We all knew that my sister Frieda and her husband Henry Schroeder had been born in the same village of Rosenthal in south Russia. But not the details that came out in a story published by brother Jack in his Funk family newsletter:
Henry Schroeder, a little Mennonite boy, four going on five, played under the big oak tree in Rosenthal, Russia, with some blocks made by his father. One block had a cross or a plus sign carved on one side. The boy was so engrossed with his play he didn’t notice the little girl with the reddish-blonde hair watching. She wasn’t very old – about two going on three.
Henry carefully piled the blocks, one on top of the other. The tower swayed precariously as it grew higher, but it held. Finally it was done. Henry sat back to survey this magnificent thing he had built. Suddenly, without warning, but with a squeal of delight, the little girl ran forward and kicked the blocks carefully piled. The blocks flew in all directions. The two children ran to pick them up. The little girl laughed with glee. Henry didn’t laugh as he scrambled after the scattered blocks. He collected most of them but the little toddler ran off with the one with the cross on it. A young mother with red hair scooped the little girl, block and all, and rushed her away.
Henry stood there and watched his block disappear in the grasp of the little girl lost in the crowd at the railway station in Chortitza. He watched people hug, kiss, and say goodbye. He watched the little girl get on the train, clutching his block.
Three years later it was his turn with his family to get on a train for the long trip to Canada. His blocks were long forgotten.
Henry came to Saskatchewan and from there the family moved to Alberta. As he was finishing high school, World War II started and gave him the chance to realize a life-long ambition to become a pilot. He was stationed at Davidson, Saskatchewan.
Meanwhile the little girl and her family moved from Hague to Saskatoon, to Laird, Bruno, and then Blaine Lake where her father was a storekeeper. After high school she graduated with a degree in nursing and began work at Davidson. Here she met a handsome young RCAF flyer. They fell in love and married.
Shortly after their marriage, Frieda’s storekeeper father planned to move to Saskatoon and got ready for an auction sale. Henry and Frieda came to Blaine Lake to help. As they went through boxes of junk, Henry found a little wooden block with a cross on it. Faintly the memory of the blocks his father had made for him decades ago in Russia flashed through his mind. At first he rejected the memory. It was just too much. He took the block to Frieda’s mother who confirmed what he suspected: “Nah yoh, that block came with us from Russia. I don’t know where Frieda got it – but she had it on the train. She played with it a lot on the ship.”
Henry took the block to his father. His father held the block in his hand and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He could only shake his head in amazement.
Jack concluded his story with the words: “The next time you visit the Schroeders in Edmonton, look for the little wooden block with a cross carved on one side. It sits in an inconspicuous place in their china cabinet.”
I did just that. Sure enough, there in the china cabinet was an old cracked child’s block with a cross. It couldn’t happen, but it had. I believed the story – for a while, until Jack and Henry admitted it was all a hoax, carefully concocted and executed. Henry had made the block out of old wood. Jack produced the story – and had fun with the family. Of such stuff family glue is made.