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Walking To Work – A Love Story

Posted in Family History, My Mother's Stories on May 16th 2004 by Randy Reichardt

Here is another family story, this time from my Mom, about her father.

When I was six years old my parents moved our family to the north end of Winnipeg. We lived approximately one city block from King George Public School which was located on the corner of Selkirk and Arlington. It would have been so easy to send five of their six children there for school if our parents hadn’t been so adamant about us getting educated in the Catholic school system. This meant we had to be up by 7 a.m. to be ready to catch the streetcar (yes, I did say streetcar) and be on time for school which for us was St. Mary’s Parochial School. Our school was located directly across from St. Mary’s Cathedral on St. Mary Avenue.
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Grandpa’s Left Foot

Posted in Family History, My Mother's Stories on March 14th 2004 by Randy Reichardt

:: My mother contributes another story to my family history project:

    When I was about 8 or 9 years of age, my wonderful father got blood poisoning in his left foot. His foot swelled to a size that resembled a small football. Our dear Dr. Robinson knew our family of 6 children had very limited income. Because of his devotion to his calling to care for and heal the sick, he lovingly came to our home several times that week to check on my father’s condition.

    His instructions to my mother were to bathe my father’s foot in hot water with epsom salt, three to four times daily. My father’s bedtime ritual always included kneeling to say his prayers. My mother had helped him ready for the night, elevating his foot on some pillows. My bedroom, which I shared with my younger sister Carol, was directly opposite that of my parents. While I lay in bed trying to go to sleep (as I had been instructed, “Go to sleep now, you have school in the morning”), I noticed my father get out his bed and kneel to say his prayers.

    I literally jumped from my bed and ran to his side, pleading with him to get back into bed, as God knew he had a sore foot and would not mind if he did not kneel until his foot was better. With much love in his eyes, my dad reached up, and touching my shoulder, invited me to kneel beside him and pray. By this time I was in tears, certain that his foot must be hurting him more than ever. I knelt, and together we prayed and I asked God to make my daddy’s foot better.

    Some sixty plus years later, I still remember vividly that night, and realize how much this influenced the prayer life I have had since my early childhood.

Dr Robinson and me, 1954

My mom’s parents were named Marie-Ange and Jean-Charles Carriere, but everyone called them Mary and Charlie. They were wonderful grandparents. As for Dr Robinson, he was around for a long time. Not only did he deliver my mother, he also delivered me!

An Army Story, 1945

Posted in Family History, My Father's Stories on February 4th 2004 by Randy Reichardt

What follows is an account, written by my father, Michael Reichardt, of the time he was in the Canadian Army, in 1945, near the end of WWII. He didn’t see action in Europe or Japan – he was too young when the war ended, so he was in basic training only. As part of a long-term project, my mother and father will be contributing vignettes about their lives during various time periods, from the 1930s onwards.

    Marching at Fort Garry Barracks, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 1945

    When I was in the Canadian Army in 1945, I was stationed at the Fort Garry Barracks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on the grounds of the University of Manitoba. One of the activities during training hours was boxing, in which I chose to participate.

    I trained with a few other soldiers, and finally the day arrived for the boxing matches. At the time, however, I was also training in another elite squad of soldiers. That weekend, this elite squad was scheduled to be honour guards at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street (the major intersection in Winnipeg), to celebrate another successful war bond drive. As a result, I had to miss the boxing card. I didn’t mind too much, however, because I got a 48 hour pass out of it.

    The officers in charge chose the best disciplined and presentable soldiers to be members of this special squad In addition to myself, my best friend, George Hartley, was also chosen to march. George and I had joined up at the same time, and we went to junior high and high school at the same time as well.

    Prior to leaving Fort Garry for advanced training at Camp Shilo, I had volunteered for the Japan war theatre, because the war had ended in Europe. VE Day was May 8 1945. After our basic training was over, we were transferred to Camp Shilo, south of Brandon, in western Manitoba, in the middle of May, 1945. After we were settled at Shilo, boxing came up again. I volunteered and this time got to fight. The only match I fought ended in a draw, and I broke my right thumb, and my nose was also badly injured. My opponent was left handed, and I didn’t train to fight a southpaw, so it was quite confusing to land punches.

    After the fight, my right thumb was in severe pain, and the doctor ordered an x-ray, confirming that the thumb was broken. I ended up with a cast on my right hand, up to my elbow, for what seemed forever. All that for a broken thumb, and it was during the hot summer months, and my arm was very itchy most of the time. My nose was very sore after the fight; the doctor asked me if I was having any difficulty breathing, and at the time, I said it seemed to be fine. Since the fight, I have had problems breathing through the left nostril. Nasal surgery in the early 1960’s helped correct the problem for a few years, but the difficulty breathing eventually returned, and remains to this day. While recovering from the injury, I was assigned to light duty as an orderly in administration, and did not take advance training with the rest of the platoon.

    Entering B Company Hut, Camp Shilo, Manitoba, July 1945; note the cast on my right arm

    Together with other Canadian volunteers, we were to be transported by rail from Camp Shilo, Manitoba, to Vernon, British Columbia, to train with American military officers. The American basic training instruction was to be given at Vernon, to be followed by advance/jungle warfare training at Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky.

    Then one day, perhaps August 12, 1945, we were ordered to line up for a physical, in preparation for the forthcoming troop movement to Vernon. I went along with the big cast on my right-hand/arm, lined up and passed the physical. I inadvertently covered the cast with my jacket, and the doctors didn’t notice it during the inspection! Within a couple days we packed our gear, piled onto a passenger train and headed west. Aug 14 1945 was VJ Day (Victory in Japan) and it was too late to cancel this troop movement. We were heading for Vernon, British Columbia, where we were scheduled to take American Army basic training.

    While we were riding the train, a new medical staff did their physical inspections, and when they saw me, they asked me, “How the hell did you get on here?”, advising that I wasn’t supposed to be on this troop movement with a broken arm. So now I’m leaving for further training, and I pleading total innocence, of course! What does an 18 year old kid know?

    When we got to Vernon, the first thing the medics did was to rip off the cast with a pair of big tin snips. Shortly thereafter, it was back to basic training, but only for a short time, as the army was talking about demobilizing, and was asking for volunteers for guard duty or a career in the service. Because of my young age, I had a choice of being discharged early or remaining with the Army. I chose to leave the Army, and returned home to Winnipeg on the train.

    After the discharge at Fort Osborne Barracks in Winnipeg, I enrolled in a six-month course on architectural and mechanical drafting course at the Manitoba Technical Institute. After graduating, I was unable to find work in drafting, as there were thousands of veterans all looking for work at the same time. Eventually, I took a job at Empire Radio and Auto Supply, where I worked about three years. In the fall of 1949, I left Winnipeg again, this time to go to Wells, British Columbia, to work in a gold mine, but that’s another story for another time.

More Family Stories

Posted in Family History, My Father's Stories, My Mother's Stories on January 21st 2004 by Randy Reichardt

:: This time out, a pair of short pieces from me dear old M and Da:

    Dad: One incident that comes to mind was when I was about 11 or 12 years old, in the late 1930s. We always had a big garden at the back of our house on Berry Street, in St Boniface, Manitoba. One day I was told to water the garden, but instead, I just stuck the hose in the ground and let it run for a while! Then it occurred to me that my Dad had to pay for the water, so I stopped with the hose in the ground and watered the garden! I really felt bad about that afterwards.

    Mom: Whoever wrote the words to the song, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy”, wasn’t in my mother’s kitchen 60 years ago. Living was certainly not easy for her. I still picture her working in a very small kitchen, wood stove putting out the heat in an already sweltering room. She was canning food. To keep her family fed throughout the upcoming long, cold winte,r she would can somewhere in the neighbourhood of 500 jars of food. She would can corn on the cob, kernel corn, peas, peas and carrots, carrots, tomatoes, chickens, peaches, pears, plums and strawberries. She would make strawberry jam, raspberry jam, grape jelly, grape jam, blueberry jam. If you could name it, I swear my mother could can it.

    I receive daily inspirational messages from Oprah. I think today’s thought is very fitting, in helping describe how my mother loved us all. “Love is that splendid triggering of human vitality…the supreme activity which nature affords anyone for going out of himself toward someone else.” –Jose Ortega y Gasset, philosopher

The Hunchback Lives!

Posted in Family History, My Mother's Stories on January 4th 2004 by Randy Reichardt

:: My mother offers another interesting tale from her childhood. She lived on Selkirk Avenue, in the north end of Winnipeg, in the 1930s and 40s.

    On Wednesday nights at our local theatre, which was called the Palace, they would give out dishes, which every woman in the neighbourhood had to have. They would go every week until they had collected the entire set. So after my father would eat his supper, my mother and he would leave for the show.

    My sister Alice, who was the oldest of my brothers and sisters, was always in charge of babysitting my brother Roland, me, and the youngest member of our family, Carol. One Wednesday night, my sister Alice got the brainy idea that my brother Roland should dress up like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and lie in wait between our house and the building next door. As soon as he would see a woman coming down the street, he would jump out from behind the building, and with a pillow stuffed in the back of his shirt, he would slither out from his hiding place looking very scary and making weird noises. Of course it was dark out, and this just added to the fun. We’d be huddled upstairs, looking out our parents’ bedroom window, killing ourselves laughing, as one woman after another would run off screaming.

    After scaring off two or three women, he came back in, and we all tried to act as if nothing happened. Had my parents ever found out, we would have been given the what for, believe me. What seemed hilarious back then no longer seems quite so funny to me today. If someone were to do this to me now I would probably have a cardiac arrest as I tend to scare quite easily.

Of Winters Past

Posted in Family History, My Mother's Stories on December 24th 2003 by Randy Reichardt

:: I was talking on the phone with my mother, Loretta Reichardt, the other day, and the conversation turned to how we lived in the 50s, and how we heated our home in the winter. I recall that we had a coal furnace, and remember watching my Dad shovel coal into the large, mysterious vessel that lived in our basement on Gareau Street, in St Boniface, Manitoba. I asked my Mom what it was like in the 1930s, when she lived in a little house with her three sisters and two brothers. How did they heat their house in the winter?, and other questions emerged. I asked Mom to detail this for me, and I present to you her words below:

    This afternoon when you called, we had a conversation about our first home when you were just three, and Chris was 6 months old. Yes, we had a furnace in our basement that burned coal. We lived with that furnace for several years before natural gas finally arrived in our neighbourhood. That was, indeed, a red letter day for all of us.

    Then you asked me what it was like in my home when I was just a young girl. How did grandma and grandpa heat our home?, you asked. We had two different types of stoves in our home. My dad put one of the stoves up in the living room in the winter. It was called a Booker furnace. It was your typical pot-bellied little furnace that had the pipes going up through the ceiling, and into one of the upstairs bedrooms and then out through the chimney. At night, my Dad would stoke the furnace until it was unbelievably hot in the house, then my Mother would say to us, “Sneak upstairs and open the bathroom window.” So one of us would open the window, and five minutes later, my Dad would yell, “Who opened the bathroom window?”, and we’d all say, “Nobody, it wasn’t me, Dad!” Then the stove would burn out in the middle of the night, and when it was -30 outside, the house would begin to cool down within an hour, to a very cold temperature. We had many blankets to keep us warm during those nights.

    By the time my Dad woke at 6:00 am, he’d start the fire again in the Booker furnace, and one in the kitchen stove. My younger sister, Carol, and I, wore navy blue bloomers and black stockings to school with our tunics and white blouses. When it was really cold at night, we tried to sneak the bloomers and stockings on before bed so that when we woke up in the morning, we wouldn’t have to step on a freezing cold floor. But before we’d get to sleep, my Mom would check on us first; she’d toss the covers back, check our feet and see the stockings sticking our from our pajama bottoms, and order us to, “Get those off immediately, you cannot sleep in your bloomers.” We would respond, “But we don’t like stepping on the cold floor with our bare feet in the morning”, and she’d say, “You’re not babies, stop crying and just do it”, and sometimes she’d give us a story about her growing up on the farm, and how much harder it was then, and how much easier life was now.

    In the kitchen was a large stove with a warming oven at the top. The stove itself had several rounds on the top which one could open to place the wood in. These were located to the left side of the stove. On the extreme right side of the stove was a reservoir which my parents would keep filled with water. This water would then become hot whenever the stove was lit and you had a good fire burning. There was the oven in the centre of the stove. It had a thermometer on the front and my mother would regulate the heat whenever she was baking bread, cookies, cakes, pies, or cooking meat such as a roast, chicken, turkey, etc. Looking back, it amazes me how she managed to keep the fire in the stove at the right temperature, so as not to overcook or over bake anything.

    We didn’t have a hot water tap in our home so we were always grateful to have the hot water in the reservoir for washing ourselves before bedtime and then again in the morning. We did not have the luxury of a bathtub or shower. We had to bathe in a huge galvanized tub which my dad would place in the downstairs bedroom which was located just off the kitchen. My father would fill a large copper double boiler on the top of the stove. I am not too sure just how many gallons of water it held, but it was enough to fill the tub in the bedroom where we could bathe in privacy. You were always happy if it was your turn to be first in the tub. Being that we were a large family, one tub full of water had to do for three of us, one after another. We took turns being first. Then my father had the job of emptying the tub and then refilling it again with more hot water for the next set of children.

    This was a common practice among those of us who were considered the poor in the community. However, although we were truly poor as far as dollars and cents go, were very rich in so many other areas. My mother kept her six children spotless, our home was always immaculately clean, and because she was so gifted, she sewed most of our clothes. I lie in bed even now and sometimes can almost hear her treadle sewing machine working into the late hours of the night. When we awoke in the morning, there would be a new coat for one of us that mom had made from an old coat someone had given her. She would get these coats, take a razor blade and invite one of us to hold the coat at one end while she carefully ripped the seams open with her trusty razor blade. Then she would take a piece of white chalk, have us stand in front of her while she measured and marked just where she knew she would have to cut and sew. Voila! A masterpiece awaited one of us by morning. My mother was a real genius. We were truly blessed.

After reading this, and after talking with my Mom, I looked around my house, and considered how easy life is in terms of what my Mother describes – I have running hot and cold water, toilets and showers, a dishwasher, a furnace, a washer and dryer, stove and fridge, microwave, computer, television, CD player, tape player, VHS player, DVD player; oh, and clothes and food, too. I never have to step on a cold floor, and only need one extra blanket in the winter. My furnace hums along quietly, and I seldom think about it. For Christmas 2003, I can give thanks for those things, for my health, my family, my good friends and colleagues, my place of work, the city and country in which I live. I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and hope you, too, can find many reasons to be thankful. Oh, and watch for more writing from my Mom – I’ve asked her for further contributions about life in the 30s in Winnipeg.