Melville, Rhein, Togo, Madge Lake, Canada
After a day spent in Melville with my family, including a delicious pickerel dinner, complete with fresh veggies from my sister Judy’s garden, we take to the road again. Driving north-east, we make stops in Rhein, my father’s parents’ home, Togo, where we have lunch, and Madge Lake, where I spent many childhood summer holidays.
We are struck by how the canola fields have electrified the landscape with their brilliant yellow flowers. Formerly known as rape (a politically incorrect name that was changed in the 70s), this crop has become the mainstay of prairie farmers. The many abandoned homes, barns and schools, deteriorating across the countryside, and surrounded by canola, have us stopping frequently for photo opportunities.
In the Rhein cemetery I find my father’s mother’s father’s grave, along with many other Propps. The name dominates the gravestones, among others: Pister, Leis, Graff, Hilderman, Schwartz, Leibrecht. Lutheran families who emigrated to Saskatchewan early in the 20th century. All intermarried and related.
Father east, we cross the Assiniboine River. A herd of cattle graze by its banks. I remember long-ago afternoons picking Saskatoon berries, swatting mosquitoes, eating more berries than I put in my bucket.
At noon we find ourselves a few kilometres from Togo. A roadside sign indicates there is a restaurant in this tiny hamlet. We look askance at each other. Really?! Sure enough, the Silver Thread community centre has a cafe, serving typical prairie fare. We feast on pirogies and chat with Mark, the cook, server and cashier.
An afternoon at Madge Lake is the jewel in the crown of the day. Summer haunt of my youth. I learned to swim here. Today, the weather and water temperature are perfect for an adult baptism of sorts. Uncle Bill’s and my father’s ashes have been flung into the lake and I imagine I am communing with them as I immerse myself. Aaaahhhhh!!! Craig sleeps in the shade, ignoring his lifeguard duties, while I bob around. Oh well, the lake is shallow for a long way, and it would be difficult to drown.
Back in Melville, as we talk about our day, attempts to unravel the Propp family history lead to much laughter and frustration. How many Jack Propps can there actually be? Seems like every family had one or even two, when there was a father and son named Jack. As is so often the case, I wish my dad was alive to tell us more about his family. Reminds me of the Mike and the Mechanics song “In the Living Years”.