I just spent a few turbulent jubilant days on the family farm east of Fort St. John, B.C. I grew up there as an immigrant child on a homestead. When my Dad bought the land, there were less than 100 acres cleared on the four quarters. A small unfinished house was our first home. What a contrast to the large comfortable farmhouse, the modern dairy operation, and the red and green equipment parked in the yard that my brother and his wife now own.
Dad wrote a memoir of those years, first in German – Kanada, Dein Neues Heimatland. This week the English version comes out in print – Canada, a New Home in a New Land. Now the grandchildren can read it too. As the oldest of seven children, I am the only one that remembers the whole of the time Dad writes about. I found it fascinating to hear the story from his angle. Some of my siblings find the book hard to read. Each of us has their own interpretation of that time. No one will deny they were hard times, but there were many light moments too
Along with the Canada book, Dad`s second book is being printed – Aus Alter Zeit (From old times). In it he writes some of the history of our family in Switzerland back several generations, and describes the customs of the people and farming of that time. It is actually a novel, based on fact. Again, I found it fascinating to read how things once were.
We often tell our Zambian friends that we in the West were where they are only a few hundred years ago. Actually, the more I read Swiss rural history, the more I think that only a hundred years of history separate us. I was shocked to read about poverty in the Swiss mountain villages so severe that people had to gave their children away to other farmers who used them like slaves to do their work, paying them in clothes (often cheap and few) and food (often inadequate). That still happened in the early 1900s. Well, I guess they at least survived.
Moving between different cultures as I do, I often ask: “Why do people do what they do?” Reading and hearing about their roots helps answer some of those questions. Understanding where we come from helps us to understand ourselves, and our parents. Listening to other people’s stories helps us to understand them.
Sometimes I feel I have a lot in common with the Zambian villagers we work with. I too grew up with little. That first year in Canada we had no running water. There was no telephone for many years, and certainly no money, though we were always fed and warm. Maybe that`s why I find it easy to adapt quickly to other circumstances.
(If you’re interested in a copy of Dad’s books you can call him – Gottlieb Lehmann, 250-785-4991)