In his younger years, my Grandpa Maendel raised chickens. People still remember his work ethic and his matter-of- fact approach to farming and life in general. Once we had people who had grown up in our colony, come for a visit. As we walked around, listening to them reminisce, one man enthusiastically recalled, “I remember your grandpa in his old straw hat walking home from the barn, always dusty. I thought he must be the most hard-working man on the colony.”
As children we sometimes went to help him sweep the barn or bed down the chickens. Other times it would mean unloading the new baby chicks that had just arrived from Millers Hatchery. While Grandpa and the truck driver unloaded all the boxes, my cousins and I picked up and carefully tipped the boxes to empty the chicks, “Right under the brooders.” - heating devices hanging from the cealing. It didn’t matter that in mere seconds the chicks were all over their new pen. According to Grandpa’s tried and true methods, that’s how you do, end of story. A few times we suggested unloading the boxes first, so the chicks wouldn’t be underfoot; to no avail. His no nonsense, I’m-in-charge-here attitude always prevailed. We soon learned there was no point in trying to do it otherwise, much less argue your case. Still, we knew he meant well and always appreciated our help.
After health issues forced him to give up raising chickens, he took up mowing lawns and repairing lawnmowers for colony families. For him, retiring to an easy chair was not an option. It soon became apparent to everybody, that lawnmowers were his new babies. If you didn’t want a stern lecture on how to take care of your mower, you did what he said. I was on the receiving end of quite a few of these impromptu lessons. These timely teachings didn’t go for naught, as they still ring in my ear whenever I go near a mower. Like Grandpa is admonishing me from his grave. “When was the last time you cleaned this machine properly?”
One year Stella, a girl from a community in New York came for a visit. While she was helping her host family with yard work, the lawn mower wouldn’t start after she had refuelled it. Having been with us for a while, Stella knew to take the mower to Grandpa, to fix
With Stella watching, Grandpa tried to find out what the problem was. After a few minutes he unscrewed the lid of the gas tank and stuck his stubby finger into it. As he’d by then suspected, it came out quite greasy. “What did you put in here?” he asked brusquely.
“Well, it was out of gas, so I refilled it?” Stella answered, uncertain as to what she’d done wrong.
“Bring me the container of this ‘gas’ you put in here.” Grandpa ordered, wiping his fingers in an old rag he had close by. Still a bit miffed, Stella hurried around the corner of the house to get the jug that would prove she had done nothing wrong.
Grandpa raised the jug looking at its dark thick content, tilting it back and forth slowly, as if making a statement. “This is not gas! It is oil!” grandpa lectured emphatically. “Don’t New York girls know the difference between gas and oil? And I’ll bet you went to college, too.” At that time many Hutterites, especially the older generation didn’t see the value of education beyond grade eight, firmly believing that all the schooling necessary can be gleaned from working alongside experienced adults.
“This will take a while. No need for you to stand around here.” He continued, dismissing Stella. “I’ll bring you the mower once it’s cleaned and properly refuelled!”
As promised, after a few hours grandpa returned the mower; cleaned, running smoothly and big bold letters on top of the gas tank, ‘GAS ONLY’. Still a bit perplexed by this mix-up Grandpa instilled one more lesson, “Oil is thick and dark!” while walking away shaking his head.
Even though Grandpa sometimes came across as gruff and too set in his ways, we all knew he had a heart as warm and soft as baby chicks. It brought him great joy spending time visiting with family and especially teasing his grandchildren. One of his most-used questions, “What did you learn in school today?” To which we always answered, “Nothing.”
“Then you have to go back tomorrow.” He informed us, as if any other answer would have meant the opposite.
Grandpa was born in South Dakota on October 13, 1909 and moved to Canada in 1918. Although he’s been gone since 1997 his memories and the countless life lessons he instilled, live on.