Sunday, 20 November 2011

This Old House

in the early days
              A piece of Elm River history is now an empty space – the last of the original homes was demolished. ‘This old house was getting shaky’; still, its walls held countless memories for the families who have lived there and who now reside in many other places, or have long moved on to their eternal home.

            With its distinct features, this building was a stark contrast from the newer homes on our colony. The high slanted roof and dormer windows were reminiscent of an architectural style possibly from Europe, the home of our forefathers. 
           Built in 1946 by members of the community, it served as a four-family dwelling till 1964 when it was converted to a two-family home. “When they turned it into a two-family house each family had seven rooms.” one of my aunts recalled. “We were excited to gain so much more space."
This sturdy structure sheltered nine different families spanning more than six decades. In its early years there was no indoor plumbing and was heated with coal stoves. Over time it was renovated and modernized a number of times: hard-wood floors were covered with linoleum; white plasterboard walls gave way to pre-finished paneling. Electric baseboard heaters sent the coal stoves out the door and kitchen cabinets replaced open shelves and white enamel dishpans. It was the modern bathrooms and stainless kitchen sinks that were appreciated most. “Now you’ll have ‘real running water’ instead of running for every drop from the communal kitchen or the rain barrel.”   Uncle Dave quipped while installing the plumbing.

          My grandparents, Jake and Susie Maendel, both now deceased, lived in that house for forty-one years. They were one of the families that moved in when it was brand new. Thus, I have my own set of happy memories which include being curled up reading or playing ‘school’ with the other grandchildren in a long narrow closet where grandma kept books in a small wooden Truggela -- ‘our very own’ treasure chest. The second step of the stairs leading to the Budn, upstairs bedrooms, was another place that fascinated us. This step opened to a secret storage area which always held a variety of old footwear: cowboy boots,  runners, penny-loafers and slippers. But best of all we liked to slip into heel shoes and tap around the house pretending to be one of our aunts, “I’m Aunt Kathy.”
I recently learned that this house holds many more happy Maendel memories, when I started talking with other people who called it home. The late Mike and Anna Maendel and their family lived around the corner from my grandparents till they moved to Qak Bluff Colony in 1952. “My most precious years!” Their daughter, Dora in Oak Bluff told me on the phone. “When I hear a train, I’m back in Elm River.”
Dave, another brother, living in Winnipeg, MB reiterated the same sentiments when I called him. “It’s all true, Linda! Those happy times are all stored in my ‘computer’ and I couldn’t delete them if I tried.” He then told me enthusiastically, that whenever he gets together with his siblings, they always reminisce about Elm River. “I was wondering if we’d get a call from you asking permission to take the house down,” he joked.
“That’s the call,” I joked back. “Not asking permission though, but inviting you to come have one last look at your childhood home, before it’s gone.”
Walking around the house with this family a few weeks later was really special and I was glad that we invited them. Every room evoked new memories: “This attic crawl space is where my mom stored the apples and candies.” Dave exclaimed, crouching down to look inside.
            “There were eleven of us living in this three-room house.” Emma (Maendel) Penner, another sister continued. “But we were content. It never even occurred to us how crowded it was and we certainly never felt deprived.”
            “This was the best house on the colony!” Dave excitedly added. “Sort of off to one side, with the public road right beside it. We’d sometimes sneak out and walk to the little general store in Newton three miles away, to get ice-cream. The good old days!”
             I am especially grateful that I was able to connect with, Jake Maendel, another brother who now lives at the Spring Valley Bruderhof, Pennsylvania. The memories he shared were heart-warming indeed: “Elm River is the most marvellous community I’ve ever lived in!” he told me over the phone. “I remember one year, your grandma was sick for months and my mom nursed her back to health. Don’t know what home remedies she used, but they worked!” He remembered those two mothers, both with a big family always helping each other out as neighbours and friends. “I have nothing but happy memories of your colony!”
            Yes, this historical house that sheltered many families is now gone. However, the memories will remain etched in the hearts of the people who created them, and will be kept alive by reminiscing and sharing them with loved ones.
“Old homes! Old hearts! Upon my soul forever
Their peace and gladness lie like tears and laughter.”
Madison Julius Cawein


  1. This is beautiful and precious. I hope you have many pictures of this home.

  2. Yes, we do Katie, inside and outside since the house has been empty and of course many taken over the years.

  3. Linda, there is so much love in this post! I like how there were 11 living in the home and they never felt to be crowded. That is what makes a house a home:) It's rather cozy around here too..but, we like it that way! I'm sure this meant a lot to the family as well. Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories!


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