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

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

Piglet Rescue Unravels

Tumpy Stays Home

Back in 1900 a young immigrant named William Story, working in Eastern Canada as a carpenter, met Ruth, a music teacher newly come from Scotland. Before long the two were married and headed for the prairies to claim a homestead.

Their oldest child was Tom, next came Ruth, her mother’s namesake, then little William, who for some reason was given the nickname “Tumpy.” This story takes place on a mild February day in 1921 when Agnes was a baby and Tumpy a lively five-year-old who did not want to get dressed up in his good clothes and go to town with his family.

Mom had ordered him to put on clean overalls and his woolen pullover and be ready when Dad brought the sleigh. But he hated that itchy pullover — and having to “behave like a nice boy” all day. Instead of going upstairs to his room he sneaked out the front door and ran to the barn.

He found his dad harnessing the driving horses and pleaded his case. “I don’t want to go along. I want to stay here with Norman.” He’d even fill the firewood box if he could stay home.

Norman, age fifteen, was an orphan his parents had taken in several years previously. He was one of the family now, a hard-working lad and Tumpy’s hero. If Norman was going to stay home and clean out the barn, Tumpy wanted to stay, too. Dad thought about this and gave his consent, along with the warning, “Stay out of Norman’s way when he’s working.”

After his family left Tumpy wandered around the barn checking on the animals. He’d heard his dad tell Norman that old Molly, their sow, was likely going to have her piglets today. “But she won’t need any help. You can leave her alone.” Tumpy went around to the “maternity pen” and watched multi-colored old Molly snuffing around contentedly. He and Molly were good friends. She was such a gentle sow he was able to ride piggy-back on her around the yard last summer and fall.

Next he wandered into the lane and got in the way as the work horses dragged the stone-boat out to the field with a load of manure. Norman told him to look out if he didn’t want to get splattered. “And stay away from old Molly. Remember what your dad said.”

Oh, the power of suggestion! Tumpy headed back to Molly’s pen to check on the sow. Sure enough, one tiny pink piglet had been born!

The Sick Baby Pigs

It didn’t seem to be moving very much. Maybe it was sick? In which case Tumpy knew exactly what to do. He’d watched his dad deal with sick piglets before. The tiny thing needed warming. So over the rails he went, snatched the piglet, stuffed it into his jacket and headed to the house. Molly offered a protesting squeal, then went back to the birthing process.

He ran into the kitchen and opened the oven door on the wood stove. This was piled full of green firewood to dry out for future needs. Tumpy tossed the logs onto the kitchen floor while the piglet squirmed and squealed inside his jacket. Thankfully the oven wasn’t too hot. His dad had told him how you need a gentle, even heat when you’re using the oven for an incubator. Just one log at a time. And you never close the oven door!

Tumpy needed rags, so he yanked open his mother’s towel drawer, grabbed several tea-towels drawer and laid them in the oven. On these he set the tiny pink piglet. Then he rushed back out to the barn to see if any of Molly’s other piglets needed saving. Maybe they all would? By the time he’d returned with #2 he could see the first pink piggy was warm and dry. He sat on the over door and stroked them for a moment before going for another.

On his fourth trip Norman caught sight of him at the pen and yelled, “Tumpy! Whatever are you doing with that? You’re supposed to leave Molly alone, remember.”

Even at his age, Tumpy understood how important Molly’s litter was to the farm income. “It’s sick and I’m taking care of it just like way Dad would do. And anyway, it was you he told to leave Molly alone.”

Norman didn’t see things that way and stopped his chores long enough to scold Tumpy every time he saw him dashing out of the barn with another squealing piglet inside his jacket. But Tumpy was saving their wee lives. Dad would surely be pleased.

A Speedy Recovery

After he’d stolen the seventh piglet old Molly was squealing angrily at his interference in her affairs, so he knew he’d better quit this rescue operation. And by the time he set #7 in the oven the others had miraculously recovered from whatever ailed them. Lively and hungry, they’d scrambled out of the oven and were exploring the kitchen, hoping to find their mom and protesting the lack of nourishment.

Tumpy decided to offer them some milk, but this didn’t pan out — or rather, it did “pan out.” He’d set a basin of milk on the floor and the babies overturned it, then waded through the puddle, spreading milk drippings all across the kitchen.

Whatever else might have ailed them, these piglets were blessed with healthy lungs. One little pig was wee-wee-wee-ing under the sofa. One was nuzzling a stick of firewood tossed on the floor. One was grunting from behind the wood-box. Another had gotten itself wedged under the treadle of her sewing machine and took this for the chopping block. It was squealing its little lungs out. Another had fallen down the cellar stair and was wailing about that. A couple more added their motherless cries to the racket.

Mother Almost Wept

Right about then the family sleigh pulled up to the door. Mother, carrying the baby, stepped into the kitchen. A wave of heat hit her from Tumpy’s faithful stoking of the wood stove. Then her jaw dropped as she saw the pigs, her once-clean tea towels, the milk — and heard the squealing.

Recovering from the initial shock Mom stepped carefully through the kitchen and set little Agnes down in the parlor. Then she returned to face the mess. By this time the rest of the family had come in and were staring at the scene. Dad took charge, ordering Tom and Ruth to “Go tell Norman to come get the sleigh and unhitch the team.” Then he turned to Tumpy. “How many piglets have you got in here?”

He spied Mom’s basket of ironing sitting on the counter, dumped out the clothes and started catching the squirming piglets. Norman came running in about then, saying, “I told him not to do it.” Dad assured him it was all right and asked him how many more piglets Molly had. “I think two, but I was scared to bother her.”

Soon the piglets were corralled in the basket, Dad tossed the ironing on top of them so they’d stay put, then he carried them out to the barn with Tumpy trailing after him. “You stay out of the way, Tumpy, while I get these pigs back into Molly’s pen. And don’t you go back to the house right now, either,” Dad warned him.

No doubt there was a happy reunion in the maternity pen. Tumpy doesn’t record what was said or done to him later as a reward for his efforts, but it had been such an exciting day that he was one hungry little boy at the supper table. But not for pork.

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Historical note:

I read this account in the memoir of Bill Story, titled TUMPY, Stories of the Homestead Days, published in 1979. I’ve retold it in my own words.

WordPress daily prompt: Unravel

This is an extra-long blog post, I know. I debated whether to do this in one long post or divide it into two parts. What do you think? Would you have preferred half today and half tomorrow or are you happy with the whole account at one shot? Any comments?