Gift From the Heavens

Our Friday Fictioneers prompt has popped into my In box again thanks to the efforts of our kind host Rochelle Wisoff-Fields over at Addicted to Purple. If you pop over to her blog you can click on the InLinkz blue frog and see other bloggers’ responses — and even add your own. Tossing a special thanks across the pond to CE Ayr at Sound Bite Fiction for contributing this unique photo.

Though I may find this a hard scene to do as a fiction tale, it’s going to be a breeze for me as non-fiction. The minute I saw this picture I remembered an unusual melon-sized rock our cousin Ron and wife Rose had sitting on their coffee table. It was such an unusual shape and color you had to ask for the story behind it.

PHOTO PROMPT© CEAyr

Circa 1928 Ron and his father were making hay in the field beside Old Wives’ Lake when this smoking ball streaked from the sky toward them. They watched in awe as the meteor splashed into the lake followed by a sizzling sound. A cloud of steam rose. Impressed, they went back to their task at hand.

Then came the Dirty Thirties; the shallow lake disappeared. One day Ron was cutting grass in the lake bed when he found this mottled black rock, seemingly spewed from a volcano. He hauled it home and gave it pride of place in their garden.

Canada Becomes Our Home (2)

Once upon a time in Gallowayshire, Scotland, a man named David Vance took a wife named Agnes Jones. The two of them had a number of sons. Sad to say, David was killed in a lightning storm at age thirty-four. After this David’s sons yielded to the lure of the New world, with its offer of farm land for all. Ontario, Canada was being opened up for farming and it sounded good to them.

One of his sons, Joseph, was now a widower with a young son. Together with three of his brothers and their families, he and son John boarded a ship that took them to New York. While in New York he met Sarah, the daughter of Samuel Allen, and she consented to be his wife and go with him to Ontario.Canada flag

They landed in Oxford County about 1835, took up a homestead, and settled down to raise a family right near his brothers. Sarah and Joseph had six sons and one daughter, Sarah Jane.

One of their youngest sons, Samuel, married a Miss Mary Smith, daughter of John Smith and Ruth (Dobson). Mary had had a mishap when she was a young girl: she’d fallen from the roof of a shed or granary and broken her ankles. According to family tradition, the bones didn’t heal right and she was crippled from then on, walking with two canes in her adult years.

Sam and Mary farmed near Listowel, Ontario and had two sons, Allen and William. In the 1890s Sam and Allen felt the call to “Go west”; in the fall of 1899 they boarded the train for Saskatchewan to claim some of the almost-free farm land. Sam’s second son, William, was only 16— too young to file on a homestead — so he stayed in Ontario with his mother.

That fall Sam and Allen each filed on a homestead near Spy Hill, SK. But then they went hunting and Sam was killed when his gun backfired. In the spring Allen went back to Ontario; this was when Mary learned that Sam was dead.

SK flag

Saskatchewan provincial flag

Allen had his work cut out for him when the Vance family arrived in Spy Hill. He had to fulfill the obligations of his own homestead agreement — which involved breaking so many acres and building a home — plus those of his father so that his mother could get her land title. A few years later Allen married a schoolteacher, Miss Emily Turner, born in Grey County, Ontario.

While the Vances were looking toward Saskatchewan and the almost-free 160 acres of farmland, so were certain American farmers. Farmland was filling up fast in the US Midwest, so fathers with a number of sons were thinking they needed more cheap land.

James Henry Harmon was born in Maine and later homesteaded in Iowa, then moved to  Elk River, Minnesota, where my great-grandfather James Welcome Harmon was born.  James II married Mary Wilson and farmed in southern MN until the farmland was all taken up there. James had nine children already and, thinking of opportunity for his sons, he decided to claim one of the cheap homesteads being offered in western Canada. Just before the start of WWI James brought his family to the rich farmland southwest of the town of Melfort.

Leath Falconer and his wife were both born in Scotland, but they decided to find the end of the rainbow near Melfort, SK, together with their two daughters, Thelma & Rebecca. In time Thelma Falconer met up with Floyd Harmon and there was a wedding.

Their daughter Louise married Allen Vance, a younger son of Allen Vance and Emily Turner. and thus I came into the world 11 months after my brother Jim, followed by four siblings. Born here in Sask; grew up on the Canadian prairie. Love this land!

Canada Day wreath

Thrift Shop Find: A Good Read

Book Review: THREE CAME HOME

When the Japanese army took over Borneo in May 1942, Agnes and Harry Keith and their 18- month-old son were taken prisoner along with others associated with the British colony there.  The men were put in one prison camp; the women and children in another, along with a group of nuns.

This insightful book reconstructs the scene immediately before the invasion, the two years and four months they were interred, and their trip home. If you don’t value your freedom enough, this book is a MUST READ.  With clarity and charity Mrs. Keith details life in the two prison camps, their ways of coping with abuse and starvation rations.  She describes guards, prison commanders and interpreters as well as her fellow prisoners.

In her opening she says,  “The Japanese in this book were as war made them, not as God did, and the same is true of the rest of us…  If there is hate here (in these pages), it is for hateful qualities, not nations.  If there is love, it is because this alone kept me alive and sane.”

Three Came Home, by Agnes Newton Keith © 1946, 1947
Published by Little Brown and Company,  Boston,  MA, USA

Agnes Newton Keith has also written LAND BELOW THE WIND, WHITE MAN RETURNS, and BAREFOOT IN THE PALACE.  Although I haven’t read LAND BELOW THE WIND, I know it describes their life in Borneo (an English colony in the South Pacific) before the war and the reviews were favorable.

Clearing the Land

My Uncle Fred (Dad F) sold his farm back about 1958. This was the original home place, the farm he’d inherited from his father, Thomas Forsyth. He did, however, retain one quarter section —160 acres — a couple of miles south of the farm; this was rented to neighbours as pasture.

After Bob and I were married, I longed to make a “sentimental journey” back to Pathlow, where I spent the first four years of my life and visited many times after. Dad mentioned this land he still owned so we made a stop there to have a look around.

We parked our car by the side of the road, got out and looked around. Tall grass grew in a small area — this would be where the renter pastured his cattle — but most of the quarter was covered with native poplar bush. A spindly tree every meter.

We’d driven up on gravel roads, past miles of fertile fields, but my mind went back to the original settlers, who’d maybe got off the train at Melfort, seventeen miles NE, to outfit themselves and begin the search for their land claim. For those who came later a road of sorts had been made through the bush, but the first homesteaders would have wandered in the woods or followed creek banks until they came to the part that matched the land description in their hands.

And there they stood. Maybe with a backpack containing some food and another sack holding their tiny tent and a blanket. Likely they’d bought an axe, hanging from their belt. Now go for it. Start chopping, clear this land, build a farm.

Back around 1908 Thomas Forsyth, born in Glasgow, Scotland and a coal miner heretofore, carved his farm out of bush just like this. He called it Hillside Farm because the house and buildings were built on a rolling upward slope. My great-grand and grandfather Vance would have faced a similar situation when they arrived at Spy Hill, SK. A few farms had been wrested from the bush, but most of the land was forest, except where creeks meandered through it.

Thankfully clearing the land wasn’t the daunting prospect our forefathers faced when they landed in Oxford County. Our grandfather Allen didn’t face chopping down maple trees a meter thick such as great-grandfather Sam felled when he moved up to the Listowell area. Old timers in Ontario talked of a time when you could travel the trail from Kitchener to Sarnia without ever seeing the sun because there was such a dense canopy of spreading maple branches overhead. Can you imagine launching into those woods with an axe?

Today we see fields of waving grain all over Saskatchewan — because those who came first were willing to start swinging that axe.

Originally posted on the Vance-Turner Connect blog – March 2014

The Fire That Changed Her Name

One evening in Hull, England, Maud and her mum decided to go to the “flicks” (silent movies) — and see Norma Talmadge in Camille. Maud says that wonderful actress “could really turn on their waterworks.” While they were sobbing trough tear-jerking scenes at the theatre, another “scene” was rolling at their home, one that would change their lives forever.

The house had been shut up and some washing, set in front of the fireplace to dry, caught on fire. At least this was the conclusion they came to. The fire smouldered until Maud’s  father had come home from his club and opened the front door. Fresh oxygen fed the blaze and hot flames flashed out at him. It was too late to save anything; the interior of the house was an inferno.

After the movie, as Maud and her mother got closer to their street, they saw “a huge orange cloud lighting up the sky.” They began to run and soon realized the awful truth: their house was the one burning! Several red fire engines raced by them and stopped in front of their house. Firemen piled out and dragged hoses along, pumping water from a tank on one of the trucks.

Panicked, Maud and her mom ran toward their home. A crowd had already gathered. Maud was determined to rush in and save some of their belongings but one of the firemen caught her as she reached the door and put paid to that idea. So she stood outside with the others and watched the house burn, feeling herself the heroine of a great drama. She hated to lose their piano but wasn’t sad about all the old trinkets and whatnot her mum had collected over the years.

After the fire her mother decided to stay with her maternal grandparents, the Waites, who lived nearby, until the house could be restored. Maud could have joined them but some of her school friends were offering her a place to stay and that had a lot more appeal. Maud found being an only child rather boring, and had no qualms about accepting when best friend Phyllis Holmes invited her to come live with them awhile.

Here was a family where there would always be some action going on! Phyllis’ older sister, Cathy, was engaged to be married. She also had three brothers: Ted, the oldest, was an organ builder in Scotland; Harry was a cowboy on a ranch in somewhere out in the wilds of western Canada; Noel, still living at home, was an office worker. Phyllis, three years older than Maud, was an incurable romantic and a tease. She’d often say, “Just wait till Harry sees you. I’m sure he’ll fall for you!”

Phyllis did Maud a great favour while she was living at their home. Maud had always hated her name, especially when pronounced with a broad Yorkshire “u” — and even more when folks called her Maudie. Yuck! One evening she and Phyllis went to the theatre to see Peg O’ My Heart. Afterward Phyllis said, “She’s just like you! From now on you’re not Maud, you’re Peggy, and I’m never going to call you anything else.”

Maud — now Peggy — was delighted. She had some qualms about telling her parents, though, and her name change did indeed bring on a major row when she informed them, but they finally gave in and she was Peggy ever after. Some years later when she moved to Alberta with her husband, she was so thankful Phyllis had dubbed her Peggy, since it seemed every mule in Canada was called Maud. 🙂

You see, when Phyllis’ brother Harry came home from western Canada on a visit, he changed Peggy’s last name to Holmes and took her off to the bush country north of Edmonton, Alberta, to live on his homestead. 🙂

That proved to be a very useful fire indeed.

Word Press daily prompt: qualms

Love at Second Sight

A middle-aged man was strolling down a street in a merry old English city when he took note of a young lady walking briskly along with her brown and white spaniel trotting beside her. She had the air of going someplace important and the appealing look of someone with a sense of adventure.

Two years later this same gentleman was traveling on an ocean liner when he happened to catch sight of – could it be that same girl he’d noticed walking so spiritedly down the street so long ago? He approached her and asked if she was the owner of a brown and white spaniel.

The young lady was surprised, but she replied that yes, she had a spaniel that was being cared for by a friend while she was on this trip. Then he asked her if she would marry him. This surprised her even more but she must have had a sense of adventure since she didn’t turn him down flat or run the other way. And once they’d made proper acquaintance she accepted his proposal.

The marriage announcement shocked all their friends, because Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts movement, was 55 and his bride-elect was only 23. They had a private wedding and went on to have three children. One “May-September” marriage that worked well.