Gerhard & Peter

MCI teachersGerhard Ens was my second friend in Gretna, met in the church where his dad Gerhard Senior, usually called George, was one of the Ministers, in Rosenort a village not to be confused with Rosenort close to Winnipeg or Bluemnort, a nearby village, though it was the Blumenorter church. George was a teacher at the Mennonite Collegiate Institute where my father also was a teacher. They are in the picture above, with Principal Paul Schaeffer (far left) a remarkable leader  and an excellent salesman, even convincing my mother’s conservative  family that my mother should go to school there. You can read more about him and our fathers in Gerhard’s history of the MCI called “Die Schule Musst Sein.” My Father, Frank F stands next to Schaeffer, second from the left, and Gear’s dad George is on the far right.

There was some tension between our parents, or at least so imagined by my mother. I irritated my mother by praising the German pastries his mother made (she was echt Duetsch) and he irritated his by praising my mother’s crescent rolls, and plain flat platz, not strudel, platz. Flat pie.

Loren Klassen was my actually first friend in Gretna because he lived on Mill Road, half a dusty street next to the tracks, just a few houses down from me. The Friesen family once owned that street and the mill (their stories worth an entire novel) when Gretna was a railway town.   I can remember coal fired steam engines, though they were only used during the busiest season, which when I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s was the sugar beet season, late in fall. The trains, like the sugar beets are gone. Loren’s Dad worked for the Department of Agriculture as a sugar beet inspector. Details are available in my recent poetry collection called boy, though I haven’t found any pictures of Loren in any of the stashes of old photos I’m having scanned. Loren moved to a new bungalow from their stately old two story on the other side of the tracks. Then he moved to Winnipeg a year before we did.

We moved into their house after they moved to their bungalow, while mum sold our old house, had it moved, and had a bungalow built for us allowing us to stay on our lovely Mill road property. I was pleased to have indoor plumbing in 1964 (I was nine). While we lived in Loren’s house I mistakenly peed in the closet mistaking a shoe for a chamber pot. It was dark, no night lights in those dark days. It was then that I began to remember my dreams.

Gerhard’s mom may also have been unhappy with the fact that I started grade two when I was six, getting a jump on him because this was baby boom time, and the classes were too big, and they moved the cut off from December 31st back to December 1st for school entry. His birthday was December 14, and so he ended up a class behind me in school.  My parents (the principal and the teacher) had given me an unfair advantage by skipping me a grade. I made up for this, taking forever to get my B.A. while Gear was busy getting an M.A. and a Ph.D and becoming a history professor.


Peter & Gear in Front of Room 3 & 4Peter I met when I returned to the MCI to go to high-school. He attracted attention by being the most fastidious dresser in the boy’s residence and the slowest eater at our meals taken in the dining hall. He was also at the top of his class, and the best tenor in concert and chamber choir directed by Henry Engbrecht. This mattered because real Mennonite men sing. I will also never forget hiding in Peter’s closet when Henry was dean (teachers had to take turns) and he came to Peter’s room to hear the story about the FLQ execution of Pierre LaPorte.

Peter was an excellent athlete, most notably  on the basketball and volleyball court. We were closest I suppose when he lived in Room 3 with Bob Wiebe and Gear and I lived in Room 4. This photo is of the Gerhard and Peter standing in front of room 3 and 4 windows of the old res, which is long gone. Peter was accepted into a clique of preacher’s kids, where I felt accepted because of my reading and writing, as well as having the requisite preacher father. Peter was admitted on the strength of his academic achievements,  especially when he started going out with one of my cousin nieces (his only academic competition) whose father was a prominent preacher and a GC mover and shaker. Gerhard was going out with her sister. Gerhard, Peter, and I were not related, and since they did not marry the sisters, not even by marriage. As it turned out none of the three of us married Mennonite girls, though Peter has ended up with one. Of course I have poem related to this called CFAM, published in Rhubarb, but still uncollected,  probably best left ignored.

This picture was taken on the same trip where we visited our old homes in Gretna and Altona. We also lived together for a year in the Glenlea teacherage, just south of the city splitting the $50.0/month rent three ways. Later there were a couple of years where we each had our own apartments in the original Riverview Mansions on Westminster, built, we were told, by the King of Belgium during WWI has an investment and a hedge against uncertain outcomes. I lived in the centre block, with Peter in the west wing and Gear in the east.  There is more to say, but may be best said in a novel I’m planning to call Preacher’s Kids. (Talk about jinxing a project!)

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