I have a few memories of life on the farm back north.
When my memory kicked in, I had two sisters, my older sister Louise and my younger sister Peggy. I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have Peggy, who is almost 3 years younger than me. I do remember not having my youngest sister, Judy, though. She was born 5 years after Peggy when I was 7 years old. We moved to the new farm when Judy was about 6 months old.
Our farm back north was on three levels. The main road was on the highest level and we had a field up there as well as much of the cattle pasture. Our farm yard was about a mile from the main road and down a hill onto a flat plateau, the second level. There were also a couple of fields on that level. Then from the farm yard, there was another hill that went down to the low fields that were in the valley beside the Assiniboine River. The farm yard had the house, the barn, Afi’s (grandfather’s) blacksmith shop, and several other granaries and sheds.
Dad did grain farming as well as beef farming, so there were fields for grain (wheat, oats, barley), as well as pasture areas and corrals for the cattle.
My early memories are pretty vague. They are mostly overviews and impressions with some memories of specific occurrences.
Even though I was only 8 when we moved from the farm back north, and my older sister was just 10, we would wander freely around the farm. We would roam through the forest, following the cattle paths up into the pasture. We would pick tiger lilies, crocuses, columbines and cowslips in the upper pasture, and ladies’ slippers orchids on the hill down to the lower fields. There was an old, abandoned blue car in the pasture that we would explore. It had been sitting there so long though that the blue paint would come off on our hands when we touched it.
We would also play on the sand hill which was right beside the road on the hill down to our farm. Along with any visiting friends and cousins, we spent hours digging, making sand creatures and building sand caves. When friends and cousins came over, this was one of fun places we would take them to play.
We spent most of the summer exploring and enjoying the offerings of the farm. Most of the summer we ran around in bare feet, certainly when we were at home, inside and out. Of course when we went to town, we wore shoes.
One day, when I was probably 4 or 5 years old, my older sister, Louise, and I were outside playing. It was spring. The snow was finally gone. The weather was nice. Mom thought it was a good day to get the girls outside so she could get some work done inside. For the girls, it was a great day to explore outside, splashing in the puddles.
The garden was a little ways away from the house, not shouting distance for a small girl. It was big and black and so enticing; even little girls like to slop around in the mud. We had our rubber boots on, so we were ready to go. Louise went in ahead of me and was fine, so I followed. After a few steps, I couldn’t pull my foot out of the mud, no matter how hard I tried. I was stuck fast and didn’t know what to do. Louise tried to help me out, but my boots were still trapped in the sticky muck. Louise had to leave me in the garden and run to the house to get Mom to rescue me. Mom pulled me right out of my rubber boots, which had to be recovered separately!
I was certainly more careful after that about stepping in vast expanses of mud.
I want the warm side!
We got picked up by the school bus to go to school. The first one we had was a cute Volkswagen van which seated about 12 or 15 kids. It would come down the hill to our farmyard, sometimes coming right up to the house and sometimes picking us up and dropping us off at the end of the driveway, which was about 100 yards from the house.
In the winter, if the snow was deep and hadn’t been ploughed down the hill, we would sometimes have to meet the bus on the main road a mile away. On those days, Dad would get the tractor out to drive us up to the road. It was exciting to ride on the tractor with Dad. We would be lifted up to the platform beside the seat, where we would hang onto Dad, Louise on one side and me on the other. The tractor was just an open tractor with no cab to protect us from the elements. It had one warm side, I guess near the exhaust. We would fight over who got to stand on the warm side that day!
I don’t know why we didn’t get to just stay home on those days. They hadn’t invented ‘snow days’ yet?!
Uh uh, not getting on!
One day, when Louise was at school (before I started), my younger sister, Peggy, disappeared. She was probably close to 3 years old. Mom couldn’t find her anywhere. She was frantic, searching the house and all of the outbuildings and running down to the river. She was worried sick that Peggy had wandered down to the lower fields and had drowned in the river.
I don’t know how long she was missing, but after awhile, Louise came walking home holding Peggy by the hand. She had walked up to the sand hill where she was seen by the school bus driver on the way to dropping Louise at home. The bus driver and Louise tried to get her to get on the bus so they could both be dropped off at the house. But Peggy was shy and she was having none of that, so Louise, maybe 6 or 7 years old, had to get off of the bus and walk the rest of the way home with Peggy in tow. She was so mad that Peggy wouldn’t get on the bus!!
Crossing the Assiniboine
One day, Mom and Dad got us dressed up in our bathing suits and took us down to the Assiniboine River beside our lower fields. I’m not sure if the original intention was just to go paddle in the river and have fun, or to actually walk across it. Mom wasn’t a great swimmer. Dad was most likely OK. Us kids were not great in the water; Louise could maybe dog-paddle, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t even stay afloat.
The water was about chest deep for me and there was a current. I’m not sure if Peggy was part of this expedition; it would have been very deep for her. The water was probably only waist deep for Mom and Dad so they probably weren’t too concerned. It was pretty scary for me, but, holding hands for dear life, I guess we made it there and back! Maybe the purpose was to scare us into staying away from the river!
Out by the tree
There was a tree in our back yard that was a cluster of 3 big trunks. It was the focal point of many of the posed pictures. We have several snapshots taken by that tree, dressed in our Sunday best with our little white gloves or our Easter purses. I can imagine Mom dressing us all up in our little outfits, most of which she made herself, and we look so nice she decides we should have a picture. “Let’s go out by the tree.” It made a nice backdrop, or was something to lean on.
The pictures were taken with a [now vintage] Kodak camera with a flip top view finder. Most of the pictures taken when I was a kid were black and white because colour film was quite a bit more expensive to buy as well as to develop. And most pictures were taken outside because the inside pictures needed flashbulbs, which were also costly. The flashbulbs were single use bulbs; one flash and they were garbage.
We had three close-ish neighbours when we lived back north. The Wiggetts were our closest neighbours at just over a mile away. They had twin girls who used to babysit us. The Abernethys were about 2 miles away down the road and deep in the river valley. They had a girl my age and a boy around Peggy’s age. They lived in a big stone house. The Harpelles lived about 5 miles away, and across the river. They too had kids around our age.
We had to take a ferry to get to their place. It was called Steele’s ferry because the ferry operator was Mr. Steele. He would come out and supervise the car boarding, then start the engine which would start the cable to pull the ferry to the other side. The ferry could hold a few cars, maybe four, and it took all of 5 minutes to cross the river. It was always quite thrilling though; the ferry was basically an open-air span of wood with railings on the sides, and it was quite near to the water. We’d get out of the car for the 5 minutes if Mom and Dad let us, and watch the river.
Entertainment in those days of late 1950’s and 1960’s were visiting with neighbours, playing cards or other board games, and enjoying snacks and a rye and coke (just the adults; I hadn’t heard of rye and coke yet). It was exciting when we were told that we were going to go visit one of the neighbours or they were coming to visit us. We would anticipate all day and then the visits would happen in the evening after supper. We young’uns would play kids’ games, or watch television if they had one, or play outside or in the barn, or stretch out on our backs on the grass and look at the sky, watching for shooting stars. Or sometimes we would sing songs learned at camp or at church, or tell ghost stories trying to scare each other, occasionally having a bonfire and roasting marshmallows.
Often the visiting would go on into the wee hours and we would fall asleep at the neighbours’ house. And if not at their house, in the car on the way home!
‘Til next time…
From Your Mom