The oldest was not always the most obedient child Grandma had ever known, but Katie managed to assuage her mother by dragging her gentle father into the fray to defend her. Jake learned at an early age to survey the terrain and watch for opportunities to side with his maverick sister. Bertha was the quiet type who stayed out of harm’s way.
Life on the farm in the 20’s could be boring. The same routine permeated every day of the week as far as the required chores were concerned. Katie and Bertha soon dropped out of school because they did not like the new language they were supposed to use, leaving Jake to find his own way around alone. The only break in this mundane scene was the Sunday service held in a country church up the road.
The Epps were members of the Mennonite Brethern Church which was made up of the more conservative Russian Mennonite settlers that immigrated into Manitoba from the Ukraine after the first World War. The Brethern distinguished themselves by requiring that all members be baptized by immersion as adults. Allegiance to this congregation was consummated by Katie but not by Bertha or Jake.
The full extent of the social life of the country Mennonites centered around the church. The women went to sewing circles and the men gathered to build and maintain the church and cemetery property. The little children attended Sunday school and the youth sang in the choir. About once a month the youth presented a music program on a winter Sunday afternoon where string instruments such as guitar, mandolin and violins were played. At summer weddings the young people gathered on a smooth pasture and played games where couples were allowed to hold hands.
Katie relished the more boisterous activities of youth wanting to attract attention by dancing with the boys. Of course this was forbidden. The children’s games played by youth and adults at wedding get-togethers had to suffice. Bertha on the other hand was too shy to exhibit her natural beauty. She preferred to sit and listen to the beautiful music played by guitar and violin. She longed to learn to play an instrument herself but there was no one to teach her or encourage her to play at home. The Epp family had no musical instruments in the house. Jake was not socially part of the church group. No one knew what his likes and dislikes were.
Mennonites are a non-resistant people on principle and by religion. Canada granted Mennonite boys the option to declare themselves as conscientious objectors (CO’s) if they so chose. This declaration needed to be made before a judge and most cases were granted as requested. During WW II, CO’s worked on government projects as designated by government authorities.
Katie soon had a boyfriend (later to become Uncle George) who loved to regale my grandfather with stories of practical jokes he had played on his friends. Bertha was charmed by a young student, Gerhard, on his way to becoming a teacher. Jake was left to his own devises and found ways to chum with friends in the Manitou school he was attending. The social life of their son at school probably wasn’t discussed at the family table. The Epps rarely went to town and never visited with anyone who wasn’t their relative or a Mennonite country neighbour. They probably would not have known about any of the more exciting social possibilities existing even in a small town like Manitou in the late 20’s and early 30’s. Jake probably did.
The horse and buggy was finally getting a little out of date, even for grandpa and grandma Epp. Although they felt no religious barrier towards modernizing slowly step by step, buying a car did seem like a huge demand on their placid rural existence.