Category Archives: Family

That Troublesome Capital “L”

When McNally Robinson Booksellers first listed my novel Lost on the Prairie on their website they spelled my name with a lower case l. Marylou. I told the store’s author liaison John Toews that my name was spelled with an upper case L right beside the ‘y.’ MaryLou. He apologized and said their computer program didn’t allow them to change it but assured me people would find my book on their website even if they spelled my name in a different way. Indigo also spells my name with a lower case L and Amazon did originally but they have corrected it.

Visiting a temple in Hong Kong with our sons

This problem with my name has happened before. When we moved to Hong Kong and I needed to get a personal identity card I caused a great deal of frustration for the bureaucrat trying to spell my name correctly. His computer program would not allow for that capital L without a space being left between the y and L. It frustrated the poor man nearly to tears but he refused to give up and finally after about an hour or so he figured out a way to do it.

Many people spell my name incorrectly all the time. Even people in my family routinely spell it with a lower case ‘l’. Friends and acquaintances get it wrong much more often than they get it right.

I am not sure where my Mom got the idea to spell my name the way it is. I know the Mary part of my name comes from my Aunt Mary who was a nurse and stayed with my Mom in the delivery room when I was born. I know Irene is for a woman who was my Mom’s friend when they worked at the Brandon Mental Hospital together as volunteers. I am not sure about the Lou part or why Mom figured she needed to put a capital on it.

When I was a kid my siblings just called me Lou and my family nickname was Loolie Poolie.

I’ve become accustomed to people not being able to spell my name correctly and so when asked for it I just automatically say, “MaryLou with a capital ‘L’ right beside the ‘y.’

The most common reaction however to people hearing my name for the first time isn’t to ask how to spell it but for them to burst into that song “Well Hello MaryLou” recorded by both Gene Pitney and Ricky Nelson in the early 60s. Someone did that just this week.

I am sure almost everyone has certain issues with their name and its spelling. Do you?

Other posts……….

Mennonite Names At the Movies

Gift From God

I Held You Before Your Mother Did

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Ford Family of Fine Music

A 1969 Mercury Marquis

In the late 1960s and early 70s, my father purchased a series of Mercury Marquis cars. He liked the car and buying successive ones perhaps saved him the headache and time of looking for a new type of vehicle. Dad’s inclination to purchase that brand of a car may have also had something to do with the fact that a man who owned a Ford Dealership was a member of our church.

We took a burgundy Mercury Marquis to Montreal in 1967 when our family visited Expo 67. Ford introduced the Marquis model in 1967.

What I remember best about our Mercury Marquis cars is that they came with an 8 track tape player and when you bought your vehicle, Ford included a complimentary tape with a music list of popular hits. These tapes were always titled The Ford Family of Fine Music. We played them so often that I can distinctly remember many of the songs on them.

I know one of our cars came with a tape that included Would You Like to Fly in My Beautiful Balloon, the title song from the movie Born Free, and a song called I Will Wait For You which was from the movie Zorba the Greek. I would still be able to hum all the melodies for you. We played that tape SO often!

I did a little internet research and found out those songs were featured on the 1969 Ford Family of Fine Music 8 tracks.

8 track tapes had a rather short life. The 8 track tape player was first featured in Ford company cars in 1965 but by the mid-70s they were being replaced by cassette players. The most recent Ford Family of Fine Music 8 track I could find online was the one produced in 1974.

I’d be curious to know if anyone else remembers the Ford Family of Fine Music 8 tracks and what tunes they can recall from them.

I am researching a new novel I’m calling 60s Girl and it’s fun to be digging back to that era and thinking about some of the things associated with it.

Other posts……..

Luxury Car- A Family Story

The House on Beaverbrook Street

German POWs in Manitoba

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Rooftop Release

Getting ready to move to the music. Watch the video here.

Last night at 5:45 Dave and I were doing our best to look cool and find our groove on the rooftop of our condo building. What were we up to? Well, yesterday our favorite Winnipeg band Royal Canoe released their newest album Sidelining. Since our son is a member of the band we have attended the debut of other Royal Canoe albums and we always have a great time watching them perform their newest music.

Our family posing outside the Burton Cummings Theatre before the release of Royal Canoe’s album Something Got Caught Between Here and the Orbit in 2016

Of course, the pandemic meant there would be no big release event. So the band came up with a neat alternative. They asked their fans to blast Surrender, a single from their new album from their porch or balcony or front step at exactly 5:45 yesterday. We did exactly that. We had a few technical difficulties but managed to record two videos of us moving to the beat of Surrender.

Watch my solo Surrender moves here.

There is lots of great music on this latest Royal Canoe album. I have already listened to it a couple of times. Royal Canoe is always trying new things and I think that’s one of the reasons they have so many fans. In fact, Royal Canoe enthusiasts from four continents signed up for last night’s event.

You can read an interview our son did with reporter Jordan Ross about the new album here.

You can also read all about their new album in this article in The Winnipeg Free Press.

The band is hoping things will open up soon so they can start performing their music in person for their fans but for now, you can download their album from one of the major music providers or watch the videos for the album which were released prior to its debut.

Sidelining Trailer

Butterfalls

Scratching Static

Photo from the Royal Canoe Twitter account

The pandemic has been challenging for musicians and we are so proud of the way our son and the other members of Royal Canoe have stayed creative and productive through some pretty tough times.

Other posts………

Recognition for My Favourite Winnipeg Band

WAVER- A New Album From Royal Canoe

So Cool

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Filed under Family, Music

Graduation- A Family Story

My paternal grandfather’s opportunity to attend high school was stolen by the Russian Revolution. The plan was for him to follow his older brothers to the high school in Nikolaipol, the one nearest the Mennonite village of Gnadenthal where he grew up. In the photo above I am standing in front of the Nikolaipol high school on my visit to Ukraine. My grandfather never got to be a student there.

Instead of getting a high school diploma Grandpa was forced into military service where he spent time in prison for refusing to do weapons training since he was a conscientious objector. Eventually, he ended up in a bakery making bread for soldiers. Losing his chance for higher education made Grandpa very determined his children and grandchildren would have a different outcome.

This building now a private residence was the schoolhouse my grandmother attended in Gnadenthal

My grandmother had loved school too and was very sad when she graduated from the elementary school in Gnadenthal, Ukraine and couldn’t go further with her education because she was a girl. She wanted things to be different for her daughters.

Thanks to the financial priorities of my grandparents’ their six children all graduated from a private Mennonite high school and then went on to university or college earning degrees in education, fine arts, medicine and nursing. Their seventeen grandchildren all went to university too achieving degrees in many different fields.

My Mom at her college graduation.

I grew up in a family where education was valued and was seen as a privilege and a responsibility. So graduations were important.

My parents at the high school graduation of their granddaughter

When my Mom was really ill in the last years of her life she said one of her goals was to be alive for all the high school graduations of her grandchildren. And she was!

I was lucky indeed to have parents who valued education and paid for my university tuition which afforded me the opportunity of becoming a teacher.

During the early years of our marriage, I worked as a teacher to support my husband Dave as he completed his university degree.

Celebrating our older son’s university graduation.
Our younger son at his university graduation.

We were pleased that our sons chose to spend time furthering their education after high school. We observed the way their years at university expanded their worldview, helped foster a concern for important issues, garnered them a wide circle of friends and served to train them for their future careers.

Celebrating the graduation of twin sisters who were my students

Since I ended my career as a teacher in a high school I had the privilege of participating in the graduation festivities of many of my students.

As I have been going on my bike rides around the city I have been seeing these graduation signs on lawns, a way to recognize graduates in a year when other kinds of celebrations aren’t possible. Earlier this week I was in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden at Assiniboine Park and saw so many graduates in their gowns doing photo shoots with their families. On social media, I have been observing the unique and interesting ways high schools and families have found to celebrate graduations even though indoor ceremonies aren’t possible.

Even in a pandemic graduations are important because they are one way we show that our society values education and we recognize the benefits it affords not only to students but to the social, cultural and economic fabric of our country and the world. My grandparents knew the value of education already a century ago and their family has been blessed by that.

Dave and I ready to attend the high school graduation ceremony at the school where we taught in Hong Kong.

Other posts……….

Graduation Photo- Dad’s Treasures

Look What He’s Doing Now

A Prayer For the New Year

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Father

I decided to put the word ‘father’ in the search box in my photo library and see what images would appear. Here are some of the results.

My husband Dave taking his father for a walk during a visit to Leamington Ontario in 2014. Dad died in 2016.
I am going out to feed the pigs with my paternal grandfather Diedrich Peters in 1956 on his farm in Gnadenthal, Manitoba.
On the farm with my maternal grandfather Peter Schmidt in 1955 in Drake Saskatchewan
My father in 2014, wearing his signature apron after carving the Thanksgiving turkey at a family gathering at our house, enjoying a laugh with his grandson’s wife.
My father-in-law with our son on his first birthday
My Dad with two of his grandsons over thirty years ago.
Dad and me celebrating our fall birthdays at my brother’s house just a few years ago

My husband Dave with our older son Joel in 1979.

My Dad reads to my sister and me. We are holding the dolls we got for Christmas.
Dave with our older son at his university graduation
My husband Dave and our younger son performing at our older son’s wedding reception

Happy Father’s Day everyone!

Other posts……….

Brothers

Sisters

Thanks Dad

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Anchors in Ukraine

When we visited Ukraine our guide Victor Penner helped me find the gravestone of my great-greatgrandfather Daniel Paul Peters in a Mennonite cemetery in Nikolaipol.

In this photo, you can see Daniel (1844-1905) with his wife Agenetha Friesen (1848-1919) and three of their thirteen children. The boy to his father’s right is my great grandfather Paul Daniel Peters.

My great-great grandfather’s tombstone says he rests in God and was born August 31, 1844, and died on September 17, 1905. Then at the top of the tombstone is an anchor, something I saw on many Mennonite gravestones in Ukraine.

The anchor earrings I bought in Ukraine

I always buy a pair of earrings or a necklace as a souvenir when I travel, and to remember my trip to Ukraine, I chose a pair of anchor earrings because they reminded me of the anchor on my great-great grandfather’s gravestone.

Photo of the Mennonite Memorial in Zaporizhzhia from the Facebook page of Werner Toews

I wasn’t sure however why the anchor symbol was chosen but I found out yesterday when John Longhurst wrote an article in the Winnipeg Free Press about a Mennonite memorial that has just been built in Zaporizhzhia Ukraine.

Photo from the Mennonite Heritage of Khortytsia Facebook page

The new memorial contains fifteen Mennonite gravestones and many of them also have an anchor on them.

Photo from the Mennonite Heritage of Khortytsia Facebook page

And right in the very centre of the memorial is a large anchor. Werner Toews, who spearheaded the memorial project, suggests in the Winnipeg Free Press article that the anchor on gravestones symbolizes the idea that your life has been anchored in your religious faith.

So now I know why there was an anchor on my great great grandfather’s tombstone and what it meant.

Other posts………

He Brought The Past to Life

The Disappeared

A Mennonite on the Titanic

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Queen Victoria Made Them Popular

My grandmother Annie Schmidt’s birthday book

Today is Queen Victoria’s birthday. The British monarch was responsible for creating some interesting social trends. It was because of her, for example, that birthday books became popular. Birthday books had spaces for each day of the year and you recorded the birthdays of friends and family members in the appropriate spots.

Birthday books were first created in 1866 by a Bristol publisher named W. Mack but they really only grew to be widely popular items when it became known that Queen Victoria checked her birthday book every morning. Initially, the books were published with Scripture passages assigned to each day of the year. Later poetry was featured either by a variety of authors or a single author like Shakespeare or Rossetti.

Years ago while helping my Aunt Viola Schmidt move I found two birthday books that had belonged to my grandmother Annie Jantz Schmidt and her sister Matilda Jantz.

My grandmother’s birthday book is called The Birthday Book of Beauty and for each day of the year, there is a quote from a famous poet about beauty. Grandma received this birthday book in 1911 when she was 19.  She kept it up to date for many decades.

My Mom’s birthday July 11 features a poem by Longfellow about the rain

Grandma married Peter Schmidt in 1917. The names of her children born in the 1920s  are all in the birthday book. My Mom shared her birthdate with her cousin Verna so both their names are recorded for July 11 although Verna was born in 1913 and Mom in 1925.

Grandma also entered the names of her grandchildren born in the 1950s and 1960s. My name is recorded on my birthdate October 16th. The poem by Keats for my birthday talks about the simple loveliness of English girls.

My brother Mark born ten years later on March 5th was assigned a more well-known verse from Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Grandma has recorded two names here for September 4, her sister Matilda Jantz who was born in 1885 and her niece Edna Ewart who was born in 1911 the year Grandma received her birthday book and sadly also the year her sister Matilda died.

My grandmother’s sister’s birthday book

After my grandmother’s older sister Matilda died her book came into my Grandma Annie’s keeping. Matilda’s book was much older than my grandmother’s although it is not dated.

Matilda my Grandma’s oldest sister records the birth date of their middle sister Marie on February 12th, 1889 in her birthday book.

Matilda’s birthday book is in Gothic German script and features Bible verses rather than poetry.

My Grandmother Annie and my Great Aunt Matilda’s birthday books are real family treasures. I am so grateful to my Aunt Viola for keeping them all these years.

It’s fitting that on Queen Victoria’s birthday my post pays tribute to a birthday tradition she helped to establish.

Other posts……..

All Those Doilies

My Grandmother’s Shoes

My Grandparents Were Readers

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My Father-In-Law Was Born in A School For the Deaf

school for the deaf tiege ukraine

My husband Dave stands on the porch of his father Cornelius Driedger’s birthplace in Tiege Ukraine.

school for the deaf and dumb mennonites tiege ukraine

cultural centre tiege

The sign by the front door says the building was a cultural centre for the people of Tiege, but when Dave’s grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger lived there at the time of his father Cornelius’ birth in 1921, it was an abandoned School for the Deaf and Mute which had been operated by the Mennonites.

Opa Driedger AbramOma Driedger Margaretha Friesen

Dave’s Oma and Opa Abram and Margaretha Driedger had been living on a farm in Schoenfeld but were forced to abandon it in 1920 because of the danger from roving bands of criminal outlaws led by a man named Nestor Makhno. 

Abram had already escaped the bandits’ bullets twice and so when a farmer in Tiege offered him a job he and Margaretha decided to move there.   Along with a number of other families they lived in the Mennonite School for the Deaf. With its kitchen and dormitories it was a suitable place for homeless Mennonites to find refugee and shelter. 

margaretha and abram driedger

It was while Abram and Margaretha were living at the School for the Deaf that Dave’s Dad Cornelius was born in February of 1921. Sadly it is also where Oma and Opa’s first little daughter Kaethe died of pneumonia.

school for the deaf tiege ukraine

Marien School for the Deaf, Tiege, Molotschna. Source: Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College, North Newton, KS

The Mennonite community had a well-developed infrastructure in Ukraine to care for vulnerable people in their colonies. There were orphanages, institutions for the mentally and physically handicapped, elderly homes and hospitals. The Russian Revolution forced the closure of most of these facilities because the ruble was devalued by the new Soviet government. The money that had been deposited in the bank to maintain Mennonite institutions like the School for the Deaf became worthless.

Mennonite School for the Deaf

The school where Dave’s Dad was born was actually called the Mareintaubstummenschule. It was named after the Tsar of Russia’s mother Maria, a former Danish princess. ‘Taub’- means ‘deaf’ in German ‘Stummen’ means ‘mute’ and ‘Schule’ is ‘school.’

school for the deaf ukraine

In an article in the Mennonite Historian published in September of 1982, Jacob Driedger writes about visiting the village of Tiege in 1917. He says,
“There was a stately two-storey building, a school for the deaf and dumb. It was a large complex with a number of auxiliary buildings. The students here not only learned to talk but were also taught a trade. The school drew its students from a wide range of communities. “

school for the deaf
In an article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia I learned that the Marientaubstummenschule, was granted a patent on December 21, 1881 by Alexander II during the 25th year of his reign. 

The school did not actually get started until 1885, and did not have its own building until 1890. Before that classes were conducted in a house in Blumenort owned by Gerhard Klassen, a great friend and supporter of the school.

students at the Mennonite School for the Deaf Tiege

Students at the Mennonite School for the Deaf in Tiege – Photo Source Mennonitische Geschichte und Ahnenforschung

A Protestant Armenian, A. G. Ambartsumov, trained in Switzerland, was largely responsible for the idea of the school and was the first teacher 1885-1891. The school was established by the Halbstadt district civil government and later joined by the Gnadenfeld district.  The institution received moral support from the churches and the board of directors included a pastor or church elder. 

children at school for the deaf ukraine

Children in the playroom at the Mennonite School for the Deaf- Photo Source Mennonitische Geschichte und Ahnenforschung

The school in its full development had a nine-year course equal to the regular elementary school curriculum with five teachers and 40 pupils. It was supported by freewill offerings coming from all Mennonite groups in Russia, and had a small endowment fund.  The school was a great success. P. M. Friesen said of it, “This first charitable institution of the Mennonites of Russia is a precious jewel and deserves all love and zealous support.”

In a blog post Rudy Baerg who worked for a number of years at The Mennonite Centre in Ukraine says, “In its time the School for the Deaf and Mute in Tiege was a state-of-the-art institution and had the reputation of being the best school for the deaf in all of Russia. Teachers were trained in places as far away as St. Petersburg and Frankfurt.”

dave and victor orloff

Much of the evidence that Mennonites once made their home in Ukraine is disappearing. There are still some buildings left however, and one is the former School for the Deaf in Tiege which just happened to be my father-in-law’s birthplace. I am so glad we were able to visit it and see it for ourselves.

He Would Have Been 100

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Filed under Family, History, Ukraine

Aren’t They Holdable?

Dad watching some birds in the garden of his personal care home this week

One of the things my Dad and I do when I spend time with him these days is look at a book of family photos I’ve compiled. Dad has dementia and although he still knows me and my sister because one of us is allowed to see him every day he often struggles to recall the names of all the other people in his family, partly because he has not been able to visit with most of them for almost a year.

He particularly enjoys looking at the last page in his family photo book because it is the one with the faces of his great grandchildren. I have photos of seven of them in his book and after I tell him each of their names I point to the photos on his wall of the two great grandchildren he has never met because they were born during the pandemic. Of course he has not seen his other great grandchildren in a very long time either, some not for a year and half or more.

Dad’s dementia means that although I explain over and over about the pandemic and what it is and why it prevents our family from getting together he doesn’t really understand and each time I visit he will ask me again. His dementia also means that he sometimes struggles to find the right words and will invent words of his own often very creatively.

Last week after we had gone through all the photos of his great grandchildren once again he looked at me with tears in his eyes and asked, “Are these children not holdable?” Then he stretched out his arms to show that they were ready to hold a child.

Dad holding one of his great granddaughters before the pandemic

I know Dad meant that he wants to hold his great grandchildren and doesn’t understand why he can’t. I explained again about the pandemic and how I hoped it wouldn’t be too much longer before his great grandchildren could visit him.

The pandemic has changed the lives of so many people but has perhaps been the most cruel to those who are nearing the end of their time here on earth. That we have been forced to deny them the simple comfort of a ‘holdable’ child is incredibly sad.

Other posts……….

Tears In A Bottle

My Globe Trotting Parents

Down on the Farm

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Filed under COVID-19 Diary, Family

My Mennonite Grandmother’s Chicken Noodle Soup

My grandmother

My grandmother Margareta Sawatsky Peters made wonderful chicken noodle soup. It was the stuff of legends. My father has told me stories about how Grandma would make chicken noodle soup for people in their Mennonite village of Gnadenthal who were sick or had experienced some family tragedy. If it was winter Dad would deliver the soup for his mother using a little sled pulled by his dog Rover.

My grandmother’s five daughters pose in the kind of outfit their mother would have worn when cooking chicken noodle soup

How did my Grandma make her famous chicken noodle soup? About five years ago I decided I wanted to get a more definitive answer to that question. Since Grandma had already passed away I e-mailed her five daughters for information and they responded enthusiastically.

To make her chicken noodle soup Grandma only used hens well past the egg laying stage. Their heads were chopped off on a chopping block. Next the feathers were plucked after which the hairs on the chicken were singed in an alcohol flame. It was a matter of some skill to divest the chicken of its innards. Entrails were fed to the barn cats as a treat. The chicken was cooked in a large pot of boiling water along with peppercorns, star anise, a cinnamon stick, bay leaves and large bunches of parsley tied together with thread.

Grandma made her own noodles drying them on a laundry rack and saving the water in which she boiled them to starch my Grandpa’s shirts. She got flour for her noodles by bringing wheat from their farm to the mill for grinding. The eggs for the noodles came from her chickens and the milk and butter from the family cows. Sometimes Grandma would devote an entire day to making noodles so she would have a ready supply for many months.

According to my aunts my Grandma did not have a written recipe for her soup. She kept sampling it while it was cooking and adding things until it tasted right. The women of the village of Gnadenthal all made chicken noodle soup for new mothers. After a baby was born a family received many jars of soup. In this way the women of the village showed solidarity and support to the new mother so she didn’t have to cook too much while she was regaining her strength.

One of my aunts remembers routinely having a bowl of chicken noodle soup as a ‘night cap’ with her father after evening church services. Another aunt recalls my grandmother telling her stories while she stirred her chicken noodle soup.

Giving noodles as a gift was also a holiday tradition. Till she moved to a nursing home my grandmother continued to regularly receive noodles as a gift from a niece she helped to raise after her mother died in childbirth, and from a cousin she and my grandfather sponsored to come to Canada after World War II.

Grandma with her great grandson

Grandma brought me a jar of her chicken noodle soup when she came to meet my older son just after he was born. He was her first great grandchild.

Grandma’s chicken noodle soup was a favourite of my younger son’s and once when he was about five and we were making the 90 minute drive to Grandma’s home for a visit he wrote and illustrated a story about how his great grandmother made her special soup. In his story he gave the soup certain magical qualities.

I think there is a lot of truth to the idea that her soup may have been magical.

Other posts……..

Grandma Gets a Perm

Family Tragedy- Thawing the Ground for Burial

A Mennonite on the Titanic

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Filed under Family, Food