In the Bleak Mid-Winter (Part 2)

The Hanna family at Christmas. Back: Bert, Edith; Front: Addie, Garnet (my father), Abe

There’s no date on this photograph but if I’m right in estimating my father’s age as 6 or 7, then it was taken in either 1930 or 1931. In other words, two or three years into the Dirty Thirties, known elsewhere as the Great Depression.

Two years with little rain. Two years with barely any crop. Two years of rock bottom grain prices. Two years of working on relief projects. Two years of accepting relief. Two years of making do when there was precious little to make do with.

Two years of hoping after hope that “Next Year” the rains would come. That “Next Year” there would be bumper crops. That “Next Year” grain prices would go up. That “Next Year” relief would not be necessary.

Little did my grandparents know that “Next Year” would not come until 1938. That they had yet to endure the worst year of all – 1937, the year of no rain, the year of no crop, the year of the army worm invasion.

But that Christmas of 1930 or 1931, they found the will to celebrate the spirit of Christmas. They decorated a spindly spruce tree, hung a very thin Santa Claus from the curtain rod, and invited the Robinsons to join them for turkey dinner. They still lived in hope, in spite of the dire circumstances that surrounded them and everyone else.

Much as we do now. As we should do now. Like my grandparents enduring the drought, we do not know when this pandemic will end. We can only hope that it will end sooner rather than later.

Unlike my grandparents who could do nothing to alleviate the drought, we can do some things to alleviate the pandemic. Get vaccinated. Wear masks. Take reasonable precautions. Be kind.

And continue to believe in “Next Year.”

(P.S. Four chapters in “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead recount the dire effects of the Dirty Thirties on everyone, be they city folk or farmers.)

#DirtyThirties #GreatDepression #HannaHistory #COVID #Pandemic #Hope #OurBullsLooseInTown #MargaretGHanna

In The Bleak Midwinter . . .

So starts a beloved Christmas hymn which probably describes exactly what my paternal grandmother, Addie Hanna, thought about her first few winters as a homesteader’s wife in southwestern Saskatchewan.

Just take a look at the photograph. Two uninsulated shacks sit in the middle of the bleak prairie. Not a stick of a tree anywhere. Nearest neighbour a good mile away. Nearest store, a good two miles away. No running water (although the oldtimers all claimed they had hot and cold running water – they got hot running to the well to fetch cold water). No electricity. No central heating, unless you count the cook stove. No roads, only trails.

And none of our modern, high-tech, ultra-warm clothing, either. Nope. Scratchy Stanfield’s longjohns. Heavy wool coats. Knitted wool scarves. And that was what you wore inside the shack (just kidding – maybe).

Yet my grandparents, and all the other people who came west in the early 20th century, stuck it out. What were their options? Go back to Ontario, or the USA, or England, or elsewhere in Europe? That would be to admit defeat, and my grandparents were too stubborn and proud to do that. Besides, life was no better there. Little did they know they would have to endure times much worse than a mere “bleak midwinter.”

So they stayed. They stayed because here they could make a new life for themselves. They stayed because they had hope — hope for a better life for their children and grandchildren, a life with more opportunities than they ever had.

Now, here we are in our own “bleak midwinter,” facing yet another COVID variant and whatever it might bring. The question is: do we have the courage to face whatever is coming? Do we live in hope as did our grandparents?

(P.S. You can read how my grandparents endured “bleak midwinters” and more in “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead.)

#BleakMidwinter #Homesteaders #HannaHistory #Hope #Courage #HardTimes #COVID #Omicron #OurBullsLooseInTown #MargaretGHanna