Hail Season

“Insured 290 acres crop at $4.50 per acre.”
Abraham Hanna diary, June 24, 1922

Farmers call it “the great white combine.” They fear it. They plan for it.

From early June to the end of August, they scan the sky, hoping they will not see what they are looking for.

The crop is up and growing well. By July, the wind sends waves billowing across the grain field. The heads are emerging. The farmer dreams of a bumper crop. Of full granaries. Bills paid. Money in the bank. Dreams hedged with caution – the crop is not yet in the bin.

The day begins normally. It is hot, humid. Cumulus clouds gather in the west, grow larger, higher. Farmers check the weather report: “Severe weather advisory. Thunderstorms with heavy rain and possibility of hail.” They hope it will pass them by.

From a distance the storm is beautiful – huge, shimmering, pearlescent, anvil-shaped clouds reaching high into the sky. They loom closer, growing in size, becoming darker, blacker, more threatening. The sky darkens, the air chills. The wind picks up. Distant thunder rolls closer and closer. The first rain drops fall.

“Severe electric storm with heavy rain & hail at 1 am.”
Abraham Hanna diary, June 17, 1929

Rain pelts down, harder and harder. The terror arrives.

The advance guard is pea-sized, rattling down against roofs and windows. Everything that can move scurries to shelter. Huddles. Shivers. Hopes for the best. Fears the worst.

No longer pea-size. They grow, the size of golf balls, tennis balls, even larger. The wind howls, blowing rain and hail sideways in great gusts. The rattling becomes a deafening pounding, a hammering accompanied by the sound of shattering glass, shredding siding. The ground whitens. Drifts form in corners. It lasts an eternity.

“Hot with showers and heavy rain in eve with some hail & very high wind. A large area in 9-7 [the township north of the farm] was hailed out by a storm which swept from Leader to south of Willow Bunch.”
Abraham Hanna diary, July 19, 1927

It is over. The rainbow in the sky belies the devastation below. Leaves and branches ripped from trees. Dead birds. A kitten that didn’t make it to the barn in time. Shattered windows. Dented vehicles.

Worst of all, garden and crop destroyed. Hopes and dreams destroyed. Hail insurance will pay some of the bills but it is no substitute for a full grain bin.

The farmer walks through the jagged stubble, fingers some of the shattered stalks and heads. He mourns his lost crop but already he is thinking of next year.

(I started writing this before the hail storm of June 13 that hit northeast Calgary and caused a preliminary estimate of at least $1 billion in damages)

HailStorm #FarmLife #PrairieLife #DreamsShattered #MargaretGHanna #HannaFamilyHistory #PrairieWeather

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

Contagion!

Self-isolation. Social distancing. Public gatherings cancelled. Travel restrictions. Borders closed.

Coronavirus 2020, right?

Wrong. The so-called “Spanish” Flu, 1918.

The influenza pandemic of 1918, like the 2009 “swine” flu, was a version of H1N1. The 1918 version was particularly lethal. It infected approximately 500 million people, or a third of the world’s population, and killed an estimated 50 million people, a death rate yet to be matched by any pandemic. Unlike other influenzas, it struck people in the prime of their lives – 15 to 35 years of age – particularly severely, although it also attacked the young and the elderly.

There are striking similarities between the 1918 flu and COVID-19. Both began as rumours of a new strange illness; only slowly did the world become aware of its seriousness and how quickly it could spread. Then, panic ensued. The medical system was quickly overwhelmed. It didn’t help that doctors and nurses contracted the illness and died. Public gatherings were cancelled. The dead were buried without funerals. Businesses shut down because the staff were ill. Towns closed their borders; public transit was avoided. There were no airplanes, but train stations closed, and trains disinfected their cars.

Quarantine, or self-isolation, was only sure way to limit the spread of the disease. Today, we are unfamiliar with the practice, both psychologically and physically. A hundred years ago, even 60 years ago when I was a child, quarantine was common. It was an inconvenience but everyone knew it was the only way to control communicable diseases. And there were many: smallpox, chicken pox, whooping cough, measles, rubella, scarlet fever, mumps, diphtheria and polio. Except for smallpox, there was no vaccine to create “herd immunity;” that was accomplished solely by the illness sweeping through the community (or country) and leaving behind survivors who were now immune to the next wave of that particular illness.

Families may have been quarantined but they were far from isolated. Telephones and mail kept people connected and informed. They hunkered down in their homes while friends and neighbours checked in to see how they were doing, brought them groceries and mail, and did their chores.

My grandparents lived through the 1918 epidemic. These are the entries in Abe’s diary:

Sunday, October 27: Sabbath School and Service cancelled on account of influenza.
Friday, November 1: R. Sibbery arrived in pm, stayed for supper then left to stay at hotel as he had contracted influenza. [Did Abe and Addie wonder if they were now infected?]
Thursday, November 7: Ed Wright [neighbour] sick with flu. Was innoculated with anti-flu serum in evening.
Tuesday, November 12: Called at W. Graham’s in pm. W. Graham and two children sick with flu.
Friday, November 15: Children taken sick with flu overnight. [Imagine the panic Abe and Addie must have felt to see Edith and Bert fall ill.]
Sunday, November 17: Children no better. Called Dr. Donnelly overnight. [Now they were really worried.]
Monday, November 18: Children improving. [Relief, I’m sure]

The Meyronne Independent kept everyone informed as to the progress of the disease; November 6 seemed to be the height of the infection in the district:

“Spanish influenza is still raging in Meyronne and district. Many of the sufferers have recovered while many more have contracted the disease within the past week. . .There are about twenty patients in the Meyronne hotel which has been converted into an emergency hospital.”

“The school is closed this week. . . Station agent Howell is back at this post after his illness. His wife and family and George Jordan have all recovered.”

“Mike Forzley of Milly was brought to town Wednesday suffering with influenza. He was found out of doors, only partly clothed and in a delirious condition.”

“Every member of the Bank of Toronto staff has been ill. Those who first went down with it recovered sufficiently to step in and take hold of the work when the others became ill.”

“A.F. Haddad has recovered from his attack and is back at work. Lowie Saba has also recovered, but the other clerk, Miss Anne Havorka is now down with the disease. None of the Haddad store staff escaped the epidemic.”

“Mrs. Phil Stapleton died at her home north of Meyronne on Saturday, Nov. 2, of influenza and heart disease.”

There was still room for humour (laughter is the best medicine, after all):

“No small number of “safety-firsters” took up their daily allotment of “preventative” when the ban was lifted.” [This was during Prohibition when alcohol was not for sale under any circumstance, but alcohol “for medicinal purposes only” {yeah, sure!} was allowed during the epidemic.]

(Addie relates the 1918 epidemic in Chapter 17 of “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead)

 

#Influenza #H1N1Virus #CORVID-19 #SelfIsolation #MeyronneHistory #SpanishFlu #PrairieHistory #HannaFamilyHistory #MargaretGHanna #OurBullsLooseInTown #Quarantine

Going Hog Wild . . .

. . . And That’s No Bull!

BertPigs

Grandpa Hanna (and later my Dad, Garnet) did what prairie farmers can no longer do – operate a mixed farm. In addition to growing grain (wheat, oats, barley, and flax, and later rapeseed now called canola), they raised a few head of milk and beef cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys – some to eat and some to sell for quick cash when the price of wheat was low or the grain cheque had yet to arrive. However, from time to time, livestock provided more than income.

 

The four words that farmers dread the most? – Your cows are out! While out, they wandered everywhere, including into town. The village of Meyronne passed a bylaw in 1921 stating that horses and cattle were not allowed to run at large between May 1 and November 15, otherwise there’d be fines to pay. Council forgot to tell the livestock about the bylaw. The Meyronne Independent printed jabs such as “Do you, reader, own any of the livestock that parades up and down, in and out of Meyronne’s streets every week?” The editor obviously forgot that livestock can’t read.

Abe had to pay those fines several times, and sometimes even compensate neighbouring farmers. He paid Mr. Barber $20.00 for damages done by cattle while he, Addie and the family were visiting in Alberta. One Sunday morning, Abe had to retrieve the bull that had wandered into town. That incident inspired me to write my grandparents’ story, “Our Bull’s Loose In Town!” Tales from the Homestead. Escapades did not always end well. Cherry, the cow, got stuck in the mud in the pasture on the Flat. Abe hauled her back to the farm on the stone boat but the next day she caught pneumonia and died.

Abe’s cattle weren’t the only ones to go astray. One morning, Abe found six strange cattle wandering about the farm yard; a few phone calls soon determined whose they were and the red-faced owners quickly retrieved them. Another time, he found a yearling Holstein bull in the yard; Abe took it to the pound for the owner to liberate.

Abe references a few cows by name – Lily, Cherry, Emma, Davidson, Blue, Whiteface and Broncho. The female names lead me to suspect those were mostly Holsteins, large rangy milk cows that, every morning, lumbered up from the pasture to the barn and stood there, bellowing, “Mo-o-o-ilk me! Mo-o-o-ilk me!” Those bellows have a particularly urgent timber to them – there’s no sleeping in when a cow’s needing milked.

Cows, like horses (see last week’s post) needed doctoring, and the diaries contain many references to sick cattle. Dr. Houze was called in only if a dose of aloes and Miracle Wonder (whatever that was) didn’t cure the ailing beast. Not every cow survived. Broncho got very ill after being fed a small amount of feed sorghum one afternoon. Two hours later, Broncho died. Abe suspected the sorghum had been treated with something that poisoned the cow.

Abe didn’t give names to his pigs but I’m willing to bet he called them choice names whenever they escaped. Pigs, being canny, often escaped. Seventeen hogs got out one day and wandered into the village – were they wanting to have words with the butcher, we wonder? Abe had to pay to get them out of the pound. Another pig went on a cross-country adventure on its own; Abe found it two days later at a farm about three miles away. Several piglets once scampered into the school yard just south of the farm — at recess time! — and engendered no end of mayhem. Perhaps they thought the big bad wolf was after them and they would be safe in the red brick school house.

And then there was the Pigs-in-the-Garden incident in the first year of my parents’ marriage. The fence around the pig pen was in need of repair. “Fix the fence,” Mom said on several occasions. “Yes, dear,” my father replied, on as many occasions.

Mom was particularly proud of her garden that summer. She had managed to grow cantaloups and watermelons, no small feat in southwestern Saskatchewan; the gladiolas and dahlias were in full glorious bloom. So imagine her fury when she came home from town to find the pigs wrecking havoc in her garden.

“It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had eaten only one watermelon,” she’d say every time she told the story. But no, the pigs had gone down the row and taken a bite out of each and every watermelon, each and every cantaloup. They had uprooted and munched on every dahlia and gladiola corm.

Mom hit the roof. Dad fixed the fence. The pigs never got out again.

 

#AnimalStories #HannaFamilyHistory #SaskatchewanHistory #FarmLife #MeyronneHistory #MargaretGHanna #OurBullsLooseInTown #BWLPublishing #Humour #NonFiction

Horse Tales

Fields_Breaking25

Horses were essential in the homestead days. Every farmer had several. My grandfather, Abraham Hanna, at one time had over 20 horses although usually they numbered about a dozen, more or less. They were all named. The stalls in the barn he built in 1917 could accommodate up to 16 horses.

Because horses were so essential, farmers took great care of them. Grandpa Hanna was no different. His diaries record which one was bred, or sick, or old and lame, or died.

Take, for example, the mares Minnie and Maud. They’re first mentioned in 1915 but I suspect Grandpa Hanna got them as fillies when he first homesteaded in 1909. Maud had at least two colts (1915 and 1920); in 1930 she was shot due to “old age.” Minnie is mentioned twice as being sick, once in 1920 (illness is not specified) and again in 1923 with azaturia (muscles cramps). Dr. Houze, the local vet, prescribed a regimen of fluids and feed, warmth and rest. The last reference to Minnie is 1934 – Abe described her as having been ailing for two months, then she suddenly became violently ill in the afternoon and died during night. That would make her close to 30 years old.

IF that is the 1915 Minnie. There are at least two instances in which the same name was given to different horses. A yearling called Dick died in 1920; in 1921, a second horse called Dick broke through the ice on the pond and had to be hauled out with the team. Then there was the black horse with the (now) politically incorrect name. He was obtained from Ed Roy in 1937, the same year in which the “Old” one died.

Horses provided “diversions,” shall we call them. There was Dick’s incident with the pond ice, mentioned above. Abe had to chase Mr. Kennedy’s horses out of the pasture. Harry Little’s team ran away while the Littles were visiting Abe and Addie. “Fly,” a mare, broke her halter and came running back to the farm from town, leaving Addie stranded. “Bill” was spooked by a flag on Ed Roy’s wagon and upset the buggy in which Abe and Addie were riding on their way home from Kincaid. While backing down the barn gangway, “Dan” spooked and backed to one side, upsetting wagon and rack and breaking two fork handles. And so on.

The Dirty Thirties were particularly hard on horses because of poor and insufficient feed. Often, the only “feed” available was green Russian Thistles, a particularly inedible, indigestible and non-nutritious option to oats and hay. The government-provided relief feed was little better. Horses and cattle suffered as a consequence.

In 1937, “Bill” tired easily due to shortage of good food. In December of that year, Abe could haul only small loads of hay from the relief car because the horses were so thin. In 1938, Dr. Houze called and vaccinated eight of Abe’s horses for prevention of encephalomyelitis or blind staggers, then a deadly new disease that had appeared in Western Canada a few years previously. Many horses in the area were already ill. About 1/3 of those affected died in a few days; those that recovered were unfit for work for a long time.

Unlike Dad, I did not grow up around horses – the last one died when I was about two. I was (and still am) skittish around horses – they are too big, too scary and too smart, smart enough to know that I am not comfortable with them and smart enough to take advantage of my fears. Over the years, I’ve had the odd occasion to try to ride one (“try” being the operative word). It has never ended well. On my last attempt, back in 1969, I was bucked off – one second I was in the saddle, the next I was on the ground wondering “What on Earth???”

I’ll stick with mechanical horse-power, thank you very much.

Want to read the whole story of my grandparents, Abe and Addie? Find out more about the book (and me) at https://www.bookswelove.com/hanna-margaret-g/

#HannaFamilyHistory #Horses #AnimalHusbandry #MeyronneHistory #FamilyHistory #OurBullsLooseInTown #NonFiction #MargaretGHanna #BWLAuthor

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

“Next Year” Country

Or, Hope Springs Eternal

He looks out over the prairie, hand on the breaking plow, horses at the ready. “Not much of a field this year, but next year it will be bigger.”

They walk, hand in hand, across the blackened field. She says, “At least the prairie fire missed the house.” He says, “This ash will fertilize next year’s crop.”

He fingers the rusty wheat leaves and thinks “Next year I’ll grow that new rust-resistant grain.”

He watches the droves of grasshoppers ravage his fields. “No crop this year, but a cold spring next year will do them in.”

They stand at the window, watch the dust storm carry away soil and seed. “Next year, we’ll have rain,” they say.

They cry as they look over the hailed-out crop. They put their arms around each other. “At least we have crop insurance. That will carry us through to next year.”

He holds the grain cheque. “Hardly worth putting in the bank.” His son says, “Prices should be higher next year.”

They watch their grandson start up the four-wheel drive tractor, air seeder and fertilizer applicator attached, and go into the field to start seeding. “This year,” they say. “This year!”

#FarmLife #NextYearCountry #RuralLife #Hope #MargaretGHanna

How I learned you can’t go home again

Part 2: The Farm

My brother and I drove to the farm last year. We knew the house was no longer there; a year or so after GD bought the farm, he sold the house which now sits on a wind-swept hill east of Swift Current.

We weren’t prepared for the other changes.

ChangesInFarmOf the original buildings, only the barn, the hen house and the garage still stood. Everything else – the old wooden granaries, the shop, the implement shed, the sidewalks that once bordered the house – were all gone. Grass had taken over what had been Mom’s prized flower garden. It had invaded what had been our vegetable garden. Even the old basement was gone. GD had filled it in and built a new home in the garden north of where our house had stood. All the trees, lilac bushes, and peonies that once grew there were gone.

My brother and I stood in the yard, disoriented, confused.

We found the concrete patio that marked the southwest corner of the house. We traced where the sidewalk along the south side of the house used to be. We stood where the east-facing kitchen window used to be, where if winter atmospheric conditions were just right, we could see Lafleche (13 miles distant) float above the little valley in which it sat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found the two trees where our swing used to hang, and the tree we used to climb. We wandered into the barn. Even though no cow had been in it for almost 50 years, the huge old-growth fir beams still retained vestigial smells of cow and horse and manure and straw. We found remnants of the old pump for watering the livestock, overgrown with grass.

Our home had all but disappeared.

 

The farm was more than where we lived. It was where we became who we are today.

Here, we learned the value of hard work, perseverance, determination, even stubbornness; the prairies are, after all, “Next Year” country. We learned to respect and care for the land from which we earned our living.

Here, we learned that failure is not the end; it is merely a lesson to be learned. There is life after failure.

Here, we learned to roll with the punches because there are always forces (weather) and circumstances (e.g., international markets) beyond our control.

Here, we learned that death is part of life. The animals we fed, watered and cared for eventually ended up on our dinner plate.

And here, from our parents, we learned the value of community and of working for justice. Our parents were involved in many organizations, both religious and secular, as members and as leaders, always striving to improve life for their children and for others.

We learned the sense of satisfaction that comes from having accomplished a day’s hard work, be it getting the harvest in the bin before the threatened snow arrived, or seeing 90 quarts of pickles sitting on the kitchen table.

We learned the value of education, that learning never stops. Our parents made great sacrifices so that we could get a good education. They, themselves, never stopped learning.

We also had unparalleled freedom. No helicopter parents hovered. We walked unaccompanied into Meyronne to play in the school yard, to visit Grandma or to play with friends. We ran about and played, occasionally in places deemed dangerous – we climbed trees and jumped off the roofs of granaries. We rode the calves (a forbidden pastime) when Dad was away. In exercising that freedom, we learned that actions have consequences, and we had better be prepared to live with those consequences. We also learned to assess risk vs. reward.

We learned to imagine. The inside of the threshing machine (another forbidden place) became a cave. Trees were the masts of sailing ships and we were pirates sailing the high seas in search of treasure.

We learned responsibility. Long before we were legally able to drive, Dad taught us to drive the truck and machinery, and we learned that power meant danger and must be treated with care and respect.

In time, the farm became my refuge from the stress of my work. There was something healing about weeding the garden, or sitting in the garden swing, or listening to birds greet the early summer dawn.

As my brother and I stood there in the yard last fall, it became obvious the home we had once known was gone forever. At the same time, I realized “Home” was no longer a physical place. “Home” was who I had become. It was embedded in my values, my priorities, my expectations, my worldview.

“Home” will always be with me.

 

#MeyronneHistory #HannaFamilyHistory #Memories #RuralHistory #Contemplations MargaretGHanna #VillageLife #Nostalgia #RememberingThePast #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”