(Written from our hotel room, the morning we left Saskatchewan…)
This could well be a great many posts but I’ll start by writing here in this Saskatoon hotel before Andrew and I return home.
My maternal grandfather, David D. Neufeld, grew up in a place called Lost River, Saskatchewan. The name itself elicits a feeling of something distant, in the past, and impossible to find today. But I’m young enough that the previous generation is still here, to ask questions of. To hand books to me that may be of use. And then I read them.
Specifically, Search for Yesteryears.
But never mind how I got here. What matters is what I did yesterday.
My camera roll is a kind of diary. My memory is not great, it gets foggy and details swirl and are lost to the ether. Nothing is concrete. Yet I was searching for the concrete and found exactly that.
I first wanted to find the Bethany Cemetery of Lost River, as that has my grandpa’s story written all over it. It was on this piece of land that he was born, a third generation Neufeld to live here, on the same piece of land where the church’s cemetery lies.
So, the cemetery was very easy to find. At the suggestion of my aunt (thank you!) I had arranged to meet up with her double second cousin Marlene so she could show me around and help me “find what I was looking for”. (I’m still not sure exactly what that was…)
Because it is attached to a still-functioning church, the cemetery continues to be cared for. It’s not very big, so it’s possible to simply look at all the grave markers, instead of studying the map. I wanted the experience of searching for my list of headstones, on my own. To my great surprise, the first ones I stumbled upon were that of my great-great-great-grandparents, Klaas Kroeker and Maria Koslowsky Kroeker. (Her marker simply says Mrs. Klaas Kroeker… but in my head I call her Maria Koslowsky because that was her name.) In my reading of my own genealogy, I hadn’t expected to find her. Koslowsky sounds so far away, so… Polish? I had initially assumed she’d been buried in the “old country” — but no, she and Klaas had migrated with their family, landing in Lost River. And I found her, very easily. They are both at the base of the sign, just in front of it, and their modest markers are kept clean.
I also found Heinrich Paul Neufeld and Maria Kroeker Neufeld, my great-great-grandparents.
And Jacob Ens and Maria Pauls Ens, my other great-great-grandparents:
And then also my great-grandfather David H. Neufeld, who had returned to die and be buried in Lost River:
They were all easy to find.
I was not confident I ever found baby Evelyn Mavis Neufeld, my aunt, my grandparents’ firstborn, who lived for two months and died here in Lost River to my then-very-young grandparents. Their first great tragedy. The first of their four lost children.
I didn’t know too much about my grandpa as a person. I’d always thought of him as my City Grandpa who retired from his long career working for Eaton’s in Winnipeg. But the truth is that he had lived a great many lives. I knew only of the final one. I never thought my mom’s city family could understand my feelings of affection and attachment for my farm life… but my grandpa absolutely did. He was born and raised in the heart of Lost River and all his schooling was at Newfield School (and if you think that sounds like an anglicized version of “Neufeld”… it seems that you’d be right, but that’s another post maybe). He was born and married and became a parent here in Lost River. His dad was the preacher at Lost River Bethany Mennonite. His grandparents and extended family were all right here.
In the cemetery, I found a portal. It led to a golden treeline, illuminated in the strong autumn sun, elegant shadows lengthening already in the mid-afternoon. I saw old trees and wondered if my grandpa as a boy had known those same trees.
I realized I was hungry, so I sat down on the cemetery’s autumnal ground to eat my snack and finish what remained of my hotel coffee from that morning.
And then Marlene and her husband Bill arrived!
In their truck, we went off on an adventure seeking the past.