Chores!

“Margaret, today I think we should do . . .”

Uh-oh. I knew what that meant – Mom had a chore for me to do.

Mom loved the Royal “We.”

Doing chores for Mom often meant doing chores with Mom. And doing chores with Mom was always an adventure. It was a time for stories, jokes and laughter.

Especially jokes. Mom was never above pulling a fast one, even on her daughter.

Like one time when we were doing dishes – Mom washing, I drying. It devolved into a game of “I can wash faster than you can dry!”

I was keeping up but I seemed to be drying an inordinately large number of saucepans. Wait! Didn’t I just dry this saucepan?

Mom!

She laughed. “I wondered how long before you noticed.”

Instead of putting the saucepans away, I had put them on the stove. Which stood beside the sink. Within Mom’s easy reach.

Silly me!

#ChildhoodMemories #HannaFamilyHistory #NonFiction #FamilyHistory #Humour #DoingChores #MargaretGHanna

Dinosaur At Large!

“Mom! Mom! There’s a dinosaur outside!”

I looked up from my crossword puzzle. “Really?” Now what had Adam, my son, seen?

“Quick! Come see.” He grabbed my hand and I followed him onto the back deck.

He pointed. “It’s over there. You can’t see it now, it’s feeding on something, but just wait! Oh, there it is!”

Off beyond the trees, I heard roaring and grating and tearing and then it appeared above the trees, swung around and disappeared — the neck of a large yellow excavator ripping up the street in the next block.

I clapped my hands to my face in mock terror.

“Good gracious, Adam. It’s going to eat us!”

“No, Mom.” He rolled his eyes – I was so ignorant about dinosaurs. “It’s a herbivore, probably one of the brontosaurus species.”

“But, it’s so huge. It could squash us and not even know it. Or knock over our house. How would we escape?”

Adam patted his large watergun. “Mom, you don’t have to worry. I have my Blast-o-Matic with me. If it comes this way, I’ll dial it up to maximum and blast it into extinction.”

“But when you kill it, it will fall over and crush us!” I was trying hard not to laugh.

“Mom, don’t you remember?” He sounded so exasperated. “When my Blast-o-Matic is at max, it vapourizes things.”

I heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank heavens. Adam, you are such a brave boy. I’m glad you’re here to defend us.”

He smiled, straightened and saluted. “At your service, Ma’am!”

I went back inside, smiling. My little hero had things well in hand.

* * *

A couple of days ago, I did indeed see a large yellow “dinosaur” working in the street one block over. As the arm swung back and forth, into and out of sight, it reminded me of the long-necked dinosaurs that used to roam the earth. How big they were and how tiny we are! I just had to write this story about a boy with an imagination as big as a dinosaur and his mother, complicit in his fantasy.

Writing this story also reminded me of the many times my brother and I lived out our fantasies when we were children.

We traveled across Canada, even the world, by train – all in our dining room. We lined up the chairs, one behind the other; I was the passenger, my brother the engineer cum conductor. “Ticket, ma’am,” he’d say, and I would hand him my “ticket.” We traveled through the Rocky Mountains, across the prairies and through forests, to the sound of “choo-choo-choos,” steam whistles and clanging bells. Every now and then we went to the “dining car” to enjoy whatever it was that Mom – excuse me, the Chef – had prepared for us. Eventually we had to park the train, er, the chairs and return to – sigh – reality.

Long before Sputnik and John Glenn, we went to the moon and back, in a cardboard box. To adults, it looked like a cardboard box but to us it was the super-duperest, spiffyest rocket ship ever built. And guess what? Long before Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, WE discovered that it was not made of green cheese. Why would anyone even think the moon was made of green cheese? We brought back moon samples; at least, I think we brought back moon samples. Of course, all that traveling really worked up an appetite, so it was off to see what culinary delights NASA, er, Mom, had devised for space travelers.

This was well before we had TV. We had to devise our own entertainment, and devise we did. And no, it wasn’t playing “house” – “you be the Mommy and I’ll be the Daddy.” Heck, that was so boring!

We’d rather be outside, playing “cowboys and Indians” – now politically incorrect – or maybe it was “Cowboys and Rustlers”. Either way, there was a lot of running around, pointing our index fingers at each other, yelling “Bang!”, and falling down “dead,” only to be miraculously revived when Mom yelled, “Lunch!”

We pulled cattails from the nearby slough that magically became swords and we transformed into swashbuckling pirates battling the Royal Navy (and always sending the Navy high-tailing it across the seas) or we were Knights of Old saving Damsels in Distress (I refused to be the damsel in distress).

We climbed our favourite tree and became Robin Hood and his band of merry men, waiting in ambush for the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham. “Take that, you villainous cad!”

Or, once again, we were pirates, in the crow’s nest, on the look-out for gold-laden Spanish galleons. Arrr, me hearties!

TV ruined a lot!

#Dinosaurs #ChildhoodMemories #ChildhoodImagination #Fiction #NonFiction #MargaretGHanna #LifeBeforeTV #Play

Skunked!

We had a close encounter of the skunk kind the other day. It had wandered into one of our squirrel traps. Long story short, we managed to release it but not without incident. We didn’t get sprayed, directly, but the odour still stuck to our clothes. They went into the washing machine, we went into the shower, and my husband’s old runners went into the garbage.

It brought to mind the summer of 1977 when I was directing excavations on an island not far from the Village of Duck Bay, just off the western shore of Lake Winnipegosis, Manitoba.

The “Summer of the Skunks” began the day a crew member came running back from the outhouse shouting, “I just saw a skunk!”

We didn’t pay her much mind. After all, she was the one who firmly believed that moths have fangs and suck your blood. Seriously!

Her report was confirmed a couple of days later by a more reputable crew member. Soon we discovered there was not one, but an entire family of skunks co-habiting the island – Mom and Dad, four Teenagers, and the runt whom we named – wait for it – The Squirt! (Da-dum-dump!)

What to do? So far, we hadn’t been bothered. We decided to let well enough alone and see what happened.

We learned that the skunks were as wary of us as we were of them. The first time we met on one of our paths, both turned tail (hmmm, maybe not the best phrase given we are talking about skunks) and ran for the hills, not that there were any hills on the island but you get my drift.

Next, we discovered that, if we clapped our hands really loudly, the skunks would scurry off into the bush. The skunks quickly learned that the sound of clapping hands meant nothing at all so they stood their ground.

So did we.

Eventually, we could pass each other, very cautiously, without incident.

And so life continued. We dug the site. The skunks dug worms and grubs.

Skunks are very interesting creatures. They can’t see well and often blunder into things. We discovered that the morning I opened up the “office tent” to find two of the Teenagers inside. They scrambled back and forth along one wall, coming within inches of the open door, only to turn around and scramble back the way they’d just come. Only by chance, so it seemed, did they stumble into the doorway and run off.

1977_TheSquirtFbMb1
The Squirt, cleaning up

They may not see well but they can smell! The Squirt came wandering through our cook tent one evening as we were eating supper and headed straight for the tub that held our yet-to-be-washed pots and pans. He did a good job of washing, not so good with the drying.

They’re definitely built for digging. Long claws on their forelimbs can rip open almost anything. They’re wedge-shaped – pointy at the nose and widening toward the rear.

When you’re stuck on an island, you learn to devise your own entertainment. One night, that entertainment took the form of Feeding the Family. We had cooked stew for supper and traces were left in the pot. We put the pot out on the ground and, in keeping with our sophisticated reputation, placed a wine bottle (empty, of course; no archaeologist worth his/her salt would waste booze) wrapped in a towel beside the bowl.

The Teenagers were the first to arrive. They encircled the pot and began to lick it clean. Along came The Squirt who tried to nose his way into the tight circle. The Teenagers were having none of it. The fight for a bite of tasty stew intensified. The tails began to rise. The Squirt never did manage to get his share of the stew.

But we were well entertained. And not sprayed.

The only incident happened the day some kids came over from Duck Bay with their dog and ran up into the bush before we could warn them about the skunks. Two seconds later, we heard a bark and then a yelp and the dog came ky-ying back with the kids not far behind. “Lady, there’s skunks on the island!” they yelled.

“Really?”

1977_EggNoodleBurialFbMb1
RIP, egg noodles!

Oh, there was one other incident. The Teenagers broke into our food tent one night. We heard the ruckus but no one was about to go and break it up. In the morning we surveyed the damage. Amongst the shambles, we saw well-munched packages of Baker’s Chocolate and completely untouched packages of egg noodles.

Those egg noodles remained untouched until the day we backfilled the excavated units. We dumped every package into one of the units.

When we returned the following summer, that unit had the tallest, lushest growth of weeds on the entire island!

And the skunks were gone.

(P.S. Three days later, there still remains a faint but distinctive Eau du Pepe Le Peu in our garden.)

#Skunks #MephitisMephitis #Archaeology #Manitoba #DuckBay #LakeWinnipegosis #AschkibokahnFbMb1 #MargaretGHanna #NonFiction #Humour #ArchaeologicalAdventures #WildlifeEncounters

Another Baking (mis)Adventure

My husband’s family has A Family Birthday Cake recipe. It’s a basic white cake (homemade, of course, not out of a box) with lemon custard filling and coloured icing. Each sibling has his/her own colour — my husband’s is green.

As my husband’s birthday approached (the first we had celebrated together after our marriage), he “informed” me that I would have to get the recipe from his mother and make The Family Birthday Cake. None other would do. In due course, she gave me the recipe and I made the cake.

She, along with all the other siblings, attended the birthday celebration. I was a tad anxious as I served up the cake — you know the stereotype about mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, how we never quite measure up. Fortunately for me, this particular mother-in-law is an extremely gracious lady. She gave me the Mother-in-law Seal of Approval! I relaxed, having passed the crucial test with flying colours.

Today, another family birthday approaches so this morning I made the Family Birthday Cake. Separate the eggs — Check! Beat the eggs whites — Check! Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla – Check! Add the milk alternately with the flour and baking powder — Check! Pour into greased and floured cake pans and put in the 350 oven — Check!

Because there are always bits of cake batter left in the bowl, I settled into my post-cake-making reward — licking the spoon and beaters. I mused as I took my first taste how I was flouting the now common perception that you shouldn’t eat raw cake or cookie batter because it contains raw eggs.

EGGS! GASP!!!

I’d forgotten to fold in the beaten egg whites!

Quick! Get the pans out of the oven! Scrape the batter back into the bowl! Carefully fold in the egg whites! Wash and regrease and reflour the pans. Pour batter back into pans and put in oven. Bake for 30 minutes.

The cake turned out just fine. It’s now iced with red (well, more like hot pink) icing, ready for the celebration. Bon appetit!

#Baking #BirthdayCake #FamilyBirthdayCake #BirthdayCelebration #BakingMisadventure #Humour #AlmostDisaster #NonFiction #MargaretGHanna

Badgered by Bunnies

Since COVID put a damper on our normal summer travel plans, we decided to plant a garden. A proper garden. Normally, we throw some seed potatoes in the ground and head off with our little travel trailer because potatoes pretty much grow themselves with only a minimal amount of tending.

No, this summer we were going to plant a variety of vegetables: lettuce, radishes, spinach, carrots, swiss chard (why is it “Swiss?”), onions, squash, beans and peas.

“Not peas,” said my husband. “Sparrows eat them.”

“The pods?” I had never heard of this. In all my years growing up on the farm and planting what seemed like mile-long rows of peas and other vegetables – rows seem a mile long when you have to weed them – I had never heard of sparrows eating peas.

“No, they eat the tender little leaves after the peas germinate.”

He was joking, right? I was having none of it. We planted a row of peas.

One morning after the peas – and everything else – had germinated, I went out for my routine garden visit. Yep, everything’s up. But wait, where were the peas? I bent closer. Good heavens! My husband was right! Something was eating the peas!

After a brief consultation, we threw a net over them. That will keep the sparrows out. Nasty sparrows!

A few days later, another routine garden inspection. Good heavens! Something has eaten the beans! Right down to the stalk! Sparrows eat beans, too?

But wait! The spinach is eaten down, too!

I called over my husband. He was mystified. He hadn’t heard of sparrows eating beans, but well, if peas were off the menu, then perhaps they were willing to diversity their diet.

Just then, the culprit hopped by.

The zoologists among you will know this beast as a species of Hare, Lepus townsendii, also called White-Tailed Jackrabbit. Prairie people know it as “varmit.”

According to A.W.F. Banfield’s The Mammals of Canada, Jackrabbits prefer “a variety of green foliage . . . [and] vegetable greens such as lettuce and cabbage.” Add beans to the list. And spinach.

We looked at Jackrabbit. He sat there, chewing his cud, looking back at us with a “What? Me?” look on his face.

“Git!” we yelled. Jackrabbit “gitted.”

We covered all the rows of beans and peas with a garden net. We put plastic fencing over the spinach and lettuce. We covered everything that we thought nasty Jackrabbit might eat.

Bunny-Proofed Garden

Weeding is a bit of a challenge. On the other hand, nothing’s been eating our now-thriving vegies.

Until the cutworms arrive.

(P.S. The zoologists among you will be going “Tsk! Tsk!” about the title because “Bunnies” are not Lepus sp., they’re Sylvilagus sp. To which I reply: Never let a few facts get in the way of a good story.

Or a good title.)

Gardening #Jackrabbits #LepusTownsendii #VegetableGarden #GardenPests #MargaretGHanna #Humour #NonFiction

 

Bread of Life

Man may not live by bread alone but it’s a good place to start.

Bread is as essential to us of European descent as rice is to Asia. We “break bread” together. We give thanks for our “daily bread.” When women, a century ago, marched for better working conditions and the right to vote, they sang “Give us bread and roses.”

I grew up with bread-making. Mom made bread, six loaves at a time, almost every week. We knew what was in store the day she saved the potato water. Tomorrow, there’d be bread fresh out of the oven when we got home from school! We could taste it, smell it, from that moment on.

Next morning by breakfast-time, Mom was already scooping flour out of the bin. She baked so much that we bought flour (and sugar) in 100 lb sacks. (As an aside, those flour sacks were recycled. Once the flour was dumped out, she unpicked the seams, washed and bleached them to remove the trade marks – either Five Roses or Robin Hood – and then handed them off to me to hem for dish towels. She told me when she grew up during the Dirty Thirties, her mother made those flour sacks into underclothes for the girls or shirts for the boys). She was kneading the dough by the time we left for school. The bread was into its second rise when we came home for dinner – we lived only a quarter-mile from school – and soon it would be in the pans.

The heavenly aroma of bread greeted us as we ran in the door after school. The loaves were out of the pan, cooling. Time for “coffee”, the mid-afternoon lunch that was both tradition and ritual in our family. Mom and Dad had coffee; my brother and I had milk. Mom cut the still-warm bread; it steamed as she let the first piece – the heel – fall away. Then, to prevent a battle royal from breaking out, she cut the heel off the other end of the loaf.

You see, my brother and I both preferred the heel (still do) because we could slather on no end of butter and jam without it falling apart. The heel made a most satisfying crunch when we bit into it. And it had more flavour, or so we claimed, than the inner slices.

By the end of “coffee,” we had demolished the better part of that first loaf.

Bread-making fell by the wayside for many families. It was easier to get your loaf ready-made from the grocery store or the bakery. Now, in the midst of this pandemic, people seem to have rediscovered bread-making. Yeast and flour are almost as rare as toilet paper.

My husband uses a bread machine but, for me, the grind and thump of the machine is no substitute for the physical, visceral experience of kneading bread. At its most elemental, it is a communion of person, flour, water and yeast.

Kneading is meditation – turn, fold, push, repeat again and again. I rock back and forth with each turn and push.

It is physical – I feel the dough give and resist, give and resist.

It is sensual – the smell of flour and yeast, the dough turning from sticky and obstreperous to smooth and satiny. Every now and then, the dough speaks, a slight squeak as an air bubble pops.

And it is memory reenacted, memories of my mother and her mother before her, standing at a counter, participating in a ritual generations-old.

Then magic happens. This seemingly inert mass of flour and water and yeast grows and expands before your very eyes. It seems so fragile – poke it and it collapses with a sigh. Yet it is resilient; it expands once again, this time taking the shape of whatever you want to create, be they loaves, buns, cinnamon rolls – the possibilities are endless.

Perhaps that’s the lesson to be learned from bread-making in the midst of this pandemic – that even though we may appear fragile, we are also resilient. Although we may collapse in the face of something overwhelming, we will rise again. That our strength, our resiliency, grows out of our malleability.

There’s more than food for the body in that humble loaf of bread.

#BreadMaking #Meditation #ChildhoodMemories #COVID19 #Resiliency #Hope #Courage #MargaretGHanna

Notes from the Isolation Ward, Day 3

Who are these wackos (Part 1)?

Did you hear the one about the guy who thinks the 5G network is the source of coronavirus?

I’m not making this up!  Dr. Thomas Cowan (a “holistic” doctor who, by the way, is on disciplinary probation) posted a video claiming that viruses are merely the waste from cells that have been poisoned. Are you surprised to learn he lives in California? Continue reading “Notes from the Isolation Ward, Day 3”

Notes from the Isolation Ward, Day 2

I’m bummed out.

While everyone is concerned about contracting the NOVEL coronavirus, I get the COMMON cold.

Not that I’m complaining. Far from it. It could be worse. I could have COVID-19. I could be in the hospital on a respirator. I could be in the hospital hoping the doctors can find a respirator to put me on. Continue reading “Notes from the Isolation Ward, Day 2”

Notes from the Isolation Ward, Day 1

We arrived home yesterday from Mexico via the USA, scampering northward as fast as we could before borders were completely shut. Soon after we walked in the house, a neighbour knocked on the door then backed half-way down the walk. She offered to get groceries, medication, anything we needed for us while we are in quarantine. How gracious and neighbourly of someone we barely know. Continue reading “Notes from the Isolation Ward, Day 1”

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