When I was a girl, I spent many many hours with my paternal grandmother on our family’s Kleefeld dairy farm. Milking cows. Pitching straw bales. Chasing wayward cows through the bush. Going for walks after supper along “our” gravel road. Playing Dutch Blitz while I ate every single one of her homemade chocolate chip cookies.
But for all that time spent together, I really didn’t have much of a picture of who she was before motherhood. I regret these missed opportunities. And now, all I can do is chase after my family’s fading past.
This means exploring our local history.
Last fall, I spied local historian Henry Fast at an MHV event. I’d recently purchased his book entitled Gruenfeld: First Mennonite Village in Western Canada, and was excited to abruptly let him know this. After his initial surprise subsided, he asked who my grandparents were. I told him their names, and he said, “Peter Koop? Ah! He married that Heinrichs girl from Grunthal.”
For a blip of time, the decades fell away, before I was born, before my parents were born, there was “that Heinrichs girl”, Anna.
I felt like I’d stepped for a split second into a time machine.
And then another precious time machine feeling, quite recently.
We were visiting Andrew’s grandma, and she handed me an envelope. My eyes widened as I read the script: “Erin Unger – your grandparents. From Eva Koop Graves Reimer”.
She explained: “My friend Eva is a Koop. Eva was at your grandparents wedding. She took that picture.”
I opened the envelope, and found one small photograph.
The day was July 3rd, 1949.
Anna, 27-years-old, “that Heinrichs girl”: a graceful young brunette bride with the biggest smile I’d ever seen, joyfully displaying her beautiful white wedding dress.
Peter, 29-years-old: an undeniably handsome groom, home from serving as a Conscientious Objector, with the classic Koop thick shock of hair and strong eyebrows.
Looking at the photo, it’s the first time I could see my father in my grandfather. I wonder how I never saw it before.
Eva is my grandfather’s first cousin; she would’ve been somewhere between 15 and 19 years old at their wedding in 1949. I’m thrilled that she had a camera. Took a photo. Kept it. And gave it to me now, in 2019.
What an incredible gift. I’m blown away.
Thank-you, dear Eva.