The Million Dollar Rain

It’s raining, it’s pouring
The old man is snoring.
He went to bed
And he bumped his head
And couldn’t get up in the morning.

We awake to wind and rain. Rain pouring down, gusting down, sheeting down. Hammering against the walls and windows.

Dad comes in from the barn on a gust of wetness, hangs his coat on the hook, declares, “It’s socked in for the day.” Mom yells, “Take off your muddy boots!”

After breakfast, Richard and I put on our coats and rubber boots and walk the quarter-mile to town and school, bracing ourselves against the gusting west wind and the driving rain.

Dampness seeps through the school. It smells of damp coats, damp hats, damp text books, damp hair, damps socks, damp notebooks. At recess, we head down to the basement, play pump-pump-pull-away, or stand around in knots and talk and giggle.

At noon, we tromp home for dinner. Richard pulls off his rubber boots and examines a wet sock. “My boot has a leak.” Dad examines it. “There’s a crack above the sole. I’ll take it into town and get it vulcanized. Wear your overshoes this afternoon.”

After school, the rain takes a breather – it’s only drizzling. The dog bounds toward us, drops a stick at our feet. Richard tosses it and she streaks off after it, mindless of mud and water. A cat delicately picks its way around puddles, flicks a contaminating bit of mud from a paw and scurries into the barn.

That night, we go to sleep with the sound of rain thrumming against the roof, splattering against the window.

Rain, rain, go away
Come again some other day.

The yard is a morass of mud and slop. Dad comes in, hangs his sopping wet slicker on the hook, declares, “Raining too hard. We might as well go Moose Jaw.” Mom yells, “Take off your muddy boots! I don’t want to have to wash the floor again.”

We snarf down breakfast and head out in the ‘53 Ford. We fishtail out of the yard and down the road to the highway which, itself, is only gravel, so we fishtail some more. Mom gasps, “Careful!” and grabs the door handle. She white-knuckles all the way to Assiniboia and Highway 2 which is paved. An easy drive then, with the requisite stops at Mitchelton for gas and Conn’s Corner for a bite to eat.

First stop in Moose Jaw: Joyner’s Department Store. New shoes for Richard and me. Fabric for Mom. A new tie for Dad. The clerk puts the bill and our money into the carriage and onto the track that whisks it away to the central cashier who empties the carriage, puts the bill and change back into it and onto the track to be returned to our clerk. How does it know where to go? we wonder.

Next stop, the Exchange Café on the corner of Manitoba and Main, across from the CPR station. We always eat there, we always order the same thing – fish and chips, because it’s exotic (yes, really!). The Chinese brothers who run the place always give Richard and me lollipops when we leave.

Off to Eaton’s, the upper class shopping establishment. Next to Kresge’s, not so upper class but they have little sugar-coated doughnuts to satisfy our sweet tooth.

Back to the car. Parcels in the trunk, we head for home, yawning all the way. Richard and I are soon asleep. So is Mom. It’s still raining when we get home. We go up to bed with the sound of rain thrumming against the roof, splattering against the window.

Sunshine and Shower
Won’t last an hour.

We awake to sunshine and glimpses of blue sky. A stiff breeze chases away the ragged remnants of rain clouds. We jump out of bed. So much to do – puddles to jump in, rivulets to divert and dam, mud pies to make.

Dad comes in from the barn, hangs his jacket on the hook, declares, “That was a million dollar rain! And kids, don’t forget, chickens need to be fed and eggs picked up right after you eat.”

Chores. Bummer!

Note #1: Until the Joyner’s building burned down in 2004, it had the only remaining operating Lamson Cash Carrying System in North America. Read more about it here, and see it in operation here.

Note #2: There were no “million dollar rains” during the Dirty Thirties. Addie tells how farmers and others survived those terrible drought years in “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead.

#Rain #ChildhoodMemories #MooseJaw #JoynersDepartmentStore #MargaretGHanna #ExchangeCafe #FarmLife #RuralLife

Rhubarb Season

Garnet (my dad) aged about 4 or 5. Caption on the back of the photo reads “rhubarb 4’10” high, a good crop in one of the good years.” Photo probably taken about 1927 or 1928.

When I was growing up on the farm, there were two sure-fire signs of spring – the first feed of asparagus and the first feed of rhubarb. Daily, we visited the two longs rows of asparagus, the one long row of rhubarb, searching for those first nubbins breaking through the soil. Especially the rhubarb.

And then, there it was! We yanked an armload of rhubarb stalks and marched triumphantly to the house, precious booty in hand.

Our rhubarb was the old-fashioned green kind, to be eaten only with generous amounts of added sugar. The first feed was always plain and simple — stewed rhubarb, often served with cream. Real cream! The so-called whipping cream you buy in the store is a mere pale imitation of the cream from our Jersey and Guernsey cows. So thick, you could stand a spoon in it. You could cut it with a knife.

Or so I recall.

Only after we had sated our appetite for rhubarb on its own did Mom then turn to rhubarb crisp and rhubarb pie. We filled numerous freezer bags with chopped rhubarb to see us through the winter.

And then rhubarb season was over. But we had memories of what had been, memories that would remind us of what was to come.

A couple of springs ago, when rhubarb season was at its peak, our writing group decided to collect rhubarb recipes. And so I give you:

Rhubarb Pie, a recipe (sort of)
(With apologies to William Shakespeare)

How shall I make thee on a summer’s day?
The day’s so hot and sultry, yet my mouth
Doth water at the thought of rhubarb pie.
I don my hat and brave the summer heat.
I pluck an armful, and with sharpened knife
Cut thee in dice like rubies shining red.
Thy tangy taste I soften some with sugar
And flour holds thy juices well at bay.
Thy pastry bed I make with flour and lard
That glistens like a pearl ‘neath summer moon.
Once mounded in the dish, I crown thee last
With butter and with nutmeg and a cap.
Then bake one hour full, and when ‘tis done
The joy of eating pie is soon begun.

#Rhubarb #RhubarbPieRecipe #Sonnet #HannaFamilyHistory #ChildhoodMemories #WilliamShakespeare #MargaretGHanna #FarmLife #MeyronneHistory #PrairieLife

Survival in the Time of COVID

Part 2: Gardening

It’s spring time, and people’s fancy turns to, no not THAT, to gardening.

Our grandparents lived the original “hundred mile diet.” Did they eat avocados in January? No. For that matter, did they even know what an avocado was? No!

Gardens_sm
The garden plots on the Hanna farm

They did know about gardening because, being farmers, they had huge gardens. We had two gardens which we switched between in alternate years, plus a huge potato patch just outside the farm yard. Even most people who lived in cities had some sort of garden.

During both world wars, every city, town and village had its “Victory Garden,” usually an unused plot of land. They were promoted as providing a healthy, patriotic activity, for more produce grown at home meant more produce shipped to the troops overseas. Although they were more of a symbolic rather than an actual benefit, people felt they were doing something tangible in defeating the enemy.

Gardening provided more than fresh vegetables during the growing season; it was the source of all vegetables and fruits that would be eaten during the winter. August was a mad house of canning – and once electricity arrived, freezing – the garden produce: peas, beans, carrots, corn, tomatoes, and beets. Root crops – potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions – together with squash and cabbage went into the root cellar. Berries and apples became jams and jellies. Cucumbers became pickles. It was a matter of pride to have one’s cellar stacked from floor to ceiling with gleaming jars of preserves.

Now, we go to the store. It’s easier. And it makes us vulnerable.

Of course, there’s a significant difference between then and now. During the war periods, a large proportion of people lived in rural areas, either on farms or in villages and small towns, and city-dwellers lived predominately in single family homes. It was possible then for almost everyone to have a garden.

Today, the population is predominately urban, and many people live in high-density neighbourhoods – condos, townhouses or apartment buildings. It’s difficult to have a garden when you have only a tiny balcony, if that, for a couple of potted tomato plants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A few of the seeds we’ll be planting this spring

Limited garden space hasn’t stopped people this spring. Nurseries have never been more popular. Seed packets are as scarce as toilet paper. Bedding plants are flying out the doors. Cabbages are preferred to calendula, parsley to poppies.

A garden may ensure at least a small proportion of food but more important is the emotional and gustatorial satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment that no trip to the grocery store can match. And, as people will learn when they pick that first ripe tomato or zucchini or lettuce leaves – the taste! Oh, the taste! No store-bought vegetable can match that.

Alas, gardening is no longer an adequate solution to feed the many and not just because of lack of space. Most urbanites are now removed one or more generations from the gardening protocol. They have lost the knowledge of how to grow a garden and preserve its produce, nor do they have the room to store a winter’s supply. To compound the problem, they often have no one with experience to turn to. Even though community gardens and farmers’ markets provide some locally-sourced food security, they’re insufficient to feed an entire city.

So, if the idea of rationing rankles and gardening is a band-aid solution at best, how can we ensure food security during this pandemic?

Next: Security in the Time of COVID, Part 3: Relief

P.S. Tell me: what are your gardening plans this spring?

#COVID19 #FoodInsecurity #Gardening #VictoryGardens #HundredMileDiet #FoodSelfsufficiency #CommunityGardens #FarmersMarket #LocallySourcedFood #MargaretGHanna

Elsie and I

(A Christmas story)

I hated it at first. Thought it was the stupidest gift I had ever received. Threatened to give it back, throw it out, anything but take it home.

It was a Christmas present, and what kid doesn’t like Christmas presents? Christmas is the best time of year for any kid. The anticipation of Santa Claus with his bag of goodies, the tree, decorations, food, cookies, candies, turkey and stuffing. But most of all, presents. Piled up under the tree. Piled so high you can’t see over them. And stockings, hung perhaps not by the chimney but certainly with care, awaiting gifts from Santa. Christmas morning can’t come soon enough.

But first you have to endure the school Christmas concert, the Sunday School pageant re-enacting the birth of Baby Jesus, singing carols, and trying to figure out which cup and saucer to buy for your mother and which tie (or socks) for your father, just to get to the best part – opening your own presents. You wonder if Christmas morning will ever arrive.

But finally, it does. It’s early in the morning. It’s dark. Mom and Dad are still in bed. Never mind. You tear downstairs and run straight to your stocking. There it is, full to overflowing. You ignore the mandarin orange and hard candies, and go straight to the good stuff – the gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins, the little toys. That will keep you happy until you get to open the mother lode, the pile of parcels under the tree. Now all you have to do is wake up Mom and Dad and wait while they have their coffee and make breakfast.

Sometimes you have to wait even longer because your family is going to spend Christmas day with your relatives. You bundle up in winter clothes, put all the parcels into the trunk, and away you go. When you arrive, the grown-ups have to have coffee, talk, eat cookies and Christmas cake, check the progress of the Christmas feast, and talk about the weather. Don’t they know that Christmas is about opening presents?

But finally the big moment arrives. Paper flies, boxes are strewn about, and in five minutes it is all over. Reality settles in. That’s it, folks! Now we have to wait till next year.

I was 10 that particular Christmas. We drove to Assiniboia, 40 miles away, to spend the day with my Aunt Kay and Uncle Bob (my mother’s oldest brother). Grandpa Higham and Uncle George (my mother’s younger brother) were also there.

It was the gift from Uncle George that intrigued me. It was a rather large squarish box, decorated with a plush cow’s head. That’s a weird decoration to put on a Christmas gift, I thought, but then Uncle George had a reputation for being a joker. It was the last one I opened. I tried to pull the head off before ripping off the paper, but it wouldn’t budge. Finally, I tore off the paper, opened up the box and pulled out – a cow!

1957Christmas
Oh sure, I’m smiling but that’s because I was told to!

She (and it was most definitely a “she”) was white with red blotches. She had horns, an udder and a silly grin on her face. She wore button-up boots and a bell. What a stupid gift to give to a niece! How could my favourite uncle do this to me?

Of course, my parents made me thank Uncle George and they made me take her home and put her in my bedroom with my other plush toys. But they couldn’t make me like her.

They explained to me that she was Elsie, the Borden Cow, the cow in the advertisements for Borden’s condensed milk. But that didn’t make her any less ugly.

What they didn’t tell me was that she had magic powers. She had to, because otherwise how could a despised ugly plush cow turn into a prized possession?

When I packed to go to university, Elsie came with me. She was a connection with home and family. That was important for me, being only 17 and 2000 miles away from home.

Elsie was also a conversation piece at residence. Students would come in to visit, see her, and ask “What’s with the cow?” I would tell them the story, and they’d look at me like I was crazy. She was unique, and somehow by association that made me unique. That was  important because I was at that point in life when I was trying to find out who I was and what made me tick.

Elsie is still with me. Like me, she’s a bit worse for the wear sixty-some years later. Her hind legs are bowed under her, her boots are dirty, her coat not as plushy. She still has her bell and her silly grin, and she sports a 1968 McGill Winter Carnival pin. I’ve grown to love her for who she is, slightly quirky, definitely herself.

Maybe she’s a reflection of me.

 

#Christmas #ChristmasPresents #ChristmasMemories #ChildhoodMemories #ElsieBordenCow #FamilyHistory #HannaHistory #MargaretGHanna #Humour #NonFiction #BWLAuthor

I’ve been here before

The house was in chaos. The remains of breakfast still on the table. Unwashed dishes stacked in the sink. The living room in shambles. Mom standing in the midst of it all, dazed, confused, worried. She looked at me. “I need help!”

A medical emergency? Break-and-enter? Home invasion?

Nope. Something far more serious.

“B______ wants a quilt with animals on it, and I can’t decide what to make.”

That explained the shambles. The floor, the sofa, the coffee table covered with fabric – fat quarters, cut lengths, remnants – of all colours and designs; quilting magazines opened to different patterns.

Two hours later, we had decided on a pattern (frogs). We’d picked out the fabrics from her stash (varying shades of green and green prints).

I knew this was far from over. I’d been here before.

Mom stood up, hands on her hips, her lips pursed. “We need contrast fabric. And something for the sashing. And for the backing. I just don’t have enough flannel for the backing and what I do have just doesn’t go.”

She gathered up the chosen fabric and her purse. “We’ll just have to go in to Peachtree.” She handed me the keys to her beloved Buick Century. “Here, you drive. You know I hate driving in Regina.”

Yep, I’d been here before.

Peachtree was Mom’s favourite quilting store. Two rooms filled with more quilting fabric than you ever imagined existed. Plus quilting supplies. And sewing machines. And quilting books and magazines, just in case you didn’t already have enough. The staff knew her by name. That was no surprise – I think she was there at least once a week. Mom was an avid quilter. We joked that if something stood still long enough, she’d work it into a quilt.

An hour later, Mom left behind a bundle of money and I carried out a bundle of fabric. But the afternoon wasn’t over.

Mom grinned. “I think we need coffee. And something to eat.”

I knew where this was going. I’d been here before.

Off to our favourite coffee shop. Two lattes and a couple of those really decadent chocolate whatever-they-ares. Then it was time to pay.

“Gee, I forgot my wallet, Margaret.”

“No, you didn’t. You paid Peachtree, remember?”

“Yes, but you’re driving my car and burning my gas.”

“Yes, but you asked me to drive. You need to pay your chauffeur.”

“I paid last time.”

“No, I did.”

Meanwhile, the poor clerk looked more and more concerned, wondering if World War III was about to break out. Little did she know this “discussion” was all in fun. It was part of our routine. Mom knew I would pay. Eventually.

Like I said, I’d been here before. And I loved every minute of it.

Oh, and the quilt? B_______ loved it.

 

#Quilting #HannaFamilyHistory #MothersAndDaughters #MargaretGHanna #Humour #NonFiction

How I learned you can’t go home again

Part 1: The Village

“The past is a foreign country,” wrote L.P. Hartley. “They do things differently there.”

No. We do things differently here. The past is over and done, fixed, immutable. We cannot change what happened then.

Not so with our memories.

Psychologists, neurologists and other “ists” tell us that our memories are anything but immutable. We remember some aspects of things past, forget others, confuse events, think we were somewhere when we weren’t. Even the act of recalling a memory changes that memory, or so they tell us.

Memory is a muddle.

So, what was I remembering when I went back to my home village of Meyronne this summer? I walked up and down the streets for almost an hour, looking at vacant lots where once there had been homes, businesses and gathering places. The village was eerily quiet, quite unlike my memory. Continue reading “How I learned you can’t go home again”

FIRE!

Fire season is upon us.

It’s the end of May, and a huge wildfire, some 10,000 hectares in size, is out of control and threatening the town of High Level in northwestern Alberta. Townsfolk were evacuated several days ago. It is only one of many fires burning across the country. Drought is making a bad situation worse.

Fire has been both a tool and a danger. Indigenous people fired the prairie to green up the grass that, in turn, brought the bison back in their numbers. Europeans traveling across the plains described fires stretching from one horizon to the other, creating a scene worthy of Dante’s Inferno, leaving behind miles of scorched, blackened earth that they crossed for days afterward. Continue reading “FIRE!”

Adventures with the ’58 Ford

RichardPicnic
Picnic time with the ’58 Ford. Margaret, Richard and Grandma Hanna watching Mom cook lunch.

In the spring of 1958, Dad traded in the ‘53 Ford and bought a brand new Ford car. It was cream and green. It had the newest mod-cons: an automatic transmission (for the first few days, Dad kept stomping on the non-existent clutch) and signal lights – no more sticking his arm out the window to signal.

The day he brought it home, he loaded my brother and me into the car and we drove through Meyronne, giving rides to everyone. “Look, it shifts automatically!” or “Look, I can signal a turn!” he exclaimed to everyone.

There was only one problem – the car was a lemon. We soon invented a game – “Name That Noise!” – we played every time we drove somewhere. That car spent as much time in the repair shop as it did in our garage. Continue reading “Adventures with the ’58 Ford”

No TV graced our home . . .

No TV graced our home when I was young,
‘Twas radio that took me everywhere.
I rode with Tonto and the masked Lone Ranger
To catch outlaws and rescue maidens fair.
I tromped through jungles, dark and dangerous,
To find lost mines of old King Solomon.
I sat in Howdy Doody’s Peanut Gallery
and roared in laughter at clown Flub-A-Dub.
I hunkered down in vault-like fallout shelters
While nuclear missiles whistled overhead.
And Foster Hewitt took me to the Forum
and painted scenes of hockey in my head.

Who needs TV with good old radio?
No telling where a youngster’s mind will go.

(What memories do you have of listening to radio programs? Leave me a note below)

#Poem #Sonnet #Radio #MargaretGHanna #ChildhoodMemories

In Praise of Winter

When I was a kid growing up on a prairie farm, winter was magical. My brother and I would wake up on a cold January morning to find the entire world made of spun sugar. The adults called it hoar frost but we kids knew better. The sky was a brilliant clear blue. Ice crystals sparkled in the air. The sun sported a glowing halo and four almost-as-brilliant sundogs. Our breath froze into fog, then vanished. Snow squeaked like old leather underfoot. We were not kids tromping across the drifts through the trees surrounding our farm, we were intrepid explorers crossing the Arctic. Continue reading “In Praise of Winter”