Thursday, 12 March 2009

Life on the farm - memories

I believe in gratitude...
My husband grew up on a farm in the 1950s. It puts life in perspective. Many, in many countries, do not have the luxuries of potable water, in this day and age. We take life for granted.

This is his reflection on life on a farm, without running water or indoor plumbing. Here is what he wrote:

My clearest thoughts on the farm, were the smells and sights in the barns, sheds and stables. As a little boy that's where I played by myself (which may explain my love of solitude). We had these large draft horses, very gentle, I could play under them with out fear. I still love the look and smell of these great animals.

I remember going out to the fields with my grandfather.
We would have hitched up a couple of horses, giddy up to start, whoo, to stop, gee to turn left, haa to turn right. In fact, most of the time, we were on "auto pilot" as the horses knew the routine as well as we did.

One day, I went into town with my grandfather on the buggy. Even in the 50's a buggy in town would draw a crowd. Anyway, my grandfather left me in the buggy while he visited his brother at the mill. The horse got bored or hungry, at any rate, to my embarrassment, he continued the journey around town, with me and buggy in tow, despite my best efforts at whoo. The town itself was a village of 600 or so then, I think.

There was a post office where my mother worked. The basement flooded every spring. As the washroom was down there, it had to be accessed by a raised board walk. Our local dentist still used a foot drill, in a room out of Norman Rockwell.

A couple shared a store of fine china, a barber shop, and the local rod, reel, etc. supplies. The "new jeweller" had been there only 30 years. My uncle ran a confectionery where I would get candy after church on Sunday. At milking time we would call for the cows - co bosh, co-bosh. I have no idea where the expressions came from but the cows, with some encouragement from our collie, would come.

I remember the sight of sunsets across the open fields as far as you could see, especially in winter, covered in snow. About two fields back from the barn was a low area. It flooded every spring. I called it Lake Winnipeg (Lord knows why) and sailed wooden sticks in it.

At the back of the farm we had a bush.
When I was about five or so, I followed our dogs or more likely led them to it. Yes, I was lost in it. I didn't know it, wasn't frightened, but search parties were out for me. It was in winter. Apparently the dogs knew better and barked until a farmer, out hauling logs, found me. I guess that he and the dogs saved my life.

Our farm house was old, brick and somewhat falling apart. We didn't have plumbing, nor central heating, and at times no electrical power (depending on when the bills were paid). Water came from a hand pump outside the summer kitchen. Summer kitchens were once common. Basically they were used in summer especially in thrashing, when there would be a number to feed. In winter they were shut down to reduce the space to heat.

One of our sheds was a disused ice house.
All of them had the old smells of wood and oil. I still have a wooden carpenter's plane that belonged to my grandfather. It still has that smell on it, and if I pick it up , all the memories come back.

My grandmother was a strong farm wife who worked in the fields, grew vegetables, and ran the house.
She could drive horses, kill chickens, bake pie, and quote long passages of Bryon off the top of her head.

I should point out that my mother and I came to live with her parents after my father was killed in an industrial accident. I was actually born in Ottawa and lived there until maybe I was a year and half or two. If my father had lived, no doubt my life would have been very different. We moved out to the farm with my grandparents. We were what we now call the working poor. My grandfather would have made a good priest, or teacher, but as a farmer he didn't do well. He was the oldest of seven of eight kids, whose father died at a young age. He left school to support his family. Indeed his younger siblings thought him as a father more than a brother. He never said an unkind word about a soul, no matter race, creed or calling.

My grandmother was ambitious, smart and frustrated by the life she had vs. the life she wanted.
She dominated my mother, but adored me, as her adopted son was killed in the war, and her biological son was killed in an accident. I should say that despite our lack of services and relative isolation, I was never hungry, nor cold or afraid.

When I was ten, we had to sell the farm and move to
town as my grandparents were too old to work it. My mother associated the farm with poverty and loss. She was determined that I would do better. As in many families this would cause us some problems down the road. Moving was the right thing to do. I often think that for my mother, a move to Ottawa would have been better. Being a young widow, in a small town in the 1960's, was not an easy thing. As for me that move was a clear line in my life. Leaving the farm was the first, and the most difficult.

Now only my aunt in Ottawa would have any idea of what I speak of.
All the rest are gone, but the memories will continue with me. I hope this gives a sense of what that life was like.

BTW: All photos are from our recent travels around S. Ontario!


The Weaver of Grass said...

These memories are so very important Jenn - once that generation has gone it will all be forgotten - and photographs never do justice to the life like word of mouth. I so enjoyed reading it - it really came to life, that bygone age.

Sweta said...

Enjoyed your post... the thought of being thankful... in this age we do take so many things for granted!

judy in ky said...

I wish there was some way to keep all these memories alive. Younger people these days just can't imagine another kind of lifestyle. My grandparents had a farm and i visited it often as a child. I was always fascinated by it. I loved the idea of "getting back to the earth". I gave me an appreciation of the basics of life.

Jenn Jilks said...

Thank you, Phoenix.

There are ways, Judy!
There are a lot of archives around. I did this for my Social Studies student teachers when I taugth at uOttawa: History of Nepean.

You could write a memoir for them. They recommend doing such for seniors and/or dementia patients to keep their memories alive.