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If Whistler is a haven for the young, the young at heart and,
let’s be honest, the terminally immature, Winkler is a haven for an older
generation. It is, in the words of locals — a term reserved for those
whose grandparents were born nearby — heaven’s waiting room. In large
numbers, they come in off surrounding farms after a lifetime of hard work in
and around much smaller towns, towns with names like Altona, Gretna,
Schanzenfeld, Reinland, Schoenwiese and others too repetitive to mention, towns
whose “Welcome To” and “Please Come Back” road signs are printed back to front
on the same piece of faded plywood, towns whose populations read like IQ scores
of the not particularly gifted, towns whose sole reason for existing, a
once-new now dilapidated grain elevator, is gone because the railroad has cut
their elevator off the serviced line.
They’ve passed on the family farm to their children and moved
themselves to Winkler to await their fate and measure the goodness of their
lives against a scale they’ve worked hard to tailor to their individual faults.
In the process, they’ve created the town in their image, a pious, German,
Mennonite image. Sin does not live in Winkler, MB. Eight miles up the road in
Morden sin thrives, taking the form of a liquor store, a couple of roadhouse
bars and Sunday shopping. Good citizens of Winkler shun Morden, driving out of
their way on mean farm roads to avoid passing too near and being seduced by its
siren song. Not-so-good Winkies sneak in through unmarked back doors.
In a town alive with industry it is yet another paradox that
death is one of the strongest going concerns. Every morning after the 9 o’clock
news, CRIP, Death Radio, tolls the bell for all who have succumbed within its
broadcast range. For the better part of 30 minutes, an announcer somberly gives
the names of the dead and the near-dead they’ve left behind, a synopsis of
their life’s accomplishments in the form of whom they begat, the times and
place of their viewing and funeral, and where and when interment will take
place, all intoned in a disembodied, funereal voice completely devoid of life.
In a time when many newspapers have relegated obituaries to
half a page of terse classifieds tucked somewhere near the back, the local
weekly overflows with several pages of long, flowery announcements running 10,
12, sometimes 15 column inches. They recite the highlights of a lifetime and
trace the many stout branches of the departed’s family tree from deep roots to
a fertile crop of great-great grandchildren.