morning, Sunday, we saw people walking to church with their hymnals and
white kerchiefs. We marvelled at such freedom! We visited the graveyard with their ancient
tombstones under the 100 year old evergreens whose branches spread out far. Sturdy benches
were placed nearby where one could sit, and I recall wishing, as a young Spanish lad had expressed in his song:
“Under these old mighty pines,
I would like to go to sleep”
Having several days free, we made small purchases, and did some sightseeing in Riga
which had been founded in 1201 by German businessmen from Hamburg, and which was famous
for its old castles and fortifications. We enjoyed the beautiful architecture and several old
churches. “Dom Church” was eight hundred years old, and “Petri Church” was six hundred.
After our five day stay in Riga, where we were thoroughly showered, deloused, and well
fed, we travelled in a German train to the seaport of Liebau where we boarded the “Balt-riger”.
We steamed out of the harbour at 7:00 p. m. that same day. Friday, June 11th, we were on the
high seas, the Baltic. Saturday morning we passed through the “Kaiser Wilhelm Canal”, through
the Elbe estuary about 4:00 p.m., and into the North Sea an hour later. While passing through
the canal, a group of youths stood nearby, curious as to why we had left that lovely paradise,
Russia. So, as I stood at the railing, I got a chance to clarify some of their impressions. I tried to
explain that “Bread for All” translated into “Blood and Tears for All”. When a uniformed guard
appeared, the youths dispersed, and, since I was from Russia, I thought it best to shut my mouth.
We entered the Thames River early in the morning on Monday, and at 4 p.m. we landed
in London. From London we went by very fast train to the Atlantic Park Hotel where we stayed
for three days. Again, we were checked and thoroughly bathed and deloused. We met many
Mennonites who had been there for quite some time because of eye conditions (trachoma) and
various other illnesses. Several Jews had been there for years, and were not permitted to leave.
Our family was fortunate in this regard, and, on Thursday, June 17, we boarded a 14,000 ton
ocean steamer, “The Minnedosa”, pulling out of Southampton harbour at 3:00 p.m. The
departure from England into the large Atlantic brought mixed feelings, to say the least. We
shivered with excitement and a nameless fear.
On Friday, the next evening, we stopped briefly in Ireland, and then we headed west into
the boundless ocean (so it seemed). Every evening we read from Johan Wiebe’s (Ohrloff) daily
prayer book by Johan Wiebe (Ohrloff), a direct inheritance from the famous John Cornies,
founder of the Mennonite colony in Russia. Onkel Wiebe lived in the home inherited from J.
Cornies, and was a good friend of our family. I remember how he used to ride to our house, tie
up his horse, take our George on his knees, and begin telling stories. He was a gentleman with a
smartly groomed beard, and he owned about 30,000 acres of land!
Looking toward the horizon, one could see that the world was truly round. We were not
between “heaven and earth” as they say, but between “heaven and water”. Our cabin number
was 801. The next day was Sunday, but I can not recall how it was spent. Also my memory fails
me in recalling the ship’s routine with all those passengers of many nationalities. I do recall that
the food was good, but then, of course, we had just survived a famine. My appetite left me, in
spite of that fact, because the ship’s motion was disagreeable to me, and, when the dinner bell
chimed, I could not stir from my bed. I was so seasick! I often made my way down into the
bowels of the ship to breathe in the coal dust which seemed to be a piece of home as we had sold
it in our business.
Monday, June 21, a storm developed, and we were quite uncomfortable with the ship
being thrown about in the huge waves. My fearless wife, however, stood right at the railing,
facing the wind and letting the salt spray her face. The rest of us had crawled into our cabin like
a dog into his doghouse. Tuesday, the big waves with their crests of white foam began to abate
somewhat, and the weather turned milder. I came on deck again to observe the ocean and look
for whales and other sea mammals. I made no great discoveries, and so, regarding the sea world,
I shall remain silent.
Wednesday, June 23, the ship continued its relatively smooth course toward Canada: the
tables were filling up again as, with the passing of the storm, the appetites had returned.
Thursday, June 24, a dark smudge appeared on the horizon, and the word “land” echoed through
the ship. It was not long before we were travelling alongside a cliff which we followed until
Friday, June 25, when we landed in Quebec City. And so we had reached, for us, a new world,
and had traversed the ocean in eight days.
Reverend Jacob Janzen welcomed us on the Canadian shore. We were a Mennonite
group of about 30 persons, and, after passing through customs which took considerable time, we
made our way to the railway station with all of our baggage. From here, our destination was
Waterloo where Reverend Janzen lived at the time. My brothers, Gerhard and Frank, with their
families, got off in Breslau where a wife’s mother, Unruh, had already established a home.
Arriving at the Janzen’s, the aroma of borscht filled the air, stirring our Russian appetites with a
twinge of homesickness.
Since we still had some money in our pockets, we attempted, with the help of others, to
find living quarters so as not to become a burden to anyone. We moved into a flat above a
butcher shop on the main street in Waterloo on the same day as our arrival. Several of the rooms
were practically furnished with our goods and trunks that we had brought with us. The huge
wicker trunk became our dining room table on which my dear wife soon placed a tasty meal
consisting of Russian smoked ham and brown bread. We toasted our arrival in Canada with a
bottle of wine that I had bought on the shore in Liebau and had hauled over the railing of our
ship with a long rope.
When we left the ocean steamer and I set foot on the new shore, looking back once more
across the shoreline and the water, a humble smile crossed my lips, and I felt deeply moved in
my heart. I remembered the words of Moses:
“But for your guidance, O Lord,
I could not venture.”
A comforting verse from a song in my old songbook (1906) when I was Vorsanger (song
leader) in the Ohrloff church comes to mind:
Whoever journeys life with God
Always finds a way -
Because He shows him many paths
To guide him day by day.
His eye is ever watchful
On him who trusts the Lord.
He finds the solution to all his cares,
Because God cares for all!
With a verse from this familiar song, I will close my story:
Be sure to mend your ways,
The ones that give you heartache.
Be aware of the all encompassing trust
That guides you heavenward.
I think you will remember your grandfather more so after reading his memoirs. And too,
you will have a greater awareness of your roots. He could have written many more interesting
chapters. When young, I recall being told bedtime stories that were serialized over a whole
winter. Those were fiction, of course, but his memoirs are fact: in his life story, he was not given
to exaggeration. Having grown up in a different country and in a different environment
(Canada), you may find it hard to believe and understand, but, as the old cliche states, “ truth is
stranger than fiction”.
I want to pay tribute to my Dad for the years of diligent effort it took after the 1917
Revolution and the Communist takeover to accomplish this task and achieve the goal he set for
This I might paraphrase in the following words:
He took us by the hand,
And led us to a better land.
Considering the alternative, his foresight deserves our utmost gratitude. Dad’s love for
mother Russia and especially the Ukraine, his birthplace, never wavered, and he often dreamt of
the old days. Today, if he were alive, it would greatly surprise him to learn that the Communist
regime has finally been toppled, and now maybe a semblance of peace and democracy will return
to our former beloved homeland. You did your best for us, Dad, and again we thank you for that.
Victor Dyck, 1998
Around 1977, my grandfather, Jacob Dyck, surprised me by telling me
about, and then lending me his memoirs. Up until that point, I do not think that anyone in the
family was aware of their existence. I could not read them at that time, unfortunately, as they
were written in German, but recognizing their value, I immediately had them photocopied. I
remember Grandpa’s surprise when I returned the original to him, showing him my reproduced
copy. I don’t think he realized that photocopies were possible.
After Grandpa’s passing, my father, Victor, kindly volunteered to translate the manuscript
so that I would have a better understanding of my Mennonite roots. Contrary to his protestations
concerning his translating ability, he did an admirable job, and copies of “My Story” were
distributed to all the cousins. Many years later, my Aunt Erica (George Dyck’s wife) also wrote
a translation, this time including some of the beautiful poetry.
I put my father’s memoirs on computer, and now, I want to do the same for Grandpa’s.
Having visited the Blumenort, Ohrloff, and Tiege area in 1995, I feel that including some of the
old family photos and maps is necessary, as almost all of the old landmarks (buildings, estates,
etc.) no longer exist, having been destroyed by the revolution, WWII, and time. Even the names
of the villages in the area had been changed to reflect the “new” (and now old) Soviet system. In
addition, I coaxed my father to try his hand at translating the remaining poetry so that “My
Story” could be truly complete. He was able to capture the emotion, if not the rhyme.
This re-editing of “My Story” has its basis in my father’s translation. At his urging,
however, some of Aunt Erica’s poetry and phrases were borrowed or substituted. Credit must
thus be given to their efforts by future “Dyck’s”. As I speak no German, I can claim no credit,
only the responsibility for the errors.
V. Gary Dyck, 1998
Partial Family Tree
Prussia 1793 -1883 Frank Dyck
- 1881 Gerhard Dyck George
? Wiens Anna Wiens 1860 -1913 Frank
Blacksmith - Prussia Anna (Neufeld)
Jacob Enns Mary
1824 - 1880 Anna Enns Helena
m.(1856) 1860 - 1914 Jacob Dyck
Anna Wiebe 1884 -1977
At 6 a.m. November 29th, 1977, Lena phoned me to say Dad was having a heart
spell. I was up and out of the house in no time. Dad had taken 2 nitroglycerine pills, but
I advised him against the 3rd, and called an ambulance even though the hospital was just
around the corner. They laid him on a cot in the Emergency.
We chatted a bit ‘till his doctor arrived, a coat
over his pajamas, preparing a hypo which he then
injected. One last squeeze of his hand, and his eyes
closed as if in a coma. Lena and I followed the
stretcher into the I.C.U., where he was eased into a
Since the injection, an intermittent neck spasm
had developed, turning the head to the right. This
continued as we sat beside his bed. No response to
our questions or hand holding. By 9:30, Lena said,
“I’d like to be alone with my husband. You go to the
office and I’ll call you.” She did at 11:00 a.m.. The
spasm had stopped and he died, exactly 14 years to
the day after Harry’s death.
Christmas at our house was very quiet that
A FEW FACTS ABOUT YOUR COUSIN, RUDY PENNER
Rudy Penner, my nephew (Agnes’ son), is at present 59 years old. He grew up in
Amherstburg, finishing H.S. there. His father died at the end of his high school years,
and he attended the University of Toronto for his B.A. and M.A. in Economics. Then to
Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for his Ph.D.. I read his Ph.D dissertation and couldn’t
understand much of it.
After his graduation, he became an assistant professor at Rochester University in
New York state. Then the Canadian government hired him, and sent him and his family
to S. Africa for 6 months to set up tax structures in Tanzania, I believe. On his return, I
remember him being offered the Chancellorship of Brock University, St. Catharines, but
he chose to go to Washington.
When President Kennedy was elected in the early 60's, he invited a number of
economists for a Presidential breakfast to ascertain the outlook for his tenure of office.
Rudy was one of these (at that time, still a Canadian, I think). After I asked him what
advice he had offered the president, Rudy stated that he mainly listened and concentrated
on his ham and eggs. That gave him a toehold in Washington, and he continued to be
involved in government.
Brother Ed visited him for a sailing holiday several times and he told me that
Rudy, in his low key way, was highly thought of. He became one of President Ford’s
assistants; Agnes related to me how impressed she was while visiting Rudy in his
Washington office, President Ford entered to ask Rudy about certain reports he needed.
“The President of the U.S.A. wanted information from my son,” she remarked. Then he
was appointed Director of the Budget for the Congress, dealing with trillions and having
a staff of 227 (I believe), mostly Ph.D’s working for him. So he must have something on
the ball or Tip O’Neil, one of two to appoint him, and speaker of the House, would not
have recommended him. After his term ran out, he went into private consulting and
pretty well covers the globe from Siberia to Tokyo and many countries in between.
He and Alice still live in Washington. Barbara and I couldn’t make it for their
older son’s wedding in Washington last summer, but from their invitation, it seemed like
a fancy affair. I’m just mentioning a few highlights of his resume that I’m acquainted
with personally. And your cousin is the most down to earth fella you’d want to meet,
with no airs: a genuine nice guy!
Rudy and Alice Penner,
3700 Davenport St.N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20016
Tel: (202) 362-7116
MY LIFE STORY - HELENE (LENA) DYCK (1910 - 1995)
I was born in Semjonowka, Ukraine on August 29, 1910. My parents were David
and Helene Redekopp (nee Sawatzky). I went to school at Number 1 (Ignatewer
Settlement) in the German village.
On Pentecost, 1928, I was baptised upon confession of my faith by Elder Heinrich
Funk and was accepted into the New Yorker Mennonite Church. My baptismal verse was
Isaiah 43:1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are
Soon after that I got to know John Enns from Tiege in the Molotschna, and we
were married on August 31, 1930 in Tiege.
One year later a little daughter was born to us but she died the following day. And
several months after that my father passed away. Then the famine years began.
In January of 1933, we had to flee, leaving everything behind and tried to hide
ourselves in Siberia.
Our daughter, Mary, was born there in 1934. Shortly after our return to the
Molotschna in August of 1936, our daughter Annie was born.
In October of 1937, John was one of so many men that was forced into exile. He
was sentenced to work in the labour camps of the Urals for 10 years. As I discovered
later, he was set free in 1946 because he was ill, and he died in Pavlodar in 1949.
As I was left alone with my children, my mother came to help me so that I could
go to work. Several years later my mother moved back to Siberia. Mother was urgently
needed there because my sister, Katja, died leaving two small children behind. My
mother also died here during the war.
In June of 1940, World War II became a reality for us. We were rescued from
being exiled at the last minute , as the German army passed through our area. We were
allowed to return to the Enns’ farm in Tiege. Then at the beginning of September, 1943,
we emigrated with the refugees to Poland and then about a year later, we again relocated
to West Germany. And then, by the grace of God, and with the help of my husband’s
sister, Anna Neufeld from Niagara-on-the-Lake and my sister, Mary Sawatzky of
Leamington, we were able to emigrate to Canada in November of 1948.
In 1949, after we came to Leamington, we joined the United Mennonite Church.
In 1971 I married Jacob Dyck who died on November 29, 1977. A few years later,
I moved into the Homeview Apartments where I really felt at home in a circle of many
friends, and was also close to the church.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
So far mother has told her story, but she didn’t add parts that were really extremely
important to her. So I, Mary, will tell you some of these things. By the time she married
Jakob Dyck (1971), she had become the grandmother of Henry’s and my two daughters
and my sister Annie and her husband’s two daughters and two sons. She just glowed
when she saw them all together. During these last few months, she often mentioned that
those were some of her best times.
When Annie and Adolf bought a farm near Watford in 1965, she just couldn’t bear
to see her baby move away with her babies. She moved with them and stayed there most
of the time till she remarried. She was so proud of her grandchildren’s accomplishments,
especially in their schooling. They succeeded in that which had been denied her.
After her marriage to Opa Dyck, she started to work part time in the Mennonite
Home, and, after her retirement, began her volunteer work there. She continued until
May of this year. “You know,” she told me, “I just can’t do it anymore. So I let them
know.” It was hard for her to admit her frailty. She was stubborn, very bright, very
independent, very loyal, proud, but shy. She loved us fiercely, but only rarely told us, and
was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. She cleaned so many houses for so many,
many years to keep us fed while we were still in school.
Yes, life was a harsh task master and teacher, but she triumphed. Her love for God
and her family was her strength.
We’ll miss you Mama, Oma. Thank you, dear Lord, for taking her to a far better
place. As I told my sister, her stone should read, “Kein Heimweh mehr”, (No more
OBITUARY OF ANN DYCK, 1991
Ann Dyck was born in December of 1907 in the village of Blumenort, then in
Russia, and now in the Ukraine. Her parents were Jakob and Katharina Dyck (married
name was Goertzen). Ann was the eldest of eight children.
Ann attended schools in Blumenort and Tiege, where she attended the
Madchenschule (Girl’s High School).
In 1926, the Dyck family received permission to leave the country for Canada, but
not before experiencing civil strife, anarchy, and malnutrition.
In Canada, the family landed in Kitchener, but later moved to Cottam (near
Leamington), where they attempted farming. But times (the economy) were difficult ,
and so Ann, at age 19, got a job in Windsor. She worked in a department store and began
to sew privately. Thus she came to be the support of her family, helping her parents for a
number of years.
Ann lived in Windsor until 1942 when and Helen and John moved to Ottawa.
Helen passed an examination to become a “Censor Reader” - German prisoner of war
mail, etc. Ann joined them in Ottawa, also took the examination, and performed similar
duties for the duration of the World War II. Because at that time the Soviets were
allegedly our allied friends, both Helen and Ann joined a Russian choir. (We don’t think
that they became a threat to the Cossack Choir, but they had a lot of fun.)
The war was over in the summer of 1945, and so Ann, Helen, and John moved to
Toronto. Ann enrolled in the Toronto School of Design to become a fashion designer.
For some 20 years, she was the designer for a large fashion house, and often travelled to
New York and Paris. After that she set herself up in a private design practice, designing
high fashions for many ladies in Toronto. She prided herself, as she should have, in being
independent and self-sufficient.
She was one of the founding members of the Toronto United Mennonite Church
and was a strong supporter of it throughout the years. She never married although she
was not without opportunities for doing so.
She was much involved with her family, particularly with her nieces and nephews,
taking pride in their accomplishments. During these years she, like the rest of us, was
saddened by family deaths. First was Jake Penner, husband of sister Agnes. Later
brothers Rudy, Harry, and Edgar, and later, her parents and sister Agnes. She had many
friends, enjoyed entertainment and good music.
In her later and recent years, Ann became a resident of the Castleview Nursing
Home (Altzeimer’s Disease) in Toronto. She received many visits there from her TUMC
friends, including members of the Caring Team. She enjoyed the comforting of her
companion, Kathy Pagowska, for the last several years.
Ann passed away quietly on the evening of December 31st, 1991. She leaves
behind brothers George and Victor, as well as sister Helen.
OBITUARY OF AGNES BREMSTELLER (PENNER) (NEE DYCK)
Agnes was born in Blumenort, Russia on July 6, 1914, her parents being Jakob
and Katarina Dyck. Agnes emigrated to Canada with her family in 1926, taking up
residence in Waterloo and later in Leamington.
Her sisters and brothers include Ann Dyck and Helen Sawatsky in Toronto, Dr.
George Dyck in St. Catharines, Dr. Victor Dyck in Leamington. Brothers, Rudy, Edgar
and Harry are deceased.
Agnes was baptized in the Leamington United Mennonite Church. She married
Captain Jake Penner on November 24, 1934. They resided in Amherstburg where Jake
became renowned as a Marine Skipper. Their son, Rudolf, was raised in Amherstburg,
later graduated from the University of Toronto, and Johns Hopkins University in
Maryland, U.S.A.. Following a university teaching career, Rudy has held high posts in
Washington as an economist. The children of Rudy and Alice, Eric and Brian, were
Agnes’ pride and joy.
Agnes’ husband, Jake, passed away suddenly in November, 1955. Subsequently,
Agnes took up residence in Toronto, where she was employed in a secretarial position in
the Department of Political Economy, University of Toronto.
Agnes married Alfred Bremsteller on November 20, 1965 in the Toronto United
Mennonite Church. Agnes and Alfred took up residence in St. Catharines, and Agnes,
like Alfred, became a member of Grace Lutheran Church.
A highlight experience for Agnes occurred several months ago when she attended
a reception in Washington for the installation of her son, Rudy, as the Director of the
Congressional Budget, United States Congress.
Agnes passed away peacefully at the St. Catharines General Hospital on December
14th, 1983. She is mourned by her husband, Alfred, by her family and many friends in
St. Catharines, Toronto, Leamington, Amherstburg, Kitchener-Waterloo, and in Germany.
OBITUARY OF RUDY DYCK
Rudy was born on the 16th day of August, 1911 in Blumenort, Russia, the third
child of Jacob and Katarina Dyck. He received his education in the schools of Blumenort
He came to Canada with hsi family in 1926 when he was 15 years old. He lived
with his family in Waterloo-Kitchener, Ruthven, Cottam and Leamington. He was
baptized on confession of faith on May 31, 1936 in the Leamington United Mennonite
Church where he was a member.
Due to economic circumstances, he could not resume formal education in Canada,
but he was and ardent student, nevertheless, taking art lessons by correspondence and
learning music, including piano, with self learning methods. While residing in Toronto
later, he attended art classes at the Ontario College of Art. He also took vocal lessons
from a professional instructor.
He resided in Toronto during the early 1940's, earning his living as a commercial
artist. While in Toronto, he actively participated in the small Mennonite community of
those years. He was also active in musical stage productions, singing leading roles in
operettas and operas.
He moved to Montreal and worked as a commercial artist there for some 15 years.
His parents, brothers and sisters visited him there on a number of occasions. He later
took up residence in Vancouver where he resumed his art career, concentrating on portrait
painting and sketching. It was during this time that he was featured on a one hour
television program doing an oil portrait.
In 1975, he moved to the United States, first to San Francisco and later to Los Angeles,
New York City, Washington, Jacksonville (Florida) and Atlanta, Georgia. He earned his
living doing sketches and portraits. He became an American citizen in 1980.
He was always self-sufficient, and believed strongly in giving his tithe to the
church. He seems to have enjoyed good health until the last 2 years when he incurred
He succumbed to a cardiac arrest in the Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta on
September 29th, 1982, and was buried in the Crestlawn Cemetary in Atlanta.
He is survived by brothers George and Victor, and by sisters Ann, Agnes, and
Helen, as well as a stepmother, Helen (Lena), whom he did not know.
OBITUARY OF GEORGE J. DYCK
George J. Dyck was born October 17, 1909, son of Jacob and Katharina Dyck, in
Blumenort, Molotschna colony, South Russia. He was the eldest son in the family of
eight children. As a result of World War I and the subsequent upheaval of the Revolution,
the family business was lost, their home was burned, and so it was decided to emigrate to
In 1926 the Dyck family first settled in Kitchener-Waterloo where George found
employment in a furniture factory. Several years later the family moved to a farm in
Essex County where George was able to procure seasonal jobs at the Heinz Tomato
Factory (Leamington) and the Ford Motor Co. (Windsor).
In Leamington George met Dr. Keller who challenged him to study Chiropractic.
As a result, George enrolled at the National College in Chicago from which he graduated
in 1944. He began his practice on York St. in St. Catharines.
George was baptized by Rev. Nicholas Driedger in Leamington. On Aug. 6, 1949,
he married Erica Mathies in the Westminister United Church on Queenston St. ( The
United Mennonite Church , Garnet St., was under construction at the time.)
Consequently, George moved his practice to their new home on 10 Woodruff Ave. where
he continued to practice for over 40 years.
George believed in a practical Christianity. “It must be communicated in your
work place. Your reverence for God should be exemplified in service to Man.” His
patients appreciated his thorough treatments, his wise counselling, and his sense of
humour. They felt his strong and sincere commitment to his practice.
In his later years, George developed Alzheimers Disease. He was admitted to the
Linhaven Home in January, 1993, where he received excellent care. Following another
bout of pneumonia, he died peacefully on Saturday, January 11, 1997, aged 87 years.
George is survived by his wife, Erica; Karen and Ray Overall and their children,
Katie and Matthew; Doreen and Rolf Janzen and their children, Kirsten and Derek, as
well as many relatives and friends.
During retirement, as I’ve had more time to review the bygone years, my thoughts
inevitably return to W.W.II and the acquaintances, friends, and classmates who made the
ultimate sacrifice. Invariably the following lines, with which many of you are familiar,
come to mind. I forget the author’s name, but they seem so very appropriate.
“They will not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We shall remember them.”
I’m greatly indebted to my son, Gary, for transcribing my scribble into a legible,
printed format complete with illustrations. Thank you for all the required trips from
Barrie to Toronto and Leamington, for the phone calls, for the countless hours spent at
the computer applying your expertise in the production of this manuscript, and for
making copies for the family members. It has exceeded my expectations.
A plain thank you seems inadequate, but it is meant sincerely.
A STROLL DOWN
VICTOR J. DYCK
WHAT FOLLOWS IS FOR MY KIDS, WITH LOVE.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Blumenort, 1921 ...................................................1
Chapter 2: Settling in Canada ................................................ 5
Chapter 3: The Depression Begins ......................................... 9
Chapter 4: High School Years ............................................... 26
Chapter 5: Searching for Employment ................................. 39
Chapter 6: The War Becomes Personal ................................ 45
Chapter 7: Into the Fray ........................................................ 53
Chapter 8: So This is War! .................................................... 60
Chapter 9: When Irish Eyes Are Smilin’ .............................. 69
Chapter 10: Interlude ..............................................................74
Chapter 11: War and Romance ..............................................77
Chapter 12: Civvy Street ........................................................ 88
Chapter 13: School Days - Again! .......................................... 94
Chapter 14: You Need Patience to Have a Practice .............. 99
Chapter 15: Moving On Up .................................................. 108
Chapter 16: The Early 60's ................................................... 112
Chapter 17: Like Sand Through An Hourglass ................... 118
Blumenort - 1921
The stork landed promptly and on schedule after swooping down over the Dyck
home in Blumenort ( The Village of Flowers) on Jan. 22, 1921, and gently deposited a
bundle. It did not tarry, but immediately swung about, and, with just a cursory glance at
its summer home on our barn roof, began its return journey south towards the Black and
Mediterranean Seas to its warm winter home in Africa. For it was a bitterly cold day!
And so, I was born. Like in Dad’s case, probably with the help of a midwife.
The fires of the revolution were slowly dying, but the famine was in full progress.
As Dad would say, “Russia had no bread”. The grain needed for spring planting had
long ago been milled, baked and consumed. But I was told I thrived at by mother’s breast
that first year, probably strengthening even more the bond between mother and son.
Wild plants (ludich - a wild rhubarb, I remember) with the occasional crow’s eggs
did not provide enough nutrition and the older children were beginning to suffer from
edema (body swelling due to lack of diet protein). Ann reminded me that, in my first year,
I had but one diaper, and ,when I bragged with my early training,”that’s all I needed”,
she replied “Who do you think washed it constantly?”
Help from abroad ( Mennonite Central Committee (M.C.C). and Holland) began
to arrive and saved our lives as it were.
My first car ride consisted of sitting on someone’s lap, and watching the tall
poplar trees rush by us as we headed beyond Blumenort along the tree lined road. Dad
spoke of them as 100 year old poplars, and Gary can vouch that there are still a few left.
It was Mr. Youngen’s car (the administrator of the Holland relief Organization), probably
I remember bits and pieces of my early years in Blumenort:
- Being thrown up in the air by someone’s strong arms
- Admiring Mom’s violets growing on the window sills
- Lying on my back on a table in our house while the doctor removed a lump from the
base of my neck.
- Looking across the road to the Communal pasture to see the village cows grazing.
Every morning they were let out of the yard and driven to the pasture by a cowherder,
and , in the late afternoon, returned. Our gate was then opened, and I would stand
there intrigued to see our cows leave the herd and enter our yard. One day, to get a
better view, I stepped into our gateway and was run down by a heifer. I wasn’t badly
hurt, but did I scream! It took a lot of cuddling by Mom to quiet me down.
- Looking up towards the front of our barn roof, and watching the mother stork feeding
her young, and then stand on one leg while she began her preening, was a favourite
pastime. On our return trip recently (with Gary, l995), we found but one stork nest in
the 18 villages we visited by bus the first day, and that was in Rueckenau on the top of
a hydro tower. The neighbour lady stated that the parents, with several offspring, had
left in early September for the south (Africa). Perhaps the political climate drove
them from our family home. And, then again, they liked to build their large nests high
up where predators were not a problem, and the Russian inhabitants of our villages
destroyed the tall Mennonite barns and reverted to their small sheds.
-Visiting Grandpa Dyck’s home and dairy, and
playing in the yard.
- The exact location of our home on the south-east
end of our village across the field from Grandpa.
I was never fortunate enough to have a
grandfather nor a grandmother. They had died by
the time I was born.
In 1924, we moved to a farm in the neighbouring village of Tiege - kitty corner across the road from the Deaf and Dumb School, an imposing brick structure.
Here I was introduced to the fear of being kidnapped by the gypsies if I didn’t behave. Our Nanny seemed to get enjoyment out of these threats although it was supposed to have happened. And there was no scarcity of gypsies in the area begging, stealing, selling trinkets, etc. Anyway, I remained a good boy - most of the time.
We lived here for 2 years until emigration. I distinctly remember:
- celebrating my 4th birthday with a few friends on a cold winter day.
- storing watermelons in the grain bins and helping collect wood to keep the fire
burning under the big tub in the garden where watermelon syrup was being made.
- walking to the village store for candy
- watching kids skate in the winter
- visiting relatives in Ohrloff (Goertzens-cousins)
- celebrating Christmas when interrupted by the knocking of Gypsies on the door
- a picket fence lining the village road where folks gathered in the evening to
crack sunflower seeds and gossip
- harvesting grain in the fields with a combine
- travelling in carriages, etc.
Then one day a photographer came to our home to take our pictures. “Sit still”, he insisted while pulling a black cloth over his head. And then a yard full of people at ourfinal auction. A largecontainer of sunflower seed in one corner. Enough money was realized from this to prepay our family’s expenses to Canada. After two years, Dad had finally obtained the necessary papers to leave this “Communist Paradise”.
We departed from Feodorovka on May 26, 1926 for our first stop Moscow. There were cousins, aunts and uncles in our group that were leaving. I recall two uncles and aunts
that came to see us off. Uncle Heinrich (Dad’s brother) and wife, Freda, and Tante Anna
(Dad’s sister) and husband Peter Neufeld. The latter were banished to a Siberian Gulag
where they both were forced to work in the mines, and perished shortly. Their two
children were educated by the state and are living somewhere in Russia. Uncle Heinrich
became involved in artificial cattle breeding for the government until retirement. His son,
John, my 1st cousin and a retired teacher, and his wife, now living in Germany, were here
for a visit 2 years ago. Barbara and I had a nice visit with them at Lena’s (Jacob Dyck’s
Several days in Moscow, including a visit to the zoo with our parents, and then we
headed west, through the “Red Gate” (border) into Latvia. We stopped in Riga to catch
our breath for some days. Here I saw kids swimming in the river while I was admiring
the pansies under the evergreen trees in the park.
Then, on a ship from Liebenau across the Baltic sea, through the Kiel canal in
Germany, across the North Sea, and into the Thames River to London, England. Here, I
heard much crying by the women in the health facilities as some had their locks shorn
(possibly lice?), and others having their diseased eyes (trachoma) treated with copper
sulphate - a painful procedure. We were all given physical examinations and some
families were temporarily separated as some had to stay behind until their problems
improved. Our family, consisting of Mom, Dad, and 7 children were fortunate and, within
a week, we arrived in Southampton by train to board the Minnedosa which was bound for
Quebec City, Canada. Here we landed on June 25, 1926. Twenty years later (Jan., 1946),
I was again to leave Southampton for Canada, this time on the “Isle de France” (4th
largest ship in the world at the time) with thousands of service men returning from the
War, bound for Halifax.
SETTLING IN CANADA
A similar smell pervaded the Quebec railway station as all the others we had been
in which I will never forget, a mixture of soft coal and oil. Rev. Jacob Janzen from
Waterloo was there to greet our group and herd us with our mountain of baggage onto
the train. I was to visit him in Waterloo again in early 1942 on a personal matter.
According to Dad, our group numbered around 30 as the train headed towards our final
destination, Waterloo, Ontario. Several uncles and their families left the train in Breslau
where their in-laws had already established a home.
After being fed by the Janzens, Dad mentions that on the same day of arrival, he
was able to rent a flat for us above a meat store on the main street of Waterloo. I well
recall sitting around our huge rattan trunk with the family and munching goodies that
Mom retrieved from inside this trunk, smoked ham and sausage, brown bread, etc.
washed down with Canadian milk. What a scrumptious meal! The bottle of wine Dad
had brought along from Liebenau to toast our arrival, I don’t recollect.
It seems this was about as far as my Dad took us in his memoirs. Within several
months, we were living in a rented house on Bingham St. in Kitchener.
Dad was employed in a button factory, making buttons for wearing apparel. Ann, George, and
Rudy found menial employment elsewhere. I remember Aunt Mary (Jacob’s sister)
worked as a housemaid down the street for a Kaufman family.
In early September, Agnes delivered me to Kindergarten in the Sudaby Public
School. We were met by this teacher who kept smiling at me and speaking in a foreign language. And I was very reluctant to release Agnes’s hand. Probably I cried when Agnes left but eventually it became a very enjoyable year of school. Much story telling and I did learn to sing “The Maple Leaf Forever”. Apparently, I was soon bilingual.
At the outset, I’d like to mention that we always spoke High German at home with
our parents. Yet my mother and father spoke to each other in Low German (a dialect)
which we kids understood. English was usually the language of choice among us
children. This continued throughout my parents’ lifetime, and so we retained a working
knowledge of the German language.
There is one exception that I refer to a number of time throughout these pages.
When my Mom would reach up with a smile and pull me down for a kiss, her expression,
“Meen Grotta” (my tall one), was always uttered in low German.
On Saturday, I would often accompany my mother to the market pulling my
brother Edgar on a wagon, who ,on the return trip, would be inundated with bags and
parcels. German was spoken throughout the city, and so Mom had no problem
communicating. As you probably know , until W.W.I, Kitchener was called Berlin. It had
been settled by Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonites who crossed the Niagara River in
covered wagons (Conestoga) in the early part of the 19th century.
The next summer, we moved to the Vineland fruit belt in the Niagara area. Here
we harvested fruit and berries for the Fritz Canning Company. Ann and George
remained at their jobs in Kitchener. It was a long walk to school in the fall, so we kids
used to take a short cut through a large bush. It was so scary because , in the middle ,
was a shack inhabited by two trappers. From the smell, their favourite animals must
have been skunks. As soon as we caught a glimpse of either one, we tookoff in overdrive. Yet they never really harmed us.
In the early spring of 1928, I peaked out from under a truck tarpaulin for my first glimpse of Essex County. I shared the truck with my brothers, sisters and all our furniture. We were heading for the Pentz farm on #18 highway about ½ mile this side of Union. This red brick house we shared with Dad’s brother, Uncle Frank and his family. Tobacco farming was the new enterprise.
On May 21, 1928, Dad took Ed and me by the hand into the parlour to introduce us to our new brother, Harold. From a couch nearby, Mom beckoned us with a smile. Our family now consisted of 5 boys and 3 girls.
We kids explored the neighbourhood and soon had some friends. All too soon the
summer wound down and it was time for Helen and I to trapse off to the Ruthven Public
School - a red brick two room building filled with rows of double desks. The mean
looking man turned out to be Mr. Hunter, the school principal. I liked my room teacher,
Miss Scratch, much better until one day my friend, Frog Eyes (his eyes bulged) who sat
beside me, and I decided to draw a picture of Miss Scratch. We even printed her name
below, neatly I thought. Our artistic effort was not appreciated. We were both called to
the front of the class where we each got a smack on the palm of the hand with a strap
which in those days was a standard part of the teacher’s inventory. Sure it stung, but a 7
year old doesn’t cry. Of course, tattle tale Helen couldn’t rush home fast enough to
inform my parents. I promised to behave. And so my artistic inclination was nipped in
the bud, but I can honestly testify that I was never strapped again in any school. Today ,
of course, it is outlawed.
Bob and Bill Mills across the road became my buddies, exploring the gully which
ran to the lake, gathering chestnuts in the fall, swimming in the lake, playing French and
English with the grown ups and such. We used a unique method of batting practice.
Eggs were gathered in the hen house and then we took turns pitching and batting. What
a mess that turned out to be!
Bill grew up and became a wild character living in the fast lane. And then , what
a turnabout - he became an Anglican priest. Bob entered the construction business and
got to drinking pretty heavy. I got to treat him shortly before he got killed in a traffic
One day Dad and George went shopping at the Kiff Garage in Leamington and
bought a 1926 model Essex car. Driving lessons were included in the price. Now we
were mobile and trips to Kingsville and Leamington become a reality.
It was about this time that Ann moved from Kitchener to Windsor where she got
started in dressmaking and silk stocking repairs for the Smith Department Store. It used
to fascinate me when she ran this magnetized needle up the hose to repair the run. My
Irish wife, with her limited knowledge of the Queen’s English, calls them ladders.
In the fall of 1929, the time had come to move again. This time to a 75 acre farm
with a big barn, machine shed, chicken house, greenhouses, and a 2 story red brick house
with an outdoor privy. It was stocked with 3 horses, 14 dairy cows, a dozen pigs, several
hundred chickens, and farm implements of every description. The farm was owned by a
couple called White who resided in Windsor. We were to work it on shares 50/50. We
supply the labour, and then share the income. But also , we were responsible for half the
value of the livestock and implements. The contract was signed, and , in the next month,
October 29th, the bottom fell out of the stock market in a matter of a few days.
Millionaires became paupers overnight, and the suicide rate climbed sharply. The stage
had been set for “the dirty thirties”, the prelude to the great depression.
THE DEPRESSION BEGINS
Prices plummeted overnight, and , in short order, the stock and implements Dad
had signed for at premium price dropped to about 1\4 of their value. So the new venture
began with a sizeable debt.
The one teacher, Inman Country school was just about 200 yds. down the road and
so Agnes, Helen, and I came home for lunch. Miss Blair was the teacher’s name and she
drove in from the Essex area every morning in a Model A Ford to teach all the grades to
40 odd students. She was capable and a hard worker, but then for the princely sum of
$500 annually, why shouldn’t she work hard!
And so we settled in on the White farm located on #3 Highway about 2 miles east
of the village of Cottam.
Let me make this perfectly clear at the outset ( as president Nixon used to say).
We never went hungry during this time. The staples were always available on the farm
and Mom with her canning, cooking and baking ability always set a tasty table. The
same did not hold true in the cities and towns. Jobs became very scarce and
unemployment insurance and welfare, as we know it, were non existent. Soup lines at the
Salvation Army started to stretch around the block. Our highways were full of men
heading to Windsor to apply for jobs in the auto factories. But with the big drop in car
sales the factories were down to 1-2 days a week. We kids couldn’t even find any
cigarette butts on the roads any more and corn silk really burned the tongue. Our large
corner house was a popular target for a handout or even a drink of water. Mom turned
no one away because I’m sure she remembered when ...... . Several days later the same
man would be back again. No jobs in Windsor or on any farms in between, and so they
were making their way back to the gold mines in Porcupine where they had been laid off
several months ago. I used to drive to Windsor with Dad occasionally to peddle
vegetables and eggs from house to house. I might add it was a banner day when we only
had one flat tire on our round trip, and it usually entailed sitting on the side of the road
to patch it. In this one house lived a Ukrainian family, a couple with 3 sons. When Dad
spoke to them in their language , the father became more talkative, and he begged Dad to
take his 3 sons home for the summer to help on the farm; no pay, just board. Dad said he
was sorry but with his large family, he had sufficient help. They had no money, but
needed potatoes, and so, for 3 bags of potatoes, we made a deal for a German shepherd
dog call Bufford.
For three days, we tied him in our machine shed and he refused food. Then
hunger got the better of him, and he began to nibble. What a joy he turned out to be!
Several previous 57 variety types had always run away, but Bufford was true blue. Harry
particularly became very attached to him. We taught him to round up the cows back in
the pasture when it was milking time. It was somewhat more involved than it sounds. a
cow to be milked should not be run because it makes her more difficult to milk. Well, in
the beginning, he loved to grab the tail of a straggler and pull. Naturally the cow kicked
and he enjoyed dodging the hooves. Gradually we broke him of that and he would do a
commendable job in response to “Buff, go get ‘em”. In the winter we plugged a tile to
our gravel pit, and so had our own skating rink. The backed up water then accumulated
and froze. I can still see him following us going lickety split and when we turned sharply,
he continued sliding in a straight line while his feet were pumping like pistons trying to
dig his nails into the ice to follow us.
Every kid should be able to spend some years on an old fashioned farm when
growing up. Our crops consisted of cabbage, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries,
raspberries, corn, late tomatoes, grain and alfalfa for hay. And even burley tobacco a
few times. The only tractor in the neighbourhood came into our yard once a year pulling
a thrashing machine when our grain was ready to harvest. And with it came the farmers
with their horses and wagons to help in the thrashing. The ladies of the house were busy
for days preparing food for hungry men. And this continued on the surrounding farms till
the grain was stored safely in the bins.
Cows were milked twice a day. By the age of 9, I was milking at least 2 cows
daily, usually our two Jersey cows with the small teats that were suited my hands.
George and Rudy milked the remainder. Dad claimed he had never learned! Other
chores consisted of feeding the horses, the pigs, the chickens and the cows as well as
cleaning the gutters. And these were performed twice a day, 7 days a week before and
after the field work.
Our barn cats seldom failed to line up at milking time, and after having coaxed
the cow to release her milk, I was ready for target practice. Soon I could aim a stream of
milk straight into the cat’s mouth at a distance up to 10 ft.. Certain cats just loved this
procedure while others drank it the old fashioned way, out of a dish.
Ann, who lived in Windsor, came home with friends the occasional weekend. This
one guy, Al Hager, would come to the farm at milking time, glass in hand asking for a fill
up; claimed he liked it warm and fresh, straight from the source.
Our milk was put in cans which in turn were put in barrels of cold water. Then 6
mornings a week, these cans were picked up at the road by Ken Robertson from Wheatley
and taken to a Windsor dairy, and the empties dropped off on the way back. In the hot
summer, with no refrigeration, it soured easily and was often returned and fed to the pigs.
In the early thirties, President Hoover was voted out of office and Franklin
Roosevelt with a promised “New Deal” was elected. North Americans were suffering
from coast to coast. Roosevelt used to have these fireside chats on the radio with the
people. His familiar slogan “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” echoed through
America in his pep talks. This did not put food on the table, and hunger provided a
fertile climate for Communism in America.
In 1931-32-33, mother nature added insult to injury; drought, dust storms, and
crop failures. In 1980 at the final banquet at a chiropractic convention in Banff, Alta., the
table talk came around to the 30's. A few former classmates from Saskatchewan recalled
how their implements on the prairie farms had disappeared under the drifts of top soil in
the dust storms. And how the “rich Easterners” from Ottawa and Ontario had not lifted
a finger to help them survive, and how the time would come when not only Quebec would
secede from Canada, but the West as well. The repeated filling of the wine glasses
encouraged this boisterous talk. Arguments ensued between the Easterners and the
Westerners. The debate got rather heated until common sense prevailed.
Poor Dad, he was out of his element and not cut
out to be a farmer. He was growing old prematurely due
more to the worry than the physical work which consisted
mainly of implement work with horses. In the evenings, he
was continually updating the bookkeeping to answer the
White’s queries regarding the low income.
They had no children and they always arrived with
their 3 miniature black and white British bulldogs. Mrs.
White lavished her full affection on them, always hugging
and kissing them. Usually Buff had to be tied up until the
visitors left. Once we slipped up and there stood Buff
surrounded by these three yapping, snarling bulldogs. He
stared down at them at first with curiosity and then , as
they nearly nipped him, with distain and contempt. Why, he could have licked the lot. I
managed to drag him away and tie him up.
The Whites were actually nice folks and would bring us kids occasional candies
and comics. Once they even brought us an old, hand wound Victrola with a few Harry
Lander records. It remained with us for years. Mr. White was employed on the ferry,
collecting fares, as it plied the Detroit River in those days - a nickel each way.
The majority had to scratch for a living, so we were pretty well all in the same
boat. Naturally there are always a few affluent ones at the top in any times. But most of
my memories are good ones.
- snuggling close to a cow for warmth on a cold winter morning with the milk pail
between my knees
- in the summer, trying to avoid having my bare feet stomped on during milking when
the flies were biting.
- weaning a calf from its mother by teaching it to drink was my job. You carry half a
pail of milk with your left hand, insert your milk soaked right hand into the calf’s
mouth. Immediately the calf begins to suckle and you guided the mouth gently into
the pail. Takes a few days, but it invariably works. And when the calf starts to
follow you around, you begin to feel like a surrogate mother. And you’re left with
the softest and cleanest right hand in the neighbourhood.
Other exciting activities we indulged in:
- lying near the shoulder of the road with pencil and paper, listing licence numbers
from passing cars heading east on a Saturday. Then, Sunday afternoon, we tried to
match the licence numbers from the cars heading west. Don’t knock it, a match
made our day. Little amuses the innocent!
- jogging barefoot down the lane leaving your barefoot prints in 1-2" of dust in
- smoking some broken pieces of greenhouse glass to gaze at the sun eclipse.
- -eating a fresh piece of Mom’s brown bread, covered with butter and slices of
radishes out of the garden in late spring. In those days, any fruit or vegetable was
eaten only when in season once a year. Now, of course, most are available year
- attending the annual Sunday school picnic at Pt. Pelee park
- tracking rabbits, after the first winter snow, across the fields and through the woods
with Buff, carrying a BB gun with no pellets.
-cleaning the school yard on May 24th and ending up with the kids and teacher for a
wiener roast in the woods. Finding a Jack in the Pulpit was a bonus.
- tapping the bark on a small maple branch in the early spring when the sap ran to
make a whistle.
- the memorable Christmas programs with plays and songs that are performed for
our parents after many weeks of practice with our teacher, and ending with Santa
(Mr. Hickmott) presenting each of us with a small gift.
-riding pigs and being thrown in pig manure, then riding heifers and being thrown
into cow manure, and finally graduating to riding horses and just falling off
- taking part in a bee catching competition. Tools - one empty jar with a lid and a
short stick, tapping the bees into the jar while crossing a blooming alfalfa field.
Have only been stung once!
- catching polliwogs in the ditch, putting them in a jar, and watching them transform
- climbing up high in the rafters above the haymow and performing fancy somersaults
on our way down; with our pals on a rainy day
- slipping an ingersoll watch that actually told time into the bib of my overalls.
- inspecting the black burn around the ground copper cable from the lightening rod
after being hit by lightening.
- shaking a lard pail half full of cream continuously for a good ½ hour to make butter.
We had no butter churn.
- Leamington Fair, the highlight of our year. George, Rudy and I knew that on that
day, the milking that evening would be late, usually between 9-10 o’clock, by
lantern light. Dad had done the remainder of the chores. As we approached the
cow stable, we could hear their restlessness from the discomfort of their swollen
udders. The ½ dozen barn cats were already gathered with their thirsty meows
translated into profane English “Where the devil have you been?”
- later in the summer when the “corn was as high as an elephant’s eye”, it was time
to fill our silo. Corn was chopped by a tractor driven machine and blown into the
silo, over the top. I joined several men inside the silo, stomping on the incoming
ensilage continuously until, usually in a half day, we reached the top and descended
the ladder for a well earned rest. Ensilage, topped with chop, was relished by our
cows in the winter and aided milk production.
One Christmas eve, the day of our Sunday school concert, I was hurriedly throwing
down ensilage for the cows, and drove a tine of the fork through my rubber shoe into my
foot. I survived the concert in pain, and, on reaching home, mother made a poultice with
chewed whole wheat bread, and applied it to the wound to prevent blood poisoning. It
Dad cut our hair and resoled our shoes when necessary, while Mom took care of
our tooth and ear aches with home remedies. I always dreaded the hot oil inserted into
my aching ear with and eye dropper, but it invariably worked.
One summer day, the hay wagon was in the barn ready to be unloaded to the
haymow with a hay fork which could lift practically half a load at a time. The rope from
the hay fork went to the barn top, around a pulley, through the barn exit, over another
pulley, and down to an anchor post on the ground through another pulley. Then to a
cross tree to which our team of horses was hitched. I was driving the horses with shouts
of direction from inside the barn. Unbeknown to me, Ed was behind me grabbing the
slack rope, which, when the horses began to move forward, tightened, lifting him in the
air for about a 20' ride. “Giddup!”, and I guided the horses down the yard to lift the hay
from the wagon to the mow. Then a shrill scream, and I jerked back on the lines. On
turning, I saw the source of the scream. Ed had followed the rope into the pulley with his
right hand. I immediately backed up the horses to slacken it. He was bleeding and
screaming. Dad and George extricated his hand from the pulley. The web between his
thumb and index finger was badly lacerated. The Essex was cranked up, and Ed was
taken to the doctor in Kingsville after Mom had cleaned and bandaged the hand. It
healed with some limitation in movement due to scar tissue stricture.
For several years, a male choir was formed in the Kingsville area under the
direction of Mr. N. Enns. I always enjoyed the singing when they practised at our house.
Rudy and George were members. Mr. Enns brought his talent with him from the Ukraine
where he’d had much experience with choirs. Every so often, they put on a concert
which the Mennonite people greatly enjoyed. Much like the Cossack choirs except that
where they, I’m sure, used sheets with regular musical scores and notes, our choirs had
the notes depicted by numbers. The bigger the number, the higher the note. Wonder if
they still do that?
I enjoyed riding a horse, even moreso with a saddle which we didn’t have. Of our
three, two were large muscled clydesdales used as a team for heavy work and the third, a
slimmer version for single cultivating, pulling a democrat (buggy), and riding. The
prominent backbone made it very uncomfortable, but I persevered. One Sunday, John
Driedger rode over to visit. He let me borrow his saddle and away I went for a gallop
along the shoulder of the highway. Turning into our yard at full gallop, the horse slipped
and went down while I flew through the air landing on my knees in the middle of the
pavement. We both jumped up in a hurry to get off the road. The next morning, I slowly
led the stiff horse to pasture and by noon it was lying in the grass dead, probably from
internal injuries. We buried it out in the pasture; a sad day.
From somewhere we got an organ which occupied the one corner in the parlour.
Rudy liked to practise while I was on my knees below working the pedals by hand. The
bellows were faulty and I could work up a real sweat in no time without much air
pressure. He was forever inventing things from which he hoped to make a bundle and it
just never quite came to pass. He was taking a correspondence art course from
Switzerland at this time. The talent was there. George before him, and Helen later
showed it likewise in charcoal sketching, watercolours, and oil. Again, in this respect, I
was shortchanged. With Rudy’s vivid imagination, he often kept us entertained through
the years while working in the various crops.
In 1931-32, we had several dry summers - little rain. The well, that I hand pumped
water from for the cattle, ran dry. Dairy cows, especially, need a goodly supply to give
sufficient milk, so away we went to Laramie’s, a good neighbour about a mile away with
a gravel wagon containing 3 empty oil barrels for a transfusion. He, being a well digger
as well as a farmer, had a deep bore well that never ran dry. We even tried to resuscitate
our wilted 5 acres of late tomatoes with dippers of water, but to no avail. In fact, that
year, we ended up owing Heinz for the plant seedlings. That could be termed a minus
income crop. Usually though, one crop came through with a little money. I recall one
year, we made more money from 1/3 acre of cabbage than from beans, tomatoes, and our
berries. Why do I remember this as a kid? Beats me, except that Dad, with his precise
bookkeeping, mentioned it at supper one evening. Only twice in five summers did we
drive our dairy cows to a neighbouring farm for pasture after ours dried up. Our life
wasn’t that unusual. We had everything but cash.
After delivering tomatoes to the Kingsville Co-op by horse and
democrat, Dad and I would stop off at Salmoni’s Grocery to
barter eggs, butter, and chickens for coffee, sugar, rice, and
the like. And meanwhile, Mom’s sewing machine was
working overtime to let us kids look respectably dressed in
church and Sunday school. Yet we enjoyed many good
times together. Killing a pig in the fall, a la Russian -
Mennonite way, was always a fun time for us kids and we
could literally live high off the hog for the remainder of the
year. I developed a special liking for this smoked
Mennonite sausage which, to this day 1996, you’ll often
find in our fridge. Excuse me, its snack time!
Agnes, Helen and I continued to get our book larnin’ at our neighbourhood school.
When Agnes graduated in a couple years, Helen and I continued. Anyway, we needed
Helen for our ball team together with 2 other girls to field a team of 9 against our old
nemesis, Cottam. She was our catcher, and a good, spunky competitor. No mask either,
and I can’t imagine how often she was hit in the face by a foul ball. Her profile has never
been the same.
One morning in the winter of 1932, a bunch of us boys were warming our hands
around our woodstove in the back of our classroom, when -BANG- an explosion! With
ears ringing, and screaming, we rushed outside. There was Andy
Cowan with a shredded right hand streaming blood. Raymond
Wigle nearly lost an eye. Another had cheek burn, while I had lost
some skin on my chin and had a piece of metal in my nose. So Andy
our star pitcher had lost 3 fingers and half of his thumb on his right
hand. Miss Blair handled the accident admirably. Of course, Andy
was rushed to the doctor, school was closed for the day, and our
picture appeared in the Border City Star. Domenic had found this
thing - looked like an expended rifle shell- in a brick yard near his
home and had given it to Andy for a look-see. Investigators claimed
it had been a dynamite cap.
We had this guy, Howard Augustine in our school who could
fold the most lethal paper wad and launch it with a special rubber
band. The teacher would be writing on the black board with her
back to the class when, splat, this missile hit the board beside her
like a rifle shot. Naturally, on the quick turn around, she saw
everyone, with head down, looking very industrious and trying to
suppress a chuckle. Howard! - she recognized the wet spot on the
board, his trademark. He always moistened the projectile for more
stinging effect. It would take several days for the swelling to disappear after being hit on
the back of the neck, I learned. Considering he had only one good eye, his aim was
remarkable. He had lost the other in a BB gun accident, and every so often, on a
monotonous day, he’d remove the glass eye for us and pass it around. Two summers ago,
Barb and I were at the foot of Danforth and Oak waiting for traffic to pass. This man
stepped off the curb to cross and fell. I helped him up, and he mumbled something.
Behind us, his wife pulled up in a car informing us that he insisted on walking alone and
so she usually followed at a distance in a car. He had Alzheimer’ disease, and his name
was Howard Augustine - 60 years later.
We students took turns weekly to stay after school, clean the blackboards, the
brushes, sweep the floor and bring in wood from the woodshed for our two stoves. To
add a little spice to this lonely winter day with a foot of snow on the ground, Harry
Cowan and I , plugged Miss Blair’s Model “A” exhaust pipe with snow before retreating
behind the woodshed to hide and observe. Miss Blair locked the school and entered her
car to go home. The starter turned, but the engine wouldn’t catch. Then, finally,
“POW”, and the snow plug shot out of the exhaust. She was so frightened that she got
out and circled the car several times looking perplexed while Harry and I contained our
laughter. Then away she drove and I can’t help but wonder if she ever solved the
May 24th became the official “go barefoot day” and the shoes remained off ‘till
mid September except for church and Sunday school. The soles of my feet were so tough
by the end of the summer that I could jog on a gravel road without discomfort.
My 12th birthday present I hold dear in my memory right up there with a pair of
“tube” skates I received one Christmas. It was an old bicycle with wooden rims, a relic
that had been Rudy’s in Kitchener. Although the warped wheels would not turn between
the forks any longer, it had followed us whenever we moved and hung in the machine
shop on the White farm. Dad had taken it to the Smithson Bros. Bicycle Shop in
Leamington and they managed to perform a little magic by the straightening the wheels
enough to pass through the forks without rubbing even though retaining a slight wobble.
Leaning up against the house, I was given a shove and did eventually retain my balance
to ride my bicycle, a new experience.
In the early 30's, a world championship fight was to take place. Not having a radio,
George and Rudy were invited over to Clare Pettapiece’s house to listen. It was to begin
at 10:00 p.m. and after much begging and pleading, they agreed to take me along.
Sharkey, the world’s champ, was fighting a Georgia boxer named Stribling. Well, in a
later round, I clearly recall Sharkey was knocking Stribling around pretty good with lefts
and rights when the announcer screamed above the noise, “And Stribling is waving like a
pine in a high wind.” Well Sharkey retained the title. Fifty years later my sister Ann in
Toronto introduced me to a friend of hers, Sam Stribling, from Georgia, USA. He was a
high school teacher in the city. Stribling is not a common name and when I mentioned
that fight to him, he said that it was his uncle. Small world!
Seldom a year went by where there weren’t several car accidents in front of our
farm. Driving on a rather sharp corner with the usual tilt created problems for some
drivers especially in the rain. Too much speed plus too much brakes equals a spin out
into the ditch. Mom patched up many a cut knee, a hand, a bloody face, etc.. She would
have made an A-1 nurse because blood didn’t bother her. And our horses got many a
pulling the cars out of the ditch. And to think that the speed limit was only 35 miles per
Punishment comes to mind. It was meted out by the master of the house, my Dad,
the psychologist. An occasional swat on the butt or pull on the ear was usually just a
reminder that I had done wrong. But what I disliked most was when I was taken to
Dad’s den (his writing room). Here I first received a lecture regarding my misdemeanour
and then was made to stand in the corner, facing the wall. When I was ready to
apologize, I could come out. That seemed to bring out a stubborn streak , and I would
stand and stand and stand some more, listening to Dad’s pen as he continued writing. I
knew my friends were outside waiting to continue our play, but I never made it easy for
One hot summer day, a gentleman by the name of Youngens appeared at our door.
Mom and Dad welcomed him as a long lost friend. We had last seen him in Blumenort,
Russia where he was in charge of famine relief. I always associated him with my first car
ride. He arrived on foot and he stayed a few weeks and left.
Barnum and Bailey Circus under the big top was coming to Windsor. Mom and Dad
surprised us children with “We’re taking you all to the circus.” My first thought was of
the bottom line. Where did they get the money for this luxury? And so we piled into the
old Essex, drove to Kingsville to pick up Aunt Mary (who was a maid in a local dentist’s
home), and away to Windsor. And no flats that day as I recall. Oh, it was just grand to
be alive! The clowns, the animals, the trapeze artists and the cotton candy. It was days
before we settled down from all that excitement.
One morning a week , Helen and I were down in the basement doing laundry, many
loads. First fill the washer with hot water by pail, then Mom would drop in a load of
dirty clothes and soap. Then it began. Back and forth went the manual agitator while
counting every stroke, and Mom designated the number according to the load size. Any
short cut in counting called for a repeat performance.
Our yard well was our refrigerator. Food was lowered in a pail and kept
One fall morning, Mom said to me (in German, of course),”The pigeons are nice
and fat after feeding on grain and I could use about 8 for supper tonight.” Ed and I
made our way to the barn gathering a few stones on the way. Ed stayed on the barn floor
with the stones while I, armed with a tobacco stick, climbed to the barn peak exit above
the hay mow. At this time, there were always pigeons resting in the top of the barn. After
a shout , Ed began heaving stones towards the barn roof. The pigeons took off toward
the exit where I stood wielding my tobacco stick back and forth knocking pigeons down
to the hay mow. A quick jump down to the hay, and I was wringing their necks. So in
less than 30 minutes, Ed and I delivered 8 chubby pigeons to Mom for cleaning and
dressing. As the Irish would say, “Sure and it was a grand meal.” Somewhat a la
Cornish hen taste.
We had many neighbours, the Pettapieces, the Moores, the Merritts, the Laramies,
the Brinacombs, the Pedricks, the Haggiths, the Cowans, the Ewings (had a pretty
daughter), and the Petersons (had a scatterbrained daughter).
The Halloween was dark and windy but not cold. Some of us went trick or treating
down the road (Helen was with us). Coming back, we had to pass this “haunted house”
located across the road from our place in a grove of trees. It was old, decrepit, and
unoccupied except for a ghost, it was said. It had occasional use as a night shelter for
the itinerants that were passing through. Anyway, as we were passing by, a moaning
sound attracted our attention. When we turned our heads, there, around the corner,
stepped a huge figure in white, waving white arms and making weird sounds. It scared
the devil out of us. We all spun our legs into overdrive, and took off. I never ran so fast
in my life - right into our house, up to my bedroom to change into dry underwear. Wasn’t
till the next morning that we found that Jack Peters, down the road, was the responsible
party. Being a big fella, he had used several bed sheets to pull the prank on us. He’d do
anything for a laugh. And also, the next morning, right in the middle of #3 highway,
stood an outhouse, a two seater yet. That was a popular prank for the older boys to pull
on Halloween. Fortunately it wasn’t ours.
Speaking of Jack Peterson, he built a big crow trap and baited it with horse meat.
When a goodly number of hungry crows had assembled therein to partake of the feast, he
pulled the trip wire from his barn. Then we neighbourhood kids, armed with grain sacks,
entered the trap, caught the crows and stuffed them into the sacks. A crow is a clever and
a dangerous adversary. When they bite, you bleed profusely. To think of how easy one of
us could have lost an eye is frightening. The next day, Jack and his hunting cronies had a
“skeet shoot” with crows. Releasing one at a time, they practised their marksmanship
and, lucky us, we kids were permitted to keep the empty shotgun shells.
“Call the vet, because Orton is in pain!” Every cow had a name, often that of the
farmer we bought it from. The tomato season was over and we allowed our dairy herd
into the field to clean up the remaining fruit. They loved tomatoes. But the next morning,
the gutters were always overflowing. We could see Orton was severely bloated,
uncomfortable and moaning. Into our yard comes Cook, the veterinarian, in his
Studebaker coupe. Into the barn I tag along and the cow is pointed out to him. Slowly he
settles on the straw beside her. Then, like in a trance, he tries to look intelligent while
contemplating a mysterious diagnosis for at least 5 minutes. Even his jaw quit working
his chaw. Finally releasing several streams of tobacco juice into the gutter, he slowly
pulled out a tobacco plug and cut off a new chew. When this settled to his satisfaction in
his mouth, he arose. Although not the talkative type, he asked for a tobacco stick with a
long spike nail attached at one end. Then with all the dexterity of a brain surgeon, he
thrust the spike into the side of Orton’s abdomen. As the spike was withdrawn, there was
the sound of escaping gas and fluids, in fact covering his overalls. The cow deflated, the
moaning stopped, and she survived. It could have been a Maalox moment!
Uncle Gerhardt and family moved onto a farm several miles away in our area after
living several years on Pelee Island. We were visiting there one day after they had
finished thrashing. Helen and Louise (Mrs. Dave Derksen) went to play in the barnyard.
After some time the parents were getting anxious when they hadn’t returned, for they
were a couple of real tomboys. As it turned out, a new straw stack had been built near
the barn that day of the thrashing and the girls had climbed the stack and fallen through
the loose straw in the centre and nearly suffocated. We kids had been warned repeatedly
about the danger of climbing a new straw stack before it had time to settle for several
weeks. Luckily they were dug out and suffered no irreparable harm.
Market time and Dad needed a dozen dressed chickens. Helen and I got busy. Dad
pointed out the poor layers which we then caught and took to the chopping block. Helen
would hold the hen firmly while I grasped the head with my left hand while wielding a
hatchet with my right. Then we would jump back quickly to avoid being sprayed with
blood until the spastic muscle movements ceased. Sounds more gruesome than it was.
Then we would dunk them in hot water and pull out the feathers.
Gathering eggs in the hen house was, of course, less traumatic. A chicken lays an
egg and cackles with pride. Near the end of my round when a chicken in a nest had not
yet laid its egg, I would slip my hand underneath and catch it coming out. That way I
didn’t have to make a call back. We had a 200 egg incubator in the house. In the spring,
Dad loaded it up and, every evening, the eggs were turned until hatching. Of course,
these were fertilized eggs gathered from chickens that had had roosters in their pen. I’d
slip in birds’ eggs every now and then. No problem hatching them, but never had luck
One Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1933, Agnes, who was working as a
housekeeper at Wilson’s (Rexall Drugs) in Leamington, came home accompanied by a
handsome man with curly blonde hair at the wheel of a pretty nifty convertible. A sailor
by the name of Jake Penner. He sailed as a first mate on the great lake freighters and
was destined to get his captain’s stripes at the age of 24, the youngest lake captain in
Canada at that time. We happened to end up in our barn. He saw the hay fork rope
hanging down from the barn ceiling. Taking off his suit jacket and loosening his tie, he
went up the rope hand over hand 50 feet to the peak. Muscles incorporated! Were we
impressed! With his handsome appearance, his bulging muscles and his convertible, I
felt he could take my sister out anytime. He, of course, eventually became Agnes’
husband and Rudy Penner’s (Washington) father.
Harry, Ed, and I were standing on the top landing of our back porch steps. I
jumped down on the ground landing on my feet. Ed did likewise. Harry at 5 years of age hesitated. “You can do it, Harry. ”Yep, he took off, did a half turn in the air and hit the ground with at hump, his head bouncing off the shoes craper. A nasty cut on the chin, much bleeding and much screaming was the
result. Poor Harry, he got more than his share of bumps
and bruises. He was a good kid, and always wanted to tag along with Ed and me.
Harry used to ride Buff like a horse, and got away with it. Dogs permit these
liberties from youngsters, it seems. After several years, one Sunday evening a neighbour
down the road had a barn fire. George, Rudy and I crossed the highway, and were
making our way along the shoulder when Buff appeared on the other side wanting to
come along. O.K., come on! He got half way across when he froze in the headlights of
an oncoming car. ----- Many tears were shed that evening and many more when we
buried him under our biggest apple tree in the orchard the next morning. Harry couldn’t
understand why Buff didn’t wake up. Ed and I even planted a cross made of tobacco
sticks on his grave. It’s tough to lose a friend!
Old man Merritt lived down the road a bit. He loved to sit in the sun working his
chaw, scratching his whiskers and telling us kids about his trip to “Africy” to fight the
Boers. Around the turn of the century, Canada had sent a contingent of volunteers to aid
the British in the Boer War. By the time Merritt and his regiment landed in Capetown, I
think the war was over. When we kids learned that he hadn’t shot any bad guys, we lost
interest. Yet, at least, once a year he made us listen to his yarn.
Jobs, as I’ve already stated, were very scarce, and a teenage cousin of mine felt
fortunate when a dairy farmer hired him. Up at 5:00 a.m., do chores and the milking,
work all day in the fields, and then the chores again in the evening. $5.00 a month and
board. Then on Christmas, he got a bonus - a new pair of overalls.
Louis Hochstetter, a bachelor and a native of Stuttgart, Germany, had a mouthful of
gold teeth and therefore a bright smile, especially when the sun shone. He came to
Canada in the mid twenties, and worked at G.M. in Windsor where he also lived. Being
knowledgeable in the stock market, his invested savings had made a tidy profit when the
crash of 1929 wiped him out. Then, in the early 30's, G.M. was down to 1-2 days work a
week, and he ended up working on a neighbour’s farm to keep body and soul together, as
the saying went. He became a family friend. Every time he’d greet me in his German
accented English,” Veecha, are you still crowing?” For some reason, I was nicknamed
“Veetja” by my family in those days. He took a shine to Ann who never let the friendship
develop beyond the platonic stage. He told Dad that if and when the depression ever
ended, he’d make up his market losses with interest. True to his promise, he died in
Windsor in the early ‘80's, a wealthy man.
Just gotta mention here that, with 3 good looking sisters, there was never a lack of
beaux hanging around. And they could afford to be fussy - just telling it like it was!
I heard recently, a month ago, how Australia has found a new weapon to control
their rabbit population. A contagious virus is killing them by the hundreds of thousands.
The rabbit is not indigenous to Australia. Fourteen were originally introduced for
hunting purposes, and, 40 years later, there are around 3 billion eating the greenery and
My operation was somewhat smaller. I
procured a black and white doe and a cottontail
buck from the Friesen’s, a few concessions over. Our
pet Bufford had died and I needed a diversion. In short
order, I learned about propagation of a species.
You have the buck and doe form a union, and, presto, 30
days later, the female starts pulling out tufts of fur
to make a nest, and usually has a litter of around 6
offspring. First, I kept them in cages, then vacant
pig and calf pens, and finally I released them in the
yard. Mom’s garden was soon destroyed, and there
were nests all over the place. They soon numbered
around 100, every colour, long hair, short hair, except
pure white. Probably, after we left in 1934, they
ended up in the market for food. Reminds me that, at the
Sydney Opera house, we had a rabbit dinner before
Pigs have no problem multiplying either. A sow usually had a litter of about 12,
almost always including a runt (smaller and weaker). It can easily starve because its
rambunctious family members don’t give it room to suckle. A 500 lb. mother can
accidentally lie down it. In a few weeks the males were castrated, and then, a few weeks
after, nose rings were inserted to keep them from digging under the enclosure. Well, one
summer day, several got away near the highway. Trying to round them up, one got on the
shoulder of the highway. Along came a car, deliberately drove onto the shoulder and hit
the pig. The driver slammed on the brakes with a squeal, backed up, jumped out, loaded
the unconscious pig into the car and sped away. I probably stood there with my mouth
open in surprise. Eighty pounds of free pork. I remember the little porker didn’t look
unlike Arnold, the pet pig in Green Acres who loved watching T.V..
During the years, old trucks came chugging up our driveway every so often,”Any
young calves for sale?” A frequent visitor who happened to be Jewish was great to
bargain. As he became more excited, his head would jerk to one side, accompanied by a
loud squeal. To us kids, it was comical and when we smiled, Dad gave us a stern glance
to keep us from laughing. Now I realize that he was suffering from Huntington’s Chorea,
a disease characterized by involuntary movements and noises.
Corny Remple, my brother Rudy’s friend from Kitchener days, came to visit. He had
been Kitchener’s tennis champion 2 consecutive years despite one withered left arm
(polio, I think), and so he brought his racket along. Leamington was combed for a
suitable opponent. There, on Ivan St. at that time were several tennis courts, and I recall
Corny playing Beecher Russell. I don’t know whether he was the best in the area, but
Corny disposed of him in a short time. One for the Mennonites!
Dad had bought a small insurance policy while in Kitchener. On the farm, he fell
behind in his premiums, and finally had to terminate it. With part of the small cash
settlement, Harry, Ed and I were taken to Nielson’s shoe store in Leamington where we
each got a pair of new shoes with metal toe caps. WOW! $1.98 a pair.
I recall one Sunday afternoon going for a drive with Dad and his friend, Mr.
Schroeder in his 1928 Model “A”. He showed us how far along they were in paving the
road between Kingsville and Harrow. It was being done with horses, scoops, and
wagons. Cement was mixed manually - slow progress. But then beyond the cemented #3
and #2 highways, washboard gravel was the road topping of the day.
“Wild Goose” Jack Miner was born in Ohio April 10, 1865. His lifetime schooling,
it was said , added to 3 months. At the age of 13, he moved to the Kingsville area, and ,
in 1904, founded the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary. Lecturing extensively in Canada and
the USA, he raised , not only money, but an awareness of depleting fowl numbers. Henry
Ford, among others, became a benevolent sponsor. In our geography text in public
school, was a picture of his sanctuary. Also , the next page over was the
sentence,”Canada’s population is approaching the 10 million mark.”
Well, the first time a buddy and I cycled to Jack Miner’s, the front gate was open,
and so into the yard we rode. There was Jack walking toward the pond, dressed in
overalls, rubber boots and an old felt hat on his head, carrying a pail of corn in each
hand. He waved us forward, and we followed him on his rounds as he distributed the
corn to the ducks, geese and other water fowl. What a nice man. He told us about his
banding program to help determine the migratory pattern of the Canada Goose. He
remarked that he was mailed bands by hunters from all over the USA and Canada that
had shot “his geese”. His hair was white, which to us kids, made him old. Somehow in
England during the war I heard that he had died on Nov. 3, 1944.
The motor of our 1926 Essex was losing compression badly. Coming from a
shopping trip in Leamington would involve gearing down to climb the ridge hill. It
needed its valves ground and new piston rings. Needin’ and gettin’ were two different
things. So, one day, a 1928 Chrysler appeared in our driveway, a big car with bald tires
and a sensitive clutch. Dad had bought it in Windsor, and thought he had got a good
deal, but it turned out it had been a taxi. Anyway, it did climb the hill without shifting
How enjoyable it was to hear, “Want to go swimming tonight?” Sure beat the
primitive shower we had set up in the greenhouse to wash the dust and dirt off. George,
Rudy, Helen, Ed, Harry and I would be off to the lake in Kingsville after supper. And
after, we lingered a while at the open air dance to watch the dancers and listen to the
music. “Tomatoes are cheaper, potatoes are cheaper, now’s the time to fall in love.” and,
“I found a million dollar baby at the five and ten cent store.” were a couple songs of the
day. Dancing under the stars!
The town of Essex was popular for its ice cream and buttermilk. Triple dip for a
nickel and all the buttermilk you could drink for the same amount. An unemployed
Windsor friend of ours got a job painting the clock tower in Essex on a hot blistering day.
He “claimed” he was so dehydrated by noon, he had drunk 10 glasses of buttermilk.
That may have set a record for the price of 5 cents.
The blizzard blew itself out after several days leaving several feet of snow and large
drifts in the area. School had been closed. Mom, Dad and I were going visiting in our
one horse open sleigh. We were well bundled up against the stinging cold. I sat under a
rug at my parents’ feet. Snug as a bug in a rug! The horse’s head was enveloped by the
condensation of its breath and the muffled hoof beats in the snow accompanied by the
bells on the harness were the only sounds in evidence. A full moon was throwing
grotesque shadows on the glistening snow as we moved along. A pristine scene.
Every winter someone from Pelee Island would make it across the lake with wagon
and horses. And several didn’t make it when the cracks in the ice suddenly widened.
What did we do on those long winter evenings without a radio or a TV. Mom’s
motto “keep the kids busy” worked quite well. When all other games were finished, there
was the old stand by, jig saw puzzles. Everyone gathered around the kitchen table to work
on a 400-500 piece puzzle. And then Dad’s story time was the finishing touch for the
evening. He was a master story teller.
Two dreams in the five years on this farm that I never realized. #1 - to begin the
school term with a 14 kt. Gold nibbed fountain pen. This cost $1.00, and I was never
able to save more than 70 cents. In my desk drawer today is a Waterman fountain pen
with a 14 kt. Gold nib which I acquired in my second year of high school. To me, it was a
status symbol, I guess.
#2 - to ride to Windsor on the street car that connected Windsor and Leamington in
those days. Only 35 cents, but I never had the opportunity. Ann would, occasionally,
come from Windsor to Weir’s corner (where Division Rd. ran into #3 highway) that way,
and we would pick her up.