At Twelve per Hour

Yesterday my husband and I started doing a jigsaw puzzle, one given to us sometime in the past six months by I forget who. This is a Cobble Hill puzzle, one brand we always enjoy doing, where every puzzle piece is a different shape. Looking at their site, I see they have some really beautiful puzzles listed. ๐Ÿ™‚

With each piece being a unique shape, the putting-together should be easy-peasy, right? Nope. Not this one, because it’s such a collage of vines and leaves, fruits and butterflies. In fact it’s call Fruits & Flutterbies.

Pretty? Yes. Easy? No. Click Here if you want to see the picture we’re trying to put together.

My hubby worked at it for an hour before dinner and put in twelve pieces. Then he calculated: 1000 pieces at 12 per hour, with each of us putting in a couple of hours every day, should take us clear through til spring. Somewhat like retyping WAR & PEACE.

However, with the outside temp hovering around -30 C we may as well occupy ourselves with something appealing indoors. It’s a sunny day and with sunbeams making all the snowbanks glisten, a person could almost go snow-blind. I imagine this country when settlers first came, not a tree or anything to break the view for twenty miles. And then sunshine on snowy fields!

One early arrival, coming from Wales, commented that “Back home I always like to face the road ahead so I could see what was coming up. But when I’m travelling here on the flat prairie it doesn’t matter what direction I face because the view’s the same whichever way you look.”

Farm Diary

I’ve heard and read about the “dust bowl” years here on the prairie, about hoppers that could clean off a 160-acre field in a day, about horses and cows forced to eat the prickly Russian thistles because they were the only green thing growing anywhere, about the farmers who took jobs in the northern “parkland” part of the province to earn enough to get by for another year. So I made up this diary.

Prairie Farm Girl’s Diary — Summer 1934

A west wind blew the hoppers in
two days ago.
They cleaned the wheat crop
clear down to the ground
yesterday.
Dad went north to a lumber camp
after seeding
so we can afford our grub and heat
next winter
and feed for the horses and cow โ€“
unless it rains.
A stream of clouds went over
last night
on their way to rain somewhere else,
maybe tomorrow.
Tom and I are minding the place
all summer
while Dad’s away and Mom’s in a dither
about all the dust.
She says we’re leaving this drought-deviled land
soon as Dad gets back.

.

Image: MonikaP — Pixabay

Glimpse Into The Future

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is the question: What next?
The Word of the Day Challenge: HOPE
Of course we all hope that what comes next will be good. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope better days and many joys come to you all in 2021.

WHAT NEXT?

There’s an ocean-depth of possibility in this one! What next for today? For this week? Next year? My next goal or project? Health issues? Future moves?

For today my goal is to tidy up the house and continue my shuffle through drawers and closets, ferreting out things I don’t need or want anymore. That will be my week’s goal as well, plus I have a couple of shifts at the Seniors’ Home.

Long term NEXT? My thoughts have been going to health issues lately, particularly since I read Texas Writer’s blog post: REFLECT about dealing with his mother’s dementia and his own Parkinson’s. He admits that he’s facing a gradual decline, but has a commendably upbeat attitude.

When I was twenty-seven I discovered a walnut-sized, rock-hard lump, and the diagnosis was quickly made: CANCER. My future plans evaporated. You know, when you hear the C word it usually goes with fatal. Women regularly die of breast cancer. And when I thought I was going to die, my what next looked pretty grim. But the doctors acted fast: I was in surgery within a week, followed by a heavy dose of chemo-therapy, so it wasn’t “Goodbye cruel world” after all.

I had the same experience about six years ago when the doctor told me I had leukemia. Bam! Right out of the water. Leukemia is a killer! I didn’t know there were different kinds, so was hoping I still had a few months to put things in order.

When my mom turned seventy, she died of a massive heart attack. My younger sister had a heart attack a dozen years ago โ€“ and thankfully survived. My sister Rose, five years younger, died of cancer a year ago. Far too young!

And reading Texas Writer’s post reminded me of my birth father’s last years. Dad was an incredibly healthy little fellow. Worked hard all his life; even into his seventies he could easily walk the seventeen miles between Moose Jaw and his sister’s home at Belle Plaine. But his arm started to shake โ€“ I remember how, in time, it twitched uncontrollably. Parkinson’s. I remember holding his hand just to keep it from shaking for a few minutes — and wondering if this genetic flaw would someday affect me, too.

What’s next? I think COVID has tossed this question into most of our lives. Not that we expected to die, but it’s brought home to each one of us how suddenly everything can head south. Not just our own life, but humanity as a whole can almost come to a screeching halt.

From personal experience I can say this reality check is at the same time a horrible and a wonderful experience. We’re stopped in our tracks and reminded how precious โ€“ and how fragile โ€“ life is. How quickly living can turn to dying.

And Stats Mean ZIP

According to the Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Stats, in 2018 there were 1,922 Canadians killed in traffic accidents. In a population of 37.06 million, this was a very small per-centage. However, statistics are small comfort if your loved one was one of them. You have been made brutally aware that all our plans for the future can end in a second. Likewise with people who’ve lost family members to COVID. The fact that, of the 560,000 diagnosed cases in Canada so far, 470,00 recovered isn’t worth much, if you’re one of the 15,264 who didn’t.

So… What waits down the road? For me, maybe a heart attack? Or cancer? Another round of leukemia? Parkinson’s? A car accident? My 100th birthday celebration? I have many hopes and expectations, but who can know? Here comes my kitten. I’ll cuddle with him and enjoy today. ๐Ÿ™‚

What next for us ALL? Here are my own goals, including concepts the dreaded Virus has taught humanity so far:

Enjoy today. Look around. See whatever beauty there is.
Enjoy the fresh air. And let’s do whatever we can to keep it fresh for others.
Love life โ€“ but don’t over-plan.
Visit a nursing home. Check out that “the last door of life” for most folks.
Get rid of the things that clutter your world. (Well, I’m trying. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )
Try harder to forgive, make friends, smile more, get out for that walk.
Love your people โ€“ but know that you can’t hold them when they have to go.
As much as you can, set your house in order. We’ll all be moving on someday.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Galatians 6:7

Monday’s Clean Scene

Good morning everyone! Here in Sask it’s a dazzling Monday morning — the perfect opportunity to stay home and enjoy family life or visit friends online. And we have some great writing prompts to work with:

Ragtag Daily Prompt: TOUGH
Your Daily Word Prompt: CAPABLE
Word of the Day Challenge: TRIUMPH
Fandango’s FOWC: HYSTERICAL

I can picture farmers all over this region looking outside and smiling. That which we have longed for all summer — more precipitation — has come to pass by the bucket-full. Above and beyond our fondest wish. I hear that a number of highways were shut down yesterday because of the blizzard, so it isn’t only our area that’s enjoying the bounty. Now the wild wind has ceased, the sun has come out and we can enjoy the brilliance of our scenery.

This is perfect COVID weather, you could say: a great opportunity to self-isolate. All across the province schools will be closed today, repurposed as polling stations for municipal elections. So children don’t have to straggle to school through the snowbanks; teachers and school bus drivers can put their feet up until the road have been properly cleared. Yesterday’s wind straight from the north piled a big bank of snow, maybe a metre deep, right in front of our garage door, so we’re not going anywhere very soon, either.

Getting about will be tough for some this morning, but prairie folk are a hardy lot and we now have equipment more than capable of blasting through snowbanks. Our son-in-law and his little crew are occupied at that very task this morning. The Dept of Highways crews will be on the job, too. School yards will be cleared so voters can get to polls.

Thinking of the homesteaders who settled this land, a storm like this might have shut them down for weeks. Yesterday, as I tried to shove our outside screen door open with a foot of hard-packed snow piled against it, I thought of one account I read. Early settlers soon discovered that your cabin door must open inward — because, depending on the direction of the wind, a storm may pack five or six feet of snow against it! Some folks with “a delicate mental state” became hysterical finding themselves embalmed in a white cocoon.

One of the Neatby family tells in his memoir about how, the morning after a snowstorm, they tried to open their cabin door and found the storm had closed it tight with several feet of hard-packed snow. They managed to shove it open just enough to scoop handfuls from that wall of snow, melting them on the stove. Thus they worked most of the day, inch by inch, until it was open far enough that they could get out. After a moment to celebrate their triumph, the boys floundered through the snowbanks to feed their livestock. Yes, those were tough times, but most homesteaders persevered. The options were few back then.

Before the settlers came, the natives found a sheltered valley where they could set up their teepees and relax until spring came again. They didn’t have the rush-rush mindset of the Europeans and were content to wrap up in buffalo robes, sit and visit around the fire, tell stories. I wonder if they ever had election results to discuss? Talking about the weather would get old fast.

No car, no phone, no internet. No housework to speak of. No novel, notebook, or jigsaw puzzle. I fear most of us would go bananas, crackers, completely bonkersbarmy, the Brits would say — after a couple of days of this kind of relaxation. ๐Ÿ™‚

WordPress Meets the Press Gang

Through the medium of WordPress, several bloggers are offering me some unusual prompt words for today. I even had to look up three of them to be certain of their meanings.
Ragtag Daily Prompt: HARDIHOOD
— boldness, daring, courage; self-confident audacity

Word of the Day: URGES
— (noun): strong desires or impulses.
— (verb): to repeatedly or insistently try to encourage or persuade someone.

Your Daily Word Prompt: RECONDITE
— Difficult or impossible for the ordinary person to comprehend, as a DEEP subject
— Referring to something little known or obscure
— Hidden from sight. Concealed

Fandango’s FOWC: SCUTTLEBUTT
The original meaning of this word has provided the track for my train thoughts this morning.
Scuttlebutt: a ship’s water butt โ€“ a cask holding the day’s supply of fresh water. And since this was where sailors gathered to drink and exchange gossip, the word eventually included the gabfest that went on around the scuttlebutt.
The old oaken cask (scuttled butt) has been replaced by the office fountain or water cooler and the term has come to mean “gossip and rumors that circulate.”

THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN SMITH

One day my great-great-grandfather John Smith sat visiting with his youngest son, Moses, and John was telling Moses what happened when he was nine years old that shaped his entire future. Fortunately for me, Moses’ youngest daughter happened to overhear the conversation. A few years ago I able to track down this long-lost relative, in her late 90s and still of clear memory. She shared this story with me:

As a nine-year-old boy John was walking down the street in an English city โ€“ he thought it was London โ€“ when a couple of sailors from the British navy grabbed him and hustled him onto a ship in the harbour. This was one of the press gangs that worked the English port cities, kidnapping boys and young men to serve on the ships. John must have been a husky lad; I can’t imagine they’d grab a puny little guy who might not survive the rough sea life.

So who was this lad and what were his origins? Was his name actually John SMITH, or did the sailors tack that label on him, possibly to deflect inquiries? From info on his death record, John was born circa 1828. Young boys in those days likely weren’t so informed about their family history or even their location โ€“ perhaps he’d never even been to school. Was he from a caring home, or were his parents down-and-out sorts? Maybe he was an orphan, just a street urchin that happened to wander too near the port? Was John’s father a Swedish sailor, or why does my DNA show that I have 9% Scandinavian ancestry when I find so little in my known family tree?

If our children go missing, it’s a tragedy. Did John’s family search for him? Was he hidden from the authorities โ€“ or did any authority ever check on ship’s crews or search for missing boys and young men? After all, press gangs operated with the collusion of the Crown. I try to imagine the recondite lives these fellows lived as captives of the British Navy: the possible abuses, the hard labour, primitive medical care, rickets and scurvy, wild storms, dim prospects of deliverance. I have to admit I’m living in one of the best eras ever.

For the next four years gr-gr-grandfather was held on that ship, working as a cabin boy, never allowed to set foot on shore. I can picture him gathering around the scuttle-butt with the other sailors, hearing their tales of the sea, of exotic ports, of ships that went down in storms. Did John have a natural hardihood, or was he terrified in this new setting? I’m sure he had the urge many times to escape this forced servitude and find his family again โ€“ if he had any โ€“ but he was never allowed ashore.

When he was fourteen the ship docked in Halifax harbour and somehow John managed to escape. He told his son Moses that the sailors turned the ships guns on him as he was fleeing, but he made it into the woods and hid there in the forest until the ship sailed away. From Halifax he made his way to southwestern Ontario and worked as a labourer; in time he managed to buy a farm near Listowell. To the best of my knowledge, he never again had contact with any family in England.

Around 1855, when he’d have about twenty-seven, John married Ruth Dobson, a young woman from a very religious home. Her parents were John & Ruth; her brother Jonathan grew up to become a well known Methodist preacher. Ruth called herself a Methodist and John listed himself on all the Ontario censuses as an Unbeliever. Their oldest daughter, Mary โ€“ my great-grandmother โ€“ was born in 1856. Their oldest son, William, apparently became a policeman in Toronto. Mary, as Mrs Sam Vance, moved west and lost all contact with her Smith relatives.

Oct 19, 2020:
My dentist’s office just called about my appointment tomorrow. Can’t just walk into the office now, must wear a mask, etc. Yes, my activities are being restricted and everyone is fearful of COVID โ€“ and who knows what the economy will do? Scuttlebutt has it that a vaccine is in the works, but may take awhile yet. Yes, these are uncertain, fearful times โ€“ but as I let my thoughts drift back through the years to young John, hiding in the woods near Halifax, totally alone, with only his own hands and hardihood to provide for him in this new land โ€“ I can’t complain about my lot!

So I’m sitting here this morning enjoying my coffee, playing with these new words, and wondering about my DNA results โ€“ all because “John Smith” acted on his urge to escape and jumped ship in the Halifax harbour circa 1842. Hope you’ve enjoyed hearing great-great-grandfather’s story.

The Worst Ever!

For Goodness Sake, Read History (Part 2)

A few days ago I received an interesting phone call from some lady wanting to share a few Bible verses with me. She started out by quoting Jeremiah 29:11-12, then began talking about having peace during these troubled times. Especially with this pandemic โ€“ the worst that’s ever been!

Reader of history that I am, I reminded her of the Black Death. In the 1300’s the Bubonic Plague was brought back to Italy by sailors returning from the orient; it subsequently swept through Europe in several waves and wiped out about a third of the population of the western world. A person could argue that Covid-19 could have been as bad; however, we’ve taken extreme precautions and also have access to an infinitely better health care system.

Plus, our lot is easier because we have less corruption. I read once that in some Italian cities men were hired to go house to house and bring out any that were diseased. These toughs were given free rein to “diagnose” and haul away anyone they didn’t like or demand payment โ€“ in whatever form โ€“ from the home’s occupants. Occupants unwilling to pay risked being tossed on the cart with those already infected and/or dying.

Pardon me, but the only reason anyone can say this is the worst pandemic in history is because they don’t know history. Even the Spanish ‘flu was worse, as health care was limited and whole families sometimes died. People may be pretty panicked now, but there’s nothing like the superstition of the Middle Ages. No one has resorted to self-flagellation as some did during the Bubonic plague, going from town to town whipping and slashing themselves to gain the sympathy of the gods in hopes of averting the plague.

Climatic Disaster and Famine

Last night in Bible Study we were going over Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt and Pharoah’s dream, which Joseph interpreted. (Genesis Ch.41) Joseph predicted seven years of plenty, followed by seven lean years. According to the Bible account, this was a widespread catastrophe. It dawned on me that the drought and famine in Egypt would have been a lot like our “Dirty thirties” years.

People in the Thirties may have said, “This is the worst climatic disaster in history,” but I suspect there have been various climatic disasters before that one. Most of us have never heard about them. In most cases records weren’t kept; the accounts became simple folklore.

Thankfully, the Great Plains people learned a lot from those dry years; farming practices have changed drastically since the drought and soil moisture conservation has become a priority.

As to the Middle East famine, Joseph was able to guide Egypt through those years and preserve his own family as well. But over all, the land that was once a breadbasket is now desert sand.

Buying, Selling, and Lessons Learned

One good thing is that Egypt didn’t have a stock market to crash like ours did in 1929. In that sense the Thirties delivered a double-whammy here in North America. Then with a war looming — things must have looked pretty bleak indeed to our grandparents.

In the 1920s the sale of stocks was booming, investors were making piles, and bankers came under pressure to make collateral-free loans to wannabe stock-buyers. All these new players drove the price of stocks up, but seasoned traders were keeping a nervous eye on the trading, knowing stock prices had to level off and maybe even drop.

On “Black Tuesday” Oct 29, 1929 someone(s) got so nervous he/they dumped thousands of stocks on the market. Others investors saw this and figured, “Ah! Someone knows something. Prices are going to drop. We’re selling, too!” Sixteen million shares were thrown on the market that day and more during the rest of the week. By Friday the market was flooded with shares no one wanted to buy. The rest is history.

In the 1990’s the US government, under pressure from builders, increased the sale of new houses by urging bankers to give collateral-free loans with very low interest rates. Mortgages were contracted right and left; new home buyers gave the housing market the shot in the arm builders were hoping for. But when those mortgages came up for renewal at the regular interest rate… The rest is history.

The housing market crash and ensuing depression didn’t hit us as hard here in Canada because a) Canadian bankers are far too cautious to make collateral-free loans and b) you can’t legally walk away from a mortgage you’ve contracted here in Canada. If the mortgage holder defaults, the bank may repossess and sell the house but the holder is legally liable to pay whatever is still owing.

Fifty years from now will someone again come up with some new purchase people must make and urge bankers to make low-interest, collateral-free loans so people can have this new necessity? And it will lead to another depression? Or will our descendants read these histories and learn that this hasn’t worked well in the past?