My grandfather loved to listen to the Amos and Andy show on his Philco radio. He would lie on the couch and laugh and laugh until his mother-in-law Marie who thought listening to the radio was far too worldly, would shake her head and say to her daughter Annie, “My goodness. What is Pete laughing about now?”
My maternal grandfather Peter Martin Schmidt was a talented whistler. My mother told me he could whistle any tune they’d name. Grandpa was a farmer in Drake Saskatchewan and when he was working out in the field he was always whistling or singing. He was partial to Negro spirituals and when he drove his Whippet and later his Ford V8 touring car he’d either be belting out a spiritual or a tune like Way Down Upon the Swanee River, Down By the Old Mill Stream or Let Me Call You Sweetheart.
Grandpa was a good driver and was especially proud of the state of the roads in his area. Besides being a farmer he also worked part-time as the road grader in their municipality. My Mom said his hands eventually became quite misshapen from handling that powerful grader but he wouldn’t let anyone else drive it, because he knew he did the best job of grading the roads.
In winter Grandpa put his car up on blocks and used their horses Gypsy and Prince to pull their sleigh. When Grandpa was sixteen his family moved to Saskatchewan from Kansas. They made the journey by train and Grandpa had to ride in the cattle car with Gypsy and Prince’s parents to take care of them.
Grandpa’s parents Peter Schmidt (1855-1923) and Maria H. Harms (1858-1924) were both born in Deutsch Michalin Prussia and immigrated to the United States with their families in the 1870s settling near Newton Kansas where my Grandpa was born on December 8, 1890. He was the eighth of ten children. His family immigrated to Canada in 1907 and settled first I believe in the Lockwood area.
Grandpa met my grandmother at the North Star Mennonite Church in Drake where both of their families attended services. My grandmother Annie Jantz was born in 1892 and had immigrated to Canada with her family from Hillsboro Kansas when she was fourteen. Grandma was musical too and she and Grandpa often sang duets together. They performed at many weddings and funerals and when my mother was around thirteen she became their accompanist.
Grandpa had saved a nice nest egg before his wedding in 1917 and he took his Annie on a honeymoon for several months before they settled down. They traveled by train all the way to Vancouver and then down the American west coast visiting relatives in California before going on to Kansas to visit more family members and take a winter course at Bethel College in Newton Kansas.
By the time my mother, their third child, was born in 1925 Grandpa had built a brand new house with the help of a local carpenter. He ordered the blueprints and all the materials to build it from the Grain Growers Association.
My grandfather bragged their house would have the best of everything. It was one of the few homes in Drake with an indoor bathroom. It featured hot-air registers, an ivy-covered front porch, a parlour, four bedrooms with deep walk-in closets, wooden bannisters, a dumb-waiter, a large dining room and even a stained glass window. Grandpa was generous about sharing his home. His widowed mother-in-law lived with them as well as his brother who had epilepsy and was nearly blind and they took in a displaced man from Poland after World War II.
According to my mother, my grandfather was very outgoing and popular. He had lots of friends. Mom remembers going to Saskatoon to shop. Her Dad would wait on a bench outside the various stores and when she and her mother would come out of the store her Dad would be having a friendly conversation with whoever had happened to sit down beside him.
Grandpa always wore suspenders. He had grey striped overalls for working on the farm but liked to spiff up for Sunday in a nice suit and tie. Grandpa had subscriptions to two different farming magazines and read them cover to cover. He was a member of the Wheat Pool Board and the Sunday School Superintendent at his church. He also served on the Mennonite Central Committee Board and on the board of Rosthern Junior College, the private Mennonite high school my mother attended and where later she was a teacher.
My mother said her siblings often thought she was their Dad’s favourite. She liked following him around outside and he taught her to mow the lawn, stook wheat, milk cows and change the tires on their car. Grandpa instilled in his four children an appreciation for hard work but he also wanted them to have fun. He made a swing for his children attaching it to a big tree on the yard and it provided them with many hours of pleasure. Sunday afternoons Grandpa’s sister Katie Ewert and her husband Ed who lived just down the road would come over with their family. They had a great many children and so there were plenty of people for scrub baseball, and games like Pom Pom Pull Away and Hide n’ Seek.
My Mom always had to sit beside Grandpa in church because she was quite mischievous and he would give her his pocket watch to play with. When you opened it there was a picture of my grandmother inside. I remember playing with that pocket watch too when I was a little girl.
My Mom remembered her Dad reading from the Bible and praying at breakfast every morning. Other than that her parents rarely talked about their faith. “It was important to them,” my mother said, “but they lived it so they didn’t need to talk about it.”
My grandfather died in 1961 when I was just seven years old. He was in Calgary that summer at a church conference and was hit by a car as he crossed a street. He died in the hospital the next day. My grandparents often came to visit us in Winnipeg and they had been there shortly before Grandpa died. My mother tells me that on that visit my grandfather taught me how to ride the bicycle I had received as a Christmas gift.
Through my mother’s stories about her father, I have come to appreciate Grandpa’s legacy of love, faith and service to others. My Grandpa enjoyed life and took pleasure in music, his work, his home, family times, fun and travel. I wish I’d had a chance to spend more time with him. Happy Father’s Day Grandpa!
Other posts about Grandpa……..