Harry Forbes’ Sister Remembers – 3
(these memories written by Helen Hoszouski ,nee Forbes)
Our Mother, Bertha
Our mother was born in 1897 at Beressina, Bessarabia, Russia, near Odessa on the Black Sea. The family was of German descent, but many German people had immigrated to Russia.
Mom remembers very little about life in Russia as she was only five years old when the family immigrated to the US to a place called Hickville, in the state of Washington. All she remembered of the boat trip across the ocean was that her father gave them peppermints to stave off seasickness.
Mom’s life was always a life of work and being away from home, starting when she was eight years old. She worked at the time for a lady of whom she had fond memories, one of which was the lady braiding her hair. This job was as a companion. When she did spend time at home during those early years, her dad and mother, many times, were away working. John, her brother, who was a year older than she, would sometimes do a bit of cooking, but often all they had for supper was milk and watermelon or muskmelon.
They lived in an area where water was not plentiful and they were frequently without. There was a well, not a good one, from which they could haul water. Others hauled from there also, so it was a matter of ‘first come, first served’, until the water ran out. They had to pay ten cents for a barrel of water. Their mother was paid fifty cents a day for stooking grain.
Mother had only a Grade One education; she had a limited knowledge of reading and writing, much of which she had learned on her own. She was good with figures, doing calculations without pencil and paper. She recalled that when her brother Adolf, one year younger than she, was young, he wanted so much to go to school, but often had to stay home to work. If he had the chance he would climb out the bedroom window and run to school without breakfast.
In 1911 the family moved once again to the Kincorth-Hatton area of Saskatchewan. Mom worked at various places in that area as well as Frances, Saskatchewan and Medicine Hat, Alberta. While working in Medicine Hat, she sang in a choir. She could also play the mouth organ. When we were young she often sang as she worked around the house.
At the period of time when Mom was young, many parents thought it their right to choose husbands and wives for their daughters and sons as they still do in some countries. It was only a few years ago as I listened to my mother and her sister reminiscing that I learned why Uncle Adolf had never married. When he was a young man he had a girlfriend, Mary, of whom he was very fond. One day he went to visit her. He was met at the door by her father who said, “Mary doesn’t live here any more; Mr. ‘So and So’ brought me a load of wheat, so she has gone with him.” I don’t know if Adolf ever had another girlfriend but he never married.
There was a man; I think his name was Elhart, in the area who made a business of finding husbands and wives for young people. Maybe parents hired him to do that. Even though it had been many years before, Mom remembered well the day he came to her parents’ home. She happened to be home at the time and was out in the straw shed milking cows. He came in to ‘look her over’, she thought. She let him know very forcefully that she was her own boss, had been earning her own living and no one was going to choose a husband for her.
Even after the young people were old enough to be away from from working, they were expected to turn their wages over to their parents. One time Mom had saved up a bit of money from her earnings. She had made out an order to the Eaton’s catalogue for two small items which she very much wanted. Her mother wouldn’t let her send the order, because she insisted “the family needed the money”, so Mom had to give it to her.
Mom was only five feet, one inch tall and when she was married could span her waist with her hands. Dad was five feet eight inches, not a big man, but a very handsome one. I don’t know how they met but they must have been a very striking young couple.
My mom (Bertha) and dad (Allan Forbes) were married on June 10, 1917 at Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. (Dad was 26, Mom was 20 years old.) Their honeymoon was a twelve mile trip by horse and buggy to Dad’s homestead place, three and a half miles east of Kincorth. Dad had settled there in 1911.
Soon after they were married Bertha’s dad (our grandfather) was killed when a rock which he was covering rolled on him. If there was a large rock in the field that would interfere with the field work, they had no way, back then, of removing it. They would dig around it until it could be buried deep enough to not catch on the farm implements. On this occasion that work led to disaster. Bertha’s mother (our grandmother) was left with several small children at home to care for. To make a living for them she would take a job housekeeping for a bachelor, but so that there would be no gossip, they would marry. Her first try at that was a disaster as he was a very cruel man. She divorced him, but married again to a man named Byers. He passed away and she then married a Mr. Lienweber who also pre-deceased her. There were not many ways for women at the time to be able to provide for themselves.
Mom’s first child, Harry Forbes, was born in 1918 in Maple Creek, weighing in at three and a half pounds. It may have been in a hospital, but I am inclined to believe it was at the home of friends. By 1926, eight years later, she was the mother of three boys and four girls. When the youngest of these was aged six, she had her second family of two boys and a girl, followed nine years later by the third family of one boy, a total of 11 children.
The second to the seventh babies were all born in the homestead house. There was a neighbour lady who served as a midwife. She would have a new baby and mother as well as several small children to cook and care for. She was given ten dollars for these services for which she was very grateful.
The other babies, except for the youngest one, were born in the Maple Creek hospital. Mother was kept in bed for ten days with only limited time to be on her feet during the last couple of days. She then had to go home and resume all her regular duties, plus care for a new baby.
Our youngest brother was born in October, during harvest time. Dad took Mom to Medicine Hat to stay with long-time friends, the Hall’s, until it was time for her to enter the hospital. When she was discharged from there she took the train to go home. She got off at Kincorth with the plan to walk a half-mile to the home of friends and have them drive her home. There were no phones in the homes yet, so she could not let them know ahead of time. When she arrived at their place, there was no one home. With a newborn baby on her arm and the suitcase in her other hand she walked the three long miles home. What plunk and stamina!
Collected and edited by Jen Zollner.
© Copyrights to Harry Forbes Remembers are held by the Medicine Hat Cowboy Poetry Foundation, a Non-Profit Society registered in Alberta.