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!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Introducing the family


In order that you can fully appreciate my stories, you need to know the characters in them.   You need to know my family and the backdrop to all my stories.  The stories are true experiences that were part of our lives on our farm.  So come  join me as I introduce you and walk with me down my "MEMORY LANE".

Our small family farm was located in central Manitoba, three miles from Ethelbert, forty miles northwest of Dauphin.  Basically we specialized in grain farming on one section of land and ran a herd of about a hundred and twenty head of beef cattle, with a few milk cows. 
To round out our family circle, there was my husband John, myself, three children, Jim (John Jr.) our oldest, and the two girls, Carol, three years younger than Jim, and Connie, our youngest, a year younger than Carol.  Then there was "Dido" (grandpa) and "Baba", (grandma).  They were John's parents and they often helped on the farm.  Baba was a constant babysitter when the kids were small as I was out working in the fields.  Also, John had an Uncle Leon, - Strayo, we called him - whose very unique personality inadvertently brought much mirth to our family, particularly to me, who often got paired off with him during harvest time.
In some stories, you will also meet my brother, John, nineteen months younger than I, and Betty, my next sister, seven and a half years older than I.  They shared my early adventures.  John and I grew up together as our other siblings were much older and working out in the city by that time.
Besides the human members of our family, there were also the special animals that played an integral role in our farming operations.  There was Bimbo, Rascal and Kennedy, the dogs; Dolly, Mitzy, Tommy and Silver the cats; Little Mite the saddle horse; Dukey and Pokey the ponies; Spotty, Suzy, Jessie and Faline, the milk cows; and Jacky the jackrabbit.  The beef cattle also all had names, Lucky, the steer, Tweety Pie, the calf, who thought he was human and would gladly have followed us into the house had we allowed it.  Then there was Rita, Mabel, Jessie, just some of the cows, and Charlie, that notorious big white Charlais bull who was such a typical philandering male that he would jump any fence just to see a new face, yet he was a total wimp because he had to be penned in for vaccination and he bellowed like a baby when you gave him a needle.  He was unlike Joe, his predecessor,  a much smaller Hereford bull, who was so docile, we could come up to him anywhere in the pasture, rub his rump, jab the vaccinating needle home and send him peacefully on his way.  Each of these members of our family had their own fascinating personality and an interesting story to tell.  In this blog, you will meet them all.
Some of the stories and poems are about my own years growing up, first on my parents farm in Ukraina and later Kulish, northwest of Ethelbert.  Most of the stories, however, deal with events that happened after I was married and are set at our farm in Loon Lake area where our kids grew up.  However, after we moved to Dauphin, I had more leisure time on my hands, particularly when I started traveling. Hopefully, as you skim through my stories, you will empathize with our tragedies, cringe at my indiscretions, laugh at my absurdities and revel in my triumphsMany of my idiosyncrasies came later in life, when I really should have known better but I did learn something new each time and became smarter after each mistake.  Such is life!

Friday, 4 November 2011

War's Legacy

In Memory - Europe’s Silent Legacy

Carefree tourists, singing gaily
Age old melodies, simple words
The unfolding panorama of ageless Europe - France
Rushing past our tour bus
As we speed along the highway.
Wide open fields of grain
Thick, lush, seemingly endless
An emerald sea, undulating
Heaving, breathing, sighing
With each gust of the shifting breeze.

Suddenly, the singing voices hush
A gasp, an exclamation!
All eyes turn.
In the midst of the silent growing grain
A massive graveyard!
Erect, neatly defined rows, the white crosses
Command our attention.
In stark contrast to the harmony we felt
Just minutes ago
An eerie chill clambers up our spine
And grim reality battles disbelief.

Yet the crosses stand
A silent memorial
To brave young men
Strangers in a foreign land
Who went to war
Never to return home again!
Only silent graveyards remain
Desolate, lonely, unadorned
Amidst a sea of emerald grain
Just a simple melancholy reminder
Of countless lives laid low
Outsiders in a land not their own
Who gave their lives
That a stranger might live
Might sing.  Might laugh.
Might plant these fields of grain
That wave so freely in the wind.