That Long Dark Night

Fandango’s FOWC Word prompt for today is: MEMORY

I appreciate these agreeable, simple words! This one should inspire a wide variety of responses. For my response I’m going to pull up a tidbit I originally posted in Dec 2013.

“Where were you when the lights went out?”

Remember that question, popular in the early seventies? Do you remember the incident it stems from? Can you remember the BeeGees’ song “When the Lights All Went Out in Massachusetts”? If you can, you’re as old as I am!

One day my mind went back to that long dark night, so I asked some friends these questions. They’d never heard of it. Some had heard that question, but had no idea what incident it referred to. Tsk, tsk! A whole generation has arisen (maybe even two already) who don’t remember when the lights all went out in Massachusetts.

But what year was that again? And what caused the power failure? And which states did it hit? I was pretty sure I remembered, but when I googled it, I found that I hadn’t gotten the basic details straight at all. All these years I thought the Yanks were to blame, but it actually started when Canadian electrical workers used the wrong size of wire in a power substation. (Blush!)

One book I refer to at times and enjoy reading just for the fun of it is Jack M. Bickham’s The 38 MOST COMMON FICTION WRITING MISTAKES (And How to Avoid Them)  © 1992 by Jack M. Bickham

Chapter 20 in this book is titled: “Don’t Assume You Know; Look It Up”
This is invaluable advice.

So, dear aged friends, without asking Mr Google, when did the lights go out all across the Eastern seaboard and southern Ontario and Quebec? And where were you?

 

Mini-Showers of Blessing

robin larger

American robin

“Oh, for the showers we plead!”

When I looked out my dining room window first thing this morning, I saw a robin hopping around on the lawn, foraging, and immediately a song popped into my mind:
“There shall be Showers of blessing
Oh, that today they might fall!”

This was because Mr Robin was poking around in the circle left by the sprinkler yesterday. I could almost imagine him waiting and hoping for the shower to start falling again, as it did all afternoon yesterday from our little round sprinkler. The local birds were in raptures as they fluttered about on the edge of the circle. Our lawn is rather dry and patchy on the east side of our trailer, which meant a few little depressions between the tufts of grass were catching the excess. Small birds flopped into these and bathed to their hearts’ content.

Out here on our acreage our water comes from a well shared with several families, so we don’t water our lawn very generously. Our poor grass has to make it as best it can through the summer. And with the lack of rain these last two months, the sloughs around us have about dried up, so the birds are happy to come and enjoy the blessing of showers under our sprinkler. Robins, goldfinches, siskins, and yellow warblers are our most trusting bird visitors, but even the odd oriole was popping down from the nearby woods and spending some time in the cooling spray.

We have a forced-air, water-cooled radiator. In simple terms, our trailer is cooled on these hot days by circulating cold water through our furnace pipes. A fan blows this cool air into our trailer and our sprinkler is the outlet for the pumped-out water.

Walking across our yard I see small white flicks as tiny hoppers spring out of my way. Too bad the birds don’t eat them! We’re going to have a good crop, looks like. We’ve just come through a wet cycle, almost ten years cool, rainy springs, which decimated the grasshopper population — thanks be! But give us a few dry springs like this and they’ll be thick again.

Scott Bailey’s one-word prompt for today was Native and the Daily Addictions prompt word today was Abundant, so I’m covering both in this short description of my native land, the western plains or “short-grass prairie.” The soil right where we live, on the Canadian Soil Map, is classed as “dune sand”— sandy straight down. Water doesn’t lie long on our yards and fields; we never get gumbo or greasy mud after a rain. But the water table is quite high here, thanks be!

Our most common native tree is sage or silver buffalo berry — Shepherdia argentea; you see it in every pasture. And chokecherry bushes. Poplars and willows spring up anywhere where a ravine or large slough collects a summer supply of water. And of course the first settlers planted trees, especially during the years of drought. This land really blew once it was broken by the farmers’ ploughs!

I checked the thesaurus for synonyms of ABUNDANT, which were ample, bountiful, generous, liberal. Well, we have not had abundant rainfall. In fact we’ve had precious little this month.

Dark rain clouds blew up Sunday afternoon and we thought we might get something. But we only felt a few sprinkles and the clouds blew around us to the north. When we gathered at church Sunday evening we heard that folks north of us got 1 ½ to 2 inches. My next-door neighbour laughed and told the blessed recipient, “Well, we’ll know where to come in fall when we get hungry.” Last night there were storm clouds all across the western sky and a storm definitely rolling in. But, again, it rolled around us.

Interestingly enough, other synonyms are : enough, sufficient, adequate. (Which goes to show how elastic our English words are.) Nevertheless, I’d best not complain because the crops are green and growing, not heat-blasted and parched. Which means that though we haven’t had any outpouring, there’s still sufficient moisture for our needs — and water in our well for us and our bird friends.

Yellow warbler fc option

Yellow warbler

Thrift Store Finds

Here are a few writers and titles books you might watch for if you’re in a used book store. I highly recommend all of them as good reading:

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

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 from the British colony there. The men were put in one prison camp; women and children kept in another. This insightful book reconstructs the scene immediately before the invasion, the two years and four months they were interred, and their trip home.

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 are as war made them, not as God did, and the same is true of the rest of us… If there is hate here, it is for hateful qualities, not nations. If there is love, it is because this alone kept me alive and sane.”

She has also written WHITE MAN RETURNS, BAREFOOT IN THE PALACE, and LAND BELOW THE WIND, which describes their life in Borneo (an English colony in the South Pacific) before the war.

Hot off the press…

HOT APPLE CIDER, © 2008
A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider
, © 2011
A Taste of Hot Apple Cider  © 2014
Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon  © 2015
Christmas With Hot Apple Cider © 2017

These “Stories to stir the heart and warm the soul” have been compiled by N. J. Lindquist and Wendy Elaine Nelles and published by That’s Life! Communications, Markham, Ontario, C anada. Each book is a collection of stories by Canadian writers, sharing experiences of divine guidance and comfort, short fiction, and poems.

And three interesting books about the Depression years in Canada

THE WINTER YEARS by James H Gray
Published 1966 by MacMillan of Canada,
reprinted in ‘66, ‘67, ‘68 and ‘72

James Gray, born in Whitemouth, Manitoba, was working as a clerk for the Grain Exchange in Winnipeg during the Twenties. They were good years; credit was easy and work easy to find. He married, bought a home, and in the late 20’s he left the Grain Exchange to go into business on his own. Several things he tried didn’t pan out, then he started up a mini- golf business in 1930. This shut down that fall and he found himself in debt and out of work.

In February 1931, almost out of food and fuel, two months behind in their rent, with a wife and daughter plus his parents to support and absolutely no hope of finding work, he finally swallowed his pride and took that long walk down to the Relief Office. No one dreamed that this depression would last eight years!

Mr. Gray shares his own personal struggles; he also gives the overall picture of what was happening on the prairies and in Canadian society in general during those years. As the back cover says, “The Winter Years is a story of hobos and housewives, radicals and aldermen, farmers and judges. It’s a moving tribute to the courage and resourcefulness of the human spirit.”

The Great Depression
©1990 by Pierre Burton, published by Anchor Canada

This is an overall analysis of the 1930’s in Canada, starting in 1929 and going through the decade year by year. As well as covering the overall political scene, the author gives very interesting personal experiences, details about weird weather, plagues of insects, families applying for relief, prejudice and deportations, etc.

Apples Don’t Just Grow
© 1956 by Maida Parlow French

Widowed at the beginning of the Great Depression, with three small boys to raise, Maida Parlow found her earnings as an artist didn’t pay the bills. She chose to leave Toronto and take her sons back to the abandoned farm her grandparents had owned. It was still in the family, the old apple orchard sadly neglected, the house totally run down.  Still, she was determined to bring it back into production and sell apples.

Before she left the city a friend advised her to keep a diary of this new adventure. Years later she published it as this book detailing the highlights in their day-by-day struggle to survive and all the mistakes she made trying to grow and sell her produce. A compelling memoir!

Sympathies To Humboldt Folks

Another Funeral Today

I haven’t mentioned anything about our provincial tragedy yet, but thought I’d post something today and offer my sympathies to the families and community of Humboldt, SK.

Funerals have been ongoing this week — one is starting as I post this — for the ten Humboldt Broncos hockey team players, their coach, assistant coach, statistician, team therapist, a broadcaster and the bus driver who died as a result of a major road accident. If I have it right, ten other team members are still in hospital, two in critical condition.

Last week Friday the team was on its way to a game in Nipawin, SK. The bus was passing through an intersection when a loaded semi approaching from the side ran the stop sign and crashed into the front of their bus. The photos of the accident scene showed the bus on its side with its whole front end totally destroyed.

This morning we watched to a replay of the vigil held Sunday afternoon in Humboldt, where the Teams chaplain delivered an evangelical message. He spoke about the need to connect with God and walk with Him through this dark valley of death. The Pastor wasn’t glib or full of soothing words. He asked, “Where Wwas God? and where is God now?”

The Pastor had been driving his own kids to watch the hockey game and he arrived at the accident scene a few moments after the crash. He went along to the hospital, seeing first hand the suffering of the dying, the survivors. One sad part that came out in the news was that the injured were so battered, the father of one team member, an ER doctor, couldn’t identify his own son.

When news of the accident hit the media, President Donald Trump sent a message of condolence to Prime Minister Trudeau and the families involved. Anti-Trump media may perhaps find some fault, but we Canadians appreciate the kind gesture. That a US President, with all he has on his plate, would take note of an accident here in western Canada and send a note of sympathy, shows a compassionate side to the man.

The recording camera caught a few shots of Justin Trudeau, sitting in the crowd gathered in the Humboldt arena for the service. A number of prominent Canadians attended this service to pay their respects and show support. Team members who’ve died were between 16 and 21, the youth of the community. This is a major blow, with so many homes suffering a direct loss and ten more where health issues will be ongoing. We feel with them in their loss.

When Cloud Banks Come Together

June 30, 1912

Citizens of Regina, Saskatchewan, a growing city on the Canadian prairie, sweltered in the sultry 100̊ F afternoon. The flags on display for the Dominion Day celebrations the next day hung limp on their poles. Folks sat on porches fanning themselves, longing for some ripple of breeze.

Some young folks and couples were spending the Sunday afternoon in Wascana park, or padding canoes on Wascana Lake a few blocks south of Regina’s business district. A flock of faithful Anglicans were gathered at St Paul’s Church listening to sermons by their local Bishop and Canon Hicks from London, England. Some women fainted because of the intense heat and humidity in the auditorium.

By mid afternoon storm clouds appeared in the south. Folks watched the cloud banks rolling toward each other, one system coming from the southeast and another from the southwest. At 4:30 pm the clouds were moving rapidly toward a collision. Folks began hearing rumbles of thunder; the sky took on a strange green glow; blue and red lighting bolts flashed along the ground. This phenomena was something prairie folks had never seen before. They had no idea what was coming.

The storm systems crashed into each other over the Saskatchewan Legislative Building beside Wascana Lake. There was a roar like two freight trains overhead and a colossal smoke-colored funnel dropped from the clouds. Packing a 500 mile-an-hour wind, skipping around crazily, the twister plowed a six-block-wide swath of destruction right through town, including the business district.

Reading in the book Great Canadian Disasters, © 1961 by Frank Rasky, one particular paragraph in the “aftermath” caught my eye:
Survivors today, with their varied memories, differ strongly on just about every aspect of the tornado’s aftermath: the degree of the onslaught, whether the government was generous (to victims), …the precise number of people wiped out by the catastrophe.

So true of any major event. Our own experience, our perspective on the scene, our general world-view, our position in society — all these make a lot of difference in how we process what’s going on, and later describe what happened, what helped, what hindered.

I’ve sometimes liken the Women’s Movement forming in the late 1800s to the two storm systems coming together over Regina. They came from different angles, when they united they formed a powerful force, and that force blew apart a lot of the status quo of their day. For better or for worse? Witnesses and historians don’t all agree.

I’d call one group the fore-mothers of the feminist movement as I knew it in the 1960s. Their agenda: universal suffrage; equal rights for women, including equal job opportunities and equal pay.

A lot of these women had graduated from women’s colleges in the Eastern States. They were sick and tired of the taboos of their day and did their best to prove these ideas false. I’ve lost my notes on this, but I recall that a number of these ladies met in Buffalo, NY in the late 1890s to form a group, establish their goals, and decide on a course of action.

Some of the misconceptions of their day were rather ludicrous. When trains were first invented some people raise the objections that women could never ride on a train because if women were to travel at speeds over 30 mph they would go insane, or mad with lust. Some “experts” of their day claimed girls’ educations should be limited to the basics because delicate female minds would shatter if forced to handle difficult mathematic equations. (I’m almost sad we lost that one — I’ve never been that good at math. 🙂 )

Some said physical training for girls was out because strenuous exercise would ruin their bodies and especially affect their ability to bear children. (That group should have rather taken a good look at the long term effect of wearing corsets.)

When you start setting up theories that can be so easily proven wrong, you can count on it that someone’s going to want to knock them down.

The other merging ‘cloud system’ was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. As I’ve already written, this group sprang mainly from a Protestant Evangelical base. They had embraced the ‘Social Gospel’, which basically translates as ‘How Christians should fix the world.’ Their agenda: stable homes; healthy, happy families; reduction of crime; no more war. Each and every one a worthy goal.

As these ladies looked at their society, they concluded that laws were needed to ensure these goals. Thus voters were needed so political pressure could be put on to get those laws passed. Which meant their launching point was getting women the right to vote.

Meanwhile, over in merry old England, feminist suffragettes took a more dramatic approach. Up against a more rigid and long-established social structure, their struggle for the right to vote was long and bitter. They chained themselves to posts, went on hunger strikes, were force-fed.

They also adopted what they referred to as the politics of the broken window pane. Genteel-looking ladies would appear on business streets during a busy afternoon and station themselves in front of store windows. At a given signal they’d pull hammers from large handbags and start swinging. The damage was done before anyone could react and the ladies would make themselves scarce, leaving merchants sobbing.

I don’t know how much the WCTU influenced the women’s movement in Britain but I rather doubt Prohibition was ever a serious goal. In Europe and Britain so many women accepted social drinking and drank socially themselves. Also Protestant Evangelism was never as large or powerful in Europe as it was in North America.

To be continued.

Winter Has Its Blessings

Another “character-building” winter day is dawning here in Saskatchewan. Thermometers in the city of Saskatoon are showing -29C / -20F at 7 am with a bracing wind chill equal to -37 C/ -34 F. (Actually the wind is only 8 kms per hour, but at this temp it doesn’t take much wind to give you an invigorating bite if you think of standing around outdoors.) Forecast high today is -21C / -6.

My heart goes out in sympathy to folks who normally live on the street and I’m so thankful there are organizations like the Salvation Army and various street missions that open their doors to the homeless and give them a warm meal. And I’m thankful for my own warm home. It’s a great day to build something at my sewing machine.

During the past few weeks I’ve been going through some scribblings, keying poems and what-not into my computer so I can toss out some of my space-absorbing paper collection. Here’s one silly poem I’ve saved for an especially chilly winter day.

Yes, there are some advantages to a deep freeze.

Ode to a Prairie Pest

What can the use of a grasshopper be?
Not even one purpose occurs to me!
Do you think that God in his great wise ways
has a reason for you on hot summer days?

Or are you guys here to help us know
the blessings of the soft fluffy snow
and cold that freezes those little chins
to keep you from eating the grain in our bins?

So I’ll give thanks for snow a-crunching
that deadens the sound of insects munching.
And now that I think it’s grasshopper free,
how very beautiful heaven must be!

Climate 1935-Style

Now that we’ve reached the end of January and are looking forward to warmer days ahead,  I thought this might be a great time to pause and look back at some of the weather our grandparents endured. This account reblogged from August 2012:

Worst of the Worst, Weather-Wise

Never before had western Canadians seen a year like 1935.  The first week in January temperatures fell to between -35̊ and -40̊ F (-37.5 to -40̊ C) all across the prairies and for two months winter held the prairie provinces in a frozen vice, lightened only by the occasional blizzard –some lasting for days– that would bring temperatures up a few degrees.

For the first two weeks in February temps rarely went above -30̊, a lot of days saw -40̊ or colder.  Winnipeg residents saw the line in their home thermometers sitting at -52̊ (-47̊ C) on the morning of Feb 6th.  Alas, the official Winnipeg thermometer had malfunctioned overnight, so the record was never officially recorded.

On February 16th saw -36̊ in Calgary, -51̊ in Edmonton, -43̊ at Saskatoon, -54̊ at Regina; other spots recorded -40̊.  City schools continued to open their doors, but streets were pretty much deserted; rural schools were closed and folks who didn’t have to leave home stayed put.  A lot of families huddled near the heater or wood stove, wrapped in all their blankets and tried to stay upbeat.  Spring was bound to come sooner or later.

Farmers put off going for fuel as long as they could.  They needed a team of horses and the air tires of a “Bennet buggy” to get anywhere, since blizzards had filled the roads with snowdrifts.  Otherwise it was impossible to go anywhere, even if a fellow could start his frozen engine.  (This was back in the days when vehicles had cranks as starters and all-season motor oil was unheard of.)  Every side road between Winnipeg and Calgary was blocked.

A thaw at the end of February brought an end to the severe cold; in April spring finally arrived.  Some folks who were hoping for some respite from the drought that had wiped out most of the 1934 crop saw a bit of light at the end of the tunnel: outside the Palliser Triangle* spring rains watered the parched earth.  Inside the Palliser Triangle: nada.

Hopes were soon dashed, though, as a giant heat wave built up on the US plains and sent high temps and dust-bearing winds rolling over the prairies.  The dry heat sucked up what soil moisture there was; crops turned pale, then brown.  By July 1st 90̊ and over temps were the rule, continuing across southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta for the next six weeks straight.

Streams and rivers ran dry; wildlife disappeared.  Heat-weary city folks tried to sleep in parks or on balconies to find some night time relief but had to contend with hoppers and crickets – and in places where there actually were bodies of water, mosquitoes.  Farmers often had to haul water many miles for their families and what livestock they had left.

During this time Ontario was hit by a ten-day heat wave as well and residents there began to appreciate what the West was going through.  For one solid week in July, from Windsor to Belleville, the thermometer registered 100̊ F or over every day.  Toronto recorded 105̊ on three successive days.  Surrounded by the Great Lakes as they are, the humidity would have been unbearable; 5000 succumbed to heat prostration during those ten days.

From Calgary to Winnipeg nothing grew but dust clouds and grasshoppers.  The blowing hot air was stifling, the grit inescapable.  One southern town saw temperatures fall below 90̊ on only three days during those six weeks!  Willow Creek, in SW Sask, recorded temperatures above 100̊ on thirteen July days.  People died every day.  In the West no one bothered to compile statistics; folks were in survival mode only.

In Manitoba the heat wave peaked on July 11th with temps of 108̊ in Winnipeg, 110̊ in Brandon & Morden, then hung at over 100̊ all through the third week of July.  A dozen people died daily, plus many of their pets.  Finally the heat spell ended in a destructive electrical storm that stretched from Winnipeg through the eastern part of the province.  But Sask and southern Alberta was shown no mercy from the blast furnace until the latter part of August.

Winter came early with brief but chilly waves throughout the fall.  In October the temperature dropped to -8̊F (just under 22̊ C) at times, to -20̊ in November and -40̊ in December.

During those years folks survived on hope.  If they’d been informed at Christmas of the upcoming winter being another severe one, or that the drought would last another two years, how many of them would have simply given up the ghost?

——————————————————————————————————————————
*Palliser Triangle: In 1857 the British government sent an expedition led by Captain John Palliser to assess the agricultural potential of the Northwest Territories .  When he was gave his report to his superiors, he drew a triangle on his map and said the land inside this triangle was unsuitable for farming. Severe winters, undependable rainfall, large tracts of sand that would blow or clay that would bake hard by early summer.  They’d had a hard enough time to cross it, never mind trying to farm it.  This triangle covered a lot of southern Alberta, all of southern Sask, and southwestern Manitoba, The base ran along the US border and the point was near Saskatoon.

Nonsense, the government replied, and sold it for farmland.  They put out promotional material awash with illustrations of lush wheat fields, information carefully vetted of any hints about severe cold or drought.  To make matters worse, government agricultural dept advised the inexperienced homesteaders to plow deep in the fall — a practice that brought on the disastrous “Dirty Thirties”.

My sources of information:
Winnipeg writer James H. Gray lived through the years of the Great Depression.  In his book, The Winter Years, he shares his own personal experience of being “on Relief” in Winnipeg as well as giving a political and economic overview of the era.
© 1966 by James H. Gray  Published by The Macmillan Company of Canada

Pierre Berton’s book, The GREAT DEPRESSION, 1929-1939
© 1990 by Pierre Berton Enterprises Ltd.  Published by Anchor Canada