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Memories of Our Lifetime

by Helen Sawatzky

Helen Sawatzky

(Taken from "Memories of Our Lifetime," a special issue put out by the Mt. Lake Observer on December 29, 1999)

There are two events that I think of first when I look back at my life. The first is the death of my mother. I was only 10 when she died and I had three younger sisters. The youngest, Edna, was only a year old.

My mother had tuberculosis, which was very prevalent in those days. It was a killer. There were no antibiotics back then. She had it for four months and then she was gone. I remember the night my father told me I should come say goodbye to her.

We had been preparing to move to Montana to homestead before she died. Dad went alone then, and my sisters and I went to live with my aunt and uncle, John and Helen Jungas. Besides their own three children, they had taken in Henry Jungas and Elizabeth (Mrs. George Hiebert). Elizabeth's mother had died, too. Altogether there were nine children living above their hardware store.

Helen Jungas was like a mother to me. She was a remarkable woman and had a big heart. A lot of people came from the Old Country and had nothing when they arrived. She would buy cloth and make them clothes.

Three years after my mother died, in 1920, there was the fire. It started in the garage next door. It was March 1 and there was no water because everything was frozen over. There was no way to stop it.

I will never forget the sound of the firebell. We were getting ready for bed when we heard it. Then someone came upstairs and told us to get dressed quickly because we had to leave. We were told to wait by the stairs and someone would come for us. Then I did something I was told not to do. I went back into my bedroom and got the Bible that my mother had given me before she died. I still have it.

We began to make our way across the tracks to another aunt's home when we heard this terrible explosion. The fire had hit the oil in that garage. Before the night was over we had no home.

The fire leveled the Jungas home where Helen grew up.

John Jungas lost his store and the home above it and had to start over from scratch. He bought the old Commercial Hotel which had fallen into disrepair. After he and Helen fixed it up, the store was on the first floor, the family and the nine children were on the second floor and hotel rooms were on the third floor. When my father came back, he stayed with the Jungases, too.

God always brings good out of every situation, even the fire. I've often thought that if it hadn't been for the fire, my sisters and I would have had to work outside the home. But with the hotel rooms above us, there was always plenty of work. So many girls I knew had to work for other people and brought their paycheck home.

I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything. I wouldn't have learned those lessons any other way.

This is how 10th St. looked before the fire.