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

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

“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

Got To Finish Tonight!

We clomped into the house at 1:50 am, collapsed on kitchen chairs, exhausted, bone-tired. Mom came down in her nightie and housecoat. “I heard the combine come in. All done?” she asked.

“Yep,” Dad said.

“How’d it go?”

“Wheat was getting tough but we finished the 80 acres.” He pulled off his boots, ran his hands through dust- and chaff-laden hair. “Good thing Glen helped with his combine and truck.”

I went to the sink and washed grime from my face. “I’m off to bed,” I said.

“Me, too,” said Dad.

Next day we watched the snow come down.

 

(The 99-word challenge – write about exhaustion. The story – a true one. At harvest time, farmers often have to race against the weather to get the crop in before the weather changes.)

 

#99WordChallenge #FarmLife #NonFiction #RuralLife #Weather #MargaretGHanna #OurBullsLooseInTown

Dogs and other farm animals

Almost all of Abe’s diary entries are terse, impassive, descriptive statements: “did this,” “did that,” “so-and-so visited,” etc. From time to time, though, his humanity shines through, no more so than when he is writing about certain of the farm animals.

Jack the dog
Every farm has at least one dog. They are as likely to be a mutt of uncertain and unknown parentage as they are a pedigreed purebred. They are companion and work dog combined. They guard the yard and house, herd cattle, and catch rodents. They chase cars and get into scraps with skunks and badgers. They follow you in the yard and in the field, play catch, and plop down beside you when you pause to rest. They nudge you with their muzzle when you need cheering up, listen attentively to everything you say, and demand nothing more than a scratch behind the ears or a pat on the head. They eat table scraps, chew up old bones and dig holes to bury their “treasures.” They howl at the moon and bark in response to other dogs’ barking. They live outside; they sleep in the barn when it’s cold or, if they’re lucky, on an old mat in a dog house. Some die of old age, some meet tragic ends. When they die, we mourn the passing of a dear friend. Continue reading “Dogs and other farm animals”

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

The Dirty Thirties’ Legacy – Improved Farming Practices

It is impossible to ensure that rain will always fall but farming practices appropriate to dry-land farming can help to mitigate the effects of drought. The Dirty Thirties were crucial in bringing about those changes.

Some farming practices more appropriate to dry-land farming had long been known. By the 1890s, the Dominion Experimental Farms had recommended the use of summerfallow – leaving a field fallow for a year to conserve soil moisture, and cultivating it to destroy weeds. Experiments had determined that crop yields on summer fallow could be as much as twice that of crops sown on stubble. Continue reading “The Dirty Thirties’ Legacy – Improved Farming Practices”

Christmas Baking with Mom

“Do we have everything?”
“Check the recipe and see what we need.”
I make a list: currants, sultanas, dark raisins, almonds (whole and slivered), almond flavouring, glace cherries, mixed peel.
“Do we have enough butter and sugar?”
“I think so, but check.”
Sugar, yes, but we’ll need several more pounds of butter.
“I’ll do the shopping.”
I go to Mom’s home Friday night. We’ll have to start early Saturday morning to get everything baked. We start watching a silly Christmas movie on TV.
“Shit!”
“What?”
“We have to get the fruit soaking.”
Into the kitchen, dump currants, raisins, fruit into a bowl.
“Rum or brandy?”
“How about both?”
We giggle. And pour in the alcohol. Continue reading “Christmas Baking with Mom”

Mitigating the Dirty Thirties – Relief

The rains stopped in 1929.

No one panicked. Dry years were not unknown – there had been the occasional one or two every decade so far. Everyone knew the rains would come again “next year.” Abe certainly believed so, for in the fall of 1929, he purchased a new Rumley combine.

RumleyCombine
The new Rumley combine, 1929; Abe on the combine, Garnet and Addie standing in front of the tractor

But the rains didn’t come “next year,” or for several years after. Crops struggled. What little grew was quickly devoured by grasshoppers, that is, if it wasn’t blown away first. Abe recorded annual yields between 2 and 9 bushels per acre. In 1937, the year of no rain, it plummeted to 1/3 bushel per acre, a “total crop failure.” Continue reading “Mitigating the Dirty Thirties – Relief”