Darlene Foster's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘memories

I was sad to hear of the recent devasting prairies fires near Hilda where I was raised in southern Alberta. Many farms and ranches were affected as wildfires, spurred by high winds, raced through acres of land destroying property, machines, stored grain, feed and livestock. In efforts to contain the fires, volunteer firefighters worked tirelessly. One young volunteer, a father of three, lost his life when the water tank truck he was driving overturned. I learned he was the son of a former schoolmate of mine. My heart goes out to his wife and children. Fires are so awful.

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A photo I used as a prompt for my writing workshop in Vancouver.

Our family was not spared, although not to such a great degree.  The house my great-grandfather, Henry Hoffman, built in 1915 soon after immigrating to Canada was destroyed when the fires swept through the homestead. Although the house stood vacant for years it contained many memories. My own mom, Henry and Katherina’s granddaughter, was born in this house almost 89 years ago. By the time I was born, my great-grandparents had retired to the city and it was their son, my great uncle John, who lived in the house with his wife and family. Since we lived nearby and they were our favourite relatives, I spent many happy times sharing meals and playing with my second cousins at this place.

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A recent picture of the Hoffman house taken by Debbie Hoffman Nagel, granddaughter of Henry and Katherina Hoffman.

Over the years, whenever in the area, we would visit the homestead and reminisce. I particularly loved the old barn, built from rocks and clay by my great-grandfather, as it had so much character. Sad to say it was also destroyed by the recent wildfire.

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The barn built by Great Grandpa Hoffman

This was not the first time fire has visited this farm. Back in 1910 when they first arrived at their homestead, a wooden shack was built for Henry and Katherina, their four small children and Henry’s parents to live in. While they were all out digging a well one day, a suspicious fire consumed their shack. Not to be deterred, they replaced it with two sod shacks until the large two-story wooden building was built to accommodate the growing family. Nine additional children were born in this house. Sadly, as often happened in those days, only five survived infancy. The nine surviving children produced hundreds of descendants who remember this farm with fondness.

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What was left after the prairie fire, October 2017

The buildings are gone, but the memories will live forever through pictures and stories from the many descendants of these enterprising people.

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A picture taken in 1927 of  Great Grandpa Henry Hoffman standing outside the house and barn he built.

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Henry and Katherina with their children and some of their grandchildren, taken in 1942.

Note: The pictures are a collection of mine and my cousin’s.

 

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This week we said goodbye to a much-loved member of our family. Paul Frank Mehrer, my grandfather’s youngest brother, passed away at aged eighty-seven. The same age as my mother, they were always very close and lived in the same care home the past two years. It was always a pleasure to stop in for a visit and listen to his wonderful stories whenever I was in town to see mom.

 

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Mom and her uncle during my visit last summer

Uncle Paul was born on his parent’s farm on March 1, 1929, the youngest of twelve children. He spent most of his life on the homestead, farming it with his older brother Andrew when their parents retired to the city and continuing after they passed away. The place, near Hilda, on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, was close to the farm my family lived on when I was a child. I recall the days of the threshing crews when my dad would help bring in their crop and the uncles would help dad in return. Mom would make a huge meal for the crew at the end of the hard working day. I can still hear the buzz at supper as stories were shared around the table. Uncle Paul, the shyer of the two uncles, didn´t say much then, but when he did it was interesting. He was always very nice to a little kid like me.

Great-grandparents Andreas and Katerina Mehrer and family

Uncle Paul is the little boy between his parents

He experienced all kinds of disasters his years on the farm; drought, hail, grasshoppers and severe storms. He tells a story of a time when a terrible storm hit, destroying a garage, two sheds, an oil shed and some corrals. He and his brother were afraid the mobile home they lived in would be destroyed as well and kept fully dressed in case they had to exit quickly. His main concern was for the animals and was happy to discover the pony had found refuge behind a combine and the two dogs took shelter behind the propane tank. It took all summer to repair the damage. Like many of his generation, he didn´t venture far from the farm. He did, however, spend a few weeks working on a nearby ranch, where he learned to round up cattle from the hills, ride over washouts and manoeuvre his horse on narrow trails. He also participated in an eight-mile cattle drive which he enjoyed. Uncle Paul loved his horses and rode whenever he had a chance.

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His horses were a very important part of his life.

He was a bachelor until age seventy-five. He retired and moved into St. Joseph’s Retirement Home where he met his love, Bertha. They married in 2004. His only wish was that his parents could have been at the wedding. They enjoyed the years they spent together until Bertha’s passing in 2013. Proof that true love isn´t just for the young. It is never too late to find the right person.

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Uncle Paul and Aunt Bertha, happily married.

Great-Uncle Paul was a kind man, who always had time for his many nieces and nephews. My daughter, his great-great-niece, visited him a couple of months ago and he immediately knew who she was. Everyone loved to spend time with him as he always had such interesting stories to tell about the old days. During my last visit, he regaled me with a story about my dad and how he could tell how many cows were in a field at a glance. Those old cowboy stories are like gold to me.  There are so few of his kind left to share these stories with us.

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Uncle Paul and his sister Aunt Meta at the 100 years in Canada celebration in 2011

Great-Uncle Paul was the last of my maternal grandfather´s brothers. We still have one of his sisters, Great Aunt Meta, at 92. It saddens me to see this generation disappearing but I am also happy to have had these remarkable people in my life. I am sure Uncle Paul is sharing stories with his brothers at this very moment. Rest in peace dear Uncle Paul.


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I have  many wonderful memories of Christmas growing up. It doesn’t surprise me that many of them have to do with my grandma. She had many grandchildren but always made sure I got something special under the tree. She gave me my first stamp album, books I treasured and even my first Elvis Presley album! Christmas dinners at grandma’s place was special.  Her small house brimmed over with aunts, uncles and cousins. The meal would be delicious with special treats we only got at Christmas time. Grandma provided these treasured memories that always return at this time of the year.  I don’t think I ever told her how much they meant to me.

My 4 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren live in another province so I don’t see them as often as I would like. I’ve only spent a few Christmases with them over the years. Every year I enjoy choosing gifts for all of them, carefully wrapping them and packaging them up to send off in the mail. I like picking out a number of small items instead of one big gift for each. I know kids like lots of gifts to open. There is always a book or two for each child of course (and not always mine!) I admit I have always felt it wasn’t quite enough. I felt guilty not being with them and cooking a big meal for them like my grandma used to do.

Then I got this Facebook message from my second granddaughter, herself a mother of a  3 1/2 year old:

We received the box In the mail! Funny, a few days ago I was looking back on Christmas as a kid, and remembering the grandma Darlene boxes that would come in the mail. And how special and magical it felt to have gotten all those packages for us from you!!! Felt like there was a hundred! Haha! Then boom there’s one on my door step for Devin. Law of Attraction at my door. You made that a very rememberable, special memory for us girls. Something traditional. Thank you. Can’t wait to see what special things you found for Devin. xoxoxo love you!

Later I got a message from her older sister, a mother of a 6 year old.

We got the parcel! I always loved getting those parcels. XO

Then I realized that in my crazy, busy, whirlwind life, I was still making Christmas memories as a grandmother too!

Second granddaughter reading to her daughter and niece

Second granddaughter reading to her daughter and niece

Early Christmas with the grandsons 2011

Early Christmas with the grandsons 2011

 

Grandsons, granddaughter and great granddaughter early Christmas 2012

Grandsons, granddaughter and great granddaughter, early Christmas 2012

First great granddaughter happy with her gift

First great granddaughter happy with her gift

 

The best gifts I have ever received are my grandchildren and great grandchildren. Those of you with grandchildren and those of you without, I hope you are making special Christmas memories for the young ones in your life.

Surely, two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be those of being a grandchild or a grandparent. ~Donald A. Norberg

Although it was just my hubby and I on Christmas day this year, we had a pleasant, peaceful, relaxing time. I had an early Christmas with my family in Medicine Hat at the beginning of December. I was there for only a short time but got to see everyone I wanted to see.  It was especially wonderful to attend a Christmas dinner at the retirement centre my mom is living in. My great-aunt Barbara joined us as did my brother  from Calgary.

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I am so blessed to have these two wonderful women in my life. Mom turned 84 on Christmas day and Great-Aunt Barbara turned 94 at the end of October.  Mom was happy that I could make it to her Christmas dinner which included carol singing and door prizes. Aunt Barbara is holding a Tim Horton’s gift card she won.

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 It was also great to see the grandchildren! They were happy with their gifts.

Grandson #1.

Grandson #1.

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Grandson #2

Of course any time I get to spend with my awesome son is always special.  He is responsible for those fabulous grandchildren, the best gift he ever gave me.

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My daughter and I had our Christmas together on Boxing Day in Nanaimo. (see previous post)  I learned that Christmas isn’t just one day of the year. It can be celebrated at anytime, as long as you are with the ones you love.

I hope you all created some great Christmas memories this year as well.


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