Chaotic Velocity: Return to the Cemeteries with Joe

(I wrote this with chaotic velocity, much as I experienced this day. On Tuesday I booked a vacation day to forget my day job and chase cemeteries on the West Reserve with Joe from the Winkler Heritage Museum. I wrote a lot here and didn’t even get to the cemetery part yet. To be continued, obviously. NO TIME TO EDIT, JUST HIT PUBLISH!)

Ugh I do all of this too fast and squished. Even Joe said everything I did was much faster than she’d have thought. I did not linger in these places. I guess I collect bits and pieces of information, so they are easier to absorb, thinking I’ll return at another time. (I feel like I rarely do, but of course my adventure with looking into history is far from over, so…)

May 28. 2024. Tuesday. I went to yantzied. Here’s what I did.

Running late. Dropped Andrew off at school, told my aunt I’d be at her place to pick up my letters at 10. This timing does not work as Winkler is 1.5 hours from Steinbach. I think in my head I’m still calculating from the farm between Kleefeld and Grunthal. But no. Steinbach is further and that is where I have lived for well over two decades by now. Ah well. So. I hate the 75 south, it’s so broken up and very sharply so I expect the concrete to puncture my tires every moment. Very stressful. So I’ve taken to following the 23 west. A lot of it is re-done and so nice. But I found out that another portion of it is currently being resurfaced, which means traffic in one direction only with a pilot vehicle. It took at least an extra 20 minutes I think. But I did not deviate from my plan. These side roads could lead to a dead end or worse, a muddy dirt road from whence a little Jetta shall never escape. Better to stick to the slow going on the 23. Eventually I made my escape and found my way to Winkler, arriving a full half hour late.

The letters. I spent my teen years on the farm writing letters, mostly to my second cousin in Abbotsford. She had collected them and kept them carefully all these years. When I saw her last summer on the Mennonite train, I mentioned to her my dream of retrieving my letters. She promised to send them to me. And now quite suddenly, she has. You see, her aunt passed away and her mom returned to Manitoba for the funeral. Along were sent the box of letters. I expected that her mom would hand them to my mom at the funeral but no, it was a bustling and distracted event so the box was forgotten and my mom returned home letter-less. I messaged my friend with a bit of terror and she replied that her mom and sent them home with my aunt so they were now in Winkler. No problem, I said. I was going there on Tuesday. Easy!

Not easy. I had forgotten two important things. One: while Joe runs the Winkler Heritage Museum, she does not actually live in Winkler, she lives near Altona. Two: Winkler and Altona are half an hour’s drive apart. So now I was essentially adding an extra hour of driving to my route. No matter. I had decided and followed through.

Letters retrieved. A hug with my aunt and a quick reconnection, accompanied by advice from my uncle yelled from the next room regarding the best route back home (so as to avoid very bad highways) which I appreciated.

The oil light on my car was activated with a screech. No time to deal with this. Onward!

But first, McDonald’s, the hallmark of every great road trip (in my mind, anyway). It was just after 10:30 so I could still get breakfast. Time to hit the road! Again.

11 o’clock: I was confused. Sitting at a gravelly intersection, this seemed wrong. I thought I had followed the map but something felt off. I messaged Joe. With her advice I did find her house (it’s honestly not that hard, I just get so turned around, I am truly the worst person to be attempting to do the things I try to do) and it was 11:15 before we finally got going. All because of my shenanigans.

First stop: the site of Joe’s family farm. There are no buildings there now. But the site is filled with feeling, a sense of what has all been there. Stories. Experiences. She told me a few of them. When her grandma was a young girl pushing her brother into the dugout. Stuff like that. It’s very atmospheric…