Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

 In view of our recent dump ot the white stuff, I thought this was appropriate

The Celestial Goose has moulted

Shedding down upon the earth

Soft and light, glistening white

Crystal feathers for rebirth.

Heavenly angels guide these feathers

Dusting trees and fields alike

Covering all God’s precious treasures

With a duvet, thick and light.

Every tree a thing of beauty

Every park a wonderland

Shining brightly in the sunlight

So adorned by Heaven’s hand.

Every pathway, every byway

Deep and white beneath our feet

Beckons searching souls to wander

Where the earth and sky do meet.

No one dares disturb the wander

Disarrange its beauty deep

For beneath this cosy splendour

All spring’s blossoms lie asleep.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Bruiny's Infinite Loyalty

Bruiny’s Infinite Loyalty
In the Kulish district, from spring till fall, my folks, (as well as all the other farmers around us) always pastured the cattle in the nearby wide open spaces of the Duck Mountain Forest Reserve. Nobody had private pastures in that area. The cattle were simply let out onto the road and they made their own way into the boundless bush  where they grazed freely.  They never roamed far out of range. We always found them somewhere within about a four to five mile radius of home. Every evening after school, it was the chore for one of the children to  bring the cattle home for the evening milking.  “Bruiny” our stately gold and white Lassie-type collie, was always an important aide on this errand. When Betty was home, this task was hers.
One time, she had plans to go somewhere in the evening so she was in a hurry. She decided to ride Jessie, the mare, to the bush to get the cattle. She didn’t ride often and we had no saddle so she rode bareback. Perhaps an hour or two later, she arrived home, breathless from running, no cattle and no Jessie, just old faithful Bruiny at her side.  Mom finally got the story out of her. She had come upon a bear, got scared, jumped off Jessie and run for home, leaving Jessie there in the bush. Jessie eventually came walking home by herself. The cattle missed their milking that evening because they didn’t get home till the next day.  Betty became the brunt of many community jokes for years after that incident.
Anyway, after that she never took the horse for cows again, but asked me to accompany her instead. I was probably eight at the time. What help she expected from me if we ever encountered a bear, I could never even imagine, unless she planned to use me as a decoy while she ran for cover. I would probably have just frozen in my tracks, too scared to run anyway. Still I obviously gave her a sense of security. At any rate, we never did meet a bear and those jaunts “into the tember” proved invaluable training for me, because when Betty left home for good, the responsibility of fetching the cattle home fell to me. I was eleven years old by then.
Every farmer’s herd had a dominant cow as a leader of the herd. This cow carried a “cowbell” permanently hung on a leather strap around her neck. Once in the bush, you stopped to listen and invariably the sound of that bell would tell you where your cattle were. Everyone knew the sound of all the bells so you knew if the bell you heard belonged to this neighbor’s or that neighbor’s herd. If you didn’t hear your bell you just kept walking or changed direction until you heard your bell and located your herd.
The area where the cattle roamed was a vast reserve of bush land.  There were only two trails, one curved its way westward and the other straighter trail led north. These were old roads now seldom used except for Seneca root expeditions by natives, occasional hunters in the fall,  local farmers for mushroom or berry picking sojourns or for bringing home firewood for winter. Otherwise there were only a couple of indistinct paths made by cattle who followed their leader.
Off the western trail was a place in that reserve that I particularly feared. It was a swamp area about a mile and a half into the bush just south of the trail, about two miles from home. I had been there with Betty once. It was all muskeg and spongy moss that sank under our feet.
If I heard our bell in that swamp, I would get Bruiny to get them out of there. Standing safely on the trail above the swamp, I would cup my hands around my mouth and yell at the top of my lungs: “Do domoo” (go home) to the cattle and “Bruiny sic’um.” Bruiny would take off into that swamp barking all the way and in no time, the cattle would be out of there and on the trail. I would then simply follow them home. Why I was so afraid of that swamp, I have no idea, but thank God for Bruiny, who understood my orders and always herded those cattle out of there on his own. Very rarely did I come home from that “tember” alone because I could not find the cattle. As long as the wind was quiet, the bell could be heard for miles.
I never lost my sense of direction either and that seems a miracle to me now because, put me in the bush these days and I can be lost within a single acre, let alone miles of boundless bush. All the neighbors used to go bring cattle home the same way and each of us always went alone. Primitive instinct, I guess. You do what you have to do. That training with Betty paid off. I never did encounter a bear in that bush either, although I often came across their dung piles both in the bush and even along the road to school, especially in the fall season. I saw my first live bear at the Winnipeg Zoo when I went to summer school for teacher training.
Bruiny was a faithful and loyal aide on all our cattle hunting missions and he probably would not have let me get lost even if I had tried. He never left my side in the bush unless I sent him off to herd the cattle. After he did that, he always promptly came back to my side.
When we moved to town, Dad tried to take him with us but he refused to ride on the wagon so we kept calling him and he followed us all the way to town (ten miles away). Maybe he thought we had a job for him there. The next morning he just went back to the farm. We got him to town twice more after that but he always returned to the farm. Dad gave up then because Bruiny just would not stay in town. I guess he was waiting for us to come back. The neighbor told us he would sit on the doorstep of the house there and howl all night. The neighbors took to feeding him there because he would not leave the yard no matter how they tried to coax him away. The second winter after we moved, Bruiny died (or froze to death) on the yard that had been his home for eleven years. I felt sure that he had simply died of a broken heart.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Bruiny, the faithful friend and servant

This is our Bruiny, a dog that that I remember for his willingness to serve and work and play with a family he loved so much he would have given his life to protect. I remember his loyalty with a lump in my heart.  A dog who died of a broken heart when his family had to move away and he just refused to stay in their new home but returned to his old home to wait and watch for a family that just never came back.
I looked for his picture and thought it was lost forever, but thanks to Marilyn, my niece, who had saved her dad's old photos, I now have this long lost treasure.

Good bye Bruiny.  Happy hunting in God's own pasture! Bruiny's story will be coming out in my new book. "Small Beginnings", next month,

Friday, 17 February 2012

Discovered Treasures


I  got a fantastic surprise the other day that added a wonderful new dimension to my life.   In my memoirs, I had a story about Bruiny, a collie type dog we used to have when I was growing up.  As I went back over that special time, nostalgia overwhelmed me as I recalled Bruiny's loyalty and devotion.  I knew I used to have a picture of Bruiny but though I searched though perhaps thousands of pictures (I have tons of albums) I could not find it.
Cameras were pretty rare at that time and I had moved a few times. Perhaps with the moves that picture got lost somehow.  I checked with a couple of relatives that I thought might have a copy but no one had one.  I was resigned to never seeing Bruiny again.  Most of the relatives I thought might have one, had already passed on and their pictures were probably garbaged by children that didn't see the significance of those old photographs.
I happened to mention my terrible disappointment to a niece, my brother's daughter, never even considering that she might have one as my brother was away working when I was growing up and, on his infrequent visits to the farm, was never interested in animals.
Imagine my joy when the next day,  I got an email from Marilyn with an attachment entitled "IsitBruiny".  There in front of my eyes was Bruiny, patiently sitting and waiting while my Dad and my brother caroused beside him.  Somehow Mike had captured his spirit and kept that picture.  Marilyn had saved her father's old pictures after Mike passed away and found this treasure among them.  I wonder how many treasures are lost because their value is not appreciated until it is too late. 
Happily, I added the picture into the book of memoirs ("Small Beginnings"), and I saved a copy on my desktop on my computer.  I click on the image every so often just to "center myself".  I takes me back to a time of my life when life was serene and carefree.  It is wonderful to revisit that life in a time when everything  is so fast paced and often hectic.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Kiss of Love (continued)

The next summer, Carol and Mite had another episode which caused the kids much concern in regards to Mite's remaining with us.  Now two years old and almost fully grown, Mite was a beautiful horse, her graceful long legs invoking visions of thoroughbreds and racetracks.  Still too young to be ridden by adults, the kids could do anything they wanted with her.  Often, as Mite grazed, we would put one of the kids on her back - no saddle, just bareback - and they would ride that way while she just kept grazing, content to have them close around her.  Mite basked in the glory of their constant love and attention.  Even the kids' friends loved this peaceful pastime.  It was a Mutual Admiration Society all around.
One time, with Carol on her back, Mite was grazing beneath one of the countless maples on the yard.  Carol caught a branch, holding it back.  As Mite advanced, Carol let the branch go which sprang back, slapping Mite smartly on the rump.  Startled, Mite jumped.  Carol was caught off guard and fell backwards, landing on the hard ground, fracturing her shoulder blade.  Poor Mite knew she had dropped Carol.  Deeply concerned for her, she was nuzzling the crying figure on the ground as we rushed to Carol's side.
Once more we loaded the kids into the car and drove to see Doctor Stephen in Dauphin, who shook his head from side to side and gravely pronounced, "I think you should get rid of that horse."   Once more the kids entreated him with "It really wasn't Mite's fault.  She wouldn't hurt anyone on purpose."
The doctor x-rayed Carol's shoulder and told us that he could only put Carol's arm in a sling that she would have to wear for four weeks.  By avoiding excessive or sudden movement, the fracture would heal on its own.  Fearing to mention that horse again in front of those beseeching kids, he sent us home.
Mite hated intruders and jealously guarded her family, dominating and demanding the attention she believed belonged to her alone.  One day, my nephew and his wife, who lived in Florida, on their way to visit other relatives, stepped in to pay us a short visit.  They drove into the yard in their snazzy little red sports car convertible, and the kids were, of course, fascinated by this flashy vehicle.  They surrounded the car, admiring and inspecting its every detail. 
Repeatedly, Mite tried to divert their attention from the shiny red bug, but to no avail.  Victor offered the kids a ride in the car.  He didn't have to beg.  Thrilled, the kids eagerly piled into the car and off they went, leaving Mite standing there alone.  Dejected, she waited there sullenly until they returned, but when they got back, they were still ignoring her, so captivated were they by this fancy red convertible.  After a thorough inspection, everyone retired into the house without even a backward glance at Mite.  By then she had decided that she definitely did not like this big red beetle!
When we got up the next morning, Mite had had her revenge.  She had bitten off both aerials that had perched so proudly on the two rear fender wings.  She had also managed to rip off both windshield wipers.  These appendages lay on the ground beside the car where she had dropped them and Mite stood nearby, her head held high as if to say "So there!"  I guess it could have been worse.  At least she did not touch the plush red velvet seats that were also exposed.
By next spring, Mite was ready to ride and we wondered how she would train.  We bought a saddle and with the kids cooing to her, we put it on her back.  As we tightened the straps, she flinched and backed off.  The kids kept talking to her and she quieted down.  We kept putting the saddle on her back for the next few days and letting her graze with just the saddle on her back, just to get her used to the feel of it.  Then we put Connie into the saddle, holding on to the child, ready to snatch her off if Mite bolted.  She seemed reassured to have the child on her back.  We then tried it with Jim, who meant more weight, still ready to snatch him off if necessary but Mite was taking all this in stride.  She was used to having the kids on her back.  She didn't resist when John or I mounted either but she became skittish when anyone else would approach her with the intent to mount. 
One day, a friend of a neighbour came by.  He was immediately taken by Mite's graceful figure and asked if he could ride her.  We told him she was very particular about whom she allowed on her back but he said he'd ridden many horses and was quite sure he could manage her.  He was an experienced horseman, a good man, and he loved horses, so reluctantly we agreed to let him try.  She snorted when he put the saddle on and since the kids were not home to quiet her down, I felt somewhat concerned.  He kept talking to her though and eventually she allowed him to mount.
Then she decided she didn't like him there after all and suddenly made like a bucking bronco throwing him off in one minute flat.  That done, she stood back, quietly looking down at him as if to say, "Want to try that again?"  Feeling rather sheepish at having been thrown, the poor man got up, dusted himself off and conceded that it just wasn’t worth the hassle and left Mite alone.
Mite was three years old now, taking her place as a working member of our family.  When it came to herding cattle and Jim was in school, I would ride her, keeping stragglers and wayward wanderers in check.  She seemed to enjoy this.  It seemed to give her a sense of power and authority and an opportunity to lord it over these lowly creatures that annually invaded her territory and competed with her, sometimes even successfully, for the attentions of Faline and the kids.   If we needed to check cattle or pasture fences, Mite was always called on to perform her duty and she became an integral part of our livestock operations.
We had a wayward Charlais bull at that time that had a nasty habit of going AWOL every so often, hopping over the fence to join the neighbour's cattle and leaving our own herd unattended.  It seemed like we were always checking up on "Charlie" to make certain he was where he was supposed to be.
One particular day, after spending hours riding through bush land, searching for Charlie, I finally located him and Mite was brilliant as she cornered the bull, separated him from the neighbour's herd and deftly coerced the reluctant Romeo back across two miles of bush to rejoin our own herd.  We were all tired after that long day, Charlie no less than Mite or I, since he had fought hard to stay with his “new girlfriends”.  By the time we got him to our own pasture his tongue was practically dragging the ground from exertion.  After securing the gate and making sure the fences were intact, we decided to let Mite ride home on the back of the truck considering she had spent most of the hot day working.
John backed the truck to a dirt bank and I walked Mite onto the truck.  Securing the end gate behind her, we drove home.  At home John decided against backing up to the loading chute and instead backed up against an old manure pile to unload Mite.  The truck was high and because of the slope of the pile, John could not back right up against the high point of the pile. 
Mite must have looked with dismay at the drop below her as John vainly tried to coax her down.  She stood her ground refusing to budge as John first coaxed, pleaded, and scolded, then threw some unflattering names into the bargain, with a voice that matched his foul mood by now.  Realizing she was not going to win this battle, Mite decided to jump.  She misjudged her distance and her front hoof hit John in the leg throwing him down flat in front of her onto that cushion of soft manure below.  I'm certain, she must have taken her weight off that foot when she knew she had hit him because miraculously her hoof did not break his leg but inflicted a deep bruise on the fleshy muscle about midway between his knee and his ankle.
Wincing with pain, John got up and gingerly stood up on the leg to make sure it wasn't broken.  Convinced that it fine, he led Mite back into the yard and we thought no more about the bruise except to know that this would hurt for a while before it healed.  After all, it wasn't her fault, it had not been a convenient spot and she had initially tried to refuse to make that jump.
It was almost a month later that a tiny scab appeared over the discoloured area where the bruise was.  When John peeled the scab off, it opened a deep hole from which oozed copious amounts of ugly yellow pus.  This scared me and despite John's repeated objections, I insisted on an immediate trip to the doctor. 
Dr. Stephen examined the wound and asked what happened.  At the sound of the word "horse" his eyes widened and this time with no kids to deflect his advice, he put on a stern face and once again declared, "I told you before, and I'll tell you again, and I know you won't listen, but you ought to GET RID OF THAT HORSE!"  We said nothing as we watched him cleanse and dress the wound.
The wound had festered and destroyed a portion of the flesh the size of a golf ball.  As the doctor cleaned it out and swabbed it with antiseptic, he told us how lucky we were that the infection had not reached the bone.  Had it done so, John would have surely lost his leg.  He gave us antibiotics and told John to soak the wound in hot salty water for half an hour every morning and every night "until that hole heals!"  We thanked the doctor and drove home.
The doctor's advice was heeded only with respect to the care of John's leg, but "getting rid of that horse" was never an option.  After all, it had not been Mite's fault, and besides she was now a very valuable working member of our family and a beloved one.
Many years later, we did sell Little Mite, to a family with four young children all of whom adored Mite just as we had.  We had sold the farm and Mite had to move to another life.  Many tears were shed as she left our yard for the last time, but we took comfort in the knowledge that she would be just as loved by her new family as she had been by us.  She had learned to accept other people in her mature years and even allowed total strangers to ride her.  She was an intelligent horse and an asset to any operation and we had no misgiving about her fitting into her new role with a new and loving family.   
Mite will always hold a special place in our hearts and even now that she is gone to her heavenly reward, we remember her with warmth and timeless affection - and her kisses with guarded prudence.  She was truly one of a kind.  

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A Horse's Kiss of Love


Carol's scream pierced through the air like the shrill whistle of a CN train.  Mite knew she had hurt Carol.  I don't know if it was remorse or fear of repercussion, but she took off like a shot, clearing the fence in one big leap, racing down the road at full gallop never even looking back. 
When we ran to Carol's aid, we found her bleeding profusely from the mouth, her cut lip hanging limply over her chin hanging on just by the thin outside skin, her whole body convulsing in fear and pain.  I quickly took her indoors, washed the wound and after controlling the bleeding with wads and wads of soft bread, I lifted the lip back into position and taped her face to keep it that way.  Sending Jim out by bike to look for Mite, we packed the two shaking girls into the car and left for Dauphin and a doctor, forty miles away.
Carol, unable to do much with her mouth taped shut, sat silently in the back seat, but Connie, through heart-wrenching sobs, kept insisting "Mite didn't mean it.  She didn't! Honest!  She was just playing."  I think both girls were more afraid for Mite than for Carol's lip at this point and were worried we might try to get rid of their beloved pet.
Doctor Stephen, too, thought this might be a good idea as he examined Carol, although I do believe it may have been said with a tongue-in-cheek fashion.  After all, he had never before had a case where a child's lip was almost “kissed off” by a horse!  He stared at us in amazement when we told him what had happened.  Shaking his head in disbelief and speaking in a voice which was a strange mixture of astonishment, bewilderment, amusement and seriousness, he suggested "I think you should get rid of that horse."
Carol, her mouth taped shut again, but her eyes almost popping out of their sockets was shaking her head violently from side to side, her mournful "MMMMMM" echoing like a ghostly moan through the room.  Connie, in sheer panic now, broke into a fresh round of frantic sobbing, rushed to stand before the doctor beseeching him "She didn't mean it, she was only playing.  Mite wouldn't hurt her on purpose."
Dr. Stephen looked at this crazy mixed up family in front of him, probably convinced it was some bizarre dream he was having and told us that since the skin was not cut on the outside, we might be better off not to have it stitched to lessen the formation of scar tissue.  The inside cut would probably heal on its own provided it stayed taped and undisturbed for a couple of weeks.  This would mean Carol would have to exist on a totally fluid diet, consumed entirely through a straw for the whole period.  Carol's head bobbed up and down eagerly in agreement before he even finished the sentence.  I asked the doctor if he considered this advisable and he said that if we got some nutritional supplement to add to her milk, she could do this for a couple of weeks without jeopardizing her health.
That settled, but with some misgivings in spite of Dr. Stephen’s reassurances, we thanked the doctor, picked up the supplement at the drug store and drove back home, the girls both silent now, Carol with her mouth taped shut and Connie too spent by the emotions that had ravaged, and were probably still ravaging her.
When we got home, Jim was out in the yard consoling Mite whom he had found almost three miles from home.  She had come to him out of the bush where she had been hiding, when he kept calling for her. "She came to me slowly", he said, "and then she just stood there with her head down.  She didn’t mean to hurt Carol.  I know she didn’t".  He spoke with a sob in his throat and we knew that he, too, though concerned about Carol, was also worried about the repercussions for Mite. 
Assailed by three sets of verbal and non-verbal emotional entreatments that "Mite didn't mean it, she wouldn't hurt Carol on purpose", and seeing Mite's obvious remorse, we decided to forgive her and “not sell the horse”.
To be honest, I don't think we had even given much thought to Mite in the first place.  Our main concern had been Carol, to the exclusion of all else.  Anyway, Carol lived on milk and other liquid nutrients for two whole weeks, her mouth taped shut, her requirements communicated by means of sign language.  Jim and Connie were her willing slaves, jumping at her every beck and call, still fearing, perhaps, that Carol's demands might somehow jeopardize the precarious reprieve they had secured for Mite.
"Little Mite" had come to us as a gangly skittish colt barely weaned off her mother's milk.  The mare had succumbed to the dreaded sleeping sickness and left her young foal an orphan at a stage when her very survival was questionable.  The mare's owner did not wish to be bothered with the pitiful creature that would require much more care than he was prepared to give, so the foal was up for grabs.  Word of the tragedy spread through the community and we packed our young family, eight year old Jim, five-year old Carol and four-year old Connie and drove to see this pathetic little orphan. 
It was "love at first sight" for kids and parents alike and Joe's apt description of "Little Mite" fit her so naturally that naming her otherwise never even became an issue.  Arrangements were quickly made and Little Mite was loaded onto the truck, transported over the miles and released into a new world, with a strange but doting family, but not another horse in sight, let alone the mother she still needed and missed so terribly.
We tried bottle feeding her but I guess she considered it the ultimate indignity and would have none of it.  However, after a few tries, she did learn to drink cow’s milk from a pail and although we thought that was rather unusual, we decided not to argue with success.  Eventually she started refusing the milk altogether, but by then she was grazing, feeding herself successfully, so life just took on a regular routine and Mite continued to grow on her own.
The kids adored her and showered her with ceaseless attention but at first she was not used to children and invariably would prance coquettishly away whenever they crowded her.  Day after day, she wandered aimlessly within the confines of the fence enclosing the yard, grazing, drinking, sleeping, but always jerking her head up and expectantly, perking up her ears at each new sound that assailed her audible range.  But her mother never appeared, never answered her mournful neighs.
The kids attention never waned however.  They followed Mite around, never out of her sight and eventually their perseverance paid off when out of sheer resignation she would allow them to approach her, stroke her soft nose and sleek body and hug her neck till she backed off as if to say "Alright, enough already, leave me alone!"
Spring turned into summer and Little Mite was no longer the pitifully shy creature she had been when she first arrived.  She grazed contentedly around the yard and became great friends with Faline, the docile milk cow, with whom she shared the lush green grasses of the farmyard and Bimbo, the shaggy, black dog that was as much a member of this family as she was.
She revelled in the love of the children and was always there when they played their games, running along with them when they ran bases or played hide and seek, often to the point of becoming a nuisance when their friends came to play.  The neighbours' children enjoyed this however.  They thought it was neat to have the friendly colt running along with them in their games.  All around, Mite had captivated the hearts not only of our family but those of the neighbours as well, most especially the kids.
When the rest of the cattle were brought home for the winter, Little Mite was beside herself.  A hundred head of cattle, all shapes and sizes, had suddenly invaded the yard which she had considered her own private domain.  Often she could not get near enough to Faline to recapture that camaraderie that they had shared through the summer.  Faline did not seem to mind, she was at home with these creatures but with Jim at school, the girls indoors and Faline oblivious to her, Little Mite felt rejected and alone.  She wandered into the far corners of the yard trying desperately to stay out of this huge crowd that overwhelmed her by sheer numbers.  Eventually, she learned to tolerate them, but she always gave them a rather wide berth at the water trough or the self-feeder where they all ate.
The advent of spring meant new calves on the yard and new avenues for the kids affection whenever they were outdoors.  Mite would follow the children around, jealously trying to divert their attention from the newborn calves, and inevitably get in someone's way, provoking a rebuke that she would unabashedly ignore.  She relented, however, when the cattle were penned for the annual spring branding, immunizations, and other pasture preparations.  Their struggling and bellowing in the chutes melted her heart and she raced helplessly around the holding pens in bewilderment, obviously upset by their discomfort.
Finally the day came when the cattle, including those attention-stealing calves, were herded out through the open gate and driven off to their summer pasture.  This left Mite queen of the castle again, with Faline and the kids all to herself once more. 
But Faline, too, was in calf and when little Tammy was born; Mite immediately adopted her and willingly shared the children's affection with Faline and her calf.  She appointed herself legal guardian of the kids, Faline and Tammy and would go frantic if a stranger or intruder approached any of them.
Faline, being a Holstein, was a heavy milk producer, yielding three to four gallons of milk twice daily.  Tammy could not consume this volume and it had been common practice over the years to milk Faline down morning and night.  Between these milkings, the calves always thrived on what was left over.
Originally, I used to be the one that milked Faline but that year, early in the springtime, I had an unfortunate accident when I almost lost my middle and ring fingers on my right hand.  This left my right hand heavily bandaged for more than two months so Jim had to take over the milking duties.  Mite got used to this and I guess she liked Jim more than dull old me.  Jim could walk up to Faline, anywhere on the yard, pail in one hand, stool in the other, Faline would stop and Jim would milk her down as Mite stood by peacefully and watched.  It was a different story though if I tried it after my hand healed.  Mite seemed to think I was doing indecent things to Faline and would run around, nudging Faline to keep her moving, not allowing her to stop for a moment to allow me to milk her.  On occasion when Jim would be away and I had to milk Faline, we literally had to close either Mite or Faline in the barn for me to be able to milk the cow in peace!
When September rolled around and the kids went to school, Little Mite moped around the yard like a forsaken bride.  With Bimbo often hiding in the shade somewhere, her only consolation was Faline, and her calf and she was never more than a few feet away from her side.  They became inseparable.  When the kids got home from school, Mite was in her glory!  As the school bus stopped to unload, she impatiently ran wide arcs around the yard neighing excitedly until the children reached her.  She pranced around like a princess, overjoyed to have them back and allowed the children to hug her endlessly without ever backing away.
Mite’s nemeses were the pigs!  To her, they were obnoxious snorting imbeciles that belonged in a secure enclosure, well separated from all decent animals.  When Jim would go into the pen to clean, Mite would go into a frenzy, distraught and frantic galloping around the outside of the pen, neighing her heart out, convinced that her precious Jim was in some mortal danger of his life among those terrible creatures.
One day when one of the pigs rutted a hole under a weak point in the fence and got out, Mite went wild.  Faline and Tammy were near the pen and Mite rushed to their defence.  We literally feared for that pig's life as Mite, head low to the ground and bellowing dire threats in horse language, sent that poor pig squealing for cover. 
To be fair to Mite, perhaps her kissing Carol was a natural and invited practice.  The kids often had sugar cubes, pieces of carrots, apples or some other treat for Mite to nibble on out of their hand.  Often if they failed to bring a tasty morsel, she would nudge them on the back with her nose as if to say "Come on, where is it?"  She would smack those huge floppy lips till they laughingly ran back and brought her a treat.  Carrots or apples, in particular were often presented to her from the mouth.  In addition, in their affection, the kids would often kiss Mite right on those big soft lips of hers.  It was on just such an occasion, as Carol was delivering one of those kisses, and Mite deciding to kiss her back, that got Mite into such trouble that day.  Her big lip caught Carol's bottom lip, pressing it against her sharp top teeth, thus cutting Carol's lip on the inside till it hung only by the outside skin.  It wasn’t meant to hurt Carol.  It was merely Mite’s “kiss of love”.                                  More on Little Mite  another time.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Working With Uncle Leon

Working with Uncle Leon

Strayo, as we called Uncle Leon, was a regular Mr. Mcgoo, short, stubby, with a round little face and piercing beady eyes that flashed from beneath thick, bushy eyebrows.  He never really smiled and his grim demeanour seemed to demand that unyielding authority and control which he never quite achieved.  Oh, it wasnt that he was not a respectable man.  He was honest, hard-working, decent; a real community-minded farmer who did everything right and whose code of ethics was unquestionable.  But how do you take seriously a less than five foot man in baggy overalls, who shuffles along noisily like a cat under a paper bag?  The overalls were properly shortened about ten inches on the pant legs and ten inches at the shoulders but with his head down on that too short neck, he still looked too comical to be given earnest attention. 
He had a bland outlook on life and his pessimistic attitude simply did not endorse decisive or positive action because his perpetually dour countenance affected that cry wolf reaction from those whom it was meant to impress.  He wasnt a pathetic man, nor was he an apathetic one.  If you looked beyond the crusty fa├žade and the hapless exterior, you would actually see a likable, kind and interesting fellow.  His genial personality and his sense of humour were simply masked by his gruff deportment. 
Uncle Leon paid no attention to inconsequential matters; they were not worthy of his time or his effort.  I vividly recall a visit to their home one time when his wife surreptitiously informed me that she had hung two new pictures and put up new wallpaper in the kitchen a whole month ago and he had never even noticed them yet.  She thought she had really put one over on him, I guess.  (Money was scarce those days, wall paper and pictures were a luxury she felt guilty about splurging on, but she had sneaked them in anyway.)  The fact that he hadnt detected her indiscretion made her feel vindicated and somewhat triumphant, I suspect, but to Uncle Leon, such things were beyond his realm of worthwhile vigilance.
Uncle Leon lived two miles from our place.  He owned a quarter of land most of which was cleared of bush.  It was good grain land but Uncle Leon was old and did not have the equipment to farm it anymore so we rented it from him on a share basis.  He was my father-in-laws brother and during harvest periods, Uncle Leon and I often got paired off during harvest season.  (This was a process of cutting the grain with a binder that tied it into sheaves before the final process of being thrashed by a thrashing machine that separated the grain from the straw.)  My job was driving the tractor while Uncle Leon sat on the binder, operating the levers that raised or lowered the cutting table, the grain fells, and the foot pedals that operated the sheave carrier.  His seat was perched high on a pedestal but had no safety or back supports other than those control levers located at arms length in front of him.
Our own land was rocky and although we picked rocks each spring after seeding, there were still some that would somehow surface by bindering time.  I always tried to be extra vigilant for these rocks because they could cause major equipment breakdowns and costly repairs as well as be a serious safety hazard to the person on the binder.  Occasionally, however, one would be hidden by grain and I would miss it.  If the central binder wheel hit the rock, it caused the binder to suddenly lurch into the air and then come back down to earth hitting it hard just as suddenly.  If Uncle Leon wasnt on his guard, he could get thrown off his precarious perch.  I was aware of how hazardous this was but, thankfully, those lurches never amounted to more than a source of some of my most amusing memories of Uncle Leon.  I guess we were lucky that our experiences were just funny ones and never tragic ones.
I can still picture one particular instance when I hit a rock.  I felt the tractor jerk and as my foot instinctively hit the brake pedal as I turned in alarm to check on Uncle Leon.  My anxiety melted into relief and then to mirth when I realized he was safe but the scene was just hysterical.  The lurch had thrown Uncle high into the air and he was just coming down for a landing into his seat.  With his hands and legs spread out and his head and body leaning forward, he looked like an eagle swooping in for a kill.  The expression on his face was priceless, registering total shock, astonishment and alarm, all of it mixed with unmasked indignation.
Suppressing almost uncontrollable laughter, I immediately stopped the tractor and inquired if he was alright.  Uncle Leon glared at me with his usual exasperation and let forth a barrage of Ukrainian curses that would make the devil cringe, berating his brother for choosing such stony land to farm on. 
Him and his damned farms.  When I got on this binder this morning, my back hurt, my feet hurt and my neck hurt.  Now, I dont have any feelings left, good, bad or otherwise! he finished in seething disgust.  (In Ukrainian it was absolutely hilarious.) 
I said nothing.  I didnt trust myself to speak for fear of really getting him mad if he heard the amusement in my voice but recalling that scene still sends me into irrepressible fits of laughter.
There was also another experience with Uncle Leon that is utterly unforgettable.  I dont know when it started or if I was always like that, but I could not feel minor jolts of electrical current like one from an electric fence used for cattle.  I found this out when I was first married and I went to bring the milk cows home for the evening milking. 
We had a few acres of lowland with a creek running through it that was not suitable for grain farming so we enclosed it with an electric fence and pastured our three milk cows there.  Electric fence gives cattle an electric jolt if they they try to cross it so just a single strand of wire will provide a secure enclosure because after on such jolt cattle will never come near the fence again.  However electric fence  loses its kick if it is grounded by any stick, tree branch, plant, etc. so it must be checked regularly for effectiveness.  As I left for the pasture, my husband reminded me to check the fence.  Novice that I was, I asked him how to do it.
Get a blade of grass, he explained patiently.  Touch the wire with the blade of grass and youll feel a tingle in your finger.  Thats how you know the current is in the wire.
I’d seen people get a jolt from touching electrical wires.  They jumped hard, and I didnt want that kind of a jolt, but my husband assured me it would be a very harmless little tingle, so I agreed and left for the pasture.  I rounded up the cows, got them through the gate and onto the road, then went to check the fence.  I did the blade of grass routine but felt no tingle.  Gingerly, I touched the wire with my finger.  Still nothing.  I grasped the wire with my hand, closed my fist tightly over it but felt absolutely nothing.  So I followed the cows home and told my husband that there was no current in the fence. 
My husband immediately left for the pasture, walked all the way around the perimeter of it but found no grounders.  Grabbing the wire to check the current himself he took a jolt that sent his whole body reeling.  Needless to say, he was quite irate that I would deliberately play such a senseless joke on him and he told me so in no uncertain terms. Innocent as I knew I was, I was hurt and flabbergasted.  I could not understand how such a thing could have happened.  The following evening the same scenario played itself out but he pointedly warned me about not wasting his precious time with silly jokes.
Smarting from his distrust, I went to the pasture, got the cows on the road and followed the same procedure about checking the wire.  Again, I felt nothing.  I was totally confused but I was also suspicious now.  I had questioned myself about the night before, but this time I knew I had followed the procedure properly.  Why did I not feel anything?  Not wanting to go home to another admonition, I looked for another way to check that current.  Bruiny the dog, waited patiently beside me.  I got an idea.  Lifting the unsuspecting dog, I walked him to the fence and touched his nose to the wire.  That poor animal didnt know what hit him.  With a violent jerk and a piercing yelp, that dog was out of my arms and racing madly towards home, howling all the way.
Okay there is current, I thought triumphantly.  I felt terrible about Bruiny.  He was still yelping half a mile down the road but at least I felt exonerated.  I went home and told my husband about my discovery.  He didnt believe me and we drove back to the pasture where I had to grab the wire and hold it for him so he would believe me.  Suffice it to say he never asked me to check for the current again.  And it took poor Bruiny weeks to start trusting me again.
Anyway, to get back to Uncle Leon. We were harvesting on the home quarter near the pasture and I needed to go to the bathroom.  Stopping the tractor, I got off and headed for the bush in the pasture.  I had to cross the electric fence and I just held the wire down with my hand while I stepped over it.  I got back and we kept on going.  An hour or two later, it was Uncle who need a pit stop.  He motioned for me to stop and as he headed for the pasture, I never even bothered to watch.  It never even occurred to me to warn him of the electric fence.  The insulators on the fence posts were clear and visible so current in the fence should probably have been obvious but Uncle had seen me cross the fence.  He had noted that I held the wire with my full hand.  It was only natural for him to assume that we had the power switched off.  I was sitting on the tractor, peacefully dozing when he got back with an outburst of invectives like I had never heard before in my life.
Why didnt you tell me that was fence was electric?  I damned near filled my pants when I grabbed that wire.  I thought you had the power off on the thing.  He went on and on, chewing me out (in very bold Ukrainian expletives).  I sat there clenching my teeth and almost bit my tongue off trying not to laugh as the spectacle of him crossing that fence engulfed me.
Uncle Leon had a heart of gold though and even though he ranted and raved, I knew he had a soft spot for me in his heart.  We were renting Uncles land and I often had to move equipment from one field to another through a bluff of trees on his farm.  The trail was winding and that old “Massey 44 tractor I was driving had no power steering.  In fact, to this day I could still swear it had a demon inside it whose sole purpose of existence was to consistently thwart my every effort at making that tractor go where I wanted it to go.  I can still feel the excruciating pain between my shoulders that I suffered after each day of fighting with that steering wheel.  Uncle Leon knew of my struggles and he empathized with me but he was glad I had graduated to the task and relieved him of the battle of trying to manipulate the unruly beast himself. 
One day while I was trying to manoeuvre a cultivator down the narrow trail and I managed to run the front wheel of the tractor too close to a tree.  Trying to correct my mistake, I put the tractor in reverse, but with the cultivator in tow, instead of getting me away from the tree, I only got closer against it and soon I had that tree centered between the front and back wheels so that I could go neither forward nor back.  Realizing my dilemma, I stopped the tractor and walked over to Uncle Leons house to consult with him about my next move. 
I dreaded having my husband and or my father-in-law seeing me in that ridiculous predicament I had gotten myself into and Uncle Leon knew it.  Whats more, he was sympathetic to my cause.  He wasnt about to give his brother an opportunity to flaunt his superiority over either one of us.  Reassuring me that all would be well, he walked with me to the site of my humiliation to survey the situation.  He checked the angle of the offending trees, the position of the tractor and then, head bent down as usual; he quietly considered every potential solution to the problem.  After a few minutes, his head snapped up and he grinned at me with a twinkle in his eyes and an almost triumphant smirk on his face.
We can do it! he announced gleefully.  We can get out of here and they wont even know it happened!  Come with me.  We need a logging chain and a bar. 
With his baggy overalls flapping noisily, Uncle Leon set an unusually quick pace for the yard.  He was enthusiastic and full of purpose, noticeably excited at the prospect of out-manipulating his younger brother for a change.  Weighted down with the bar and heavy chain, we got back to the bush and Uncle quickly unhooked the cultivator that was hampering the movement of the tractor.  Hooking the logging chain to the cultivator, he took the other end around a big tree behind it.  Using the bar, we slowly and laboriously winched the cultivator backward about eighteen or twenty inches, just enough to give us room to work the tractor.  Then, anchoring the bar against the front wheel, he told me to edge the tractor back and forth slowly in the other direction as far as possible, letting the bar keep me away from the tree.  By repeating this process a few times, I got the tractor far enough away from the tree to a safe location where we then hooked up the cultivator, backed up to a manoeuvrable distance, steered clear of the tree and jubilantly drove away.  Uncle Leon had saved my dignity and I would forever be grateful.  He also achieved his own validation because my husband and father-in-law never did figure out what had scraped all the bark off those two big trees on that winding bush trail and Uncle and I kept our cunning secret safe with furtive winks at each other every time the subject came up.
There is one more lesson I associate with Uncle Leon but that was just that he was unaware of the potential danger.  He was honestly only trying to help.  He had a very deep well on his farm and it had the coldest water you can imagine.  One hot day while working on his farm, I said I was thirsty.  Always eager to please, Uncle simply drew a pail of water from the deep well and I helped myself to a glass to quench my parched throat.  Within fifteen minutes, my throat had swelled so bad that it seemed about to choke me.  Uncle was beside himself as I sat on that bench wheezing, desperately trying to catch enough air past that swollen throat.  It took more than an hour for the swelling to subside but we both got a scare that day.  I am still afraid to drink ice cold water.
Unfortunate things often happened to Uncle Leon and he didnt deserve a single one of them.  He was just a lovable old man, trying so hard to rise above his diminutive stature with words and actions that somehow just kept setting him up to look like a slapstick comic.  Even his profanities were entertaining!  Working with Uncle Leon was never dull; it was always an adventure!