Tag Archive | Farm

Raising a Family

Tom and Mary Wood farmed in Mentmore for eight years. In 1918 they moved to 2-14-17 in Cordova, the farm that became the family home until they retired early in the 1950s.

2-14-17 (2)

The Wood family home (2-14-17) in Cordova district, Manitoba

Before her first wedding anniversary she gave birth to her first son, Arnold Austin Wood. Three more sons, Cecil, Johnny and Arthur, followed in quick succession. Then, in July 1920 she gave birth to twins: George and Gladys, my mother. They arrived prematurely and were born on the farm.

Grandma was very ill afterward, unable to leave her bed for nearly four months. The doctor warned her that another pregnancy could cost her her life and that she should have no more children. He advised an abortion if she got pregnant again. He gave no information about preventing a pregnancy (something that would have been illegal at the time.) Perhaps the doctor assumed she would simply abstain from marital relations. So just a year and a half later, Muriel was born and the doctor warned again that any pregnancy would be very high risk.

It appeared that Grandma had given serious thought to an abortion, but having no means of acquiring good information, thought it should be done fairly late rather than as early as possible in the pregancy. She delayed too long. The following year, armed with better information, she did terminate a pregnancy. She was also told she would likely not have another child for several years, and this also proved to be the case. Her last child, Lucille, was born in 1930. Grandma was now 41 years old.

The Wood family, 1923Only Grandma's oldest (Grace) and youngest (Lucille) daughters are not in this photo.L toR

The Wood family, 1923
Only Grandma’s oldest (Grace) and youngest (Lucille) daughters are not in this photo.
Back row L to R: Cecil, Grandma, Johnny, Arnold, Granddad, Arthur. Standing in front L to R: Gladys, Muriel, George

However, she did participate in raising still one more child: her granddaughter Rosanne, who was born in January 1942. Muriel had been working away from home and had returned, unmarried and pregnant and (perhaps because of her mother’s experience) determined to keep her child. Muriel and Rosanne lived on the farm for eight or nine years until Muriel married a farmer from Invermay, Saskatchewan and they moved there.

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Leaving the Farm

It was late fall 1945 that we left my first home.  I have conflicting stories as to why.  According to Uncle Cecil, he offered to sell the farm to my father.  Dad was keen, but, says Uncle Cecil “Gladys was not.”  I didn’t hear this version until Uncle Arthur published Pancake Ranch, a collection of writings by himself and his siblings.

Nadine & Cecil, Sept. 1945

Nadine with Uncle Cecil, September 1945

What I heard from my mother is that Uncle Cecil misread a comment of hers.  The Brunskill farm was the most distant stop from the school on the school bus route.  I would be the first child on in the morning and the last off in the evening.  She was concerned it would be a long day for me.  But, as she recalls, she did not intend this concern to stand in the way of acquiring ownership of the farm.

Myself with Mum & Dad

Myself with Mum & Dad

There is no way of knowing now just why things fell out as they did.  Mum had been born on a farm, raised on a farm, knew farm life well.  Dad had lived on a farm since he was twelve.  Except for the excursion to Hamilton in 1941 (see Almost an Ontarian) they had known no other life.  So it was a big decision to leave. Our immediate destination was Winnipeg. And although we soon left the big city, we never returned to a farm.

Dad bringing in wood for the stove

Dad bringing in wood for the stove

The Perils of Walking Backward

A full bath in those days before running water was a once a week affair. The large tub used for washing clothes on Monday was set on the kitchen floor and filled with warm water from the reservoir attached to the wood stove, and that is where we bathed.

One night, fresh out of the tub, toweled off and dressed in my nightgown, I was dancing to the music on the radio while waiting for a tuck-in. When the music stopped, I decided to fill the interval by practicing a new skill: walking backward. And walk backward I did, right into the tub sitting on the floor, still filled with bathwater.

Interestingly I recently found this memory of my maternal grandmother, as she recounted it to her daughter, my aunt Muriel.

My great-grandmother died when my grandmother was only three. The story comes from the day of my great-grandmother’s funeral.

“[Mother] could call up no picture of her mother. She wondered why, since she had another absurd memory of the same time. She and Alice, her younger sister, were staying with a neighbour woman until the funeral was over. Mother had just discovered that she could walk backward and was showing Alice this surprising skill. She walked backwards, bumped into, and sat down in a bucket of water being used to scrub the floor.”

The close similarity of this story to the one about myself makes me wonder if this is a free-floating story that manages to attach itself to someone each generation or so. How many of us have a story about walking backward into a bucket or tub or pond in our family history?

In summer time, the tub was also the closest thing we had to a wading pool. Here I am enjoying some playtime one hot day.

“Here, pliggy, pliggy!”

My mother kept track of all my early milestones in a Baby Book, along with locks of my blonde hair and black and white snap shots taken with her trusty box Brownie, a camera she used for over twenty years.

My height, my weight, the colour of my eyes (blue), the date of my first tooth, my first solid food, my first step are all faithfully noted.  (One of the privileges of being the first-born.)

Among my first words was “pliggy”.  Mum tells me that as a two-year old one of my morning rituals was to go out on the back step with some scraps and call “Here pliggy, pliggy” to the pigs and feed them.  I had no concern about walking among these animals taller than myself.

My 2nd birthday, April 1944

A Winter Upset

I have no actual memories of living on the farm. What I have are the stories Mum told me about those early years. For example, my first injury.

Here’s a picture of my Dad (2nd from right) and three of his buddies leaning against a vehicle used for winter transport before cars were common. It is basically a small shed on runners. Note the wagon tongue for hitching the horses, the snow-covered roof and even a chimney protruding through it.

Yes, this little roofed shed on skis contained a working wood stove. Passengers sat on wooden benches around the stove to enjoy the ride in heated comfort.

We were riding in a vehicle like this when it overturned on a snowdrift and I banged my head against the stove. I can only assume it was a short enough trip or a mild enough day that the stove was not lit for I could have been badly burned. As it was I escaped with only a bruise.

The Birthmark

I was born April 7, 1942 in Neepawa General Hospital. The delivery and post-natal care were standard medical routine at the time, which is to say that my mother was anesthetized during delivery, kept in bed for a week and not “burdened” with the care of a new-born during that time. Like all resident newborns, I was kept in the nursery at all times except for the 30 minutes each four hours during which my mother was allowed to breastfeed me.

I was clothed in standard hospital garb, a plain nightgown with no armholes, and but for a fortunate accident, my mother might not have seen more than my face until she took me home. On day three of my young life, however, my gown had a tear in it, through which I managed to extend my left arm and terrified my mother. To all appearance I had been badly burned.

In fact, it wasn’t a burn, but, as the nurses belatedly reassured her, a rather unusual birthmark consisting of half a dozen red blotches along my left forearm from wrist to elbow. Apparently neither the doctor nor the nurses had thought to inform her of this unusual characteristic. And, fearful of breaking some hospital rule, she had not dared to undress me during the brief feeding times.

I call it a fortunate accident for I shudder at the thought of the emotional turmoil my parents would have been put through had they not discovered the mark until after I had been brought home. Even today, most people seeing the birthmark for the first time assume it is a burn.

The birthmark today

I have never been embarrassed by the birthmark as I might have been by a facial blemish. A doctor did tell my mother once that it could be removed, but she saw no reason to do so. Most people, once they get over their first start, are simply curious about it. In fact, I developed a sort of pride in this badge. And I found it a decided advantage when first learning left from right.