Saturday, 24 December 2011

Stepping stones

Such is Life

I watched a star through my window last night
As it peeked from the shade of a tree
I wanted to see more of its twinkling light
But the dancing leaves hid it from me.

I focused my eyes on that certain spot
Till the whispering breeze allowed me to see
A few fleeting moments of that glimmer of light
Such brief encounters from behind that tree.

I waited and waited for an hour or two
It seemed like a lifetime was passing me by
But all I could catch was an infrequent glimpse
Just a random twinkle and I wanted to cry.

Why don’t those leaves just stop all their dancing?
Why don’t they let my star shine through
Move over, come out, show me it’s brilliance
I long for much more, just flashes won’t do.

I finally left my comfortable chair
(All it took was that minor decision)
Moved to a spot where the tree did not block
That star’s silver beam and my vision.

My star was now glowing, all in full view
Minus those shadows, it glistened so bright
If I had but moved when first I had spied it
I’d have basked in its beam the whole night!

How much like real life, this starlight, I thought
All the time that we waste while we wait
Instead of just moving on with our life
We sit and complain about fate.

We need only to move from the rut that we’re in
To find happiness that we’re yearning to feel
Let go of the past, reach our to the future
It’s there for the taking, it ours and its real!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Old Prairie Christmases


It had been a bitterly cold and blustery December that year and. as on several other occasions during that wicked month, my father had gone outdoors early in the morning and after a walk to the woodpile and back, had come into the house and made that solemn official declaration of his that my younger brother, John, and I dreaded so much.  "Don't bother getting ready for school today kids, it's too cold to go out".
It never failed to amaze me how my father, without the aid of a thermometer, was able to take a short walk outdoors and determine when it was 30 below.  But he had that gift, and his judgment was often carved in icy stone, never to be questioned, and most certainly not to be disputed.
That was not to say that my brother and I didn't try.  We both loved school and to have to stay home was the greatest of all punishments.  We'd beg, plead, entreat, promise to do everything short of taking the feather quilt on our back, but we never won any of those sessions.  My father was an authoritative figure and he considered it his God-given duty to take care of his family.  If it was too cold, it was his responsibility to keep his family warm and safe!
Today was a special occasion however, and we begged frantically.  True, the two and a half miles to the Kulish School was a long walk.  But we were used to these walks; they were as natural to us as the sunrise and the sunset. 
"We'll bundle up so warm, the teacher will have to search for us in those wraps", we promised, "but we just have to go to school today."
Tonight was the Annual Christmas Concert and this would be the final rehearsal.  We just could NOT miss that. 
"Please, oh please," we begged.
Seeing Father's countenance unmoved, we turned to Mother.  Her heart melted easier than Father's, though we knew we were treading on forbidden ground.  Mother seldom dared to overrule his judgment or undermine his authority and this action of ours could get us all in trouble.  Still, we knew that Mother had a special way of talking to Father that sometimes worked miracles, and we were desperate enough to try anything. 
"Maybe, just this once", Mother's appeal was hesitant, questioning, poised for retreat, if necessary.  “It is concert night and they can stay in school till after the concert.  I’ll give them extra sandwiches for supper.”
Father knew mother was not foolhardy.  She never contradicted him and never questioned his authority unless she had a valid reason.  Her argument and reasoning made sense.  Fully aware of this, Father agreed to harness the horses, hitch them to the sleigh and drive us to school.  He had never done this before and we knew we had to be extra grateful for this extraordinary privilege.  Most people had vans mounted on the sleigh, with a little boxstove inside to keep the occupants warm, but Father believed that if it was too cold for man to brave the elements, he should offer the same respect to horses.
"Too cold for man," he'd say, "too cold for horse".
And so, cold days meant staying home inside a house kept cosy and warm by the big boxstove that sat in the middle of the big center room of the house and the wood stove in the kitchen.
On those bitterly cold days, Father would let the livestock out for water, but if they wanted back into the barn after the drink, they were fed inside. 
So this concession to Mother's petition went against his grain we knew, but today, for her sake, Father was going to break his own rule.  We felt strangely guilty.  While he tended to Jack and Jory, the two horses, Mother warmed up the two rocks in the oven that would keep our feet warm.  When the sleigh was brought near the house, Mother packed us in with the feather quilt, wrapped the hot rocks with towels and put them at our feet.  Then we left for school, feeling very humble, and grateful but also very happy.
We did not take the road.  That was plugged with big hard snow drifts, some of them as high as twenty feet.  These were our secret play areas, though I suspect that Mother and Father knew that when we left the house in the dark hours before dawn, often at least half an hour before the usual departure time, or came home much later than usual, also through darkness, that we had just been playing on the drifts.  But they never questioned or scolded us about it because they knew we were just “enjoying the winter”.
We utilized that extra time to slide gleefully down those steep slopes and then climb up the "stairs" that we had dug out into the drift along the side to the top.  Then it was another exciting slide down and another and another.  These were the bonus thrills of winter and all us kids from the neighbourhood enjoyed this free sport that nature herself provided.  Who feels cold when they're having such fun?  Indeed, staying home from school meant the curtailment of many pleasures, some approved and others not.  Even drifts on the school yard were well utilized.  We simple dug tunnels through them and built forts underneath the hard packed snow.  Winter cold or tons of snow were never a problem for us. 
Anyway, we bypassed all these treasure troves of delight as we stopped at our neighbour's house to pick up their two big teen-aged boys.  They may as well ride since we were all going in the same direction.  We drove through wide open fields where the snow was not deep, having been swept off towards the fences and roadside by strong winter winds.  We crossed from one farmer's field onto the next until we hit the deep ravine that always created such a problem area for travel in the winter. 
Usually, people just drove through the field and then through the next farmer's yard crossing the ravine beyond and came up the other side.  This year, there was a special problem.  The ravine had several springs that often overflowed during the winter causing minor flooding.  This year, with the weather being so severe, each successive overflow froze to create countless layers of ice rendering that section of the ravine too dangerous to cross with a team of horses and a sleigh. 
Father decided to try and get back on to the regular road to cross the ravine.  This part was not badly flooded because the overflows had been frozen upstream.  However to get to the road, he had to cross those big drifts of snow along the fence line.  Everyone knew the snow was deep up on the hill, but down lower, it shouldn't be too bad, he theorized. 
He steered the horses to the corner of the field that was down almost in the ravine.  The horses did fine for a while and then started sinking in the deep snow beneath.  Yet we were just about twenty, maybe thirty, feet from the road. 
"Giddap, Jory, Giddap, Jack", Father encouraged and the two horses gave it all they had, leaping through the deep snow, trying desperately to reach the road that was ahead of them.  But each leap brought them down harder.  Each heavy thrust of the hoofs perforated the thick crust of numerous layers of accumulated snowfalls as the horses sank ever deeper into the snow, until, with their feet stuck in its depths and their bellies suspended by the drifts below them, they hung there, panting, no longer able to move.
We were all frightened, my father, no less than we, though he probably did not experience the utter hopelessness and guilt that John and I did.  Mumbling something under his breath that, possibly, lucky for us, did not quite reach our heavily insulated tender ears, he got out of the sleigh and walked over the top of the drift to the front of the horses to assess the situation.  No doubt about it.  His precious Jack and Jory would never walk out of there, unless they were dug out.  
"Whoa Jack, Whoa Jory". 
Patting the horses' frothing nostrils sympathetically, he spoke soothingly, reassuring the helpless, bewildered horses, that this was just a temporary situation, and that all they had to do now was rest and he would make things normal again soon.
He had had the foresight to bring two shovels along, and with the help of the two neighbour boys, who were as strong as any farmer's sons could be, they set about to dig the horses out.  John and I were useless, of course, and since sitting there was not going to keep us warm, Father allowed us to continue on our way to school, walking, which was now only a mile away.
When we got to school, the class was already rehearsing the play "Olga From DeVolga".  There were about twenty items to rehearse.  Besides the play, there was tap dancing by Stanley, recitations, carols, action songs, a Ukrainian Hopak dance, guitar selections and yodelling by Rudy and of course, the final item "Jingle Bells" which was to usher in gift bearing Santa himself. 
The rehearsals continued and in our excitement over the last minute preparations for the concert, John and I forgot our worries about how Father and the boys made out with the poor horses.  Shortly after lunch, the boys, Stanley and Morris, walked in to school, exhausted, but just as enthusiastic about the concert arrangements as the rest of us were.
Eagerly, we all gathered around the two boys as they told us how, when they kept digging through that drift, they finally found Jory's front hoof standing on top of a fence post!  They had gone to the yard of the neighbour that lived near the ravine, get wire cutters and an axe, and cut through that fence first before they unhitched the horses from the sleigh and let them jump their way to freedom. 
My father then took the tired horses back to the open field, leading them out of the ravine single file.  With the use of the neighbour's logging chain, he pulled the sleigh out of the snow backwards onto the field where he was able to hitch the horses back on to it to drive home.   
"Your father said for all of us to stay for the concert.  It's no use going home after four and coming back again.  Your folks and our folks won’t be attending the concert tonight at all, so we'll have to walk home at night.  He said to make sure and wrap up warm." 
That evening, our excitement knew no bounds as the school filled to capacity with parents, neighbours, friends, and even some more distant relatives, this in spite of the cold weather.  As we danced, and sang, and performed our various pieces, nobody could have matched the exhilaration that each one of us students experienced. 
It was after midnight when the concert finished and everyone left the school for the various destinations.  For the first mile of our trip home, we got a ride with Mr. Bilous who had come to see the concert.  We rode in a warm but very crowded van, pulled by horses decked with jingle bells that tinkled merrily as the horses trotted along.  We were deliriously happy and everyone talked ecstatically about the wonderful evening as the bells jingled along outside. 
Just before the ravine, we came to the crossroads where Mr. Bilous had to turn off to his farm.  Climbing out of the van, we got out into a beautiful crisp night, a million stars in the sky and the moon shining down on us in all its glory, lighting up the night with a silvery blue haze that sparkled on the snow around us like gleaming diamonds strewn at random over the landscape.  The shadows of the trees cast an ethereal glow onto the path below. 
That second mile, we walked home with the boys and then ourselves the rest of the way.  We didn't feel the cold; we were too excited by all the happenings of the day and especially the concert.  We even had a dozen or so slides down the steep drifts that glistened so brightly in the moonlight, like some captivating picture from a book of fairy tales. 
We needed no electric lights twinkling with bright colors among the trees to tell us it was Christmas time.  No star copied or created by man, could possibly match the stars that lit our way that evening.  Mother Nature provided all the color and sparkle that man could imagine but never equal.  It was wonderful and glorious and great to be alive because it was Christmas! 
Mother and Father were awake when we got home.  They were waiting for us and for our report of the concert.  In those days, no one thought of being afraid to go out at night and children of school age were always adept at getting to where they were going with little or no supervision.  Cold was considered a greater enemy than any predator but if you were dressed properly even that was not a threat and everyone survived.  Who cared if it was cold?  It was a Very Merry Christmas in our hearts!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Christmas Turkey

The Christmas Turkey

Every new farmer has to learn about farming.  It's a matter of survival.  Basic intelligence supports that survival.  I grew up on a farm and that being the case; I have no excuse for ignorance.  Contrary to popular belief, ignorance is not always bliss.  Sometimes it can hurt - a lot.
I always prided myself on being a good strong farm girl, capable of handling any situation independently but pride goeth before a fall.  I learned, and quite reluctantly, had to admit, that my strength and independence had limitations. 
One year, in lieu of payment for some service we had provided, a neighbour gave us a tom turkey for Thanksgiving, but since we normally did not do the big Thanksgiving dinner deal, we decided to save him for Christmas.  We put him into the chicken coop and there he strutted proudly among the chickens, gorging himself incessantly on the constantly available nutritious grain.  By Christmas, his already adult weight and size had almost doubled.  He just forgot to stop growing! 
Christmas at our house always meant lots of relatives, friends, and neighbours so a turkey would go along way to satisfying all those hungry appetites.  A couple of days before the big day, I informed my husband that it was time to dress Tommy for Christmas.  John got the chopping block cleaned off, got the axe and on the way to the chicken coop, he proceeded to tell me how to aim that axe so as not to waste all that good meat on the turkey's neck.
I was stunned.  It had never occurred to me that I would be wielding the guillotine.
"I'm not chopping his neck off!"  I protested in alarm.  "You do that.  I'll hold him."
With his proud regal strut, and that welcoming "gobble, gobble gobble," those beady eyes watching me with such respect each time I brought feed or came to collect the eggs that the hens so obligingly deposited for me, I had grown rather fond of His Majesty.  Not enough to spare him his fate; mind you, but enough to make me refuse to wield the axe on that meaty neck of his. 
"Are you crazy?  You'll never be able to hold him.  That sucker weighs as much as you do."  John scoffed in disbelief.
I was insulted.  "I can too, hold him.  I'm strong as horse and you know it!  I can keep up with you at any farm job."
"You may be tough, but you'll never hold that turkey."  John sneered, conviction and scorn dripping in his voice.
This whole thing was taking on a turn I had not anticipated and the prospect of that turkey dinner was not as enticing anymore.  But John’s lack of confidence in me stung to the core!  I was tough.
I was adamant - and defiant now.  How dare he presume that I was such a weakling?  I'll show him!
"You wield the axe.  I'll hold the turkey."  I insisted doggedly.
Patiently, John tried to explain the facts of life to me.  "You don't understand.  When his head gets chopped off, that bird's reflexes will go ballistic.  He'll jerk and jump like a yo-yo out of control.  He'll beat himself - and you - black and blue with his wings.  You won't be able salvage any meat by the time he's finished."
I had killed enough chickens to know that a bird without a head can do two or three whole minutes of frenzied reflex dancing before the nerves succumb.  But I was a good strong farmer and I would handle that sucker! 
"I'll hold the turkey." I declared resolutely fairly daring him to cross me.
After a few more explanations and remonstrations, John finally sighed.  "You're going to have to hold on tight if you want to eat that bird." he warned.
"Don't you worry, I will." 
We cornered the confused turkey-cum-dinner and grabbing him in a firm arm lock, John soon had him at the chopping block.  He checked once more with me if I had come to my senses but I was unyielding. 
I glared stubbornly at him.  With obstinate determination borne of confidence in my own inflated ability and strength, I clamped the spindly feet tightly between my knees and, slipping my hands along its body, I gripped the wings firmly from beneath.  Convinced I had that bird securely trussed, I nodded to John that I was ready.  He gave me a condescending look that clearly indicated his disbelief at my lack of intelligence and pulled the neck into just the right spot on the chopping block.  At his final pause as if to say "Last chance to change your mind," I nodded.  In resignation, he let the guillotine drop.
I couldn't say I hadn't been warned but I must admit I was ill prepared for the absurdity that followed.  Minus a head, that turkey's adrenaline went into overdrive and its power multiplied a thousandfold.  Somehow, those spindly legs vaulted free of my knee's stranglehold.  With the force of a charging rhino, I found myself being catapulted through space, onto my back, onto my side, on my feet and off again, bouncing around like balloon that had not been tied properly.  The turkey neck was rotating, spewing blood in every direction and I was now covered with it.  Occasionally, I caught a glimpse of John helplessly trying to catch up to us but it was no use.  This rocketing Tasmanian devil didn't stop long enough for him to grab a hold.  Desperately, I held on tight, remembering John’s warning that I would not be able to salvage any meat if I let his wings loose.  I clenched my teeth and my fists and hung on as I had never done before.  I felt myself hurtling around like an unguided missile, frantically wishing that this Pandemonium would end, that the stupid bird would die already, because if it didn't die soon, I was certain that I would.
After an eternity, I found myself lying quietly on my back, the crazy turkey on top of me, its now still legs pointing to the sun, blood from its now limp neck slowly dripping down the neck of my parka.  My arms were still securely locked around its body but they felt like quivering jelly.  As a matter of fact, my whole body felt like quivering jelly.  But I hadn’t let that turkey beat himself up.  Beating me up was another matter.  I now had no strength to move.  The turkey had sapped it all.  John came and lifted the turkey off me and then extended a hand to help me up.  The yard looked like a war zone with blood everywhere on the white snow.  John said nothing and neither did I.  He carried that turkey into the house and I meekly followed him.  I went straight into the shower, parka and all.  When I finally emerged almost an hour later, I was clean but every muscle in my body was screamed in agony. 
John left the house while I was in the bathroom washing up.  He didn't come in till late in the evening.  I didn't know if he was angry and punishing me for my stupidity or if he was killing himself laughing out behind the shed.  I honestly didn't care.  What ever it was, I was grateful he was doing it well out of my sight and earshot.  Suffering silently in pain and indignity, I plucked the feathers off that wild Brahma-bull of a bird and by evening, I had him safely in the cold room, gutted, clean and washed. 
On Christmas day, still enduring excruciating pain in places I had never even known I had, I dressed and cooked that turkey for the big gang that were expecting for Christmas dinner.  Everybody enjoyed it except me.  I ached too much to enjoy anything for almost two whole weeks and it was months before my body regained its normal fleshy tones.  There are muscles in my body that still have vivid memories of that Christmas turkey and I have never felt so arrogant about my prowess and efficacy as a farmer since that turkey gave me a lesson in humility.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Looking Back

A Backward Glance

 Over the years, there have been many changes that "modern folks" just would have problems relating to.  Only us elders can conjure up these very vivid images.   Among the first are our mores.  We used to be so prim and proper, it used to make even us sick!  Thank heavens, some of these traditions have relaxed but in some instances, we have gone practically to the opposite end of the spectrum.  Nowadays, no one even thinks "Easter Bonnet" anymore.  We seldom wear hats and gloves to church now - not even the ladies, let alone little kids like in the old days.  Now, with some folks, it's more likely to be shorts, tight little miniskirts and halter tops.  And grubby sneakers instead of those shiny shoes that some conscientious family member spent all of Saturday polishing. As far as other aspects of "propriety", well, let's just leave that alone, okay?  
Moving on, our mode of travel has advanced since the horse and buggy days.  We have run the gammit from Model A's and "coupe" cars with "rumble" seats to "club cabs" and big gas-guzzling, road-hugging Lincolns.  Now we're down to tiny go-cars and mini vans.  The gas guzzlers of today are the super-efficient homes-on-wheels that roam the paved highways from one end of the continent to the other like giant vagabonds, imprinting us with clouds of putrid gases as they rumble on by.  We're not house bound anymore either.  For the sake of a musical concert, we drive five hundred miles and back as casually as we once went around the block.  Instead of inviting the neighbours to ride with us, like we would have done in the old days, we are often back before they even realize we were gone.  Even our bicycles have graduated.  We don't ride just ordinary bikes anymore - we have "ten-speeds", “mountain bikes” and what-nots.  Once a coveted dream for ordinary people, the Harley Davidson and its clones now strike a chord of fear and suspicion in our hearts as they thunder down the highway, especially if there are more than two in the group.
Farmers, too, have come a long way.  Instead of the six-horse-drawn equipment, farmers now drive multi-hundred-horsepower tractors and other self-propelled monsters with cabs equipped with quadraphonic radios, earphone head sets, cell phones and portable little gizmos that provide you with TV, voice mail, email, the world wide web and heaven only knows what else, all at a touch of a tiny button.  You no longer have to come home from the field to find out that the Yankees lost the World Series or some lunar space shuttle is gyrating out of control in the great beyond. 
We used to walk for miles to visit neighbours, friends or relatives and we visited them often.  Extended family was important and everyone knew even distant aunts, uncles, and cousins.  And we always knew where to find them.  No address needed.  They lived two miles east of the big barn, one mile north and half a mile up the crooked road that led up that steep hill.  People came unexpectedly, informally.  It was a general "Ya'll come" invitation that extended to family and friends alike.  Now we drive fast cars, communicate via email or IM messages or cell phone called “blackberry” or something else just as exotic, and, if it were not for weddings and funerals, we would never meet our relatives and friends.  But thanks to the web cam, I-phones and other hi-tech thingamajigs, we not only can talk to them, we can even see them while we chat, no matter where they are, across the street or across the ocean!  No hand-written letters with four-cent stamps. And no long distance fees either no matter when or how long you talk!  Like Wow!  Our ancestors would die again if they saw that.
Used to be when company came, we went to the hen house, interrupted some poor unsuspecting chicken, and after a guillotine process that would totally phase the modern housewife, there was a full course meal on the table.  And that was after starting a fire in the old wood stove from freshly slivered kindling!  There always seemed to be time for everything.  Nowadays, all too often it's Kraft's macaroni and cheese instead of perogies and sour cream.  Truth is, ever since they discovered that the earth rotates around the sun, instead of the other way around, our earth has been gaining momentum and picking up speed and we just adjust our clocks accordingly.  No wonder we can never catch up to ourselves! 
Our modern technology of freezers and microwave ovens just cannot begin to provide those scrumptious meals that exploded from old clay bake ovens and cast iron wood stoves.  We don't appreciate freezers enough, but to many of us, the mere mention of the words "salt pork" is enough to make our jowls cringe.  And those school lunches with cranberry jam.  Day after day, after day - cranberry jam sandwiches.  When we got desperate for a change, we mixed in left-over mashed potatoes and convinced ourselves we were getting a treat.  Now the kids get hot soup, Chicken Cordon Bleu and tapioca pudding and they think they are hard done by.
Modern technology has affected our modes of entertainment as well.  Before the advent of TV's, Nintendo's, VCR's, CD‘s, DVD’s and MP or IP-things, or other doohickies that attach themselves to our ears and entertain us as we walk, work or drive, people used to make their own music.  Every household had at least one member that played one, or several musical instruments: piano, organ, fiddle, guitar, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, dulcimers, banduras or that tiny little mouth harp they called a "drimba" that had that special twang that is probably unequalled in the music world.  And people sang!  They knew the words by heart - hundreds of songs, lyrics and beautiful melodic arias spewing forth spontaneously without the aid of song sheets - a cappella or accompanied.  Many even yodelled!  And if you think that was easy, you try it.  Getting music from behind a tongue that flapped in your mouth like sheet in the wind could not be an easy task.  It truly was a talent and some folks developed it into a fine art.  Even the Swiss would be hard pressed to equal the strains of Rudy's "Yodel-el-el-el-el-a-e-oh" when I was growing up. 
And Christmas was never complete without the carollers.  With hoarfrost on their eyebrows and icicles on their moustaches, they came in - singing their hearts out, eagerly helping themselves to the mountains of festive food and fountains of special spirits that were always home made and home brewed..  Now our carols are piped at us at the malls from the day after Halloween and by Christmas, we are too  tired of them to carol – or care - anymore.  And chipmunks, reindeer and even Santa just don’t seem to have the same affect that Baby Jesus had in our youth.
Laundry day is not what it used to be either.  We don't use Grandma's home-made lye soap anymore and there is no more Oxydol that "transcends" all other whites.  We don't get blisters from scrubbing linens on washboards or worse yet from wringing out men's denim overalls.  What a blessing our modern hot water taps and automatic washers are!  And what woman in her right mind was sorry to see the demise of the "sad iron"?  Even our modern irons with fingertip heat control, hissing steam and spewing spray are fast fading into the archives of history with the new "wash and wear" fabrics, some of which look like Bossy the cow mistook them for cud!  And let’s not forget clothes dryers either.  Remember those rows of solid, white, fleece-lined men's underwear waving in the winter gale like petrified white skeletons suspended from the clothes line?  After a couple of days, we took pity on the silly things and gingerly manoeuvred the monsters through cold-blasting gaping doorways to stack them over the couch until Jack Frost released his grip on the ghostly figures and let them wilt into manageable masses.  What a Godsend our dryers are now and how did we ever even exist without Hydro???
And how about the “less is more” and that Persian kitten soft bathroom tissue?  Maybe Eaton’s catalogues needed to perish in order for us to graduate to some of these modern comforts.  Just remembering those midnight dashes to the outhouse in forty below weather sends shivers up the spine.  No cushioned seats in those days either!  Skin had to be tough to withstand such drastic deviations in temperature.  No need for Ex-lax in those days.  No body dared to be that frivolous.
We have eliminated some of the old annoyances from the old days too, (though some may argue that we have replaced them with newer and bigger ones).  At any rate, we dont seem to have the flies like we used to have.  Remember those awful tacky brown curly strips we used to hang from the ceilings to trap the pests?  Who can forget getting their hair tangled into the sticky mess of glue and dead (or sometimes frantically buzzing live) flies?  Just one such blunder and you never, ever again, got near enough to repeat the experience - even in the dark!  Our modern air pollution must have had at least one commendable effect. Wish it had the same effect on mosquitoes. 
There are many positive aspects to our lives now, but we look back fondly at those primitive beginnings from whence we came.  We cherish "Yesterday" because it makes us remember and remembering makes us appreciate "Today"!

Monday, 28 November 2011

"Silver", the Miracle Cat


Silver's beginnings were fragile at best.  Dolly, the old mother cat, who had been with John’s family since before our marriage, had somehow miscalculated the time of delivery, producing a litter of new kittens on the coldest day of the year.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, the best shelter she could find was under the haystack! 
It was 32 degrees below zero that bitter January morning when John went to the haystack for bales to feed the cattle.  There, in a hole underneath the bales, he found the Dolly, her body frozen almost solid but underneath her she had been trying to shield five newborn kittens.  Four of them were dead, from the cold undoubtedly, but one tiny silver grey mite was still moving.  John tucked the wet bundle inside his shirt to keep it warm and hurried back across the large yard to the house, presenting me with the most pitiful little creature I had ever laid eyes on.  It couldn’t have been more than two hours old. 
Maybe Dolly had been too old, maybe too ill and certainly her judgment was terrible, but oh, what a dreadful way to go!  (The girls had named her “Dolly” because they had used her as a doll, carrying her around from the moment they had learned to waddle.  They had trained Mitzy, Dolly’s daughter and other kittens that same procedure and the cats all accepted it without protest which surprised me at first but then, seeing success at work, I just let it carry on.)  Anyway, seeing this little kitten so helpless now, made us all remember Dolly and her patient and docile nature.
The kids and I all choked back sobs, both for poor Dolly as well as this pathetic little legacy she had left behind.  What was to become of it?  Well one thing was for sure, if Dolly had given her life for this poor baby, we certainly owed it to her to try and save it.
I took an old basin, filled it with warm water and did what Dolly would have done had she been able.  I washed that poor little tyke off, then dried it with a warm towel.  Next, I had to find a way to feed it, but how?  The miniature mouth was almost invisible in the tiny head that was barely the size of my thumb.  Yet this thing was alive and if I could find a way to get some nourishment into that tiny body, it might have a good chance of surviving.  My mind frantically jumped from one possible solution to another, discarding them one by one as impractical, impossible or just plain ludicrous!
Then I got an inspiration.  The girls had dolls.  The dolls had accessories.  Among those accessories was a little plastic bottle with a miniature nipple that screwed onto the bottle.  If I made a needlepoint hole in that tiny nipple and filled the bottle with warm milk, I might be able to get the kitten to suck on the milk.  Even if that failed, I could squirt the milk into its mouth and it would have to swallow.  Encouraged by these possibilities, I set about to put the idea to work and three fascinated kids watched anxiously.
I warmed up a small amount of milk, then using a funnel; I filled the wee bottle and gently pushed the miniature nipple into the tiny mouth.  Nothing.  I wiggled it around trying to arouse some response from the kitten.  Nothing!  I squeezed the soft plastic bottle in an effort to get some milk into its mouth.  Major mistake!  The soft plastic threads of the bottle slipped, popping the nipple off, drenching both that kitten and me with the warm milk.
Back to the basin, another bath and another drying operation.  Then I refilled the bottle, and, securing the nipple with several strips of sticky tape, I tried again.  Eventually, by squirting milk into the tiny mouth, the kitten began to swallow and then suck on the tiny nipple.  Ah!  success at last!  Relieved, I let it suck until, sated, it fell asleep in the palm of my hand.
It had taken about a third of the tiny bottle, and it had taken it willingly.  It was going to survive, I was almost sure of it now.  The kids and I all felt elated.  Silver, as we decided to call her, was going to be a baby with new and different challenges, but we knew it would be a rewarding experience.
Silver fed from that tiny bottle for over three weeks, willingly and eagerly sucking on the tiny nipple.  I found that after a short spurt of sucking she would stop.  I stroked her belly gently with my finger and a tiny gurgling burp sounded from her throat.  I was both amused and intrigued.  I guess the mother burps them when she licks them but I had never known that kittens, like human babies, burp!  After a burp, she would start sucking again.
Silver grew quickly.  The kids eagerly waited for her eyes to open but it was the tenth day before they finally did.  By this time she was crawling blindly out of the small cushioned basket that had been her home since that fateful day when she had come into the house half frozen.
Now that she could see and was starting to make daily sojourns into the room, I decided it was time to toilet train her.  I got some sawdust from the woodpile, warmed and dried it in the oven and put it in a box.  Then I put her in the box.  She seemed to know instinctively what to do there and we never had to clean her sleeping basket, or her, again after that day. 
She learned to drink milk from a dish.  Besides that, each time we sat down to a meal, we always dropped tiny morsels of goodies into her dish so that eventually she learned to expect it.  She ate what we ate no matter what it was, perhaps she just didn't know any different.  She never had raw meat because we never ate it but she never refused any tidbit we gave, even if it was a vegetable or fruit that the kids would sometimes put on her plate to test her.
She no longer slept in the sleeping basket, preferring instead to sleep on the bed beside me.  I didn't let her in the kids rooms at night, fearing that in their sleep they may roll over and accidentally smother her.  In the mornings, she was our alarm clock.  She would nuzzle our faces with her nose, tickling us with those whiskers of hers, and if that failed to get us up, she would start licking our face.  That rough little tongue of hers always did the trick.   This was fine on weekdays when we needed to get up early, but it was a real nuisance on Saturdays when we wished to sleep in.
Her sawdust box was cleared out of the way and hidden underneath the stairs and each week she got a fresh box of clean, oven-dried sawdust.  She was meticulously clean, preening herself after each meal, washing each paw repeatedly and then using it to wash her face.  Then, she'd lie down and purr loudly in contentment.
The girls played with her constantly.  Even Mitzy, Silver’s older sister, was given some reprieve and a chance to freely roam afield because Silver occupied so much of the girls’ playtime.  She was now their baby and they would wrap her up in the old baby blanket, carrying the tightly wrapped bundle around for hours.  She never resisted.  I suppose she never knew that a cat's life could, or should, be different.
One evening we had homemade pizza for supper that I threw together just out of leftover ingredients.  The topping consisted of homemade tomato paste, lots of mozzarella cheese, and minced fried chicken doused with onion.  Silver sat dutifully beside her dish waiting.  I told the kids she wouldn't like it, that tomato paste was not regular cat fare, but they gave her some anyway.  She ate it.  "If it's good for you" she seemed to say, "then it has to be good for me".
It was late and the kids were in bed, and John, too, retired soon after.  I was still working in the kitchen and Silver was sleeping on the couch in the living room waiting for me.  As I worked busily at my chores, my heart suddenly stopped at the sound of a blood curdling yowl that emanated from the living room.  I looked up to see Silver rounding the corner from the living room to the dining room, her feet sliding out from under her on the slippery waxed tiles as she dashed madly around the next corner to the kitchen and around the next corner heading pellmell for the sawdust box.  Just short of the box she lost it.
The pizza had not agreed with her digestive system after all and she had desperately tried to reach the sandbox before it erupted from her throat.  She had missed it by five inches. Had the floor not been that slippery, had there been one less corner to turn, had she realized sooner how sick she was, - but she had given it her most valiant effort.  I could hardly fault her as she stood there forlornly looking at the mess she had made.
Silver never went outdoors at all that first winter, but late in the spring, when the snow and ice were gone, we started letting her outside when the weather was warm.  She enjoyed the outdoors but hated cold.  Then, at the beginning of June, a freak snow storm dumped about five inches of fluffy white snow on the ground.  Her first encounter with snow was incredibly funny and unforgettable.
We let her out and she walked hesitantly on the cleared sidewalk looking at this white stuff all around her.  Then she stepped off the walk into the snow.  Immediately, her foot sank into the soft white fluff.  Startled, she leaped up and back onto the sidewalk, staring at the white surface in front of her that really wasn't a surface after all.  After a moment, she decided to try again.  Gingerly, she touched the snow with her paw, then pulled it back and shook it.  She licked her paw and then sat back on her haunches scrutinizing the whiteness in front of her, not quite sure what to do next.  Inside the house we watched her consternation through the windows and laughed uproariously at her bewilderment.
Silver never did spend too much time outdoors, especially if it was cold.  She preferred to sleep on the warm bed with us, year round.  She knew nothing of hunting and probably would have just as soon run from a mouse as after it.  She got all her nourishment thrown to her off the table but she never made any attempt to go get it herself.  She didn’t even associate with the other cats.  She had bonded with humans from the start and didn’t know anything else.
In the fall, Silver prowled around outdoors but always sought out any warm spot she could find if she could not get into the house.  This search for heat became her death knell before she was even three years old.  One day, John had driven in from somewhere and after stopping the car, had some chores to attend to before going out again.  Silver got underneath the car and, feeling the heat of the engine, crawled somewhere inside where it was warm.  When John got back into the car and started the motor, poor Silver never stood a chance.  A loud banging came from under the hood - not even a yowl.  When John opened the hood to investigate, Silver's mangled body was wedged between the fan and the belt. 
We could not contain our sobs when we saw what had happened.  That poor baby that had survived such adversities in her first few days of her life, had never even learned to be a real cat.  She had given us total love and devotion and she had had so much more to give.  The kids and I felt her loss most because she had been such a big part of our lives.  We missed her terribly, but this was now just another chapter in our book of memories.

Monday, 21 November 2011

We Can't Go Back

We Can’t Go Back

We can’t go back
To youthful carefree days
When life stood still
And heaven was just a touch away.
When a simple evening walk
Brought wonder, ecstasy, and love
A shared happiness so complete
It transcended simple words.
You walked me home that night
And your touch sent my senses reeling
As your shoulder brushed mine
With a faltered step
On an unexpected rock in the shadows below
For one brief moment, you held me tight
And entrapped my heart.
You kissed me then
Oh, so shyly - yet ever so tenderly
On my cheek.
I was too shy to kiss you back
To put my arms around you
But I yearned for that moment to last
Last forever,
Wrapped tightly in your embrace.

When you left,
You took a piece of my heart with you
And I didn’t wash my face for a week
Lest I wash off
That precious, sweet and tender kiss
You had bestowed upon my cheek.
Our lives changed when we moved away
Silently and in secret, I kept dreaming
But our paths never crossed again.
My broken heart healed
And life went on.
We became different people
With different lives
Different goals
Different loves…
But the memory of that first love remained
Buried deep within my heart
To surface in those secret moments
When I walk alone in the dark
Stumble on a rock
And falter in my step….
A single shy peck upon my cheek
Still sears my face
As though a flame….
And the wonder of that first love
Still warms my aging heart.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Fisherman's Folly

Fisherman’s Folly

Oh, so you did get back,” the couple observed nonchalantly when my husband John answered the knock on our camper door.
Yes, we did” my husband answered frostily and then stood waiting for them to make the next comment.  I didn’t want to hear their next comment.  I didn’t want to talk with these callous people at all.  I didn’t want to hear their explanations or their apologies, if indeed they were even going to offer them in the first place.
I stepped up behind my husband, looked them in the eye and bid them a cold, “Good night.”  John picked up on cue and firmly closed the door in their faces!
Rude?  Yes, we were being rude!  But we had good reason to be.  It was ten minutes after ten and almost dark outside.  We had just got back to camp after a harrowing experience thanks to these people and all they could say was “Oh, so you did get back”?  Were they expecting that we wouldn’t?  Probably, judging by the surprised look on their faces and the tone of their voice.  Did they think we had drowned out there?  Where was the concern that normal people would have expressed about our safety in this kind of situation?
My husband and I exchanged exasperated glances but neither one of us spoke.  We still found it hard to talk about how foolish we had been and how close we had come to meeting a watery grave as a result of our folly.  John was just mad.  Me, I was angry too, but I was also still physically shaking from the terror of the experience!
We had come up north for a little fishing and, having no set destination in mind, we had found, and had been captivated, by the beautiful Wukusko Falls in this northern Manitoba wilderness.  We settled here at the campsite on the banks of Wukusko Lake late last night and all this morning we were quite happy fishing along its rugged but peacefully quiet western shore.  We got a couple of pickerel and the pike we threw back but we were content.  At noon, we took our catch to camp, cooked up the pickerel and enjoyed the fresh feast.  In the afternoon, we set out again, to ply the waters for the supper meal.
As we sat in our twelve foot Lund boat, we marvelled at the serene beauty of the lake which boasted of a number of islands out in the distance but the opposite shore was not in sight.  However, we had no desire to explore.  We only had a little seven-horse-power motor on the boat and that was enough to limit any frivolous ideas.  This area was providing all the pleasure and adventure we had hoped for on this holiday.
It was while we were trolling leisurely in the shallow waters off the shore that these people had driven up to us.
Catching anything?” the man asked casually, eyeing our small craft with a rather condescending look.  They had a sixteen foot boat and a large, probably at least a 40-horsepower motor.  I suppose we must have looked like poor country cousins to them.  Still, they seemed congenial enough.
Got a few pickerel and some pike that we threw back, but we got our lunch here this morning, and now we have enough for supper with a couple to spare,” John replied.
What sizes are you getting?” the woman wanted to know.
I pulled up the stringer and displayed our catch.  We had mostly three and four pounders which were not really big fish but as far as we were concerned, they were perfect.  The larger ones didn’t fry up as tasty because they didn’t absorb the salt throughout and they usually took longer to cook making them somewhat less tender.  The two strangers laughed when they saw our catch
Oh, you’re just getting the babies around here.  The big ones are around those islands up there.  You won’t get anything smaller than a seven pounder out there.  And none of those slimy little pike either.”  The man went on with disgust.  “When you get a fish out there, you know you have something to bring home.  Where you people from?”
We’re from Dauphin,” John answered.
Then you better get out there,” he pointed to the islands.  You know that between the two of you, you can only bring home a limit of sixteen fish.  You ought to make that sixteen count if you have come all the way here for it.  Follow us, we’ll show you where the real fish are.”  And with that he gunned his motor and they took off eastward toward the islands. 
John and I looked at each other thoughtfully.  The guy made sense about making our limit count.  Limits were strictly enforced and we were not the type to risk a penalty for an illegal catch.
Should we go for it?” John queried me thoughtfully.  I shrugged my shoulders. 
Whatever”.  He was the driver.  The lake looked calm enough.  If he thought it was fine, I saw no reason to refuse.  So John gunned our little motor into action and we took off in their wake, but their big boat quickly left us far behind.
At first, everything was fine, but soon, we found ourselves in the middle of the big lake, far from any shore and our so called “new friends” never even looked back as they sped off into the distance.  Then, to make things worse, a wind came up, whipping the deep water into ever frothier waves.  As we traveled south, we were moving against the waves, but as the waves got bigger and bigger we really started to get alarmed.  Going out farther into the big lake was pure folly with our little craft, and we knew it.  There was an island to the east of us but in order to get to it we would have the waves hitting us broadside.  By this time, however, we saw no alternative.  The wind had turned into a gale.  If we stayed on the water, we would soon be inundated by the ever increasing size of the waves.  That island was our only hope – that was if we could make it to the island at all! 
I was in the front of the boat.  John was manning the motor at the back.  Yelling to each other against the splashing roar, we decided to try getting to the island.  As John turned the boat eastward, some of the waves started washing into the boat.  My heart sank as I watched the grimace on John’s face and I turned my eyes away.  If he was scared, then I knew we were in deep trouble.  I started to pray as I turned towards the island, trying to will it to meet us half way or something.  I could feel my feet wet and I knew the boat was filling up with water.  My clothes were soaked from the spray, but I didn’t care.  I didn’t dare look at John anymore, I was afraid of what I would see on his face.  I just prayed. 
Sometimes I think my guardian angel works overtime, because an answer to my prayers came in the form of a very wide rocky shoreline around that island.  Just when the boat filled with water and we thought we were goners, we found ourselves on a rocky bottom but still about a hundred yards from the island itself.  The motor stalled on the rocks and the boat sat there teetering on the rocks swaying against the waves. 
John and I got out of the boat which raised it somewhat in the water, allowing us to drag it through the choppy water scraping the boat’s bottom over the rocks.  We had a small 48-ounce juice can which was now floating on top of the water in the boat but we had no time to worry about using it to bale the water out.  Our main concern was to drag that boat to that shore, as soon as possible and get ourselves onto dry land.  After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the shoreline and, securing the still full of water boat to a tree, we fell exhaustedly on the ground to catch our breath and rest.
We would think about getting back later but our next order of business was to empty the water out of that boat and drag it onto higher ground; otherwise the force of that wind would probably break that rope and carry the boat away into open water.  First, John took the motor off the back of the boat.  That raised it higher in the water again.  Next, we got the fishing gear, the cushions and everything else out of the boat.  Then we tipped the boat on its side and emptied the water out.  Now we were able to carry the light aluminium boat up onto the shore.  Feeling safe now, we turned our attention to our clothes.  We were soaked to the skin.
There were two cabins and a couple of sheds on the island.  Hopefully, there were people here.  We knocked on each door but there was no one.  But one of the cottages had a clothesline – with clothes pins yet!  How lucky can we get?  We stripped our wet clothes off leaving only our undergarments, just in case someone was hiding in the cottage or something, and hung our wet clothes on the line. 
Feeling like Adam and Eve incarnated we set out to explore the little island.  The sun was warm and although the wind was still strong, it was refreshingly pleasant.  It soon had our clothes, our boat and all our gear dry and ready to reload.  Problem was, the water was still too rough for us to head back. 
The day wore on, 5 o’clock, then 6, then 7.  Still the wind kept whipping up those savage waves.  For ourselves, we were safe and fine, but our truck was near the boat ramp at the campsite.  If someone noticed that we were not back, they might assume we had drowned or met with some other ill fate.  If word got back to the kids at home, they would be devastated until they found out where we were.  Somehow, we had to get back to camp, but we had to get back safely!  It was late August and we knew there was still some daylight left so we decided to wait.  Often the wind likes to die down before dusk
By 8:45, the wind had shifted to the west and it didn’t seem as strong as before.  There were still whitecaps on the water but we would be going against them.  God willing, we’d make it to camp in one piece.  We didn’t dare wait too much longer.  We had to make it back to camp before it got dark. 
My heart was pounding as we dragged the now dry boat over those rocks back to deep water.  Once in, John started the motor and turned the bow into the waves heading west toward the campsite.  I sat in front, looking straight ahead at the distant shore and prayed.  John opened that throttle wide and that little 7 horse motor gave it all it had.  As we bounced over those waves, the spray soaked me through to the bone again but I didn’t even realize I was wet till we arrived safely at our boat launch. 
As we silently unpacked the boat, we talked about those people that had talked us into doing such a stupid thing.  Actually, we were just as angry at ourselves.  We should have used our own brains and not attempted that dangerous a trip.  John could have said no and so could I but neither one of us did.  We had both used poor judgment and we both knew it.  We could not even blame each other.  Yes, those people had goaded us into going there, but it was our own decision to follow them.  We had no justification to trust them or to believe them because we didn’t know anything about them, but it was easier to blame them then to admit to own foolishness.  Oh well, such is the cost of education and we knew we would never! forget that valuable lesson.  Fishing is for the hardy – not for the foolhardy and neither good sense nor sound judgement is not up for debate!