Rural villages in Saskatchewan - like Leader - are filled with the graves of Germans from Russia - those who escaped before Stalin destroyed the kulak families.
I did my first writing workshop at the German Russian Cultural Festival. Talking about my journey towards a publishing contract with people who shared my interest in German Russians was empowering. But just to sit at the presentation table with four very talented, experienced authors who shared my passion was the real high for me.
My fellow authors included: Ron Vossler author of We'll Meet Again in Heaven (in my own collection) and many other books about the North Dakota German Russians. He'd just returned from Odessa where he'd been researching for yet another book. He was also the Saturday night speaker and made us all chuckle about our German Russian roots. Sharon Chmielarz (her most recent release is a poetry book, The Rhubarb King, and I'm savouring it slowly) is a most eloquent and deep thinking author who lives in Minnesota. Jacqueline Baker (author of The Horseman's Graves) is young and vibrant and her writing reflects this. I can't wait to read her book. And local historian Bill Wardill author of Sand Castles, is a columnist, cowboy poet and all round understated funny guy.
I listened to a woman called Anna Fischer who shared her story of the Stalin years - of the hunger and of the war. She's a few years younger than my mom. Her story was heartwrenching.
My most intense connection was with a man called Ned Schneider. He left Volhynia (the same area my mom is from) in 1928 as a seven year old boy. I made this man cry when I brought out a piece of red granite from the base of my grandfather's windmill. He remembered helping his father build their windmill with the red granite that was common in the area. My mom and him would have attended the same Neudorf German Baptist church and possibly have hung out at the same farmer's market in Pulin - one of the bigger business centers of the area. His father - like my grandfather - was a windmill owning kulak. His father - unlike my grandfather - immigrated to North America in time to escape the collectivization process.
Here's a photo of Pulin showing a statue from the communist era.
Lots of red granite!
Just to show that I wasn't only all doom and gloom - my biggest compliment came when a woman told me she loved my sense of Prussian humour. Huh? Me, funny? I love the idea that I might actually be funny. :)
In my next post - which will be on Canada Day - meaning I get a day off work - (hurrah!) I'm going to share my recipe for writing about your roots (which I created as a handout for this geneology group) and a I'll also post a recipe for real food.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Who'd have thought that a little farming community in Saskatchewan could be so interesting? Not me. But last weekend I attended the German Russian Cultural Festival in Leader, SK (aka Prussia - really!) and was blown away - not by the famous prairie wind - but by the kindness, the good cheer, and a simply amazing wealth of stories in this small town.
The adventure began even before I arrived. Highway 32. (No, I didn't buy their bumper sticker that said, 'I survived Highway 32' - but I should have.) Check out the website. I felt like I was driving - not in modern day Canada - but in hard time Ukraine. Memories of my 2004 trip over there came flooding back as I manoeuvred around pothole after pothole in the pouring rain.
The rain slowed down as I approached Prelate - the small village 10 kilometers before Leader - where the St. Angela's Convent was offering up its dormitories for guests.
With the stopping of the rain - the amazing prairie sky revealed itself. I could see why the Germans from Russia fell in love with this area. It's simply overwhelming. More expansive than mountains, more accessible than an ocean, the sky scape does something to a mere mortal.
I breathed in the after rain air, while my eyes absorbed the land of the living skies (Saskatchewan's license tag line).
So I'll tell you more about my experiences, next post, once I forced my eyes past that sky.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Linden tree facts
1. The linden tree is also known as a lime tree.
2. Linden trees are valued for their shade, but especially for their blossoms.
3. The blossoms are creamy white, in clusters of five.
4. Linden trees can live up to 700 years.
5. In old days it was thought that merely sitting under a linden tree could cure epilepsy and related conditions.
6. Linden blossoms have a long history as a medicinal tea.
7. In June the blossoms are picked and dried.
8. Linden blossom tea reduces headache.
9. Linden blossom tea helps digestion.
10. Linden blossom tea is calming and soothing.
11. Linden blossom tea helps break a fever by causing one to perspire.
12. Some believe it lowers high blood pressure.
Wow! Who needs a doctor, if you have a linden tree?
When I was in Federofka, one of the villagers gave me a bag of freshly dried linden tree blossoms. In my novel, I have my characters pick linden blossoms and then rely on the tea to survive while in exile in Siberia.
My mother sometimes sang a beautiful song about a linden tree. I've tried to find it, but no luck so far. The words go something like this "Vor den Haus steht eine Linde. Sie weht ihr Aest im Winde. Da sitzen davor ein altes Paar. Sie sitzen als waren sie schon immer da. Sie denken zuruecke, an Jugend und Gluecke. Vorbei, vorbei. Mein Schatz, vorbei."
Translation: "In front of the house, stands a Linden tree. Its limbs sway in the wind. Beneath it sits an old couple. They sit as if they've always been there. They remember the past, they remember youth and happiness. It's over, it's over. My love, it's over."