Horse Lake Chronicles
by Aldred Neufeldt
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Keith Foster
$19.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-56-7
In his Horse Lake Chronicles, Aldred Neufeldt recalls growing up as a Mennonite youth in the 1940s on a farm in northern Saskatchewan. Located near Rosthern, the rural community was known as Horse Lake, even though, as Aldred explains, there was no lake by that name nearby.
Horse Lake Chronicles provides a family history for Aldred’s descendants. For people too young to remember, it paints an accurate picture of what life was like in those early days; for those who lived through it, it’s a trip through nostalgia.
With their farm surrounded by forest, Aldred’s parents, Henry and Agatha, built a log house. Following their Mennonite heritage, the family religiously observed Sunday as a day of rest and worship. One of the great sins they tried to avoid was pride.
Aldred maintains that his family wasn’t poor; they just didn’t have any money. They made do with what they had. Being nimble with her foot-pedalled Singer sewing machine, Agatha made winter coats for Aldred and his younger brother Boyce. The boys looked dapper, and Agatha was pleased to display her handiwork. “Dad, for his part, couldn’t have been prouder,” Aldred notes, “though in an understated way, of course.”
Exploring his family genealogy, Aldred notes that his great-grandmother, a widow with eight children to care for, was encouraged to marry a widower who had seven children of his own. She died a few years later.
Aldred also relates that the day after his grandparents married, they left on their honeymoon by train – “she in the coach car, he in a boxcar looking after their cattle and possessions.”
For reading matter, the family entertained themselves with the Western Producer and Star Weekly. The comics introduced kids to such fantasy characters as Tarzan, Superman, Little Orphan Annie, Dagwood and Blondie, Popeye, Dick Tracy, and others who stirred the fertile imaginations of little minds.
Highlights of the year included the annual field day with its three-legged and potato sack races. At the Christmas concert, parents judged teachers by their ability to organize a good program. Any teacher who could do that must also be a good teacher.
Another social highlight Aldred mentions is the box social. Aside from church, this was one of the few ways singles could meet. If the intended recipient of the gaily decorated box of edibles didn’t bid high enough to win the treats, there would be heartbreak. This was especially sad when the high bidder was someone the basket’s creator didn’t care for.
Aldred’s portrayal of life in a one-room school is spot on. His description of the classroom with its blackboard, portraits of the reigning King and Queen, and the large atlas on the wall can only be related by someone who was there.
Aldred supplements his book with footnotes, ten black and white photos, and two maps. Although he may not want to show it, given his Mennonite principles of modesty, Aldred can well be proud of his Horse Lake Chronicles.
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