AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE
By Lloyd Ratzlaff
Elsie Gliege was born on June 24, 1918, the youngest of nine children
whose parents had emigrated from a Krimmer Mennonite Brethren settlement
at Marion Junction, South Dakota, to a new community in the Springfield
district of central Saskatchewan. Elsie grew up attending Springfield
School and Salem KMB Church, a few miles from the Ratzlaffs who had also
come from South Dakota. She attended school and church with Albert, the
second of 12 siblings in his family, and eventually these two fell in
love. They were married on Oct. 1, 1939, in a large tent on the Gliege
homestead, it not yet being customary to hold marriages in church. The
next day they began farming a strip of rented land along the North Saskatchewan
River about a mile from Petrofka Ferry.
Their farmland was scenic in all seasons, and quite accessible
from spring till fall; but in winter the couple became isolated, and
Sundays provided welcome relief. On those mornings they rose early to
do their chores, harness the horses to a covered sleigh built by Elsie’s
father, cross the snow-covered flat and drive uphill to the correction
line leading four miles to the Salem Church. Their mornings were taken
with Sunday school and worship, afternoons filled with visits to relatives
and friends, and after the evening Jugendverein, they took the horses
from the church barns and made their way back down in the dark, re-lit
the fire in their house, fed the animals and milked cows before retiring;
and although they got up during the night to stoke their fire, by Monday
morning the water in the kitchen basin was frozen solid.
Elsie and Albert lived and worked at the river flat for
six years, then moved back up to Springfield where they had rented another
farmstead. In November of 1946 their son Lloyd was born, and hardly a
month later, on Albert’s 31st birthday, the farmhouse and most of its contents
were destroyed by fire. The family spent that Christmas with Elsie’s
parents, and were invited to stay on for the rest of the winter as they
re-organized their lives. Neighbours aided them with food, blankets,
furniture and even gifts of money, an immense help in their near-cashless
In spring of 1947 they bought a small house in the village of Hepburn
and moved it to Laird, where Albert and two younger brothers began operating
a garage. The business had plenty of work from seedtime till harvest,
but in winter when the roads were impassable, most people put their cars
on blocks; then the brothers heated the garage and brewed coffee for
customers who brought them small gadgets for repair, but wanted mainly
to pass the time in their snowbound village until spring thaw. That first
winter the business sold barely 10 gallons of gas.
After a few years, the brothers sold the garage and returned to farming, trying their hands also at commercial potato growing, custom bush-plowing and operating a sawmill, which was also lost to a fire. Elsie and Albert continued living in Laird, and though others from both Gliege and Ratzlaff families lived briefly in the village, only these two made Laird their permanent home.
Elsie taught herself to play the piano, and developed a
lively and unique style that kept her in demand as an accompanist for
community and church events. She was one of the first women in the district
to obtain her driver’s license. Albert became much appreciated
for his inventive mind, and for a good-neighbourliness which was sparing
in words but prodigal in deeds.
After the children left home, Albert and Elsie kept working the farm together. Shortly after their retirement, just before Albert’s 65th birthday, he suffered a major heart attack and his remaining years contained complications that weakened him further. He died at the age of 75 in March 1992, and was buried in Salem Cemetery just across the road from the farm where he grew up.
We seem to give them back to you, O God, who gave them to us. Yet, as you did not lose them in giving, so we do not lose them by their return. Not as the world gives do you give, what you give you do not take away, for what is yours is ours, if we are yours. And life is eternal and love is immortal and death is only a horizon, and horizon is but the limit of our sight (St. Bede the Venerable).
Rain falling so hard drops
And here comes the windstorm, rain lashing sideways
Now the elements settle
Mother, you taught me to be intense
Once when you were widowed you called
You and I were more alike than I liked to think
Ratzlaff is the author of two books of literary non-fiction, The Crow Who Tampered With Time and Backwater Mystic Blues. Formerly a minister, counsellor and university instructor, he now makes his living as a writer in Saskatoon.