Spencer: This Book is a Weird One

(I wrote this about two years ago, on a different computer, and then lost the file… and now I’ve found it again!)

I saw the book at the Steinbach MCC Thrift Shop. Tucked in among the books about various senior residences and missions organizations, this book stood out. It was hardcover, white, with bold brown letters declaring “SPENCER”.

Curious, I opened the book, and found myself staring at a photo of my great-grandmother — the one I had actually known, as she had lived 98 years, passing away when I was in junior high. She was seated next to a man, her husband, my great-grandfather.

I took this pic last summer.

That was it for me. I bought the book, hoping I’d maybe encounter other family members within its pages.

I’ve just spent an evening sucked into the world of Spencer, and you know what? It has nothing to do with my family. But it does contain fleeting glimpses into a time that connects the days of my great-grandparents, to my own.

This book is a weird one. So, it begins with the Spencer North School. The reason my great-grandparents are in it? Apparently he was one of the first teachers at this school. I’ve just cross-referenced this with the book entitled Schools – Our Heritage, and sure enough, there’s a photo of my great-grandparents in that book as well.

Comparing the two books.

So… turns out this SPENCER book is actually a history of the Grunthal Bergthaler Church. Seems the church first began meeting in the Spencer North School. And, this had really nothing to do with my family, but I did see some familiar faces within the pages of this book.

As I page through the book, thoughts and observations collide.

The funerals page — there is a photo of a cairn declaring “Kronsgart”. Ah, this is a cemetery I tried to visit with Andrew except we got a little lost. There is also a photo of the Grunthal Cemetery, and I can’t figure out how to position the photo. The direction of the roads in the photo don’t make any sense to me. I wonder if this photo was taken before Grunthal’s main street shifted.

In looking up Spencer in the Schools – Our Heritage book, I learned that Spencer got off to a rough start, with no students showing up. Even though education was compulsory in 1916, there was still nothing much happening at Spencer by 1921. People just weren’t sending their kids… this book theorizes this was likely because classes were to be taught in English.

The old school districts, from just inside the cover of Schools – Our Heritage.

Anyway. Let’s circle back to the SPENCER book. The very strange SPENCER book, which is actually a Grunthal Bergthaler Church history.

As I paged through this book, two thoughts occurred to me:

-a frustration with the fact that many families went by the man’s name exclusively, so many women’s identities have been nearly completely obscured.

-a curiosity that no years were used, until near the very end, where there is a photo of the newly-built Grunthal Bergthaler Church, and the year: 1981. As I was paging through the book, I was trying to guess the date according to hair and clothing styles… which is an interesting game in and of itself. Anyway, eventually a few names and faces began to strike me as being familiar, and thus also helped in giving me an idea as to what era we’re talking about here.

Badass. Best pic in the book.

There’s some haunting stuff in this book.

I love the early photos of all the churchgoers standing in the forest. Wearing hats and dresses and heels in the grass, with a young poplar forest behind them, squinting at the camera.

I’m fascinated and amused by the way the author refers to those who have passed away: 

left his earthly cares

went to his rest

nearing the end of their sojourn in this life

went to his reward

ushered into the presence of our Lord

the sun set for her the last time

(The number of people mentioned in this book that “passed away accidentally” is startling.)

I annoyed by the verse about “she seeketh wool and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands” I guess because that’s really not my jam. (I am a terrible housekeeper and cook and my admission is not a lament nor apology. Just fact!)

An interesting memory, from a member of the Spencer Quartet: “The sound of the alarm from the clock on the night table awakened me. It was 3 a.m. With eyes still closed, I reached out, groping, to still that cruel ringing, with the plans for that day already crowding my mind. Stony Mountain, chores, worship service, singing, and travelling. This was the Sunday that Rev. Friesen and the Spencer Quartet were expected to conduct the morning’s worship service at the Federal Penitentiary, and being a member of this Quartet, this meant I be ready to travel at 6:30 a.m. Time was important. My feet hit the cold floor. I struggled into my clothes, and quietly left the house, so that I would not disturb my sleeping family. The thermometer reads 25 degrees below Fahrenheit, and a breeze from the north-west, a beautiful day to stay indoors. Silly thoughts, chores had to be done, twelve cows waited to be fed, watered, and milked. The barn had to be cleaned, and one of my best milkers had died during the night. The tractor would not start, so over to the neighbours I went, borrowed his tractor, drove it 3/4 of a mile back in the bitter cold, pulled the dead animal out of the barn, returned the tractor, and continued with chores. Running behind time, have to hurry or the fellows will have to wait for me…”

I like that there is a photo of the remains of the foundation of the old Spencer North School, overgrown with weeds, surrounded by scrubby leafless brush.

I’ve squirrelled away many other books collected from MCC thrift shops… and I’ll be exploring them in upcoming posts. Stay cozy!

Somewhat related posts:

A Visit to the Grunthal Cemetery

Kronsgard Cemetery Location SUCCESS