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.

God Save the Queen

On Tuesdays I like to post something historical, so I’ll borrow this bit from my husband’s personal history, which includes a brief history of our present Queen.

Antiquarian Anabaptist

Queen_Elizabeth_II_March_2015It was Wednesday morning, February 6, 1952. I was nine years old and in Grade Five. When I got up that morning, the radio was playing solemn, stately, orchestral music. That was all we could get on any radio station. The eight o’clock news told us why – King George VI had died and his oldest daughter was now Queen Elizabeth II. At school that morning we all lined up at nine o’clock, but instead of singing God Save the King, we sang God Save the Queen.

I turned ten later that month. Queen Elizabeth was 26 on April 21. Sixty-four years have passed, she is ninety today and still queen. Times have changed. School children in Canada don’t sing God Save the Queen anymore; I wonder if they even sing O Canada very often.

The fact that Canada, and many other countries, acknowledge Queen Elizabeth to be the head…

View original post 279 more words

Creature Comforts Indeed!

“Heat the church? Spend money on a stove? Whatever For?”

The little Scottish congregation was divided; some muttered that this was going too far while others nodded in approval when the subject was brought up at the parish meeting. Other churches were installing stoves, so why not. They definitely added to the comfort of the flock — which might well mean more of the flock would come to services on chilly winter days.

Of course this touch of creature-comfort or “catering to the flesh” in the very kirk itself met with resistance from some of the older folks who’d worshiped all their lives without extra heat. You just dress warmer in winter. Any fool knows that.

No one frowned on this indulgence more than one dear old grannie I’ll call Mrs Ross. She was adamant that there was no need to heat the kirk. Her forefathers didn’t have heated churches and what was good enough for them was good enough for her—and should be good enough for the young ones. But she was outnumbered by the more self-indulgent ones in the congregation. A stove was purchased and installed.

Of course the news spread rapidly through the close-knit Scottish community. And the next Sunday was a cold day, so this old Grandmother came to church as warmly wrapped as ever — if not more so.

After the first hymns Grannie Ross removed her heavy coat with a flourish and mutters. After the opening prayer, in another protest against the unnecessary heat, she discarded her thick sweater. When the minister stood up to bring the message, Grandma put on her star performance: she took off her wool scarf, mopped the sweat from her brow and fell over in a faint.

This little act caused the sensation she’d hoped. Several members rushed to assist her. Now everyone could see the dire consequences of having the kirk heated!

As an usher helped her out of the church, he whispered in her ear, “If you’re so hot today, Mrs Ross, how much more will you suffer next Sunday when we actually light the stove?”

Auntie Ding-Dong

There once was a woman named Mrs. Dingle. The children who lived on her block liked to call her “Auntie Ding-Dong” because she often rang their doorbells. Mrs. Dingle, you could say, had “an enlarged heart.” That is, a heart full of sympathy for busy mothers and families under stress.

She would bake loaves of delicious bread, put them in baskets and take them around to neighbours who were going through a tough time. If she heard a mother was sick or just had a baby, Auntie Ding-Dong helped the family in her little way, carrying in a casserole or pot of soup, feeding the children, doing the washing up.

One neighbour boy tells how he loved to meet Mrs. Dingle as she walked down the streets carrying her basket of bread. She always had a smile and a cheerful hello for everyone. One day when his own mother was in bed with the ‘flu Auntie Ding-Dong rang their doorbell, handing them a large, still-warm loaf. The aroma made his mouth water.

Auntie Ding-Dong had been widowed when she was still quite young, so never had children of her own. But rather than spend her days hoping for the sympathy of others, she found fulfillment in helping other mothers when they were overwhelmed by the needs of their families. Someone once asked her whether she ever felt sorry for herself, to which she replied, “Why, I haven’t got the time!”

Note:
I once read this story in The Friendship Book of Francis Gay and thought it was worth retelling.

Ben Franklin’s Bright Idea

According to one biographer, when Ben Franklin wanted to promote the idea of street lighting for the city of Philadelphia, he didn’t just make speeches to enthuse his fellow citizens about what a great idea it would be. He installed a long bracket in front of his home and hung up an attractive lantern. This he always kept spotless and lit it every evening as twilight fell.

Passers-by could see his cheerful light from quite a distance and this one bright spot in an otherwise dark street beckoned to them. The glow silently recommended to everyone walking along the sidewalk what a great idea it was to see where they were stepping. As time went on the citizens of the town were sold on the idea of street illumination.

P.S.:
We could all take a lesson from Ben’s example. There are a zillion people who offer brilliant suggestions, but if we can think of something that will brighten the way for folks who pass by, let’s do it.