Archive | April 2013

Memories of 2-14

One of the advantages of living in Neepawa was that we could visit our grandparents’ farm frequently.  No one visit stands out in my memory, only numerous impressions that cannot be fixed to any one year.  Some, no doubt, are actually from a few years later, when we returned from Saskatchewan for a visit. So this is my verbal impressionistic image of visits to the farm.

I remember one occasion when many of Grandma’s children and grandchildren had gathered for some festivity—perhaps Christmas—and there were not enough beds available for everyone.  So several of Grandma’s handmade quilts were spread on the floor, to make a common bed for all of us children in our pyjamas and nighties, literally snug as bugs in a rug!  We thought it was great fun.

Speaking of quilts, Grandma made many.  She didn’t try for any set pattern, just fitting scraps of material from worn out clothing together as best she could, so they were all what were known as “crazy quilts”.  Sometimes Grandma, Mum or one of my aunts or uncles could tell me something about where particular pieces of the quilt had come from.

On another visit, when there were fewer people, I was assigned a place on the living room sofa for the night.  I remember being groggily aware in the early dawn that I was very cold. At that moment Uncle Cecil came in to get the fire going in the pot-bellied wood stove.  He asked me if I was cold and I nodded yes. “No wonder,” he replied, “you’ve lost all your quilts on the floor.”  And so I had.  I have never forgotten how good it felt to warm up after he put them on top of me again.

There was always plenty to do on the farm.  I remember watching the cows being milked, sometimes by my mother (though I never learned to milk myself).  I remember milk splashing into a pail to be fed to young calves to wean them.  And I remember the cream separator in the summer kitchen and watching as two spouts poured out cream into one pail and skim milk into another.  I don’t remember ever seeing Grandma or Aunt Muriel churn butter, though I know from my mother that they did.

English: Cream separator at Kloster iron work ...

Cream separator at Kloster iron work (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember picking peas or other vegetables from the garden. I remember feeding chickens and gathering eggs, and feeding pigs.  Surely, I must have gone sometime to bring the cows in from pasture, but I don’t remember that.

I do remember the barn, a huge red-painted building and one of the best in the district.  One internal feature was a real stairway (not just a ladder) into the hayloft.  And a slanted roof above it, which we used as a “hill” for many games.  Of course, the real fun of a hayloft was to swing on a rope and drop into a mound of the soft, sweet-smelling grass. Or just to lie in the warm loft reading a book.

My mother and her little sister, Lucille, 1936.  The great red barn is in the background.

My mother and her little sister, Lucille, 1936. The great red barn is in the background.

I remember a very old well, next to the summer kitchen. It had no wall around it, just a flat, wooden cover.  And over it, a wooden winch to which a bucket was attached by a rope  It was sometimes used as a cooler on a hot day.

On the other side of the house was a small windbreak of trees and beyond that a pond, or, as it was called in that region, a slough. That was a good place to go wading, if one didn’t mind the insects too much.

And I remember the reservoir, the artificial pond created between two banks of earth, which was the main source of water for the livestock, the fields and the gardens when the rains held off and the slough dried up.  I remember skipping stones across the smooth surface of the reservoir and watching dragonflies hover over it.

Strangely enough, my memories seldom include adults—not my parents, nor my grandparents.  But then, I was a child who often liked to be alone.  But pictures show what has faded from memory.  And I can’t help but feel that the warm, comforting memories I have of the farm owed a great deal to the warm and loving woman who welcomed us so often.

Nadine and I with Grandma Wood at 2-14. Summer 1948

Nadine and I with Grandma Wood at 2-14. Summer 1948

A feisty woman in a man’s world

Granddad was a typical Victorian patriarch. He expected to rule his household and for the most part, he did.  But, however innocent and docile she was as a girl, Grandma developed a feisty streak as she grew more experienced.  One of my favorite stories about Grandma well illustrates her methods.

The pincherry tree

pincherry_berry

Not far from the farmhouse there was a pincherry tree.  For those unfamiliar with pincherries, they are a very small fruit, no bigger than currants, and not at all easy to pick.  They are also not much good for anything but feeding birds and making jelly.  But one day as he came in for dinner, Granddad noticed a fine crop of fruit on the pincherry tree and demanded that they be picked that very day before they went to the birds.  Grandma considered pincherries belonged to the birds and also hated working in the hot sun.  So once Granddad was back in the field, she got an ax from the wood pile, chopped down the tree, and hauled it into the shade where the children could help her strip the tree of its tiny fruits.  Muriel was still by the tree when Granddad came in for supper.  “Who chopped down the tree?” he asked.  “Mum.”  “Why?”  “To pick the pincherries.”  And nothing else was ever said about it.

The Eaton’s catalogue

Eaton's catalogue

In a similar vein, one year as the depression deepened and money was becoming scarce, Granddad decided that before he handed over the cash to pay for an order of household necessities from the Eaton’s catalogue, he would first look over the list to see if anything could be removed.  He removed two items and gave her cash to cover the rest of the order.  Grandma, furious because she believed everything on the list was a necessity, decided on a strategem to be sure she got everything she needed.

The next time, after listing all she needed, she looked through the catalogue some more and added two more items before giving the list to the ‘boss’.  He quickly stroked off two items, the very ones she had added and gave her the cash for the rest of the order.  She got everything she actually wanted.  But Granddad was no fool.  After going through this routine a few times, he began simply looking at the total and handing her the cash. When she asked if he did not want to look over the list first, he merely shook his head and waved her away as he went back to reading his newspaper.

The collision of devotion and friendship

One other story remains with me about Grandma’s determination to do things her way.  Grandma was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, a sect which sometimes practices the internal discipline of shunning a member whose behaviour has been unacceptable.  Once when she was about 60, her local Kingdom Hall declared one of their members persona non grata and called on other members to shun him.  A few days later, when she and Muriel met him in the street, Grandma greeted him as usual.  Muriel remonstrated with her, but Grandma replied:  “He’s been a friend for 30 years, and I won’t pass him by on the street without saying hello, no matter what anyone says.”