Whoa Whoa Whoa

Katie and George had made a down payment on a rooming house in Winnipeg. Katie had said they could stay with them and rent a few rooms upstairs. Rent a few rooms from them? On the third floor? How would they pay for the rent? Did they expect him to find a job? He had no English skills. What kind of job could he do in the big city?

The Chandler quietly rested nudged up against a tree. Winter came.

Jake was a frequent visitor at Katie’s house. She always had a room to spare and cash to lend when he was short. She never criticized his life style. Rather she glowed in the company of the young men Jake would bring along after a movie or before the dance at the Arthur Murray Grand Ballroom. Of course Grandpa and Grandma wouldn’t have approved but who would tell?

In the company of friends Jake would bring three Schellenberg brothers along and a couple of other young men from southern Manitoba. These guys kept in touch by circulating a humorous newsletter wherein each recipient would add something before passing it on to the next party in the chain. Ethnic philosophies mixed with daily occurrences provided a common theme whereby these young boys fresh away from home could look back at the past or speculate about the future without being criticized or maligned by their parents.

One such topic was, not surprisingly, the fact that England and hence Canada had declared war on Germany. Actually this fact could be interpreted more as a declaration of war against Hitler than a war with Germany. This seemed a logical way around the dilemma experienced by Russian Mennonites considering their genealogical history in Germany. In fact most Russian Mennonites still spoke German and the churches they grew up in held all their services in German. How would the declaration of war affect these young men?

But these were the carefree days. George, Gerhard and Jake enjoyed their friendship to the fullest. Manitou, Morden and Winnipeg. It didn’t matter. Gather up some wives if you’re married or friendly girls if you’re not and let’s have a party. And when George had to work and Gerhard went teaching up north, Jake and the Schellenbergs continued to paint the town red.

Then came conscription. All able bodied men between the ages of 18 and 25 were to report to their local post office and file a declaration of address. A registration card would be issued which each man was required to carry on his person. Subsequently each man was urged to enlist as soon as possible. But failing that they would receive a summons to appear before a judge to present their case.

It was known that the CO option could be selected by boys of Mennonite origin. Each would have to plead his case before the judge. If the judge agreed, a “non-resistant” job posting would be assigned. The CO would serve on work projects for $25 per month. The term was indefinite.

There was another possibility. If a farmer had only one son this young man could stay on the farm and produce farm products for the war effort. Also the oldest boy in a farmer family could plead this option and stay on the farm. On top of that ,teachers were given more time to stay in their occupation depending on how badly the country needed their military contribution.

Grandpa and Grandma were not worried. Their son Jake would be spared. He was an exceptionally intelligent man. He would work it out. Perhaps they would even have him home again and he would take over the farm, at least until Grandpa was ready to give it up.

Fall passed and winter was upon the land.

And then a letter arrived.

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author
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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