Wild Strawberries

Growing up we had many patches of wild strawberries scattered around on the prairies.  I couldn’t wait until I could harvest their sweet, unbelievably good taste.  It took ages and ages to get enough because they were so small.

But the guaranteed flavor has never once been copied when I eat strawberries from a store.  😦

Wild Strawberries

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Life Changing Days – Autumn work

Dusty & Pat - Dad's funeral 1964

Two of my brothers by the grain elevators in town.

Saskatchewan

Crops removed before the freeze.

Autumn on the farm is truly the time of gathering, the time for Thanksgiving for all our bounty.  We see it first hand, we do it first hand. There is no history for us in the fall – explanations of how it is done. It is what we do.  Intense work and long hours for all, young and old alike.  It is good to discover new energy in the cooler air.  It is needed.

From sun-up to sundown, with my oldest brother’s help, my dad and he are in the fields.  Crops must be taken before it freezes.  I hear words like ‘bumper crops’, ‘barley with the quality needed for beer’ (always said with joy) or quotas (the amount you are allowed to take into the elevators).

I don’t care.  I want to be a cowboy, not a dirt farmer.  But we all must shovel the grain into granaries or the two-ton truck and take it to town. Everyone helps. Coal and wood is stacked for necessary heat.

Again we are given choices – my sister stays inside, helping mom with canning –  that fruit our uncles have brought and our vegetables.  We all help to gather the potatoes, carrots and beets for cold storage.  I choose to stay outside and help. One of my favorite activities is to haul the huge amounts of bales needed for our cattle. Again I can pretend to be a cowboy preparing for the winter.  My oldest brother and one younger brother and I again work all day, for many days, hauling bales.  We cut the grasses from the now dry sloughs and it is baled too as well as the ‘stubble’ from the harvested fields.  We have competitions with our neighbors – both grown men. Imagine the joy and satisfaction when we haul more bales in a day than they do.

Sometimes to beat the freeze some stay home from school to help. No one comes to complain or charge us with truancy   We just must work harder to ‘catch up’. We know this and don’t complain.  Fall is the busiest time of the year – but there is a satisfaction and peace that can’t be described – until you’ve fought the elements and you win.

Now, we are ready to sit inside, reading, playing cards, laughing and fighting for another winter. You will not starve.  You will not freeze.  Simple satisfaction for a job well done.

Mom with Reg and Dusty

Mom and my two older brothers beside necessary equipment for harvest – a tractor

Life Changing Days – Revitalized

Some people believe autumn is depressing – the sign of the death to come – trees, plants and hot days.  They anticipate with dread –  the snows, the storms and the horrible cold of winter.  I am the opposite.  I live for now.  Autumn is the most revitalizing, anticipated season for me.

Trees in the fall

The many colors of autumn.

The colors of autumn show their power in red maple trees, vibrant yellow of aspens or poplar trees and the wine/red of willows that line the sloughs. The air is crisp and fresh. Nothing is drooping from heat. The energy is so welcome. No longer do I force myself to do activities. Now I wake up fresh and ready to face the day with real energy. There is no longer the knowledge of ‘have to’ – but instead the realization of want to.

Not too much changes in our home activities.   Saturdays are spent cleaning the house – my sister washes our hardwood huge kitchen floor, using paste-wax. I wax it and together, using cloths, we polish it to a glossy shine.   There is no hydro and there is no varnish covering the hardwood.  Maybe my sister likes it, I don’t.  It is confining, staying in the house instead of outside.  But there are good things in everything.  Saturday is the day my mother bakes copious amounts of bread loaves for the week.  For a time I like that sliced, dry store bread but it is short-lived.  Nothing can compete with fresh baked bread.  It is still my favorite smell – fresh baking bread combined with paste wax.  After we completed our tasks and have the house sparkling clean – mom gave us home-made butter  on warm bread.  Heaven.  I can think of no better word to describe it.

St. James Catholic Church

St, James Catholic Church we attend in town.

The road is still clear and we go to church on Sundays.  We still meet with friends and relatives for Sunday dinners.  We still have our cousins to play with.  There is no difference, except we also have our school friends to play with as well. Every one of our aunts and my mother cannot be surpassed for cooking delicious food.  There is still laughter, card-playing and so many kids to play with on Sunday, our day of rest.  Our uncles from British Columbia visit. They bring boxes of fruit to add to our growing piles of vegetables.  Try a fresh piece of warm bread with butter with a fresh peach or pear.  A meal all by itself – or an appetizer for us.

I learned one important lesson.  If you are poor – it’s best to be poor on a farm.  You don’t notice it so much.

Now I must go – does anyone know where I can buy a butter-churn?  I think I’ll bake some bread and let the memories flow.

Yellowing Poplar Tree in First Snow

Snow before tree branches are barren. Yellows peek through.

Life Changing Days – School again

The narrow dirt road, lined with tall grasses, weeds and flowers  – straight for a mile, past our neighbor’s yard with their two huge German Shepherds – who always bark at us, turn and another two miles of narrow road to the school house, surrounded by trees we play war, build forts and play tag.  Beneath the trees are cool, packed paths to run on.  There is the teacher’s cottage and there is a huge barn where we keep our horses.

Starview - New School

Starview – country school house

The teacher goes to the cabin for the lunch hour.  There is no one to supervise us – oddly there is never a case anyone needs to be taken to the hospital either. We fight – vocally and physically – and we manage to solve our own problems.  We don’t realize it’s not the way it should be done according to experts. We learn rarely are people real bullies – so much as their establishing authority.  It is a fact, the older, stronger ones gain that authority.  But they are not all mean in their authority. They tease sometimes and sometimes they are valuable teachers as younger ones strive to do what older children can. They are also protectors and compassionate when need be.  Not all are mean or bullies, nor assumed to be so.

But we are happy to be back in school.  Learning, books, new pencils, new notebooks and especially playing with someone besides siblings (or waiting for Sundays to play with cousins) is welcomed.  The tired month is gone.

School picture

Student group picture. I was in Grade three.

Sometimes the teacher is busy. She asks that the older children work with the younger.  It is a time of heady power.  The power of being a boss.  But we are aware the teacher is still there to supervise.  We pretend to play teacher – or we daydream because of the boring, work already learned. I am the latter.  We learn patience. It is odd to realize someone can’t learn after you explain it.  Each older student reacts differently. Although not seeming to, the teacher knows who is better for her ‘substitute’ teacher. Those are the ones she picks most often.  It’s not me – my motto is ‘God grant me patience – right now.’

There are four and then five of my family going to school now.  I am now one of the oldest (my sister bows to my knowledge – being as she is afraid of horses) and I control the pace of the horse and I learn the responsibility of taking care of him.  One brother and I now unharness, look after the horse – because it’s a task we want to do.  My sister goes inside to help mom with our anticipated supper.  We go in and always have delicious snacks to munch on until supper is ready.

School is welcome and anticipated from a summer that is turning into boredom.

Life Changing Days – Halloween

If you wait until dusk you can see bats flying around our old unpainted barn board ceilings and entrance.  If you look on the way home from school you will see owls hooting on the now barren tree branches.  Halloween is near.  Mystic sounds and sights are all around.

old doors

Some of us, are bold enough to catch a bat and bring it to school for show and tell.  It is fun to watch girls and sometimes boys (I must admit – very rarely) shriek with fear and cover their hair with books. By this time I am very resentful I am a girl.  It seems girls only have problems, while boys can just continue being boys.  I think when I grow up I will be a boy.  (Not such a far-fetched idea now as it was then).  I really didn’t want to be a boy.  I just wanted to do things like the boys could without those things I considered female draw-backs.

Needless to say – I had no trouble catching a bat, sticking it into a shoe-box and bringing it to school.

I also never experienced that door-to-door asking strangers for candy. Our nearest neighbor was one quarter of a mile away, followed by the next a mile away.  You see the problem?

Halloween bats flying in front of moon

Now I wonder how confusing this might be for children.  ‘Don’t take candies from strangers’ for 364 days a year.  Then Halloween comes – ‘Go take candy from strangers’. I wish I could get into a small child’s mind – because they can’t describe it to me.

Our party, taking off the afternoon from schoolwork, with the teacher supervising, consisted of a ‘haunted house’ and endless amounts of goodies – baked goods and candy.  It was a much anticipated event and another break from school activities. Our imaginations reigned unchecked.  Depending on who are the older children, depended on who would create the best haunted house.

Jack-o-lanternThe basement at school was a huge concrete walled empty room. By using blankets thrown over string, we created winding, narrow halls and tiny rooms of terror – things that might rival a house of terror now. Each young child was led by an older kid through the path. No one went in groups. You and your guide were all alone.  It started in darkness.  Each child’s experience was sudden and unexpected.  Loud, shrieking music could create a monster like Frankenstein or Dracula – lit up by a hidden flashlight – to touching cold spaghetti – knowing it was a bowl full of worms, again making especially the girls scream in horror, were all parts of our haunted house.  And there always might be an eerie jack-o-lantern when you turned a corner with a flickering candle inside.

Although the school had electricity, our haunted houses were always pitch black.  A fan could create wind as a ghost or witch flew overhead, touching your hair to walking into a puddle of slime, made with glue and water. Imagination and creativity reigned supreme.  We made and imagined everything.  We never bought ready made products.

Then in the bright light from the classroom, we gathered to laugh,, eat and plan what we could do better next year.

Life Changing Days – Lazy, Hazy days of summer.

I always think of August as the tired month.  The sun is mostly too hot and it shines so long.  Unless we went to a beach (rarely) there wasn’t much relief.  Like everything – we learned to tough it out.  I am amazed now when I hear children complain about the weather.  To us, it is just that – the weather.  Complaining never makes it better. Complaining is never encouraged by mom and dad.

Odd Shaped Tree Trunk

The wonder of a tree’s shade on a hot lazy day.

I would often put my bathing suit on and ride my horse through the sloughs just to be splashed with water.  I was never bold enough to go swimming in the sloughs.  My memories of the two older brothers and how they were covered with ‘the itch’ – itchy bumps from the insects biting them –  nesting in the grasses and reeds surrounding the sloughs – kept me from doing the same.  It looked painful and they would yell and complain when mom patiently put calamine lotion on their bites.

And when it rained, if it did in August it is so much fun.  Again donning our bathing suits we would run out in the rain and splash and play in the puddles.  We aren’t reprimanded for getting filthy dirty.  We are just washed off.  I still ride my horse almost every day.  Sometimes I feel tired and my horse is covered in sweat.  So I stop by a tree and fall asleep beneath the welcomed shade.  It is truly lazy, hazy days of summer.  Because we have a radio – we can listen to that song and understand exactly what it means.

My birthday is in August.  But we don’t celebrate birthdays with gifts.  Mom makes us a special birthday cake –  it is filled with nickles, dimes and pennies.  And one button.  If you get the button it means you will be a bachelor or spinster forever. I am very disappointed to know – that isn’t true.  It was just another fairy-tale.  But there is laughter and playing. And that day – it’s usually possible my siblings don’t fight with me.  It is still my special day.

By the time August rolls around, I am getting bored. Mom and dad tease me because I am always ‘boring’.    I spend more times now drawing and writing.  I write stories every bit as exciting as Zane Grey.  There is always a bad guy intent on destroying what the hard-working ranchers and farmers are trying to build.  There is always a need for a nice, strong hero to defend them. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to go out and create the scenario so instead I write about it.  It is nearly as exciting.  I get boring again – so I go outside and sitting in the shade I painstakingly make my horse stand so I can draw each part perfectly.  I am glad he humors me.  But like writing, it never reaches perfection to my satisfaction. But I always know – one day…

And there is an anticipation that soon I will again see my school-friends again, every day during the week.

Seraphim - cover

My nearly perfect horse.

Life Changing Days – Holidays on the Farm.

Sunday is always a day of rest. It is the way it is and no one asks why, because Sunday is the most beautiful day of the week.  First we attend mass because the roads are clear and easy to navigate. And then we gather with our ‘ready-made friends’ (our many relatives) and we celebrate.  Adults play cards, laughing and talking.  And mom with our aunts and grown cousins cook – giving us the most delicious food we will ever eat.  We don’t know this.  We just take it for granted because we don’t know otherwise.

Gathering around the big kitchen table for coffee.

Gathering around the big kitchen table for coffee.

Kids go outside and play, sometimes together, – kick-the-can, hide-and-seek or even my beloved cowboys and Indians.  Sometimes we break into age groups and wander off to do activities in groups. There is endless space to do as we please.  We are not supervised. But we are always guaranteed a fun, joyous time.  Some live close and we see them nearly every Sunday. Sometimes we visit them and sometimes they visit us.  But always we have large gathering that people might call a party – every Sunday.

I have a cousin my age.  He is a genius. He is going to university when I start high-school. We don’t care, because when we get together, we play – no different than others.  They live in the Eagle Hills.  I look at those huge hills and think maybe they are mountains. Covered with mysterious forests, we approach them carefully with both anticipation and fear.  Visions of stories about the explorers fuel our anticipation.  Thoughts of dangers lurking, like Hansel and Gretel, give us the fear.  The fear isn’t enough to stop us. We are explorers.

Others, those that live nearby, become an extension of our siblings.  We fight, we play together but we always know we are there to protect each other.  We are always there to help each other. We have competitions and play sports (yes, we are that many) and sometimes the older ones might let the younger ones win.  But mostly they don’t.  That is how we learn – their winning isn’t demeaning nor does it make me feel bad –  it only makes me determined to do better.

We enjoy visiting our uncle and aunt what seems like far away – to the south of us. Strangely we are matched age to age – their children to mom and dad’s.  How unique is that.  The girl my age is one of my best friends – and it never changes as we grow up – although sometimes we only see each other a few times a year.  I prefer the area I live in with slopes, hills and tree surrounded sloughs.  They live in the Saskatchewan everyone hears about – the flat, empty area.  It is then I learn maybe it doesn’t matter where you live – it’s more about being surrounded by people you know, people you love.

Rarely we visit distant cousins –  they have a cabin by a huge lake.  Oh the glorious times of white sandy beaches, huge rolling waves and the silky joy of cool water in the summer heat.  What a glorious time we have.

Old Picture of Mom & Dad

Cool water, endless and awesome

I know as a fact, I will never be alone, regardless of how many hardships I suffer, unless I choose to be alone.  I salute all my ‘ready-made friends’, scattered all over North America – many strangers, but not.  I realize I will always be welcome somewhere, someplace. I apologize for drifting away.  I count my blessings.

Life Changing Days – A country school picnic

First there is track and field day.  We travel to the nearest city – a place to compete with all the schools that surround it.  When I am 11 and then when I am 12 – I win most competitions – all the competitions requiring jumping or running.  I win them with ease.  I am not bragging.  I am not perfect.  I do very poorly in any throwing competition.  When I bring my ribbons and crests home my mother says ‘How… you are so sloppy’.  My dad says ‘I knew you could do it.‘ One balances the other. My mom said that occasionally and it didn’t hurt my feelings.  She also told me many times to act like a lady…

Nola doing my hair

My sister does my hair – because I can’t seem to do that.

I do not care they can’t really afford to send me further.  Because being in the Olympics means being away from my family.  I don’t want that anyway.  I am not only conscious we are poor – I am glad we are poor. I don’t fear much – but leaving my family is a fear.

Then on the last day of school for the year, we have a picnic.  Once again we all gather together for a day of fun and excitement. Parents, friends and relatives.  We play games.  There is ball-games and competitions like the three-legged-race to participate in. No one is left out.  We have a huge fire and roast wieners and marshmallows. It is so delicious.  My mom says I am the only one of her kids that gets sick – eating too much.  Come on mom…hot-dogs and bought mustard.  How can I resist.  I only get that once a year.  But I only get sick once from over-eating.  I didn’t like the helpless feeling at all.

One of my favorite parts of school’s end is the amount of clear, free paper from unused notebooks I can accumulate.  My siblings understand I am the one who wants all that paper. Mostly they are willing to give me their supplies too.  The anticipation of drawing, writing and pencil stubs is almost overwhelming. It’s not as though I have the option of just asking for paper. We are poor.  I know that.  But at this time – I feel rich.

On the porch

As soon as this picture is over, it’s back in the house for me.

Then I have another problem.  If I read too much – or I spend all my time inside, drawing and writing – what do I do about the feeling life is passing me by.  I often have that feeling.  It’s wonderful to disappear into the fascinating characters – but what about me?  So I carefully place the box of treasures under my bed, keeping it away from prying eyes – or just in case someone demands their paper back.  Then I go out in the sunshine to live my life – still a fantasy (as I pretend I am a cowboy or a rancher, or I am fighting the bad-guys) – but much more real to me. I have six-shooters, holsters, rifles and horses to ride.  I even have a buckskin fringed jacket, my cousin passes down once it is too small for him.  Sounds real enough to me.

My papers sit inside, safe for those cold, harsh days when I can draw or write to my heart’s content.

Life Changing Days – Sibling rivalry

Not all is as peaceful as it might seem.  We siblings each have our own personalities. That we are all given the opportunity to develop and be who ever we are is not just a blessing but a responsibility.  And it is very much a life-learning lesson.

My first learning experience was when I was young.  Never, ever tattle on my older brothers.  It meant pain, plain and simple.  If my sister and I dared that – besides hearing – ‘that’s once, that’s twice…’ (very irritating and grating – something we never want to hear) it was always a fact they spanked us for all our tattling when mom and dad went to town for groceries.

Jimmy at Adolph's

My little brother and our cousin.

After spanking us, once they tossed us out of the house, with our little brother, barely walking and kept us out – while they stayed inside doing those wonderful things I imagine older kids do…  My sister and I made plans to just go into town and find our aunt’s place instead of just sitting around babysitting.  We were doing an excellent job too – we were nearly a mile away from our home on our twenty mile trek.  Looking around – we saw and heard the tractor coming towards us.  The satisfaction we felt knowing they couldn’t catch us walking was short-lived as we scrambled into the grass and weeds in the ditch.  We dragged our little brother with us.  Covering his mouth – just in case – we trembled in fear.  No – not yet another spanking – all on the same day?  And we succeeded as well.  The tractor went right by us.  We were so pleased we let go of our little brother.  Wanting to escape he immediately crawled out onto the road.  We were caught.  Boys!!

As I grew a little older I picked one of my older brothers to follow.  I was sure he was always going away to do some wonderful, exciting things – even though he said he was going to visit a friend a few miles away.  Sometimes he took the rifle and I was very curious.  Was he shooting bad-guys maybe?  So, regardless of whether he drowned me by sticking me head down into the rain-barrel or not, I was intent on finding out what exciting things he was doing.  I would stand up, gasping for air, crying but continued to follow him.  Sometimes he outran me and fearing I might get lost I would go home.  But sometimes he was laughing so hard – he couldn’t escape.  Those were wonderful times. He would sit down and whittle a real six-shooter from wood with his jack-knife.  Or sometimes he taught me glorious, dangerous things.  I would put my hand down and spread my fingers.  He taught me how to place the jack-knife, blade first, down between each finger then back.  As I learned this exciting activity –  my speed picked up – and that seemed to please him as he laughed then too.  I was very careful not to tell our parents.  But I knew he was actually going to do exciting things and kept following him for those times I caught him.

Dad with Dusty and Reg

Sometimes I wished my older brothers were still this small. I would have showed them.

As I grew older and my brothers moved away, my sister and I became the older ones.  My sister is a very gentle soul.  She is kind, generous, great cook and a wonderful mother too.  Life is much easier.  I only have one problem.  One of my younger brother’s turned into me.  He is stubborn and insistent on coming along  when I decide to take the hatchet and go build a real log cabin a mile away (where there are lots of trees). Or when I practice to be trick-rider – standing and doing tricks on a galloping horse.  The trouble – he is too little and couldn’t do it.  Besides he is so slow he could never learn either.   I decided I would stop him once and for all.  I didn’t try drowning him because I certainly hadn’t liked that.  I would create my own punishment.  I hooked him up to the electric fence instead.  Contrary to some beliefs – there is not much electricity going through an electric fence – enough to startle, not hurt an animal – or in this case a human.  But the cruelty of my actions – me who vowed to always help those weaker just like those cowboys in the books – was inexcusable.  It was one of the only times I was mean. It made me aware of how easy it is to falter from your beliefs.  It made me aware of my actions.  Fortunately, my brother didn’t hate me or call me mean.  Unfortunately, he kept following me.  So, sometimes when I was feeling generous, I taught him some exciting, dangerous things too.

Nola's First Holy Communion

Nola’s First Holy Communion

Life Changing Days – Easter

We come from a long line of Roman Catholic beliefs.  As a child I saw no reason to question my parents.  They were very wise and knowledgeable to me.They will always be so.  I have admiration and love for all my parent’s did to make me who I am.  I am content to be who I am.  Possibly, that might be the best lesson I learned from my parents. I have never wanted to be someone else.

In the spring there was another Christian holiday that was enjoyed like Christmas.  Easter was nearing the horizon of life’s cycles.
Easter Sunday - the Holy Bible
But before we got to Easter – first we went through a time called Lent.  It was a time of moderation and repentance, for rich and poor alike.  Since spring offered more time outside sometimes I would not want to kneel down each night and say prayers. My impatience often surfaced during lent.  I wanted to go outside and play instead.  But I never dared refuse and lent too taught me things I am grateful for.

My parents always put Sundays aside – a day for church and then to enjoy company, feast and play.  It never changed unless something ‘had’ to be done – like feed the cattle.  Watching the world change over the years, makes me sad sometimes.  I wonder what we are losing. I can’t recall a time I didn’t enjoy Sundays as a child – church services included.

Easter Sunday arrived – and was that time we got a new outfit. We decorated as many eggs as we wanted – exploring our creative abilities.  Mom always made our new dress – mine was pink.  My sister’s was blue.  We didn’t question her decision.  The dirt road was clear of snow and mud and we could now attend church in town on Sundays.  We socialized more and started visiting our copious amounts of relatives.  I guess it was because we were Roman Catholic we had so many aunts, uncles and cousins, I couldn’t keep track of them all.  Some were rich and successful, some like we were, were poor. But I can never recall a time anyone cared or felt it made a difference.  Those cousins, when they came to visit or we visited them, were new playmates, new discoveries and new differences to explore.

Mary, Nola and Isabelle

And another wonderful aspect of Easter was the visit from the Easter Bunny.  It was one day we actually received real ‘bought’ chocolate and candy.  My mother was a fantastic cook and today I am always craving those days when we ate like kings.

We ate steak, chicken and melt-in-your mouth desserts.  We ate vegetables and fruits all from our own gardens. There was never any time we were restricted to – one piece of chicken or one piece of cake.  We weren’t forced to eat what we didn’t like.  I can only remember one rule – if you didn’t finish what you put on your plate (and we were allowed to put it on our plate), you couldn’t have dessert. We had butter, cream, eggs and milk – as much as we wanted.  We made everything from scratch – including ice-cream, sausage and even candy.

But one of my favorite times was when I went to visit some friends in town – and Betty, their mother, served us that delicious store bread with baloney and mustard that wasn’t ‘home-made’.  Then she would add chocolate to our milk.  I recall thinking this might be my ‘most-favorite’ meal.  Oh – I was so naive.