Everything Pedde

   S J Pedde Canada   S.J. Pedde

Oma and Opa

Dear Zachary:

How time has flown.  You’re seven years old now, and a big boy.  I’ve always enjoyed interacting with you, but I think that the times we share together now are extra special.  I love hearing about what is important in your life.  Your curiosity about the world around us allows us to talk about history, politics, science, and religion.  What a treasure is a young mind.

I’m forty-seven years older than you.  My father, your Opa, was almost that much older than I.  I loved my dad very much and miss him now that he’s gone.  I could never talk with him the way you and I can. He was always working to support the family.  Because he only attended school for several months in his entire life, he didn’t know as much about some things as you do already at your tender age.  Still, I loved to hear about his life as he grew up.  He was born in 1904 in a German settlement in Poland.  As the first world war loomed in 1914, the Russian Czar shipped many Polish Germans to Siberia.  Opa's family travelled by train, in a cattle car, with bales of straw as insulation against the cold.  The trip took six weeks, with numerous stops, sometimes for days at a time, between Poland and Siberia. 

In 1917, the Communists overthrew the Czar and forced their own abuses on Russia and eventually on what came to be known as the Soviet Union.  Years later, the German Nazis started the second world war and invaded Poland.  Because Opa’s family had been allowed to return to Poland from Siberia after the first world war, they suffered again.  I never knew the two uncles who died as a result of the war, nor my two brothers who died of cold and hunger in January of 1945.  My mom and dad got separated while fleeing the advancing Russian army and she had the two boys in her care. They travelled on foot through the winter snow for weeks, often sleeping outdoors.  The boys got sick and died in northern Germany.  My mom and dad found each other in July of 1945, shortly after I was born.  Enough was enough.  We left for a hopefully better life in Canada in 1949.  I was not quite four years old.

How things have changed since my dad was a boy.  In Siberia, his family and dozens of other displaced Germans, were dumped alongside a railroad track and were left to fend for themselves. It was already October and it was cold. The men trekked for miles trying to find some signs of civilization and thankfully found a Mennonite settlement.  The Mennonites took in all the hungry people and fed and housed them until spring came.  When the ground thawed, each family built a one-room sod hut to live in.  My dad, his seven brothers and sisters and their parents, all lived in one such hut.  The brutally cold Siberian winters were endured by the heat of wood stoves and candle light. The only reading material available to them was a German bible.  That’s how my dad learned to read.  Every day he read five chapters in the bible, a habit which he maintained until he died at age ninety-four.

When we arrived in Canada in May of 1949, my parents owed money to a farmer in Alberta who had paid for their trip across the Atlantic in the S.S. Scythia, a ship of the Cunard Lines.  They were given a chicken coop as their new home.  They cleaned out the chicken droppings, put in a wood stove, and spent a very cold Alberta winter waiting for spring, so my dad could go to work as a field hand to pay off their sizeable debt.  My brother Alfred, your uncle, was born in November, and spent the first winter of his life in that frigid place. I can still remember perpetual ice on the walls, several inches thick at the floor, and tapering up as the air got warmer higher up.

Do you know what always profoundly affected me, Zachary, as I grew up?  Never once did I hear my parents complain about the hardships they endured.  They faced each new problem as it arose, dealt with it as best they could, and life went on. They made mistakes sometimes.  Yes, even our parents aren’t perfect, as you will discover soon enough through your experiences with me.  But whatever happened, as long as I lived at home, both my mom and dad always tried to be fair and reasonable, and tried to teach me to behave in the same way.

I don’t know if I can ever live up to the standards set by my parents, but I do try. I can only hope that when you get to be my age, you will love and respect me as much as I do my parents. My dad is gone now, but my mom is still with us, showing by example how we can live a rewarding life in a sometimes thankless world.