Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Moose Jaw

Learning the grain business

This temporary job with United Grain Growers lasted about seven years. The Moose Jaw elevator was only a few years old, still one of the old style wooden elevators, but with a scale and hoist that would accommodate a semi. Albert Simmie was the manager, nearing retirement and needing a helper.

My job was pretty menial at first, sweeping the floor, shovelling out the flat bottom bins, stacking fertilizer and seed grain bags. Occasionally I got to weigh a truck. One day a semi with a dry van trailer pulled in to the elevator and the driver asked to have it weighed before he delivered the load to the grocery warehouse. His load was watermelon from Texas and he had driven all the way without stopping to sleep. He looked it too. That would have been at least 2,000 miles. If I remember correctly, he gave both Albert and I a watermelon before pulling out.

The elevator was about 14 blocks from my parents’ home, an easy walk. The grain dust bothered my allergies but I did not have any serious problem. After about six weeks the District Manager told me I was needed at Davidson. Davidson was on the Number 11 highway, the second town north of Craik where I had grown up. There was a row of nine elevators in town, run by four companies. UGG owned two of them.

I was sent to help Jake Thom, an elderly man on the verge of retirement. He was a widower, living in a tiny old two bedroom house where he had raised his family. I occupied one of the bedrooms and spent my days in the elevator and learned a little more about the grain business.

The land around Davidson is lighter and does not have the moisture holding capacity of soils in some other parts of Saskatchewan. The growing year had started with abundant moisture and grain grew lush and tall. Then the rains stopped. There was a field clearly visible from the elevator office and I watched as a combine went round and round that field before it had to stop to unload. The wheat kernels were not plump but shrivelled that fall, low in bushel weight and a low grade but still could be used for making flour.

UGG had a carpenter crew busy building and renovating houses for their grain elevator managers. I got to see them often over the next few years. They had built a new house for the manager of the other UGG elevator in Davidson and when he and his family moved into the new house Jake got the one they had been living in and I moved in with him.

After a couple months in Davidson the district manager came around again and said I was needed in Bladworth, the next town north on the Number 11. I moved in with the manager and his family and spent my days in the elevator. As best as I can remember, this was where I first began to acquire a taste for beer. Every once in a while I would wander over to the beer parlour in the evening and have a cold beer or two. I thought it was refreshing and helped wash down the grain dust I had been tasting all day. The problem was the beer wouldn’t stay down, invariably I had to make a stop at the outhouse, otherwise unused, and let it all come back up again.

Winter was coming on now, the elevators weren’t busy and some managers wanted to take a winter vacation. My next stop was Condie, north of Regina, a place with two elevators but no town. I lived in the manager’s house, an older two storey affair, while he was gone.  Jake Thom’s old house from Davidson had been moved in beside this old house. The UGG carpenter crew proceeded to take off the roof and both end walls and begin transforming it into a brand new bungalow. Thee was a reason for this way of doing things: it could be claimed as renovation and all expenses claimed in the year they were incurred. To start from scratch would require the expenses to be amortized over a number of years.

After Condie I was sent to Craik, my old home town. I stayed in a room in the hotel, just across the tracks from the elevator. This was a pretty quiet time but it seemed the company was preparing me for long term employment. As spring drew near the district manager told me the manager of the elevator in the village of Belle Plaine was quitting. Belle Plaine is between Moose Jaw and Regina on the Trans Canada highway. The location was great and I jumped at the opportunity.

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Dennis to the rescue

During the time I had been away in Toronto my folks had sold the little farm at Craik and bought an older two storey house in Moose Jaw. It wasn’t hard getting used to living in Moose Jaw, it was where I was born, we had family in the city and had made frequent trips there all during my growing up years. Uncle Art and Aunt Katherine, Dad’s brother and Mom’s sister, had moved into the city years ago already. Dad turned 72 in the summer of 1963, his eyesight was getting worse and he could no longer drive, so the move was a sensible one for them.

To get to the nearest Anglican church all my parents had to do was walk out to the back alley, go half a block east and half a block north. It was a distance my mother could easily walk. I never accompanied them to church.

Dad might not have seen well enough to drive, but he could still walk. He got up early in the morning and went for a walk, then took another walk or two later in the day, doing about six miles a day. He couldn’t see to read much anymore; Mom would gladly have read to him, but he could not bring himself to let her do it. That would have been to admit that he was handicapped.

But what was I to do? I was a walker like my Dad and walked all over the city with that question spinning around in my mind. I had lost all my excess weight in Toronto and was down to 60 kilos. I hadn’t done any physical work during those years that would have bulked me up, but I wasn’t weak or malnourished. I think it was just the unending questions about my future that made my head spin. One afternoon I came home from a walk, walked into the living room, blacked out for a moment and fell.

I got right back up on my feet, but Mom was scared. She got me in to see her doctor and he prescribed some little white pills for me. I got the impression that there was some malfunction in my heart and these pills would regulate it.

My cousin Dennis came to my rescue. He needed help on the farm and I was available. The farm was only a few miles out of Moose Jaw; I spent Monday to Saturday with Dennis and Harlene at the farm and Sunday at home with Mom and Dad in Moose Jaw. I helped with the field work and whatever else needed doing around the farm. Occasionally I would babysit Wendy, Jana and Jeffrey, their three young children.

Dennis had a few head of cattle, Harlene kept a few ducks and geese. It was getting dark one evening during harvest when I pulled into the yard with a load of grain to unload into the granary. The geese were not yet shut up for the night and here comes the gander running towards the truck, neck stretched out, wings flapping, honking for all he was worth to save the other geese from this monster. A fully loaded truck does not stop on a dime. Mom was out to visit Harlene and the two of them spent the rest of the evening plucking and eviscerating the would-be hero.

I helped at the farm on occasion during the winter and in spring began putting in long hours in the fields again. Then in late summer I landed a temporary job at the United Grain Growers grain elevator in Moose Jaw.

The Toronto Interlude

There was a bond between my mother and I that never existed between me and my Dad. The bond with my mother was established at birth and nurtured by years of talking together, working together and playing together.

My older cousins have told me of their appreciation for their Uncle Walter. The man they described was someone that I never knew. I wish that I had and I sometimes think that if we could meet now that we would find each other interesting and even likable. I wish that could have happened in his lifetime. I don’t think of him as an evil man, I don’t hate him, but there just was never a warm father and son relationship. Most of the time the relationship was cool, at best lukewarm, and sometimes it was fiery hot.

It was good for me to get away again. I still didn’t have much of a clue about anything, but I must have grown a little more backbone and a little more interest in others during that time at home.

I don’t remember the train ride to Toronto, registering at the school or how I found a place to live. But I have clear memories of the place I first lived. Karl Frey, a German from Romania was a painting contractor and he had acquired three big old houses on Lyndhurst Avenue, just a block or two from Casa Loma. He and his wife, with their young son, occupied the main floor of the middle house. One house was rented to a family. The rest of the rooms in the middle house and the third house were rented out, mostly  to students at DeVry Tech.The school was on Lawrence Avenue, a good distance away, so Karl provided a van that we all piled into to get to school and get home again. This was old Toronto, stately old houses, tall trees on both sides of the street whose branches formed a leafy green arch over our heads.

I lived in the same house as the Frey family. I think there were seven of us in that house,  myself, Peter Nassler and Lyle Mitchell, both from Saskatoon, Donald Kim Chu from Vancouver, a Bourgeois from New Brunswick, a young man from Québec and another from Sudbury. We occupied the two upper floors of the house, sharing a bathroom on each floor. There was a kitchen for our use in the basement and a TV room. There must have been laundry facilities also. Peter, Lyle, Don and I became good friends and spent long hours discussing subjects of national and international importance. We were quite sure that we westerners saw things clearly and the eastern people around us were all lost in the fog.

I even remember two of the teachers at the school. Mr. Wolf was German, taught math, had an off colour sense of humour and a very disorderly classroom. Mr. Foucault was French-Canadian, very serious, taught electronics and there was no nonsense in his classes. The office manager was a very nice lady named Ariel.

I’m not sue how long it took to finish the course, I believe it was a good year. I found work as a quality control inspector at Renfrew Electric, a manufacturer of resistors and other electrical stuff. One of my co-workers there was a young man named Gallant Gainsiegge (I’m not at all sure of the spelling, but I think that is close). He had grown up in East Germany, escaped to West Germany and then came to Canada. At that time there were still a number of European companies manufacturing very small automobiles. One of them was DKW of West Germany. Officially, DKW stood for Das Kleine Wunder (the little wonder), but Gallant told me that people in Germany called it Deutsche Kinder Wagen (German kiddie car).

After finishing school, Peter, Lyle and I moved together into rooms in the bungalow of Mr. and Mrs. Nussbaum, an older Jewish couple on Lyndhurst Drive in Downsview. Don had found work in northern BC. Mr Nussbaum still had a pickup that he used to go around to various factories to collect scrap metal to sell. I went with him to help a couple of times. I also cut their grass with a reel mower. That’s what I was doing the day of the total solar eclipse on Saturday July 20, 1963. There were warnings not to watch the eclipse directly. It had rained recently and there was a 40 gallon drum in the back yard and the top was filled with water. At each pass with the lawn mower I would glanced at the sun’s reflection in that puddle to follow the progress of the eclipse.

Downsview was north of the 401. One day us three Saskatchewan boys stood on the Dufferin Avenue overpass and watched the bumper to bumper traffic beneath us, three lanes in each direction. We could hardly comprehend the enormity of such a thing. By now I can see the same kind of traffic in Saskatoon and in places the 401 has grown to 12 lanes in each direction (counting feeder lanes).

Mixed in with our discussions of how to fix the world were discussions about starting a business together. We got as far as getting permission to put up a sign in a local store for our appliance repair business. I successfully fixed a toaster and a mixer but soon we moved again and that was the end of our big business.

I guess my backbone still had not stiffened up enough as I found myself looking for another job. What I found was a job in the Admiral factory in Port Credit (now part of Mississauga). This was a long way from where we were living so the three of us moved again to the west end of Toronto. It took me an hour to get to work, first by street car and then two buses. I had been making $1.25 an hour at Renfrew, Admiral paid $1.60, a huge increase.

I was given a spot at the end of the radio assembly line. My job was to plug in the finished radio, turn it on and adjust it so the needle lined up correctly on the dial. If it didn’t work, then it was my job to find the loose connection and add a bit of solder to make it work. Then I would insert the radio in its plastic cabinet and it was ready to go.

The TV assembly line was not far from my work station. In the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963 I noticed that the TV workers were leaving their work stations to cluster around a TV at the end of the line. I wandered over and asked what was going on. Someone said that President Kennedy had been shot.

The work day was soon over and I made my way home. We spent the next two days watching events unfold on TV, seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV on Sunday afternoon.

I did an enormous amount of walking during those two years in Toronto, exploring the city. I believe I attended church three times. Twice in a massive old brick Anglican church on St. Clair Avenue, not far from the place I was staying on Lyndhurst Drive. There I at least got a warm welcome from the black usher, but that was all. When we moved to Downsview I made one more attempt, attending a newer Anglican church in that area. That left me completely cold.

My job at Admiral eventually came to an end and in 1964 I made my way home to Saskatchewan again, only home was now in Moose Jaw. I never used my electronic training again.

$9.60 for a tonsillectomy

Saturday evening I was looking through some old papers and came across the following bill from when my tonsils were removed 71 years ago.

Providence Hospital, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

July 10, 1946

Tonsillectomy

Hospital      2 days X 1.50                                         3.00
Operating Room                                                      5.00
Medicine                                                                   .10
Laboratory                                                             1.50
Total                                                                   $9.60

Chapter 3 – My father

The time has come for me to write about my father, but I don’t want to. I’m afraid that I’m going to make him sound like an ogre, and he really wasn’t. Most of the time he was a pretty decent sort, but I grew up living in dread of the times when his internal volcano would erupt. He never physically harmed my mother or me, he was kind to animals and polite to others. His anger was only words, but those words would peel the paint off your self respect and wither your soul.

You see? I’m already off on the wrong foot if I want to portray my father in anything like a sympathetic light.

Let’s start over. My father was of New England Puritan stock, had high moral ideals and strong religious convictions. He was a tireless worker, he could fix anything mechanical and build most anything of wood with just a few hand tools. Sometimes he could laugh at himself, but only once did I hear him come close to admitting he’d made a mistake. He’d always had cattle and chickens on the farm and one time when he was about done with farming he said it might have been better if he’d kept a few pigs, too.

His mother was Franco-American, the granddaughter of a man who settled in New York state after serving as a maître d’armes, a master swordsman, in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. My father believed the world would be a better place if everyone spoke the same language, namely English. He only learned a few words of French from his mother, but had a warm spot in his heart for his French heritage because the USA could not have won the revolutionary war without help from France.

My grandparents were from St. Lawrence county, New York and moved to the Newell, Iowa area shortly after they married. Five children were born to them there, then they moved to Pipestone county, Minnesota. In 1908 they came to Canada and homesteaded near the south-west end of Old Wives Lake in Saskatchewan. My father built a house across the road from the estate house where his widowed mother lived and cared for her until her death.

He was 49 when he married and 50 when I was born. Perhaps that half century between us was too much to bridge. Or perhaps he expected a son who would be just as robust as he was and was disappointed to find himself the father of a sickly wimp.

There were good times. Our farm at Bishopric had rows of trees between the yard and the road on the west. All our kinfolk in the area would come once a summer for a family gathering and picnic in an open area among the trees. In the winter, the snow would accumulate in the trees and our driveway became impassible. Then we would travel by team and sleigh with horsehide robes to protect us and maybe a big stone or two at our feet that had been warmed in the oven.

One ice-cold Monday morning, when walking the mile to school was not an option, my father hitched up the sleigh and took me across country to the little brick schoolhouse in the village of Bishopric. When we go there, there was not another person there, no foot prints in the snow. Then I remembered: “Uh, Dad, I forgot. Today is a holiday.” The ride home was quiet, but Dad was not angry and never mentioned the incident.

Once when I was in my teens, Dad started talking about the evils of a white person marrying a black person. “Their children will be mixed colours, one leg white, the other black.” I found that a little hard to take. “I don’t believe that is possible. Did you ever see anyone like that?” He didn’t answer, but that was the last I heard of people with Holstein markings.

I was maybe 15 when he got me to change the water pump on the truck. He told me what to do, then I crawled under the truck and went to work. He wasn’t anywhere near to answer questions, so I figured out what tools to use and which way to install the pump, and it worked. Another time, he got some grinding compound and had me grind the valves and the valve seats on a Briggs & Stratton engine that had lost power. That worked too. But usually Dad didn’t have the time or patience to teach me how to do all the things he could do.

Dad was a Wesleyan Methodist whose church got sucked into the church union fever, eventually being incorporated into the United Church of Canada. Dad talked of attending a United Church in Edmonton, sometime in the later 1920’s. As the preacher spoke, it became evident that he was getting his direction from somewhere else than the Bible. The creation, miracles, virgin birth of Christ and the resurrections were only fables meant to teach a lesson. And the lessons this preacher drew from them bore no resemblance to Bible teachings. Dad walked out into the street, tears streaming from his eyes.

Soon he visited the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute and become an ardent follower of William Aberhart. When Aberhart created the Social Credit Party and led it to power in Alberta in 1935, Dad was convinced that this was the way forward. The churches had become corrupt, what was needed was to elect Christian statesmen to office.

As a true believer of Social Credit principles, it was hard for him to listen to someone expound a contrary philosophy. Occasionally I would see him clench his jaw and tremble in striving to maintain an outward civility when the fire inside was on the point of bursting forth.

I guess it didn’t always work. One day he came walking home from Mr Harlton’s. Mr Harlton was David’s father and a member of the CCF party, at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Social Credit. The Harltons lived two miles from us; I’m not sure why my father stopped there on his way home from town, but they got into a political discussion. My father became so agitated that Mr Harlton decided it wasn’t safe for him to drive and took his keys. Dad walked back the next day, in a somewhat calmer frame of mind, and got his keys back.

The Social Credit movement never got close to political power on the national level and eventually declined. When we went to Moose Jaw, Dad would go to Charlie Schick’s barber shop for a haircut and a religious discussion. Mr Schick was a fervent Lutheran and his influence gave Dad the impetus to start looking for a church again. That led to us joining the Anglican Church when we moved to Craik.

Dad’s eyesight began to fail in his 60’s and pretty soon he let me drive the family half ton to church. There was an RCMP officer attending the same church and I’m sure he was aware that I was nowhere near old enough to have a license. I wonder if he thought it might be safer to let me drive those short distances around home than to have Dad drive. When I turned 16 and got my drivers license, Dad gave me permission to drive the truck to school and to band practice.

My father was really a decent man and he meant well. He would accept advice from a few people, but for the most part he was the judge of what was right and wrong. One evening when we had family devotions he prayed that God would show others that he was right.

Every once in awhile the volcano within would come spewing forth and for three days, every time he came into the house, he would rant about all the things my mother and I had done that he didn’t like. We walked on eggshells to avoid triggering such outbursts, but never actually knew when they would happen. Most of life was normal, but I grew up with an overriding fear that anything I would say or do might be exactly the wrong thing to say or do at that moment.

Chapter 2 – Alphabet blocks

I found the wooden alphabet block with the letter N and added it to the row that was beginning to spell my name — R O B E R T G O O D N . . . Now I needed one more O. I carefully rotated each of the blocks I had not used, but could not find another O. This was a familiar problem; there are just too many O’s in my name. Now I had to take the blocks I had already used, rotate them one by one to find another O, then find a block with the letter I had taken away. Finally it is done: R O B E R T G O O D N O U G H.

I was four years old and this set of blocks was my favourite toy. With it I could build fences, walls, barns, houses, towers. When night came, I gathered them all into the wooden box with wooden wheels and put them away for another day.

One day, I don’t remember when, my mother began to explain the meaning of the mysterious symbols on the blocks. She showed me how to spell words like M O M, D A D, C A T, D O G and then how to spell my name. Soon I began to sound out words I saw in other places and found that there was no end of things to read. My cousin Julia, 18 years older than me, had once been a teacher. She noted my love for words and began bringing me little books each time she and her husband made a trip to Moose Jaw.

The day that I began school, my mother went with me and informed the teacher, “Robert can read.” The teacher was sceptical; she stuck a newspaper in front of me and said: “Read.” I read it aloud, smoothly, pronouncing the words correctly, though I may not have understood all that the news story was about. Thus I began Grade 1, and was introduced to the mindless Dick and Jane books: “SEE SPOT. SEE SPOT RUN.” Not very interesting to someone who was way beyond that at home. After Christmas, I was in Grade 2.

How did it happen that I was already a fluent reader the day I started school? It never seemed like my mother was trying to teach me to read. Outdoors, I had a trike, a wagon and a whole big yard to explore. Indoors, my set of blocks was my multipurpose toy kit, useful for most anything my fertile imagination could dream up. The incident in the first paragraph is one of my earliest memories and it was oft repeated as I learned the sounds of letters. My mother did just enough to pique my curiosity, then forever after had to answer my questions.

My mother was my first and best teacher. Yet she had known only Plautdietsch until the day she started school. For six years she attended a one-room school run by the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church, spending equal time learning German and English. In 1920 the Saskatchewan government decided that all private schools would be closed. When Mom went to enroll in the public school that fall, they told her she would have to begin the sixth grade again. Her father decided that if that was the case, she didn’t need to go to school anymore. Despite having only six years of formal education, my mother was in many ways better educated than my father, who had considerably more schooling and whose mother tongue was English.

The explanation for my mother’s learning achievements lies in her physical handicap, her father’s disability and the special relationship between them. My grandfather was blind. Glaucoma had robbed him of much of his vision in his youth and he later became almost totally blind. He still ran a farm and raised fourteen healthy children.
My mother was number six and she was born with congenital hip dysplasia. Nowadays, this condition can be corrected in newborns without surgery. A hundred years ago, doctors didn’t know what her problem was. They thought she had a back problem, as that was where she had pain, but had no idea how to treat it. One day, long after I was grown up, she told me that she had never walked without pain. I thought back to the times that she would play ball with me, even run foot races with me and wondered if a mother’s love had eased the pain.

Because of his blindness, my grandfather needed help, and who was more able and ready to help him than this daughter who didn’t get around as easily or as fast as his other children? She read to him, letters, farm papers, books, whatever he needed or whatever interested him. She helped him with managing the business side of the farm, helping with correspondence and learning how to manage money. If her parents went away for a Sunday dinner and she stayed home, as soon as her parents came home her father would want to know what she had been reading. He would ask her to retell the whole story that she had read.

A large, well-used English dictionary was one of her prized possessions. She studied it assiduously, looking up every new word she found, learning its meaning and how to use it. Her brothers and sisters would tell her that she had swallowed the dictionary. She spoke clear, unaccented, grammatically correct English.

My parents’ home contained hundreds of books, the legacy of my father’s parents and of his brother who had abandoned the prairies for British Columbia. With a mother like this, and a house full of old, well-written books, how could I help but become a serious reader and a lover of good books?

Precious memories

My cousin Dennis was born September 9, 1937, the first of six children born to Art and Katherine Goodnough. His wife called last week to tell us that his children were planning a surprise birthday party for him for his 80th birthday, last Saturday. Could we come?

I thought about it briefly, maybe half a second, and said “Of course, we’ll be there.” I had been thinking of this momentous occasion coming up, had bought a card and was wondering how or when to deliver it. Saturday we made the two and a half hour drive to Moose Jaw and joined 50 others, family and friends, to celebrate Dennis’s 80 years.

All of Dennis’s brothers came, from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. His sister lives in Portugal and didn’t make it. Four of his five children were there, two live in Moose Jaw, one in Alberta, one in BC and the one missing was out of the country on a business trip.

Uncle Art was my father’s brother, Aunt Katherine my mother’s sister. Our two families have always been close. Everything his brothers said about Dennis was completely familiar. None of us has ever seen him get angry, nor have we ever seen him violate a traffic law. Richard told how Dennis would always use his signal lights before making a turn, even if he was out in the middle of a 100 acre field or a thousand acre pasture.

He was always interested in others. Whenever you talked to him, his first questions were about your family. He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. Stan, 15 years younger, told of encountering a kangaroo on his big brother’s farm when he was just a little lad. He told Dennis about the kangaroo and Dennis said, “Well, it might have been something else that looked a lot like a kangaroo.” Some time later Stan figured out that it had been a jackrabbit.

His patience was his great strength, but at times it looked like a weakness. Jason, his youngest son, told of how his Dad taught them the importance of cleanliness and also modelled it for them. One time the family was ready to get in the car to go somewhere, they were already 20 minutes late, but Dad decided he had to have a shower first.

Jason also told of how his Dad had been a good teacher. He didn’t get angry when they didn’t do as they had been taught, but relations could get rather cool for a while. Ted, the brother next after Dennis in the family, picked up on that and said that had come from their mother. When he did something wrong his mother wouldn’t speak to him for days. Finally he would get so desperate that he would do anything, wash dishes, scrub floors, to get her to talk to him. Thinking of that later, it seems that Ted would be the one in the family who would have most often incurred this treatment from his mother. He was also the one for whom it was most apt to produce a favourable result.

Joel, Dennis’s oldest grandson and a Pentecostal preacher, was MC for the afternoon. Jeff, Dennis’s oldest son and also a Pentecostal preacher (but of a different denomination), had the prayer for the supper. The Goodnough family is a mixture of Christians of differing persuasions and others who are not Christians. We don’t get together as often as we did when we were younger and lived closer to each other, but there is still something that binds us together. I believe the tie that binds us together, at least for those of us of the older generation, is the influence of our mothers. I am not alone in thinking that, the thought was expressed a number of times on Saturday.

Moose Jaw Memories

I was seven years old when I got my first train ride. It was back in 1949 and my mother and I boarded the train in early morning for the hour long ride into Moose Jaw. When we arrived in the city, the conductor held out his hand to help my mother and me down the steps from the passenger car. I looked across the many rows of tracks between us and the big railway station and wondered how we were supposed to walk across those tracks when there were other trains coming in the distance. My mother told me to just follow the other passengers; we walked along the concrete walk to a set of steps leading down to a tunnel under the tracks. When we came up the steps in the railway station, the first thing that caught my eye was a large sign giving departure and arrival times, topped by a clock and saying at the bottom “Welcome to Moose Jaw, population 27,000.”

I don’t remember the reason for our trip; it was probably to see a doctor or a dentist, though I am sure a visit to the dentist would have instilled a vivid memory. My father was partial to Doctor Fraser Muirhead, a true frontier dentist who did not believe in using any kind of pain relief and could be heard from the waiting room shouting at the unfortunate children who could not hold still for him to work on their teeth. There was a time when I was the child in his chair and he threatened to strap me in. It took me years to overcome my fear of dentists.

Moose Jaw had been a boom town in the early days, as evidenced by the impressive buildings that lined Main Street. The Canadian Pacific Railway was built in the 1870’s to connect the prairies and British Columbia to the rest of Canada. Moose Jaw became a hub for the construction and later for the maintenance of the CPR. Branch lines fanned out in all directions, including the Soo Line Railroad, owned by the CPR, that ran from Moose Jaw all the way to Chicago. A huge tent city appeared during construction, soon replaced by sturdy brick structures. Moose Jaw became the business centre for farm families from a large part of southwest Saskatchewan. There was a flour mill, meat packing plants, lumber yards, feed mills and everything else needed in the rural economy. There were also grocery and hardware wholesalers, supplying merchants in smaller communities.

Two hospitals were built in the early years, I was born in one of them in 1942, went back five years later to have my tonsils removed. The department stores were Eaton’s, Joyner’s and Army and Navy.

Joyner’s Department Store carried clothing and shoes for the whole family. Shopping there was an unforgettable experience for a youngster. There were no cash registers to be seen, just cables humming overhead in their endless run between pulleys, connecting each area of the store to a cashier on the mezzanine level. When you bought something, the clerk would write out the bill of sale, take your money, place both in a little metal box, then reach up and attach the box to one of those cables. The box would go zipping up to the cashier and soon come back with your change and the bill stamped paid.

The Army and Navy Discount Store sold most everything, clothing, hardware, housewares, paint, toys, fabrics, on three levels. There was a marvellous modern device in their shoe department that looked something like an old platform scale. You could try on a pair of shoes, step on the platform with the toes of your shoes under the working part of this machine, then look in the top and see how the bones of your toes fit inside the shoes. This was long before anyone was aware of the dangers of too much x-ray exposure.

Eaton’s was bigger yet, carried a wider range of merchandise, more up to date, including furniture and appliances. Of special interest to me was the watch maker in a little office on the landing between the main floor and the upper level. One time I went to him with a watch that had a badly scratched crystal. It only took a minute or two for him to find the right size, pop the old one out and the new one in. The best part was that he didn’t charge me anything!

A large part of the workforce hired to build the railroad were Chinese men. Many of them made Moose Jaw their home after the railroad was built. Circumstances were difficult for them for many years, they were not allowed to bring their wives over and new immigration from China was forbidden. Still, they carved out a place for themselves in the Moose Jaw business community. George Wong, owner of the Exchange Café and “Scotty” Kwan, owner of Kwan’s Music were pillars of the community in the era that I remember.

For many years there was a thriving Jewish community. Many may not have been much in the public eye, but I remember the two Cohen’s Drug Stores, in opposite corners of the city, Harvey Stein’s Globe News and Schwartz’s news stand, run by Hymie and Bennie Schwartz. Now the drug stores, the newspaper vendors and the synagogue are all gone.

We probably had dinner at the Exchange Café or one of the other Chinese restaurants downtown. When our appointments and shopping were all done, my mother and I walked into the offices of CHAB, the radio station listened to by most people for miles around. We were shown into a room with seating all around the four walls. Just about every seat was filled with people on the same mission as my mother. I think it was around four o’clock when a radio announcer stepped in with a microphone is his hand and made his way around the room. When my mother’s turn came, she spoke into the mike “This is Agnes Goodnough from the Bishopric area. Tell Walter that we will be home on the six o’clock train.” This was an invaluable public service in the days when long distance phone calls, especially from a pay phone, were horribly expensive.

I don’t remember the train ride home, I wouldn’t be surprised if I slept the whole way, tired from an early morning and hours spent walking the streets and through the stores of the city. Sixty-seven years have passed, Joyner’s. Army & Navy and Eaton’s have all closed. So have the wholesalers, the flour mill and the meat packing plants.  You can’t get there by train anymore. The population now stands at 35,000. For years now, the city has tried to re-invent itself as a tourist destination, capitalizing on its history.

My wife and I both have family in Moose Jaw, our parents are buried there. For us, it is the family connection and family history that keep drawing us to visit Moose Jaw.

 

It’s all my father’s fault

It seems that I’ve been trying to learn French all my life, always getting a little closer but never quite arriving. I can speak French, but with a wooden tongue (that’s a French expression for someone whose pronunciation is somewhat lacking). I fear that my ears may be made of the same material, for I often miss some little nuance of spoken French. And it’s all my father’s fault.

You see, my father grew up with a mother who spoke French – and he was embarrassed by it. I never knew my grandmother – my father was very close to his mother and didn’t go looking for a wife until his mother wasn’t there anymore. Grandma was Franco-American, descended from a man who grew up in the province of Lorraine and served in Napoleon’s army as a swordsman before emigrating to the USA with his family. The French language was preserved in the family for several generations, despite the American melting pot.

When my grandparents came to Canada in 1908, they settled on the south side of Old Wives Lake in southern Saskatchewan. They did their shopping in the general store in Courval, their closest town. The store was run by a French-Canadian family. Many of their neighbours had names like Tremblay, Marcil and Pelletier. Grandma was right at home among these people and my father found that embarrassing. He had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the belief that the world would be a better place if everyone spoke the same language, which of course would be English.

He even seemed to feel that it was not right for people to have complicated names that he couldn’t pronounce and I grew up being embarrassed by his stubborn mispronunciation of people’s names. I always felt that wasn’t very wise when one’s own family name was Goodnough, a name that people didn’t know how to pronounce when they saw it in print, nor how to spell if they heard it pronounced.

He did know a few French words, mostly the words for common foods. He liked to tell how the USA would never have existed if it hadn’t been for the help of General Lafayette and countless other French soldiers during the revolutionary war. But he had no interest in learning the language. His attitude was, if you want to talk to me you have to speak my language.

My mother, on the other hand, spoke only Plautdietsch until she started school. Sometime in her youth she acquired a large English dictionary and studied it assiduously. By the time I came along she was speaking English with no trace of an accent. She often told about how her father had learned English from working with English-speaking people in his younger years. There had also been French-speaking people in the part of Manitoba where he grew up and he had often expressed his regret at not learning that language. To which Mom would add: “And if he had, I would have too.”

Thus I had the moral support of my mother, if not my father, when I began making my first steps to try to learn French. I have worked at it off and on for many years. I have no problem reading French and not much in writing. But I still long to be able to speak it like a true native speaker.

To be fair to my father, his attitude was shaped by the era and the place where he grew up. He maintained a lifelong friendship with many of his French-Canadian neighbours. After he retired and moved to Moose Jaw, he would often encounter the owner of the Courval general store, also retired and living in Moose Jaw. He called him Mister Pippin. It wasn’t until I read his obituary that I realized that Mister Pippin had actually been Monsieur Pépin.

Authenticity and tradition

On Saturday we travelled to Moose Jaw to attend a workshop for writers. We’ve only lived there for short periods of time, the last one being 37 years ago, but it still feels like this is where our roots are. I wanted to visit my 91 year old cousin after the workshop, but there was a disease outbreak at the nursing home and we were not allowed in. We did get together with another cousin and his wife for a two hour visit over supper before leaving for home.

I was inspired by the things we heard at the workshop — those things then linked to other thoughts that had been floating around somewhere in the back of my mind — and I have decided to share some of those thoughts in a few short posts over the next few days.

The first speaker was the librarian from Briercrest College who told us that college aged students are looking for authenticity in Christian fiction. They connect with realistic characters who struggle to live out their Christian values in the face of true to life temptations and pressures. The plot needs to be compelling, a reflection of real life. This does not mean that evil should be glamourized or made overly explicit, but it needs to reflect what young people are facing in their own lives.

Non-Christian characters need to be believable, not caricatures. They also struggle with temptations and with longings to do what is right. Their problem is that too often they make the wrong choices.

Characters need to have a real past and an unknown future. This does not mean that the writers need to tell the past of their characters, but they need to develop in their own mind a clear picture of how the character came to be who she is and where she is. This will lead to making this character act in a way that is consistent throughout the book, rather than appearing to be someone with a multiple personality disorder.

Christian fiction should honour God and gently point people to God, but it should not be preachy. There should be some mystery and ambivalence left at the end, to allow the reader to think through the issues that have been raised. Think about that for a moment. Jesus explained some of His parables but in most of them He made one main point and left us with many questions. Consider the discussions that we get into about the prodigal son and his jealous brother. Jesus didn’t resolve that question for us.

Another point made by this speaker is that young people today are longing to feel part of something bigger than themselves. Tradition appeals to them. I wondered if there might be a conflict between this thought and the  musical portion of the workshop. Do young people today find what they long for in the seeker-friendly contemporary worship music that is featured in many churches?

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