When I write stories about old times, it’s important that my facts are accurate and my descriptions correct. So I’ll share a secret with you. My go-to authority on rural life in the last century is not the internet; it’s 101-year-old Ed Poffenroth.    

Only an Email Away

I’ve known Ed Poffenroth of Okotoks, Alberta, since childhood. His wife, Mary, was my beloved sixth-grade teacher, and his daughter, Carol, is a dear friend. Some years after losing Mary, Ed married my treasured third-grade teacher, widow Theresa Patterson. So that’s our personal connection, but we have another link.

Always a decisive businessman and community leader, Ed thoroughly enjoys using email. Now that we live 2,037 miles apart, it’s lucky for me that this retired farmer, municipal district councilor and meat packing plant owner/operator has kept up with the times. He responds to my messages quickly with thoughtful, insightful comments. Sometimes, he asks Carol to scan and send me pages of books that I can’t access.

Here’s one example of the type of information that Ed shares with me. I sent him an email explaining that my sister, Shirley, had sent me a very, very old Canadian cookbook that had lost its cover and front pages a long time ago. The only clue I had to how long ago the recipe book was printed was an advertisement in it stating its flour could be bought in barrels.

Ed wrote back, “Robin Hood had a mill on 9th Avenue and 4th Street West in Calgary. We sold some grain there. The stores had barrels of flour, and you could scoop out how many pounds you wanted. My parents bought it in 100-pound bags. Mother loved those bags because she could make a lot of different things with them.”

Ed’s information tells me that the cookbook is in the range of 100 years old. What a reliable primary source ˗ as first-person accounts of events – he is.

Observations of a Centenarian

Because Ed’s memory is so crisp and his thoughts so clear, I thought you’d enjoy reading some of his observations. What’s changed in his lifetime, and what’s stayed the same? 

Q. What do you consider the greatest invention in farm equipment?  

A. The tractor that replaced horses for fieldwork.

Q. What’s the biggest improvement around the farmyard?  

A. Electricity.

Q. What’s the most important invention for the farm kitchen?  

A. Electricity.

Q. What is the most significant scientific breakthrough for rural folks?   

A. The telephone.

Q. What’s the greatest improvement in transportation during your lifetime?  

A. The airplane.

Q. What’s your favorite form of transportation?  

A. Horseback riding. There is nothing nicer than riding a horse through the pasture amongst the cattle.

Q. What’s the best vehicle you’ve ever driven?

A. My Toyota Venza.

Q. What was your favorite meal back then and now?  

A. A roast beef dinner.

Q. What world leader from the last century do you admire most?  

A. When I was in my late teens and more aware of world affairs, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president of the United States. I remember him having practical, common sense leadership and creating many employment and economic programs for the depression years and wartime.

Q. What three things haven’t changed in your lifetime and never should?

A. Family life, community life, and respect for others.

A Few of Ed’s Favorite Pictures

Ed in the late 1920s with a workhorse colt he was halter breaking.
Ed in the 1940s.
Ed in the 1950s.
Ed in the 1960s.
Ed and his wife, Mary, in the 1980s.

“Communication is Overwhelming”

Ed wrote the three words above at the end of a recent email. We can all relate to his comment, even though we aren’t close to turning 102 in August 2023!

Thank you, Ed, for your kindness and wisdom. Your Texas writer pal and her readers look forward to wishing you another very happy birthday in a few weeks.

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More stories about old times in Foothills County, Alberta:

Elaine Thomas
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