Remember the early 1950’s?
Well, I do — at least a few years that were spent in the middle of nowhere.
Sometimes it’s fun to sit back and think about “the good old days.”
I was born a long time ago and lived on small farm in the middle of nowhere until I was eight years old … and looking back, those now seem like some of the best years of my life.
There’s little guessing, that by today’s standards, it was a pretty primitive existence. We had no electricity, no central heating, and no indoor plumbing. We had a wood burning stove in the kitchen and a wood/coal burning pot-bellied heater in the living room. The house wasn’t exactly huge, so the stove kept us warm on the cool days. In the winter Dad would half fill the heater with coal and stoke it up every evening so it would burn slowly and keep us nice and warm most of the night.
In the evenings, Dad would also turn on and light the fuel in the mantles of the good old coal-oil lamps. Mom and Dad would often listen to the battery-operated radio or spend the evening reading. If I was inside, I usually found more interesting things to do, like ride my tricycle around the kitchen, into the living room, and to the front door, over, and over, and over, again.
As for the plumbing, baths for me were in a nice warm metal tub. Cold water from the well and nice hot water from the reservoir on the stove made it warm and comfy. Preparation for said bath at 5:00 started at about 4:00, and if it was nice out, the tub was in the porch so I could splash and play … and wash, of course, too.
As for the rest of the plumbing, it only became seriously inconvenient in the winter. We did have an indoor potty if it got too cold. Still, dropping your pants when it was only -20°C was not fun, and sitting on the seat at that temperature was a thrill I could have lived without. Also, I must say that the toilet paper we have today works so much better that the pages of the old Simpson’s catalogue. The shiny ones especially. One other thing maybe I should mention is that, in the winter, the poop gradually builds up into a rather nice cone shape. That meant that towards the end of the winter one would glance down the hole first. You see, there was the possibility of being impaled by the poop cone if you sat down quickly without looking.
That possibility aside, I was a very happy, outgoing child. I was also an only child during the first seven of those years. But I didn’t care. I had tons of friends and we played together very well, and Mom never asked who I was talking to. I also had a dog, Laddie, and a pet duck. Everyone could see them, by the way. Unfortunately, the duck migrated south for the winter. Either that, or it was that funny tasting chicken we had for dinner one night soon after he flew south.
And rain … rain was good. My mom wasn’t thrilled when I took my shoes and socks off, when I wore them, and played in the mud puddles. But after a while she gave up on that one and left me to it. There’s something totally special about squishing mud between your toes. Oh, and it was good for the crops too.
I can only remember getting into trouble once. The lower part of the barn was built of logs, all sticking out at different lengths at the corners. They were very easy to climb up, so I did. I guess there was something about seeing her five-year-old … me … sitting on the peak of the barn roof with my feet dangling over the edge that freaked my mother out. Go figure. Oh, and there was no snow on it at the time, either.
Okay, I guess it was maybe twice. I can’t leave out the time my cousin and I painted all the lower windows on the shed and chicken house green. Keep in mind, we didn’t leave the paint can open in the shop, but it helped.
Oops, three times. Can’t forget the time I set the hill behind the house on fire. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mother pump water that fast before or since. It was a good thing the water pump wasn’t all that far away, so she didn’t have to run much.
Oh damn, there was one other time. She wasn’t too thrilled one winter when I discovered, if I laid down real flat on my toboggan, I could slide down the steep hill by the house and slip between the second and third strands of barb wire at the bottom. And I didn’t even tear my snowsuit once.
Okay, okay, there was also the time my dog had puppies in one of the tunnels the pigs had made under the old straw pile. I was the only one who could fit, and it became my job to find them. I might have been only five or six, but I knew that finding them wasn’t in their best interest. I searched those tunnels every day for days and days with no luck. Then one day, lo and behold, and to my surprise, these unfound puppies decided to follow me out. Yes, they did. We did find homes for all of them.
One other slight annoyance was caused by my aunt, my mom’s sister. She thought it would be cute to buy me a tin drum. Mom didn’t think so. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent helping her by standing out in the yard with my drum. You see it became my job to scare away the coyotes so they wouldn’t get the chickens. It never occurred to me that the chickens were fenced in, or that with a big dog, the coyotes wouldn’t have dared to come into the yard anyway. But I was five, I think, so what did I know?
Then when I was nearly seven, I started school. I would walk two miles to the main road to catch the school bus and then walk back … and no, it wasn’t uphill both ways. Others had to walk three and four miles. Mom and I would be able to see the other kids coming about a half a mile down the road. I would wait five minutes and then walk out to the road to meet them. In the winter, one of the farmers with a team of horses and a sleigh would pick us all up and take us to the bus.
Obviously, they didn’t plough the snow off the roads in those days in the winter, or grade them in the summer either, for that matter. Even though I think I saw some gravel once, they weren’t even really roads. As we didn’t have horses, in the winter the only way we could go anywhere was on the good old Fordson Major. Mom and I would bundle up, wrap ourselves in blankets, and sit in a box Dad built on the hydraulic lift, and away we would go. Needless to say, we didn’t go very far or very often.
Now as for this incident, I’m not sure if it’s a getting-into-trouble one or not. When grade two started, a grader had been purchased to keep the roads clear, so the bus driver was informed that he had to pick us up at our gates. None of us minded that. Then, of course, one day I saw my dad’s truck in front of the store. I told the bus driver dad was in the store and I would ride home with him. Well I waited for what seemed like forever, but might have been a half hour. I went into the store to see why Dad was taking so long. The store owner told me that he had gone to Edmonton with someone and wasn’t coming back till tomorrow. Okay, so it was November, cold, getting dark, I was alone, and I had a two-mile walk ahead of me. Not what the average seven-year-old would wish for.
Then about half a mile into my walk, the coyotes started to howl. Scared shitless would have been an understatement, and my walk home became a run. When I got close to home, I had to get through the barb wire fence at the corner without tearing my snowsuit, run up a steep slope, then through what was the strawberry patch, over the top of the hill, and to the house. Now, near the base of the steep part of the hill was a pile of wood. I, and only I, knew a family of coyotes lived in a hole under that wood, so as I climbed through the fence, I pictured them sitting around their table, wearing bibs, knives and forks in paws, waiting for me to be supper. Sprinting up the hill was not an issue.
As for scared shitless, my mom saw the bus go by, but I never appeared. Our closest neighbour with kids was two miles away, and of course we had no phone or way to check with them, so it was panic time. She was getting ready to go to the neighbours when I arrived. Thankfully, between running and sprinting, it didn’t take me all that long to get home. After a lot of hard breathing and talking, I do think she forgave me for scaring her half to death.
And speaking of the strawberry patch, it was covered in wild strawberries in the summer. I could pick a bowlful in ten minutes. I would take them into the house, put fresh cream on them, and wow. With the cream separator, you know … the crank the handle and get cream out of one spout and milk out of the other spout thing in the pantry … when I mentioned fresh cream, I meant FRESH cream … so thick it almost had to be spooned onto things. Oh, and having a Jersey cow helped.
We grew all our own vegetables too, and Mom either pickled or canned them and stored them in the house cellar and the root cellar. The root cellar was a cave dug about twenty feet into the hill with two doors, an inner door and an outer door, about six feet apart. It kept things cool in the summer and prevented them from freezing in the winter. My dad’s dad was a coalminer in the UK, so I guess digging a hole in a hill was no big deal. That was before my time, so I didn’t notice.
Then Granny, Mom’s mom, came over from the UK. I loved her to bits. I even got to sleep upstairs in the same room as her. I also got to hide with her in the cellar under the house during thunderstorms. She didn’t like thunderstorms a whole lot. Oh, and that’s Tippy there with us. At least she was until I closed a door too soon and her tail’s white tip disappeared.
Also, when I was seven, I got my first two-wheel bike. A big balloon-tired Hiawatha. Just so you know, when you get a bike almost as tall as you are, it’s not a good idea find a box to help you climb on and then ride it downhill. You see, your legs aren’t long enough to reach the pedals, braking is out of the question, and the granary isn’t going to get out of your way. So yep, a bruise or two, some tears, and a bent front tire. And bending one of those big fat tire rims isn’t easy. Nor was trying to bend it back.
Speaking of a bruise or two and some tears, in the winter, don’t ride down that same hill on a sled and run into the same granary with your dad sitting behind you. And just so you know, those things zip down a steepish hill really well, sleds that is. Oh, and don’t let go when he’s pushing you on the swing at the corner of the barn. When there’s ice under it, that hurts, too.
And speaking of not easy, it wasn’t an easy life for my parents. They had to work hard, very hard. One thing about living on the farm in those days, everything was homemade — freshly baked bread and buns weekly, pickled beets, carrots, and cucumbers, canned strawberries, everything. We had three cows and a bunch of chickens. The cows had to be fed and milked daily. The chickens had to be fed daily. Trees had to be hauled in, cut into sections and chopped for firewood and stacked. Coal had to be dug up at a nearby abandoned coal mine and hauled in. Grain had to be seeded, harvested, and ground up into chop to feed the animals. There were no fancy seeders or combines in those days, either.
But for a little boy, it was paradise. My “friends” and I found countless ways to occupy my time. The only actual job I had was collecting the eggs from the chicken house every day. The worst part of that involved this one mean chicken that kept pecking me when I tried to get her egg — we ate her.
Harvest time was always fun too … for me, that is. Dad would cut the grain with what was called a binder. It would form the cut grain into bundles and tie them in the middle. Mom or Grandad would ride on the binder and pull a lever every so often to release the bundles in small groups.
Later, Dad would go out and pick up the bundles and stack them up against one another to form a stook (pronounced like stew with a k), consisting of six to eight bundles each.
When it was time and the grain had dried and cured, the threshing machine was hauled in and parked by the granary. That’s where we put grain. All the neighbours would come over with tractors or teams of horses and hayracks, move around the field and load all the bundles onto the hayrack and take them over to the threshing machine. The grain would be threshed out and augured into the granary and the straw would be blown into a big straw pile like the one you saw me sitting on some six pictures earlier. During the harvest, when the bundles were flipped onto the hay racks and each stook disappeared, it left behind at least one mouse nest if not several. One of my Mom’s biggest thrills was reaching into my pockets one afternoon and finding them full of baby mice, still alive and wiggling around. I’m not sure if she ever forgave me for that one.
So yep … childhood memories… the best.
Then the summer before grade three, we moved to Dreadful Valley — oil boom, you know. Soon, open, sometimes loud, outgoing, me became quiet, shy, loner, girly boy me. And just so you know, I was ‘girly boy’ because I respected my teachers, paid attention, and made good marks, not cause I wanted to diddle anyone’s little widdle. Oh, and I played the accordion … oops, yeah … duh.
In fact, it was some 10 years later, and after moving away, that I discovered, “Hey, guess what? I like boys and I think maybe diddling widdles might be fun.”
Then, after grad, shy, quiet, loner, girly boy went into education. I mean why wouldn’t I? What’s not quiet and peaceful about teaching a class of 30 teenagers? I taught junior high for nine years, and then senior high bio, chem, and physics for twenty-nine years … and I loved it. Then, thinking maybe I’d get old one day, I retired.
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