CHAPTER 3 - Washington
Castle Rock opened new vistas for Toni. Visits with neighbours in the Hanna area had all been planned ones, due to the distances - in Castle Rock the Hoffman home was within a mile of town - considered very easy walking distance in those days. Jobs were available, and there were many members of the family to spend time with.
Picture 3-1 Toni and Gustie, aged 15 and 17
The first summer the Hoffman family was in Castle Rock, Toni and Gustie worked in the kitchen at a logging camp. The cook had recently quit, many of the other staff followed her example. The Hoffman sisters were hired as flunkies - setting and clearing tables, preparing vegetables and other assigned duties. When a new cook assumed control of the kitchen, Gustie remained a flunky, Toni became a dishwasher. The girls were seventeen and fifteen years, respectively (Picture 3 - 1).
Two young men from the logging camp began to visit the Hoffman home on Sunday afternoons. Emil was a tree faller, and owned a car large enough for himself and his friend, plus Sig, Gustie and Toni to all go driving together. This quintet spent many hours touring the area, enjoying the carefree times in which all youths delight. In time it became evident Emil "had his eye" on Gustie. Julius was delighted! He liked the young man - Emil had a good, albeit dangerous, job and was making good money. Meanwhile, Emil's friend, a tall, slim chap named Adolph, spent his time with Toni. They liked one another, the affection being perhaps a little more on his side. When talking about this time many years later, Toni smiled gently and said softly - "I was too young - much too young."
Augusta Hoffman did not want Toni to have to go out working too early in life, and watched for another avenue for her youngest daughter. One day, Toni saw a group of teenagers, just dismissed from classes at the local high school. They were laughing and in high spirits. With envy, Toni observed them, thinking: "I would give anything to be part of that group! It would be wonderful to be having so much fun!" A short time later, Augusta asked Toni if she would like to attend high school, and with delight, Toni began her higher education.
Toni's summer wages from the logging camp provided her with a suitable wardrobe for school. Accustomed to having the curriculum set, as was done in Canada, Toni was puzzled when the American teachers asked what subjects she wished to study. Choosing four, she charted a course including English, algebra, history and geometry.
School regulations determined that those students who maintained a seventy-five percent average were not required to write examinations. Toni made sure her marks remained above that benchmark, as writing exams made her nervous. She found she enjoyed, and excelled in, the mathematics courses, but her special love was poetry. She memorized numerous poems, and throughout her life, poetry was an enjoyment that remained. Her second year courses included typing, shorthand, and English. With the typing course, each student underwent a typing test to determine the individuals speed and accuracy. Others in the group were faster than Toni, but she was more accurate, and the whole class did well.
Picture 3-2 Sig with Toni in the gypsy costume
School offered more than just scholastic opportunities. Toni's upbringing on the prairies had left her with a shyness that she now addressed. At school she volunteered for as many activities as she could manage. She played both basketball and volleyball; she sang alto in the Glee Club. Slowly she learned to relax and enjoy other people more, by mixing with greater numbers. She relished in helping with a school candy making project, and with preparing and serving the celebratory dinner for the school football team after they had won the county championship (Picture 3 - 2).
Julius Hoffman had purchased an apple orchard, and finding the apple market flooded in harvest season, turned his hand to producing apple by-products to sell. He acquired an apple press and developed a local market for his apple cider. One family that came to purchase his cider were the Schuetze's.
Picture 3-3 Toni with Gustie on July 14, 1919
The two families had become acquainted during their time in Castle Rock. One afternoon as Toni was walking home from school, she met Sam driving her father's horses into town (Picture 3-3). With him was Lothar Schuetze. Sam and Lothar had become friends earlier, and now the families began to mix. Invited to the home of Carl and Irma Schuetze Boden, the Hoffman family all responded, and it was there that Gustie and Lothar met for the first time. It was a case of love at first sight (Picture 3 - 4).
As the days passed, Emil no longer came to the house - Gustie's attentions were elsewhere. Toni, who was developing into quite a beauty, still enjoyed Adolph's visits, but things had changed.
The changes in Gustie's romantic inclinations did not please Julius. In comparing Emil and Lothar, Julius favoured Emil. After all, Emil had higher paid employment, he owned a car, lived close at hand, and all the Hoffman family knew and liked him. Emil had earlier told Gustie - "I'll buy you a diamond ring - you can have any house in town that you choose!" Julius' delight in Emil's ability to provide, financially, for Gustie, now turned to dismay as he witnessed Gustie's growing affection for Lothar.
Picture 3-4 Magdalena and Toni in Sam's car
Lothar was under-employed. He wanted to return to the Manitoba wilds - to take Gustie trapping in the bush. Small wonder Julius and Augusta suddenly became protective parents, wishing to influence their daughter's romantic inclinations. But it was not to be - within the year, Gustie and Lothar were married, and left to start their life together in Canada.
Since the Hoffman and Schuetze families spent many hours together, Rod and Toni saw one another frequently, but no romance developed. The families picnicked together close by Castle Rock and even took a trip together to Spirit Lake on Mount St. Helens. It was a warm, beautiful summer day - Rod and Lothar brought along a canoe, and were taking the other picnickers for rides. There was considerable competition among the young people to see who would secure a ride and who would miss out. Toni made sure she was a rider, not just a bystander.
Picture 3-5 Toni at age 17
During this trip to Mount St. Helens, the families drove a winding mountain road, in places so narrow two vehicles could not meet. In one such spot, they encountered a team and buggy descending the mountain. The rules of the time required the car to back up until a spot could be located where the two vehicles could pass. Instead, they improvised: Rod unhitched the team, and drove them around the car. Turning his attention to the buggy, he utilized ropes and manpower to haul the buggy over the edge of the mountain side and around the car. Both parties were quickly on their respective ways.
Having earned and saved enough money to begin their return to Manitoba, Rod left first, planning to stop in the Regina area where he had a short-term job waiting for him. A few weeks later, Lothar and Gustie entrained for Canada, and their future together.
One summer, Rod's sister, Gerda was living with her two sisters, their husbands and children in an enormous rented house in Vancouver, Washington. Ralph Schuetze worked at a nearby logging camp and frequently visited the house, bringing with him his friend, Johnny. Gerda wrote to Toni (Picture 3 - 5) in Castle Rock, telling her of employment in the canneries in Vancouver, and encouraging her to join their happy, crowded household. Toni accepted, and Julius escorted his daughter to the bus depot for her first trip on her own. She was seated next to the driver, and they conversed during the trip. At a toll booth spanning the Columbia River, the driver, noting Toni's interest in all that occurred, gave her the papers to hand to the toll collector.
In Vancouver, Toni shared a room with Gerda (Picture 3 - 6) and the girls worked together at the cannery. An allotment of fruit or vegetables arrived for the days work, and when that was completed, the staff went home. They canned mostly raspberries - the girls and women hand-sorting the berries and filling the cans.
Picture 3-6 Gerda and Ralph Schuetze with Toni Hoffman
During the summer, Toni enjoyed the company of Gerda, Ralph and Johnny. Together they attended many movies, and spent hot summer afternoons at a sandy beach on the Columbia River where they swam, sun-bathed and played beach games.
Despite his capabilities in cabinet-making and saddlery, Julius found suitable employment eluded him. There was always work in the logging camps, but that was very hard labour for a man of his years. His apple orchard yielded well, but everyone else also had apples, so that was no answer.
Julius and Augusta decided the family should return to the homestead. Julius left in the spring, while Augusta, Rosella, Sig and Toni remained with the Washington property until it sold, then followed him. Toni had a number of offers of accommodations in Castle Rock so she could remain and complete her Grade Twelve, graduating with her classmates. She wanted to be with her family, and decided to forego her education to return to Alberta with them.
The three years the Hoffman's had spent in Washington had been hard years on the Canadian prairies. Drought conditions had been dominant throughout that time, and farmers were very short of cash. Many of those who had purchased items at the Hoffman farm auction three years earlier were still unable to make payment, so they settled their debts with Julius by trading him horses and other livestock.
The grain harvest of 1923 was likely one of the best wheat crops on the Hoffman homestead. With good crops all around them, hired help was at a premium, and the family found ways to do the work themselves. Julius would operate the binder, cutting and tying the grain in sheaves, while Toni and Sig stooked. When he wearied of the bounce of the binder, Julius would trade jobs with Sig. During the harvest season, farmers 'traded time' with their neighbours, and when Julius left to fulfil his time obligations, Sig and Toni hauled grain from bins in the fields to the elevator at the town of Watts. Toni drove a team hitched to a single wagon box, and Sig had four horses and a triple wagon box. They made two trips a day, one morning, the other afternoon. Driving a team was a challenge to Toni - but hauling grain was much cleaner work than what she had been assigned during threshing, when she shovelled the grain back from the doorways of the bins, so more grain could be added.
Toni had been looked on for many years as 'the baby of the family' - the one too small, too inexperienced, too lacking in knowledge to be of any help. Now she was playing a full role, and she was proud of her accomplishments during harvest, pleased to know her efforts had met the approval of others. Julius' approval became evident one day when he said to Toni - "Pick out a dress in the Eaton's catalogue, any dress you want, and I'll buy it for you!" The order was quickly on its way.
The summer on the homestead was a great change for Toni. She missed her young friends and the companionship they had shared. She often thought of Rod, wondering where he was, what he was doing. While they had been at Castle Rock, with so many of the Schuetze family around, she often heard snatches of news of him. She thought he was a very handsome man - that he lived a most romantic lifestyle - like something right out of the movies! Christmas was coming quickly, and once again she would like to send him a card, but did not have his address. She was reluctant to send a card for Rod to Gustie and Lothar, apprehensive about their comments, and what Rod might think of her.
A letter arrived from Gustie and Lothar. Usually Gustie wrote, but this time it was from Lothar, and contained an invitation. "Would Toni like to come and spend the winter with us?" he wrote, "with two small children now, and the eldest frequently ill, Gustie could use her help, as well as companionship. There was no mention of Rod, but he was on Lothar and Gustie's minds as well as Toni's.
She travelled to Winnipeg by train, saving the cost of a berth by sleeping sitting up in the coach. Knowing she would have to stay overnight in Winnipeg before making connections with the train to take her on to Gypsumville, Toni glanced around the Winnipeg railway station and noticed a woman sitting at a small desk. The woman's role was to help travellers in need of advice, and told Toni of a nearby hotel - handy, clean and respectable. Noticing the hotel manager in the station, the woman hailed him - he escorted Toni to the hotel, and in the morning, back to the station.
Lothar met her in Gypsumville with a horse and sleigh- they went on to Fairford where a rooming house provided overnight accommodations. The next morning they set out for the rented farm where Lothar and Gustie were living. The day's journey was broken by a stop at a half-way house, a homesteader's cabin, where they bought lunch and the young wife admired Toni's fashionable clothing. It was after dark before Gustie and Toni were able to greet one another.
There was a lot of visiting to catch up on. Gustie and Lothar had gone trapping the first winter after they were married, but by the time another trapping season arrived, so had their first child they decided a trapline cabin was no place for an infant. Lothar had thought about farming, but recently changed his mind when he was offered employment with a trader at Lake St. Martin. The trader bought fish from the local Indians, had them hauled by team and sleigh to the train at Gypsumville, then shipped to the Winnipeg markets.
The family, including Lothar's father, Eugen, and Toni, packed up and moved to the trading post at Lake St. Martin. When they walked into the post, the old trader was leaning on a counter, encircled by the pale glow of a kerosene lamp. Thoughts flashed through Toni's mind: "How romantic!" --"Just like a scene out of a movie!" -- "How often have I cleaned glass lamp chimneys with smudges just like those!"
The family lived in rooms above the trading post, in a large single room, partitioned off by hanging blankets and tarps to provide some privacy.
In March, Lothar left for a few days, saying nothing to Toni of his destination. He arrived in Berens River in time to meet Rod who had brought his winter's furs, by dog team, to the Hudson's Bay post to sell. Lothar urged Rod to come and visit with them, not mentioning Toni's presence, but quietly hoping another meeting would result in a romance. The brothers returned to Lake St. Martin with Rod's dog team. While Toni and Rod were glad to see one another again, the time together was spent as a group - the two of them never had any time to themselves.
In desperation, Lothar suggested Rod take Toni for a ride with the dog team.
"Okay", replied Rod, "but you hitch up the dogs!"
Toni was enchanted with their mode of travel. She had seen things like this in the movies, but now she was living it! They spent the afternoon together, talking of inconsequential things, just enjoying one another's company. Before turning the dogs for home, Rod surprised Toni by asking: "Will you be my mate?" His proposal left her momentarily speechless, then, gathering her wits, she replied, "I'll need more time to think about it!"
Picture 3-7 Rod and Toni at the time of their engagement
Mushing back to the trading post, Toni's mind was buzzing. She believed it was the man's choice how he earned the family's living. If a woman did not want to be a soldier's wife, then don't marry a soldier. Could she be a trapper's wife? Was she flexible enough to adapt to life in the bush? How much time would Rod give her? She would like a couple of months - to have time to write to her parents and to consider, carefully, the ramifications of acceptance. She was nineteen, Rod was twenty-eight. If she procrastinated too long, he could be gone.
Toni helped Gustie prepare supper. She ate, and later tidied up the kitchen while Gustie put the little boys to bed. About two hours had elapsed since his proposal when Rod singled Toni out and said quietly: "Now you've had some time to think, what's your answer?"
The rest of her life hung in the balance, to be decided by her simple "yes" or "no". She looked into Rod's eyes for a long moment, and responded: "The answer is "yes". The date was March 17, 1924 (Picture 3 - 7).
Rod gave the news to the family. While he and Toni were pleased, the rest of the Schuetze family was jubilant! Lothar beamed as he commented -"Toni, you remember I always said I couldn't marry both you and Gustie, so I'm glad you and Rod have made this decision!" Rod stayed about another week - he and Toni went for long walks, shared ideas, learned a little more about one another. Before leaving, Rod asked Toni for a snapshot of her to take with him.
Toni could scarcely believe the speed of the events she was now caught up in! She and Rod planned to meet in Berens River later in the spring when Lothar and Gustie moved there. Rod returned to his trapping grounds for the spring trapping season, and Toni returned to Hanna, Alberta, travelling on the Government boat from the fish hatchery on Sturgeon Bay, and catching the lake boat, the Keenora to Winnipeg, and later the train across the prairies. She enjoyed seeing her parents again, knowing very well this could be the last visit for many years. Then, once again travelling by train, then on the Keenora, she rejoined Lothar and Gustie in Berens River, Manitoba.
Rod arrived in Berens River late in the spring, and their wedding was delayed until the travelling missionary returned from his annual rounds of the outlying areas where he performed weddings and baptisms. Rod and Toni were married quietly on 22 July 1924.
Fred Whiteway, a freighting companion of Rod's, had hoped for a big party and dance when Rod married and settled down. But the event was much more modest than he had envisioned. In choosing a wife, Rod had looked for someone who would be prepared to go trapping with him. Someone who would enjoy nature's solitude and be self-reliant in many ways. Although he had not seen Toni since she was sixteen years of age, he was quite confident of the relationship.
After fifty-three years of marriage, one day Toni asked Rod: "You had a special girl in mind - one that would enjoy trapping, life in the bush - why did you choose me? How did you know it would work?"
"Oh, I knew." And Rod smiled.