Nelson writer Corrine Bundschuh has been doing research on her family history on and off for decades, collecting pictures and old documents, but the richest discoveries she made came from sitting down to record interviews with her 93-year-old grandmother Clara.
“I just didn’t want to lose any of her stories. The way she grew up, the way she came to Canada, the way she left Saskatchewan to settle in the Okanagan Valley — it’s all fascinating to me,” Bundschuh told the Star, after being named the successful applicant for the Nelson & District Arts Council’s Hidden Creek artist’s retreat.
“My grandmother was like a second mother to me. I remember her making cinnamon buns.”
So Bundschuh set off on a writing project, scheduling time to sit down with Clara routinely so she could grill her on her life. Bundschuh was living on the Salmo River Ranch at the time, running the Shambhala Music Festival. As the stories came in Bundschuh started to weave them into a narrative.
“I was working on the first chapter during a writing class at Selkirk College with Leesa Dean last year, and everyone was so encouraging. They wanted me to continue on with this project and keep going.”
So she did. Now the project has picked up some extra urgency: her grandmother passed away a few months ago, leaving behind a wealth of audio files for her to sort through. It’s a task she feels is perfectly suited for the solitude that the retreat will provide.
“My grandmother came from Germany in between the wars, trying to get away from what was happening in Europe, and they were selling land in Saskatchewan. So they were living in this community with 25 other people, two days wagon ride from anything, no power. It was so interesting to hear how they lived and how poor they were.”
But the strength of the community they ended up in, Goodsoil, was strong. One of eight kids, she grew up on a remote ranch where they rarely saw their railroad-working father and they didn’t have access to a secondary school.
“She always said her biggest regret is she wasn’t a nurse. She thought she wasn’t as smart as her older sister Mary, and she was the one chosen by the family to stay home and take care of her mother, who was very ill.”
Clara met Bundschuh’s grandfather Eugene when she was a little girl, and remembered shoe-swapping with him while walking through long snowdrifts because they only had one pair. He was a labourer and carpenter, famed for doing one-armed chin ups and for being one of the strongest men in town.
“When they first got married they didn’t have land so they stayed with my grandmother’s brother, but five years after their marriage they finished their house and land and moved there.”
Again she was living in a very remote milieu.
“She had three little babies, my grandpa was away, and she was dealing with this little cabin with a woodstove, bedbugs, hauling water. She would always say ‘Corrine, you have no idea how good you girls had it!'”
And though she was proud of her granddaughter’s accomplishments, Clara had no interest in experiencing the music festival that annually disrupted the peace on their land.
“She was very Catholic, so since I was teaching at the same time that I was producing Shambhala she would always tell her friends and everybody I was a teacher,” said Bundschuh, with a smile.
“And that’s what I want to write about. There’s a full gamut of experience she went through. My interest goes all the way from my past, my history, and how we got here to what us kids have done.”
And though Bundschuh’s life is radically different than her grandmother’s, there’s a moral continuum that runs through their lives and work.
“A lot of morals are still the same: be good to each other. She always instilled a sense of values, of fun and being in the wilderness. She was a singer and always played guitar. She used to make wine and she almost got arrested once trying to take it from British Columbia to Saskatchewan for a wedding.”
In Clara’s retelling, she taunted the police and told them to send her to jail. Her brother piped up: “I’ll bring the crib board!”
“The police ended up taking her wine, and she was still mad about it years later.”
Bundschuh doesn’t have a firm title for her book yet, but she has a clear vision of what she hopes to accomplish with it. She’s been further encouraged by hearing the stories people shared at the recent funeral.
“I have a bunch of memorials from the people of Goodsoil, then I have all my grandmother’s stories, plus I’m trying to infuse it with my own voice. I need to fit it together into a story, because our conversations really jump all over the decades — you go from talking to a pig stuck in a well to something that just happened last week — but I think it’s a pioneer story people will be really interested in.”