“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”

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”

The Bonspiel

bonspiel_gameon
Team Canada delivers a stone, 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver BC

You hear it as soon as you open the rink door: men shouting “Draw!”, “Guard!”, “Take-out!” and “Good shot!”; the growl of rocks sliding down the ice; the slap-slap-slap of corn brooms; the crack as rock hits rock. We stand in the cold along the sides, stomping our feet to keep them warm, watching the men plot and play. A hip flask passes from hand to hand, then disappears into a pocket. On the far sheet where the draw has already ended, little kids push rocks to the far hog line and give a good heave-ho; their rocks barely make it to the 8-foot circle. The draw ends, the chamois man cleans the ice, closely followed by the tank man sprinkling a new layer of pebble. We head to the kitchen, fingers and toes tingling with cold, noses red and runny. We open the door and walk into a wall of blast furnace heat. Coal-fueled cook stoves roar full blast. Women, sweating, red-faced, hustle hamburgers, hot dogs, slices of pie, pots of coffee. Men and kids sit elbow to elbow along the L-shaped counter, soaking up the food and heat. The men talk about the thaw that cut short last week’s bonspiel, the snow cover, the potential for this year’s crop, the cost of machinery and repairs and gas, the latest government shenanigans, the wheat quota just opened. Food devoured, we head back out for the next draw. We watch some names advance across the board while others come to a dead stop. Will it be a local rink or one from the town down the highway that wins the trophy this year?

(Anyone who grew up in a small Canadian prairie town knows about curling. If you didn’t and don’t know what I’m writing about, this site is a good primer.)

#Curling #ChildhoodMemories #RuralLife #WinterSports #Saskatchewan #HannaFamilyMemories #MargaretGHanna