Love Letters and Old Diaries – Part 2

   Aside from my father's letters, diaries and photographs, I found other interesting writings. In an obscure envelope I found the short biography of my great-grandfather, John R. Reimer, father to Maria (Mrs. John C. Reimer). He had not been a physically strong person and thus found it difficult to get work which he could do. For a while he was the herdsman for the village of Neuanlage's cattle. Each day he would walk down the only street in the village and collect the cows, walking to the common pasture. At the end of the day he would bring them home.

   John R. Reimer taught school in Neuanlage, a satellite colony of Blumenort, from 1894-1896. In 1895 he and his wife, Maria, bought a village lot. In October 1896 he opened a store in the largest room in their house to get more income. He sold groceries, hardware, dry goods, clothing, footwear, medicine and kerosene. Most people had charge accounts which they paid when able. He also accepted farm products like eggs and butter in trade. John R. Reimer died at age 30 because he could not get medical help which would likely have been available today.

   Another diary of great interest to me was written by my grandmother, Mrs. John C. Reimer. She was married about half a year when she began writing.

   Life was very simple in those days of living in Steinbach. But the work of planting massive gardens and harvesting them was hard. My grandfather had severe arthritis for some years, leaving Maria to dig and sack all the potatoes by herself. She was a tough woman and didn't complain in the diaries. It was a challenge to always keep homemade bread and other food on the table. It was easiest if one kept to a strict schedule: one day for washing clothes, one day for ironing, one or two days for baking, and the other days for more baking, making rag rugs, sewing, etc.

   They spent a lot of time visiting back and forth. This was their main social entertainment and the way to get news in a time of no radios and televisions. Visiting also involved feeding a lot of people, but Maria’s meals were very basic. She would make soup and potatoes for one meal, and soup, bread and cookies for another. Meat was a rare treat.

   Death was always with them. Maria writes of one young mother who passed away, leaving many children; two children who got scarlet fever and died quickly; and a man who died when the well he was digging caved in on him. There were a lot of funerals, and the life expectancy was lower than it is now. My grandma mentioned in her diary how she had to quickly make a lot of buns (zweibach) for the lunch after a funeral. On a lighter note, there were also weddings (included in a Sunday morning service), which provided a time for visiting and eating later.

   In a folder labeled “J C Reimer Preservings,” I found a six-page, timeline diary of the life of my grandfather, John C. Reimer. In 1897, when he was three years old, his parents moved to an “unimproved bush farm” off Highway #52 in Steinbach at the site of present-day Southland Church.

   In 1899, at the age of five, John's mother sent him to the store in Steinbach with only a memorized list of seven items to purchase, and he had not forgotten one thing. Could we put responsibility like that on a five-year-old today?

   I also found an article from 1884 on Klass Reimer's first store building, which is now at the Mennonite Heritage Village. In a transcript from audio tape, recorded in 1987 at the 175th anniversary celebration of the Kleine Gemeinde, John C. Reimer has a talk about Kleine Gemeinde education. These old photographs and carefully preserved writings are such treasures!

Calendar of Events

August 3-6, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Pioneer Days

August 13-17, Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 8 - 10

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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