JY: Did your family keep kosher, were they…?
ML: Yes, absolute. Two sets of dishes, kosher with another set, couple of sets of dishes for Passover. We had a chicken coop with chickens and turkeys and ducks so that every four to six weeks the shochet [kosher butcher], an itinerant shochet, you know what I mean?
ML: Came by and killed some chickens which my mother would, in the winter time, she would cook up and then freeze. You may ask what sort of a freezer did we have in the ‘30s? Well, we had a piano and my father kept the piano box, kept it outside the kitchen door, shelves were put into it and between, we were at Canora several hundred miles north of the border and it was quite cold in those days so that the freezer, the freezer was a piano box between October and May. You know the piano box was big and was sturdy for shipment. In the summer time the way she preserved things, she used to corn chicken and we had…whenever my father went into Winnipeg on a buying trip which was about every three months, three or four months, he would bring back beef of some sort so that we had beef then, other than that we had chicken, we had fish, lake fish because there were a couple of lakes close by. My mother and the girls used to pluck the chickens and they kept the goose down and the duck down for making pillows and comforters and things like that. I remember intermittently they used to have…she used to have help in the house and she also used to help pluck the chickens and do that sort of thing.
JY: That’s a tough job.
ML: Yeah. My mother was a gardener. We had a large, a large…a small house and a large piece of land. By large piece of land I mean the size of two city lots, two standard city lots. On this property was the house, a chicken coop and a granary because during the Depression my father frequently took grain as barter, I presume, from farmers for things from the store. And the rest, I guess maybe it was the size of three, maybe four city lots and the rest was a big garden. There was a small patch of flowers and grass and the rest was garden. My sisters as I recall were not really interested in the garden and my mother…perhaps some of my best quality time with my mother was digging and weeding and doing other things in the garden. She sewed, she sewed everything, she sewed clothes for her girls. And she read in Yiddish. There were all sorts of Yiddish books around the house.
JY: Did she sell any of the garden, any of the vegetables or it was all for the family?
ML: No. We had a cellar and root vegetables were put away, carrots and beets and turnips and potatoes which we then ate through much of the winter and then when we ran out we’d get it from the store of course. But mostly that’s what we had. And her…one of her favourite spices, herbs that she grew was dill and dill was present in many things.
JY: Did you observe all the Jewish holidays?
JY: Do you have any fond memories of occasions?
ML: No. Except that the Seders used to go on beyond midnight and my sisters used to sit there. Actually the oldest three sisters were out of the house before my memory because I think they got married in 1932,’33 or something, ‘34. So my memory of the early Seders was with Hannah, Dori and Dubby and sometimes I used to see that they were reading things other than the Hagadah. No, it was not…they were not a festive occasion, they were a religious event and if you can imagine in those days maintaining a strict two sets of dishes kosher household in rural Saskatchewan this was a tour de force for my mother, I never really appreciated it at that time.
AS: Yes. Now I’d like to go back to how I got involved or got some experience with the farming community, this farming colony of Rumsey. There were two colonies, actually, fairly close to each other in Alberta. One was called Rumsey the other Trochu which was the name of their closest village. Although they were close together they were separated by the Red Deer River and there was no way of fording, there was no way of getting across the river except at low water they could ford it, actually ride across it or wade across it if the water was really low. Eventually there was a bit of a cable ferry established which ran sporadic service across the river, I remember that but then you couldn’t rely on that either. In any case, what happened with, in my experience, with, was that because early on there were no Jewish day camps available for Jewish children, at least none that were suitable to my parents. I was sent out to the farm for my summer camp, so to speak, to my aunts and uncles in Rumsey, as if my poor aunts who were so hardworking, as if they didn’t have enough to do out there in these small homes that they ran. This is the home that I remember [showing photograph]. It was a two bedroom home with a kitchen on the side where I spent many summers adding to their burden. [Laughing]. In any case, this was my other aunt.
AS: So this where I first got contact with, and an appreciation of the farm life, the Jewish farm life in Alberta is in Rumsey with my two aunts and uncles and I used to go out there at least two or three weeks every summer along with a few other cousins too who used to get shipped out there so we used to have fun. I used to try to help out when possible but I think I was more trouble than help most of the time. In any case it gave me a lifelong attraction to the land actually, it’s very beautiful land out there. It’s not flat prairie like Saskatchewan. It’s rolling countryside, very, very beautiful, I think and actually as I say in the end of the article, every two years, at least every two years, I go back to walk the land and I literally do go back to walk the land, I still have relatives, fourth generation, cousins, who are still farming out there and I’m proud to say that this, the farm, the Sengow’s farm which is now operated, run, they are now big farms of course, you can’t survive as a small farmer these days so these farms are now huge, they are nine sections of land with lots of machinery, and they’re quite well-to-do now actually but still subject to the vagaries of the weather. You know they can get wiped out by hail, frost, insects, you name it and they depend on rain at the right time. In any case, I go back to walk the land. My cousins are now, as I say, farming. According to the Jewish Historical Society of Canada they are the last of the descendents in all of Canada still farming the original homestead land of Jewish farmers in all of Canada so I’m proud of that.