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.
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.
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.