The Bench

Mr. Dietrich Neufeld

The reason why this point is a matter of family legend is that after the house was finally finished Anna suggested to Dietrich that he should marry her! The logic was obvious: “Now that we have built this house together we can also live in it together”.

But of course there was also the possibility of capturing a strong-minded man to serve as master of the property. This certainly was a requirement for any successful farm where peasant workers had to be hired and fired and kept under control. Since Dietrich was an unattached bachelor and had never married before, the union was considered clean and suitable.

Mr. Neufeld was pleased with the good luck of “inheriting” a farm including 60 hectares of land, an early-style threshing machine, a stone mill, 2 self-binders,12 horses, 6 cows and 8 pigs, as quoted by Alfred Redekopp in his Muensterberg Hueberts (1992).

But Mr. Neufeld was not liked by the family. He was aloof and arrogant. He had no time or interest for children. He was outspoken about not liking them. Never having had any of his own, he certainly was not inclined to learn to like them now in his senior years. His stepchildren were of no particular concern to him. They were expected to keep quiet when visiting and be thankful for small favours when the situation presented itself.

Christmas was such a situation which presented itself once a year, and where small favours were offered. However, children soon learned that favours from Mr. Neufeld had to be earned. Step-grandchildren had to present themselves properly in front of Mr. Neufeld and recite a Bible verse correctly before a gift was reluctantly provided. Understandably, some children became nervous in preparation for this ceremony and would rather have forgone this trauma than receive the grudgingly-offered Russian coin as a reward.

In contrast, great-grandmother Anna was a warm matriarch who loved to shower her family with gifts to wear and delicious treats to eat. She was a well-known seamstress and many of the gifts she gave at Christmas she made herself. Everyone glowed when she poured on her charm. Even the boys were not embarrassed when she embraced them in her ample bosom while showering them with all the wonderful clothes she had fashioned for them. And her clothes always fit. Her enthusiasm showed no bounds while at the same time Mr. Neufeld sullenly looked on. His coin given as a gift to each child was probably worth more on the street than great grandmother’s gift of homespun socks, gloves, caps, coats and scarves, but it was a cold gift in comparison.

Peter and Anna had seven children: Nicolai (my Grandfather), Peter, Abram, Elizabeth, Anna and Margaretha. Nicolai was Anna’s favourite. As the oldest son he received special attention and soon was assigned responsibilities the other boys did not enjoy. He was granted ownership of his own horses and allowed to buy the best decorative harnesses available. Horses became both his responsibility and his passion. Also, it was his job to look after the family stable of fine livestock. He carried these responsibilities well. Photographs show him with a nose in the air, positioned on a good-looking haughty face.

Anna enjoyed the art and skill of sewing and the attention she received as the top seamstress in the village. Young girls clamoured to be at her side, hoping to learn from her how to sew as well as she did. She had already seen to it that a sewing room studio was added to the dwelling when the new house was being built. This led to the idea that perhaps a formal sewing class should be organized and taught. The amount of compensation Anna expected was moderate, but enough to establish her standing as the best seamstress available in Molotschna. Classes were filled well in advance as the news about the sewing course traveled far and wide. The girls boarded at neighbours’ houses and helped in the kitchen to pay their keep.

MORE pages to follow: click the page numbers below!
Ed Janzen is the editor and publisher of CANADIAN STORIES, a literary folk magazine that publishes short stories and poems from Canadian writers of every province of Canada. Story Quilt is an electronic magazine similar in content. Ed has written four memoirs. He also writes for the old car hobby and has a column in OLD AUTOS - a biweekly newspaper featuring mostly Canadians events and automotive history.
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