Dog Gone

It was the rabbit’s fault. It twitched those long ears, then took off. How could I not give chase?

Zigzag around saguaros, through chollas (Ouch! Yipe!), under rabbit bush, then poof! Gone!

How can something with ears that long disappear?

I stand, panting. Where’d it go?

Wait, where’s Dave, my human?

I weave back and forth, snuffling for my scent. Achoo! Damn that dust.

A horn? I’m saved!

I bound across the desert. Dave can take those annoying cholla burrs off my butt. It’ll serve him right for leaving the truck door open when he got out to whiz.

#99WordStories #CarrotRanchChallenge #Prompt_DogInTheDesert #Fiction #DogTales #DesertStory #MargaretGHanna

Fairy Lights

Grandmother Ferris told us stories of fairies, sacred hills and wells, and giants roaming the Cornish moors.

“The lights that flicker at night, they be wanderin’ spirits searchin’ for rest ‘cause o’ some ‘arm they did, and like as not to take tha’ with ‘em in their wanderin’.”

We sat wide-eyed, open-mouthed, not daring to breathe lest one of those spirits snatch us away.

 “I see ‘em many a time. Oft times, a blue light, most unworldly. Tha’ take good care around St. Feock’s church, the saint guards it close.”

Thereafter, we took great care going through the graveyard.

#99WordStories #CarrotRanchChallenge #Prompt_ImpossiblyBlue #HighamFamilyHistory #Cornwall #Fairies #StFeock #MargaretGHanna

The back story

All I know of Mary Ferris (neé Smith), my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother, is derived from Ancestry documents. She was born about 1828, was illiterate (she signed her marriage certificate with an X), was married to William Ferris, a ship’s carpenter, and lived in Feock, Cornwall. Whether or not she believed in fairies or any of the giants, mermaids or other beings that supposedly once roamed Cornwall, is pure supposition on my part. But why let a few facts (or no facts, in this case) get in the way of a story?

This little snippet of imagined family history is told from the perspective of my maternal grandmother, Mary Louisa Higham (neé Appleton). Her family (father George Appleton; mother Amelia Ferris Appleton, and siblings, Amelia, George, and Clive) lived in Feock from 1891 to 1897. This would have given them ample time to hear stories not only from their grandmother but also from their grandfather. His would have been tales of the sea and the monsters that dwell in the deeps.

From time immemorial, people have told stories that explain everything from the creation of the universe to the appearance of warts. Those stories explained our relationship to Earth and to all other creatures. They set out moral standards, often as cautionary tales to show what would happen if one didn’t follow those standards. Think of all the Trickster stories told around the world.

Some stories were simply meant to keep children safe from “things that go bump in the night.” Grandma Higham certainly told such tales – the story of the Bologna Man is a legend in our own family.

“The Bologna Man?” you ask.

You’ll read about him in my grandmother’s story, Searching for Home, which will be published this summer.

The Tree

Now it’s dying, but once it was:

Jungle Gym: Leap up high, grab the bar, swing your legs up and over, sit tall. The crowd leaps to its feet and roars its approval. A perfect 10!

Pirate ship: Arrrr, me maties, thar be the Spanish galleon heavy with booty, and she’s ours for the taking. Ready the cannons!

Sherwood Forest: Shh, Merry Men, nock your arrows, someone’s coming, perhaps a duke with a fat purse . . .

“Margaret, time to come in, dinner’s ready.”

“Okay, Mom.”

Unnock your arrows, Merry Men, Maid Marion’s inviting us to a feast.

#99WordStories #ChildhoodMemories #Prompt_Playground #Imagination #MargaretGHanna

The back story:

A farm provides a host of places in which to play, not all of which are parent-approved. The old threshing machine, for example. We were told it was dangerous, which only made it even more enticing. Its interior became our “cave.”  Then there was the hay stack in the barn loft. We ignored our parents’ warning that air pockets might lurk in its interior, ready to swallow us up and suffocate us. We ignored those, too, and lived to tell the tale, although not to our parents.

However, our favourite place were three poplar trees. The swing hung between two of them, and the third was our climbing tree. Our imagination transformed that climbing tree into a myriad of other places.

The “swing trees” were parent-approved. I’m not so sure about the climbing tree, not that it would have made any difference.

My brother and I visited the old farm a few years ago. All those poplars, including our playground trees, that our grandfather planted 100 years ago are dead or dying.

The memories are still very much alive.

Love in a Jar

First breakfast on my own. First breakfast without her.

Tea kettle’s boiled so I pour the water into the old brown betty pot. How many cups of tea has it steeped over forty years? How many cups of tea has she steeped?

Eggs and bacon for breakfast. That was her job, gathering the eggs, packing them to send to the creamery. I’ll have to do that now.

I sit at the table and reach for the jam. Strawberry jam. Jam that she put up this summer even though she was dying. I spread it across my toast.

Tears fall.

#99WordStories #CarrotRanchFlashFictionChallenge #Prompt_SmearOfJam #HighamFamilyHistory #Sorrow #Bereavement #FirstDayAlone #StrawberryJam #Love #MargaretGHanna

The backstory

When I read this week’s 99-word-story prompt, my first thought was of my maternal grandfather, Caleb Higham, facing his first breakfast the morning after his wife of 40 years had died.

Mary Higham died September, 1955, of cancer. Rather than feel sorry for herself, she worried about Caleb and how he would feed himself once she was gone. That summer, she canned everything the garden produced, including strawberries. In her letter dated July 6 to my Aunt Betty, she writes “I stayed home and canned strawberries, 71 pints so far, going to pick and put in the locker today. . . It’s all right to grow strawberries but canning them isn’t any fun.” She also found the energy to clean the house, wash the kitchen curtains, feed her turkeys and pigs, go to the Golden Jubilee celebrations at Meyronne, Limerick and Assiniboia (1955 was the 50th anniversary of Saskatchewan’s becoming a province), and entertain me (I was seven) for a few days. She was that kind of person.

And then she was gone. She was no longer physically around, but her love was still there, radiating from those 71 pints of strawberries. I hope Caleb took comfort in them even as he cried.

A Resolution

I cannot write a love letter to Nature because I have seen Nature

at its best and at its worst,

at its kindest and at its cruelest,

at its most beautiful and at its ugliest.

Romanticize, anthropomorphize, eulogize all you want,

it does not change Nature

for we are nothing to it.

We can only change ourselves.

Our ancestors understood that Nature’s forces were beyond their control.

They lived humbly within it.

Farmers, ranchers, fishermen, all who live on the edge understand this.

They live humbly within it.

I understand this, and so I propose

to live humbly, too.

#99WordStories #CarrotRanchFlashFictionChallenge #Prompt_LoveLetterToNature #Resolution  #Compromise #Humility #MargaretGHanna

The challenge was to write a “love letter” to Nature. Perhaps if I were young and naïve, perhaps if I had not grown up on a farm, perhaps if I had not seen the horrors that “Nature” can inflict, then perhaps I could write a “love letter.” The problem, however, is not with “Nature,” it is with us and our arrogant belief that we are the pinnacle of evolution/creation/ civilization. We are not. Hence, the line: “We can only change ourselves.” We must, if the human species is to continue to survive on this planet. This is our challenge, as individuals and as a collective.


“What ya’ doing?
“Packing up Grandma’s stuff. Like this everyday china.”
“You givin’ it to the thrift store?”
“I don’t know what else to do with it. Do you want it?”
“Why would I want those plates?”
“They were Grandma’s, that’s why!”
“But they’re crazed and stained. The cups are chipped.”
“Remember her fried chicken? It was s-o-o good.”
“Yah, and her meat pies. The best.”
“She gave me my first milky tea in one of those cups.”
“Yah, and that’s why it’s chipped.”
A pause.
“Okay, I’ll take one plate, but just to remember Grandma.”
“Yah, me, too.”

#99WordStories #CarrotRanchFlashFictionChallenge #Prompt_Dishes #ChildhoodMemories #GrandmaStories #MargaretGHanna

Ever the Optimist

Canada, here I come.

No bending the knee to some high and mighty landowner, like Dad. No working someone else’s farmland, like Dad. Nope, I’m going to have my own farm.

To do that, I’m leaving not-so-merry old England. Leaving my friends, too, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

I don’t quite believe the picture the agent painted of Canadian farms. I’ve worked with Dad long enough to know farming is hard work. You don’t just throw the seed in the ground and watch it harvest itself.

Tomorrow, I leave on Mr. Cunard’s Ultonia. My farm awaits.

#99WordStories #CarrotRanchFlashFictionChallenge #HighamFamilyHistory #ImmigrantFarmers  #WordPrompt_Optimism #Hope #SaskatchewanHistory #MargaretGHanna

The Backstory

Caleb Higham, my maternal grandfather, emigrated to Canada in April, 1913, in search of his own farm. He did not want to be a tenant farmer like his father, and he knew that owning a farm in England was impossible.

Caleb landed in Montreal, bound for Regina, Saskatchewan. The Ultonia’s passenger manifest indicates he emigrated under the “British Bonus Allowed” program of the Canadian government. This program paid a bonus both to the agents who recruited farmers and to steamship agents. It also paid the immigrant farmer $10.00 if the immigrant purchased his farm land within six months of arriving in Canada.

Getting his farm wasn’t as easy as Caleb had imagined. By 1913, all the homestead land in southern Saskatchewan was taken up, and buying an existing farm was out of the question for someone who had arrived in Canada with only $25.00 in his pocket. He worked as a brakeman for the Canadian Pacific Railway for a time, then began work as a farm labourer for Will Grigg just north of Moose Jaw. There, he met Mary Appleton and, in 1915, they married .

He had to wait another nine years before buying his farm. First, he delivered milk for a Moose Jaw Dairy, then he rented a series of farms. In 1924, Caleb finally achieved his dream – he purchased a half-section (320 acres) of land north of the town of Assiniboia in southwestern Saskatchewan.

Caleb never did collect his $10.00.

Shadow Child

I wonder what she would have been like, my little girl that never was.

A mother’s worst fear, a miscarriage, a child born too soon.

People said, “But you already have three children,” or “You can always have another.” How could people be so cruel? No one can be the same as this child.

I sometimes dream of her, what she might have been. Sometimes when I’m in my garden, or sitting quietly embroidering a pillowcase, I hear her voice, her laughter, and I look up, but no one is there. Only a ghost of what might have been.

#99WordStory #HighamFamilyHistory #Miscarriage #InfantMortality #NonFiction #Tragedy #MargaretGHanna

The back story:
Losing a child under any circumstance is a heart-rending event. My maternal grandmother, Mary Higham, had two miscarriages sometime in the 1920s, long before the advent of medical interventions that now allow premature babies to survive. Even though infant mortality, both premature and full-term, was more common then, it was still a devastatingly tragic event.

My mother and aunts didn’t say much about the miscarriages, just that they had happened, but their few words conveyed profound sorrow. They must have thrown a long-lasting shadow in the Higham home for my mother and aunts to remember them after all those years.


John leaves tomorrow.

He’s been here a month. A month of spending time with his friends, smoking, drinking telling tall tales. A month of being swooned over by all the girls who think he is “so handsome!!!” in his RCAF uniform. A month of helping Cale with harvest. A month of teasing his sisters and kid brother.

But throughout the whole month, all I could see is Damocles’ sword hanging over his head. I wonder if he sees it, too. If that’s why he spends so much time “living it up.”

Tomorrow he leaves. For Europe. For the war.

#99WordStory #WorldWarII #HighamFamilyHistory #RCAF #MothersWorries #BomberCommand #MooseSquadron #NonFiction #MargaretGHanna

The back story:

My uncle, John Brock Higham, “signed up” for the Royal Canadian Air Force in the spring of 1940, and was called up for training in September of that year. One year later, September of 1941, he came back to the farm at Assiniboia for a month’s leave before being posted overseas as a pilot in Bomber Command.

As happy as his mother might have been to have him home, Grandma Higham probably carried a heavy stone in her heart that entire month. It wasn’t her sabbatical, it was John’s, but she experienced it, too, just from a different perspective. The news from overseas during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz was nothing but doom and gloom, destruction and death. And her son was heading straight into it as a pilot in Bomber Command. How could she not worry?

Old World Charm?

“Bodicote is a dump!”

Mary’s letter from Oxfordshire shocked me. She didn’t like the village where I grew up? How could she not? The cobblestone streets. The village pub (I got drunk there many nights as a lad). The Green where everyone caroused on Fair night.

I read further. And sighed. The pub was gone. The Green was Brown. Banbury was encroaching, razing everything in its path. Dad’s farm, the one he rented from Mrs. Wyatt, was in shambles, about to be bulldozed for houses.

I had never wanted to return to England. Now there was even less reason.

#99WordStories #CarrotRanchChallenge #HighamFamilyHistory #BodicoteOxfordshire #QuaintEnglishVillage #MargaretGHanna

My maternal grandfather, Caleb Higham (b. 1889), grew up on a farm — The Grange — just northwest of Bodicote which, in turn, is just south of Banbury. A hundred years ago, Bodicote was one of those reputedly “quaint” English villages: three streets lined with brick row houses, a pub or two, a school, the village green, and St. John the Baptist Anglican Church surrounded by the graveyard. No longer; it is now overrun by housing development and is merely a suburb of Banbury.

No one knows why Caleb decided to emigrate to Canada in 1913. He never talked about it, in spite of the many times my mother and aunts and uncles asked. He refused to return to England, leaving everyone to suspect he left England under a cloud of some sort.

Grandma Higham did return, in 1952, to visit her sisters in Cornwall and then to visit Caleb’s family in Oxfordshire. By some stroke of good fortune, her letters to Caleb were saved, and the opening line in my little story above is taken directly from one of her letters. She was not amused, and my grandmother, never one to mince her words, spoke it like she saw it.