Sometimes you get the perfect mix of circumstances, you encounter different information from various sources, at the same time, and the pieces fall into place.
I received a message from a woman who knows some regions of the West Reserve in almost a time-capsule kind of way. Decades ago, she was riding horseback across the prairie, and came upon a cemetery in the midst of a field. She told me, I remembered.
I opened google maps. Satellite view. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom in again. A patch of wild grass in the middle of a section, a farmer was careful to leave alone. An island in the midst of a sea of cultivated soil. I tucked this information away in my brain.
I awoke in Neubergthal. Quiet with the sound of the cottonwoods outside the window, freshly brewed coffee warming my hands, I pulled out a family history book, and began to read about my great-great-great-great-grandp
In the spring of 1902, they had left their home in Ekatrinasiawski, South Russia and crossed the ocean to Canada on the S.S. Lake Megantic. They took the train from Quebec to Plum Coulee, and “settled in the Winkler-Morden area”.
And then I read these words: “That same year their 3-year-old youngest daughter Aganetha died and was buried in Neureinland Cemetery.”
My attention zeroed in, my eyes flicked to the Manitoba Back Road Map, which contains many names of the villages in the West Reserve… but I found that there is no Neureinland.
One more try: I looked to Harms Rempel Atlas of Original Mennonite Villages Homesteaders and Some Burial Plots of the West Reserve Manitoba. Just inside the cover, a map. And, Neureinland.
The google satellite image of the grassy island in the midst of a farmer’s field sprang to mind, super-imposed on the scratchy map before me.
I felt pulled to go find my great-great-aunt’s grave.
We drove up the road, approaching the quarter section I felt was home to this mysterious cemetery.
In the middle, a tree. I stared at it as Andrew drove down the road, searching for a drive to lead us to it. Not on this side. We turned the corner onto another gravel road, my eyes never leaving that tree. Again, it seemed to be in the very middle of the section, with no easy drive to lead me to it.
I decided to walk in, alone.
I marched out into the field. Thankfully it had already been harvested. One step after another, led me gradually further and further away from the car and my husband, and closer to that tree.
The words my mother had said began to echo in my mind, when she had told me that my grandfather had insisted they visit the grave of his infant son, their brother, whom they had never met. He had died long before they had been born, when my grandparents were newlyweds. In his old age, my grandfather had felt it was very important that they know. “You have to know!” He had said to them, with great insistence. He had insisted they return together. He was old, he was no longer able-bodied, he leaned heavily on his cane… yet as he crossed the field littered with badger holes, he had almost picked up speed, led by something primal, led by love, led by his heart perhaps… the deep sadness of losing baby after baby as a young couple… he had to show his grown children this place. They indulged him, and found themselves following their elderly father far far far into a field, the lone tree a beacon.
This is Part 1 of a trilogy. Here are links to Parts 2 and 3: