Thursday, August 18, 2011

In Her Own Words - 1912-1913 Our First Winter as a Family in Our Very Own Home

      "It had been a good year - there was enough grain for spring seeding, the oats were sufficient for feeding the stock, the flax had long straw and provided fresh filling for the mattresses and plenty to burn in the stove for heat and cooking.  A new roof was on the house and a ceiling made space for storage and insulation from the cold winds.  The walls were covered with wood and looked so nice, better by far than the dirty looking tar paper and everything was freshly painted.  Most of the bachelor neighbors would be staying over winter on their land, while some of the married ones had gone back to their home base to bring back their women folk and children in the spring.  Everything was exciting and full of hope.  The winter would pass quickly - so much to plan and prepare for.   Grandpa left around the first of December.  I was 2 1/2  years old and Mama said that before Grandpa left he told me that when he got back in the spring he wanted me talking - for some reason or other I wouldn't talk very clearly and he was always coaching me.  But Mama said that right after Papa left to take Grandpa to the train, I was talking away and after that Grandpa had a hard time keeping me quiet.  They relate the story that when he came back he had brought some fresh peaches and I wouldn't be quieted unless I got a peach.  Grandpa told me if I sat still and didn't talk for an hour I could have a peach.  I did and I got the peach.  To this day peaches are my favorite fruit.
      Mama told me that when Papa and Grandpa had left for the train station it was a snowy, cold day and Papa had told Mama what to do while he was gone.  Mama could take care of me and the chickens, but keeping the fire burning in the stove was something else.  Flax straw for fuel was in bags just outside the door and the water was in a barrel in the house.  Papa's cousin would come every morning and night to take care of the stock.  There was nothing to fear but Mama was apprehensive and although she never let on to Papa, she was scared to be all alone with only me.  The first night it snowed quite hard and drifted around the door.  She hadn't really tried to open it before Papa's cousin came and dug her out, fed the chickens and stock, and told her if it snowed any harder she shouldn't attempt to go out.  The stock would be okay and he would come back on snowshoes.  He returned later in the day and brought a long rope with him.  Mama said she wondered what the rope was for, but when she saw him attach it to the side of the barn door and then over to the chicken shed and then on the pole for the wash line and then around the water barrel and then onto the house door jamb, she knew this wasn't just a snowfall.  When he was through he came in and told her she must stay in the house because this was a bad blizzard.  He assured her that the barn door was shut tight, the stock had plenty of straw and the chickens would huddle together.  If she should hear or see coyotes on the barn roof, not to worry.  He was sure they couldn't get in the barns - the rafters were close together to hold straw and there was tar paper between.  It would take a while for the coyote to work his way through and if it was real snowy they wouldn't hang around - they would find a straw stack.
      That night Mama said she didn't sleep, she could hear the wind blowing around the house and it seemed to blow right through the house.  The lamp would flicker and almost go out, but she kept it burning.  The she heard the howling of the coyotes or was it wolves.  There seemed to be more than one.  She remembered that Papa had said coyotes usually ran in pairs but wolves ran in packs.  She wondered if the chickens were frightened and she tried to see out the east window to the barn, but she couldn't see through the swirling snow.  The night became more threatening until she couldn't overcome her fears any longer and woke me up and kept me awake so she could talk to someone. 
      At last daylight came and the wind was quiet.  In the morning it had stopped snowing and sun danced on the new, white snow.  It was as beautiful a sight as one could ever hope to see.  Mama said the snow covered the straw roofs and hung over the sides like frosting on a cake.  She was glad that Papa's cousin had strung the rope form the barn to the house.  It was much easier to reach the barn with the rope as a guide.  After that, Papa always had the rope handy in case of a snow storm.  Many stories have been told about folk who did not prepare for a snow storm and lost their way in their own farm yard and some even froze to death."

(A continuation of the memoirs written by Ethel Hymers Glewwe about her childhood in Saskatchewan 1910-1918)

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