Victoria Day and Great Grandfather Benjamin

In my great grandfather’s diary on MAY 24,  1899 the entry is simply,” this is our Queen

Victoria’s  80th birthday.”

I am privileged to have possession of  this diary and its first entry is  January 1, 1861.  Benjamin was born on September 27, 1836 so that made  him 25 years old when he begins  with this statement.

”  PRIVATE JOURNAL,  in which I intend to record local occurrences, daily occupation, markets and state of the weather.

Over the past few years, I have browsed through the  pages of entries from  1861 -1915

There are only several  entries  per week,  always the Sunday meeting, where he would share the scriptural  text, almost  without  exception from the Gospels.  Then there is  a report of those ill, the trips he took into town,  to fetch the Doctor, and often to drive again  the next day, to tell the Dr. the patient was better.  I was most effected by the fact that they would sit up all night with friends and relatives who were ill.   Mixed in. are  funerals, singing school, visiting from home to home, young people visiting from other communities.  Nancy, my great-grandmother, going to  funerals, to visit friends, attend church etc. She sounds like an active person, and I can envision her climbing into the buggy and trotting off.  Did her husband or son, hitch it up for her? Did she have a favorite horse who knew the route she was taking.  Can you imagine Benjamins concern when she was diagnosed with diphtheria in 1862, at 23 years old?   On their  24th anniversary in October 1881 he said “haven’t regretted it yet”  High praise.!  She birthed ten children, including my Father Carl’s father, Flavius.

Oh yes,  “saw 6 gypsy wagons go down the Pickering Town  line today” .( I never heard about that in my day.)  Also, appointments for wool spinning, oiling  harness, purchasing a nine-year old horse for $80.00.  There was a tooth to be pulled, There were 72 maple trees  tapped.  One year he added that they averaged a pound of sugar for every tree tapped.  Hired   Gleason Thomas for 3 months at $12.00 per month and traded 2 cords of wood @$4.50 for a Yak robe.  Sold two pigs @ $1.00 piece.,Bob  Haig clipped the sheep today @.5 cents a piece.. Took our wool to Clipps Carding mill at Altona.  There was a bank deposit for $500. in the Standard Bank in Markham.  On Dec 2 1910  Benjamin wrote  “J. went to Markham this a.m. .He paid out taxes  (get ready)  $51.71”  !!!!!

We can gripe about the inefficiencies of our current health system, but when I read these entries, from March 8 1869 ,I cannot imagine the suffering for the child or the parents to be in such a state for 10 days without the aid of some sedatives.

“Levi  (9)  is sick with congestion of the brain. on the 9th “he is worse” and daily he worsened,  every day he stayed with Levi, different friends stopped by some sat up all night with them by Sunday the 21, he rallied in the morning and then began to convulse every thirty minutes. On the 22 he enters” Death seems to be approaching, March 23, “Dear Levi!  died this morning at 30 minutes past 6”

The next entry was March 24 funeral by H Barkey, sermon on Matt.18: 1-4. except you become like little children you shall not see the Kingdom of heaven,

Nine years old.  ( I just may go and see the grave I am sure it is still there)

I know Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 until  1901.  Now when I see historical dramas e.g. what I recently watched about, the  dreadful wars in Afghanistan and India, during her reign I now can relate it to Benjamin and Nancy.  Benjamin followed the wars.

On August 14,1898  he wrote”I might as well state that the war between Spain the States is over. The states were a little much for Spain on the Ocean out classing and out numbering them in vessels. They beat them at the Philippines and at Santiago and became Master of the Sea. (sounds like something the  US president would say) The Spaniards ran short of provisions at Santiago and finally surrendered.”

Feb 8,1904  “war commenced between Japan and Russia yesterday by a Naval battle at Port Arthur The Japs torpedoed 5 of the Russian vessels in short order”.By   Aug 5, ” it was decided yesterday the Japs are victorious. By October 20.  “a terrible battle in the east, 400,000 men engaged and 40,000. men killed and wounded.”

November 4, 1904  “Laurier Government was Triumphantly returned to power yesterday.”

There are more updates on the Russians and Japanese war, but suffice it to say, Benjamin kept his ear to the…. ,not TV!!. newspapers??

August 7,1914 “There is a terrible war going on in Europe, All the nations are mixed up  in it. But the worst of it is, that Great Britain and Germany are opposed to each other;”

Sept 16, The war in Europe is going on in unabated fury……..The Old Kaiser of Germany seems to at the bottom of it. He was oppressing Belgium and Great  Britain would not consent to that.”

War and trouble have been with this planet always.  I suppose we would all hope we were past it, but ……………..

“Let not your heart be troubled”  John 14: 1









I set out to do this mostly with my family in mind,  but also anyone who is viewing life from today and wondering,”how did things get so different?”

Again, it would be nice if these letters had dates on them, so they will not be in chronological order, however they cover the years between early and late fifties.

For my readers who don’t know, my mother  died of cancer  in April 1959 . I am including several of just everyday happenings.

mom's letter1

Here is one with a date, January 4, 1955, describing some of the activities of the “roast” as we called our family celebrations.  I think it is the Christmas that Arlene probably, about 4, was excited to tell everyone she got a doll for Christmas  with hair that was “blackish” like Kathryn’s.  (Just a little off with the colour Arlene) Cute as anything.

kathryn letter January 55 1

kathryn letter jan55 2

I have a single page from Dad Carl, that I will include. There are quite a few pages missing.

dad's circa 56 1

The next letter I will attempt to share is one written by Mom from the hospital, having had the diagnosis of cancer. I had to think what a rather calm and serene letter for someone who had always lived on the farm. How she enjoyed the Toronto skyline, and would look out the window to see her daughter Evelyn who was thick into her nurses training at the prestigious  Wellesly hospital, perchance walk by. I do recall the phone call from my Dad, telling me Mom might only have 6 weeks to live.It is was the same cold chill that came over me when he told me about Ken’s accident  in  Aug 55.

mom's letter hospital 1mom's letter hospital2

Mom did live until April 1960, at home with us, by now Nancy was married and Evelyn was close to graduation. She felt the weight of me being there alone on the farm .  I don’t remember a whole lot about that time.  But I suspect my whole young life was a lesson in “carrying on”   with no railing against circumstances.  So much of my  upbringing, was preparing us for making life work, and never did I think it was God’s doing or my parents either. (now, the government might get blamed somehow!!)

Mom died in her bed, with all of us who lived in the area around her .  Apparently, earlier when she was a still a little conscious, when Ken approached her bed, with that little wry smirk she asked him how are”the cows and the chickens and the apple trees baby?’ I think my siblings may know where those lyrics came from. I can sing it but don’t  know it’s origin. She did know a lot of ditties.

I was sixteen, and although most of this is  a blur, I do recall one blurb that came out of my mouth that  was probably inappropriate , but the strangest thing, now at 75, I have found myself saying often in recent years.

We walked away from shock of the death bed, and we found places to sit around the long dinning table, and I said , “well at least she won’t ever need to go to a nursing home.” I immediately saw kind of questioning look of disapproval from my much older siblings. She was way too young in our opinions,  just 59.

I am going to include one more letter that was after Mom’s death.  kathryn summer of 60 1

kathryn summer 60 2

Well that is enough for today.   I hope James Reesor can see this.  Hope you got the story about the gingerale.!!




Our farm house

Do you have a suitable stack of your favourite stationary at the ready, with a quality fountain pen?  Matching envelopes, and a good supply of  10 cent stamps?  It all sounds a little romantic now doesn’t it? Going to the keyboard and banging out an email or a FB post is hardly the same.

In 1952, last century, my  big sister married Norman from Indiana USA and she left our home in Markham Township, Ontario .  Although she had worked in other parts of Ontario, and I have very little recollection of her being at home on the farm, it was a big move.

My parents ,apparently felt that a weekly letter  was appropriate to keep in touch with their oldest daughter.  Sometimes the job fell to me, an elementary student at S.S. #12 Clayton  school.(total in attendance for all eight grades, around twenty).

Marion returned to our community of Stouffville  to celebrate her 90th birthday.  It was a pleasant surprise to have her present me with letters that I had written to her so many years ago. It is odd to look at something in childish hand writing and know it was me, a much younger version of me, who penned them.

The contents are somewhat “boring’ as children might say today.  Did we ever use that word back on the farm in the fifties?  Don’t think so.

The following is an example. Got to say it isn’t edited at all. Messy really. But you will get the picture, of all the “exciting “news from home.

Most of the letters have no date, no year no month just  Tues. Do you know the mail moved so quickly then?  Marion would have known which Tues.  Long distance phone calls were rare then, (just emergencies like death)


pg 1 letters from homepg 2 letter from home

The following letter has an amusing quote from brother Ken on the second page.

letters from home letter 2 pg1letters from home letter 2 pg2



Sorry about all the blank spaces, won’t bother to figure it out.

Next Sunday I  will try to send you some of Mom and Dad’s letters! Arlene Reesor Taylor typed  up some of them but I thought it would be nice to include Mom’s handwriting. She thought something should be done to let others see them.

That has kept me busy for a few hours on this snowy winter day in Stouffville.



Winter on My Family Farm

Now that winter is here, I  recall my wintry farm experiences  at Lot 33, Concession 5, Markham Township, York County, Ontario. Now, fifty plus years later it is called Warden Ave. which used to be a street in Toronto, in my memories.   (keep the city in the city why not?)


  It was a chilly walk through the dark from the old brick house , passing the milk house and  as  I opened  the heavy wooden door into the barn,  a blast of steamy warm air greeted me.  Not sure how to describe the smells, but  fresh hay that had been pushed through the hole from the mows above,  the slightly sour smell of corn silage in the cows’ mangers were there.  Throw in  a whiff of  fresh manure, warm milk being poured from the surge milker into stainless steel pails  and you have  the main components.  The milking machine was chugging  away, the  20 plus cattle were munching their dinners, the barn cats were waiting for warm milk to be splashed into their dish, and their pleading meows added to the familiar and comforting ambience.

In my blog recalling  the fall season, I mentioned all the root vegetables, and now that they were safely  stored,  it was the time  to prepare and market the crops we grew.  My father, every Thursday, loaded the two ton truck and headed out to supply his customers  with his particular produce. These customers, were Italian and Greek grocers, Chinese restaurants and those who wanted live chickens that could be killed in the kosher traditions. I remember looking at a sack of several chickens, pitying them,  being put into the back of the truck, along with the sacks of waxed rutabagas, (turnips) cases of graded eggs, New York dressed chickens, potatoes, and likely red beets as well.

Wednesday was chicken killing day and I  was on the  chicken plucking staff. Not a fun thing to do, but we never really thought about things being “not to our liking” . It was just something that needed to be done.  Someone had made a turnip washer, that tumbled them and dumped them onto a drying rack.  They were then hand dipped in melted paraffin  wax.. After the wax  was set up they were bagged in 50 lb sacks.

These activities were all carried out in the big hipped roof barn, and the cows created the heat for the entire lower level.  No carbon footprint there.  Upstairs under the hay mow were pens for up to 800 laying hens which also created their own heat,, but on a sunny winter afternoon, they got the southern exposure and they would strut around in their wood shavings  doing their extraordinarily  triumphant  cackling , after having laid their daily egg.  (before cages)  It has also been recorded that when a very little girl, they  would find me  trying  to  feed the  kittens,  with a mucilage bottle filled with milk.

Supper was often soup and cheese, or home fried potatoes, cold beef, leftovers from the noon meal, which was called dinner.  There was no TV, or radio, but the men would go out to bed down the cows with fresh straw for their long night ahead, sleeping in their stanchions, where they had stood all day. Sometimes, I would sit at the long kitchen dinning table to practice my handwriting with my brother Ken.   Exciting eh?  I really wonder if we dropped some children  from today into that scene, what they would do.??

When I was a teenager sometimes , we would get the word that someone’s pasture had flooded and was now frozen and ready to accept skaters.  Off we went.  Cars were positioned to provide some  light. To sail on your skates in the dark cold night, was invigorating to say the least. Now when  that good looking fellow who skates so well, asked me to skate it was that much  better.!!

 During the winter months  the ladies, were  piecing quilts, hooking rugs,  sewing for “relief”  for post war poverty in Europe.   A common thing to see my Mom do was sitting with a large pan of apples that had been stored in our cold cellar.  As she peeled them I was fascinated that she could peel a whole apple and have only one long curly peel left, now I do it without thinking.  We ate stewed apples nearly every meal it seemed with a  good rustic bran muffin, and a splash of maple syrup, or a whole little bowl of syrup for my Dad.  Mom also cleaned  and candled eggs  to prepare for sale.  Always busy it seemed..

I love how the farm provided a sense of belonging, to even the youngest child.   Gathering eggs, carrying wood for the stoves  were  job s for a young child, and learning to clean the eggs,(which I am afraid I grumbled about.)  It has been said that good self-esteem comes with  tasks well done and more importantly that a child feels he is contributing to the family unit. A sense of purpose  and being a part of the whole.

I do not want to live in the past, but I share these thoughts because there is a lot to learn from these experiences.



Our farm house painted by Evelyn Burkholder


The spruce hedge was planted by my father to provide wind break for the large, brick home built in the mid 1800’s by my mother’s ancestors. In my early memory, it seemed to provide a natural boundary for my roaming.  Between the house and the spruce trees, to the west, was a large garden, a long row of perennial flowers, a grape vine and a generous apple orchard.  The hip roofed, weathered barn with the silo and milk house formed a southern boundary for my world. The garage where Dad parked his Monarch car,( with keys in the ignition always) was attached to the small work shop, that housed  my brother Cecil’s welding machine and cutting torches. It had southern exposure windows and a wood burning barrel, making it a pleasant destination on a cold day. The implement shed that  housed the three Case tractors , along with some harrows and ploughs, was not far away. . Beyond this were the pastures and crops, a total of 100 acres in all.

As I grew older, exploring beyond the spruce hedge and walking along the fence rows was a near magical experience. Trees, brush, long grass , rocks, and rail fences of cedar,provided home for small animals. I recall seeing groundhogs peaking out of their burrows, as I passed.  Early spring was memorable, because toward the back of the 100 acres, was the flat land that turned wet with the melting snow, forming a creek. It created wondrous fun, following its trickling and meandering path across the fields, ignoring property lines, as we dammed up here and released there.

Another sign of spring was  walking up the long lane and seeing the whole long, pulley clothes line full of wool blankets and comforters having their yearly “March wind “ treatment,. They got whipped with that cool damp wind, removing anything that should not be there.

Early spring was also the time for butchering enough pigs for our own meat. . There was an air of excitement on that day. It was probably early March, with traces of snow still on the ground, and a cold nip in the air mingling with the smoke from the maple fires including a large one under a cast iron pot, to render down the fat for the years supply of lard. An area was cleared in the woodshed to make a butchers table for cutting up hams and bacon for curing and smoking. Also, the meat for sausage was ground up. I recall watching my Dad expertly winding the intestines around his left hand as he carefully scraped them, and dropped them into pails of water. The sausage meat was expertly seasoned and stuffed into the casings. It seems to me the meal that first day was always, back bone, or loin I suppose. To this day, I cannot recall having any sweeter or more delicious meat than that fresh pork. My Mom and my big sisters coiled those sausages into sealers and “canned’ them. The hams and shoulders were put into large oak barrels, for a certain curing time before they were hung in the smoke house,. It is still difficult for me to enjoy any other ham, having the memory of that dry, smoky version.  Still today,  wood smoke will evoke strong memories of my childhood.

About this time of spring the sap would start to run and it was decided we would go out to our friends, the Bakers, to watch the sap boiling operations.  That historical maple bush is still there, today, but surrounded by high- rise apartments and acres of housing.I still remember the sparks from the wood fires, and of course that wonderful smell of smoke mixed with the sweet steam of the evaporating sap filling  our lungs.  There would usually still be some snow underfoot.  Cool nights and sunny days with the temperature just a bit above freezing  was required for sap to run.

Another exciting day in spring was when, having trudged the one mile and a quarter, up the gravel road, to find that the summer kitchen had been cleaned up and prepared to cook and eat in for the summer months, which was meant to keep the rest of the house cooler.  ( I  know, I know it sounds like a total luxury to have an alternate kitchen ). I remember the scrubbed wood floor, the long pine table ready to set for supper, all the window glass was sparkling and a wood fire was crackling in the range. It seems to me there would be dandelion greens added to our meal at this time and a little later, fresh asparagus.  The scene can be completed in my memories right now with a robin singing outside the west window. The air was damp and you could feel and smell the growing going on around us.   A batch of newly hatched chicks were growing in the brooder house. Grass was greening, dandelions were peeking just to name a few things.. MAGIC, REAL MAGIC! As soon as the pasture was ready, the cows were allowed out to roam and graze, after having been cooped up in their stanchions all winter, surviving on hay, ground grain, turnips from the root cellar. Soon as the land was dry enough, the crops would be seeded and I remember Dad at the end of our long table announcing, “the oats are up”.

This was written quite a few years ago, and I planned to do all the seasons.  I want my idyllic farm life to be on record, for my grandchildren.  It will no doubt, be focused on the crops and foods we grew and ate.  My daughter Janine, says it should be recorded because so many young children barely know where food comes from.


My eldest sister Marion left us this past year. She celebrated her 90th birthday here, in Stouffville, last September.  At that time she was still driving her own van into town in Indiana where she has lived since she married Norman Wenger in 1952.

She had a weekly game night that she enjoyed with her friends, and helped her daughter with the bed and breakfast they operated in the beautiful farmland  one hundred miles south of Chicago.  She was  a lively lady with a great sense of humour. However, her heart began giving her trouble and she went for what was to be a “little” surgery, but things didn’t go as expected and by last June she slipped away, so well cared for and loved by her daughters, daughter in laws and grand daughters , sons and grandsons.   A LIFE WELL  LIVED!

I travelled to Indiana to the funeral, and I hereby pay tribute not only to my sister but to the rural church community that welcomed her so many years ago.  We were astounded by the number  of people who came to the visitations spotting us, her four sisters, who they thought looked like their beloved Marion. When I was a teenager, I would make extended visits to Marion, Norman and their family, and I got to meet some of the church young people.  In fact I celebrated my 16th Birthday with a group of Indiana girls.

 Now, we arrived at the Yellowcreek Frame Mennonite meeting house on this lovely June morning. We assembled inside, with Marion’s children, some of whom have grandchildren themselves.  The building was packed and we went to the front where we sat in silence. The floors were old wood, restored with white walls, and sunlight streamed  through sparkling clear, square window panes. Green leaves fluttered outside.  The closed casket was just a few feet away and behind that were the five ministers who share the caring of the believers. (no paid clergy here). Momentarily, one of the men, announced that we would open with a hymn and  a lone voice from the congregation started and instantly hundreds of voices in wondrous four part harmony, swelled, and soared  to fill that building,  Jesus Thy Boundless Love to Me. I tear up now as I type this.

The first speaker, unannounced and no introduction, arose and with a gracious presence spoke of Marion as Grandma, ( he is married to one of her grand daughters). He shared meaningful scriptures, but most importantly, spoke of how Marion would always ask about their lives. He suggested that she would be a little embarrassed about this large gathering for her.. He spoke of her humour. We then sang the very poetic hymn, On Jordon’s Stormy Banks I Stand ( and cast a wistful eye to Cannan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie.)

The second speaker, had been Marion’s only request for this occasion and I could soon see why. Again, I don’t know his name, but he exuded love and true humility. He alluded to the fact that he was a new minister and Marion was a person who  encouraged others,  including himself.  A senior minister, also shared of his experiences with Marion and then read the obituary and a most moving letter from Marion’s many, many  grandchildren .

We filed out again into sunshine and a lovely view of rolling farmland, where the burial ground was. After she was lowered into the ground, the young men, who seemed exceptionally handsome, to me, started shovelling, eventually handing their shovels to their Dads ,uncles, aunts, and   girl cousins.

I  have called it memorable , because it has been a LONG  time since I have attended a funeral that was so beautiful in it’s simplicity. It contained elements that these folks, who for generations now, have continued with the  spiritual traditions, of a brotherhood, with deliberate lack of emphasis on clergy. In agreement, or not,my feeling is,  they have at least attempted to prevent the powerful or charming taking  power, as Jesus warned  in Matthew 23.

WE MISS YOU MARION!            Marion Pauline Reesor Wenger  1925-2016







In late November 2002, Alex and I drove from Edmonton, across country to Cleveland Ohio to participate  in Fabtec, a very large convention for steel fabricators.

There was literally hundreds of miles of flat farmland that rolled by my window as Alex kept his foot on the accelerator. It was  November, so there were  no lush crops growing or even acres and acres of golden wheat or barley swaying  in the sunshine, which I find beautiful.  Instead, there was miles and miles of rather bleak landscape, tilled land with a dusting of snow, like icing sugar from above. Instead of it being a little depressing, as it may have been for some travellers,  it surprised  me to find a peaceful feeling surrounding me as we travelled ever farther east.  Where did the peace come from?   It has  become clear to me.

Summer on the mixed farm were I grew up in Southern Ontario, was a very productive time, crops to cultivate and   weed, hay to gather before the rain came.  Grains to be threshed or combined, more recently.  Never  rushed or out of control  and never did we delay or postpone our three meals a day. The days had a rhythm that brought a sense of  ALL IS WELL.    Every day except Thursday noon , my Father sat at the head of the table and we all filed into our own spaces. five boys and five girls.My father went once a week with his 2ton truck with a load of produce, plus eggs and New York dressed chickens,  to sell to  Greek, Chinese and Italian grocers along The Danforth and Queen  St. in “the city”  (Toronto) .Back to the large family, it dwindled as the years went on and  I, being the youngest was the last to “fly the coop”.

As autumn or fall as we called it arrived, the program changed from growing , into harvest and store.  The days were cooler, sometimes we needed to rescue garden things from impending frosts.  Rutabagas, were  to be dug and hauled into the large root cellar, potatoes also.  Apples ripened, ready  to be picked and stashed,  for the whole winter.Cabbages and pumpkins stored well, as did beets.  Everything we needed to eat WELL all winter was day by day hauled in before the cold arrived.

I tell my grandchildren, our grocery lists were nearly non-existent. Mr.Johnson, grocer from  Gormley  would call to ask Mom what she needed to have delivered this week.  She didn’t want to disappoint him, so she would order something like Old Dutch Cleanser (remember that) or Bon Ami to polish windows, and some times Kelloggs Corn Flakes, the  Sunday  morning breakfast.  In my day, after they stopped making their own vinegar, I remember him bringing his vinegar and it “glug glug glugged” into Mom’s jug.  By the way, I don’t remember any garbage either.  After the dog licked the butter wrappers they were thrown into the wood stove.  Tin cans were pretty well unheard of.  Flour and sugar were bought in bulk, honey in 40 lb pails, apple butter in very large crocks. These items were stored upstairs  in the “dungle kemmerly” some kind of German for dark closet.

The leaves changed to their spectacular colours and drifted to the ground  The black walnuts fell  with a thud from the trees. We kids gathered chestnuts on the way home from school, and there were mounds of coloured leaves to rake and jump into.

.,The loose  hay was piled under the hip roof of the  barn, for the hay burning cows in their stanchions on the lowest level. The  laying hens  and the full  grain  bins  were on the middle floor. The silo was filled with corn silage for the cows, as well as the  crib was  full of dried corn.There was plenty of golden straw for daily, fresh bedding for the animals.

The   cellar of our large brick house  stored  potatoes, to eat and sell. There were  apples for the winter plus all the preserved fruits and in more recent times a monster freezer full of veg and meat.


There you have it,  those bare bleak fields in the Canadian and American plains brought back that remarkable feeling of ALL IS WELL .  The animals as well as the humans can make it through another winter, and yes perhaps there  will be time for a little leisure.

(I  can’t remember much  leisure  though !!  We were of German descent we couldn’t help it.)

The picture below, I would of course insert Canada into this.   I love  the concept of “NEITHER TO SERVE NOR TO RULE”   Wouldn’t that be a beautiful world?