Part 5

I was too little to have become very close to my grandfather but my grandmother (or Maggie, as we called her when we were very young) was the centre of my universe. I was never homesick when we were with her on the farm. If we were a burden or a nuisance we were never aware of it, but we were not allowed to be rude or saucy. More than once her hand landed with force on my skinny little bottom and I can still hear her "Hold your whisht child" - and I held my "whisht" for days after. I adored her.

Every summer Harold and I picked the millions of dandelions around the farm and Grandma made dandelion wine which she left in crocks on the dirt floors in the cellar - there were no cement floors in the basement in those days. It is a wonder that there was ever any left to bottle as Harold and I slipped down every time the trap door was left open, and we drank our fill. We were sent out to collect eggs from the henhouse and I was terrified of one "broody" hen who refused to leave the nest. Grandma told me to just reach under her and take the eggs but I fled in mortal fear when she pecked me. We used to watch with fascinated wonder whenever a chicken was killed for dinner, and it ran around the yard after its head was cut off. It is still a mystery to me.

We also trapped gophers for which we collected a bounty of two cents a tail, and climbed trees to get crow's eggs for one cent each. Uncle Leonard loved trapping, and as foxes were a real menace to the hens he went after them with vigor. The government also paid quite a bounty on fox tails. This he found acceptable, but to take butter and eggs to the store to barter for groceries was humiliating for him. He was the "dandy" of the family.

Uncle Elwood was always there to dry our tears if we fell, or if we found a dead bird. Harold and I staged elaborate funerals and buried every dead thing we could find. There was always a piece of gum in Elwood's pocket, usually covered with straw or grain which magically cured all our ills. Water for washday was hauled on a stoneboat - a heavy wooden platform on runners which was pulled by a horse. One day Harold jumped on the stoneboat just as it went over a hump. The barrel of water tipped and as it came down it caught his big toe and removed it neatly. Grandma had a real fixation about clean feet, and I think she was almost as concerned about what the doctor would think of his dirty feet as she was about the loss of a toe. I remember Harold saying later that at least if there happened to be a war the Army would never take him with a deformed foot. Unfortunately for him, the forces decided that an army marched on its belly, and they took him gladly.

On Saturday afternoon and evening the square washtub was brought in to the kitchen, water was heated on the cookstove, and the weekly ritual of the bath began. Going to town on Saturday night deserved our best efforts. This was a great time for all the farmers to gather in the general store and exchange the gossip of the week while the children looked over all the wonderful penny candy they would buy with their gopher tail money. On Sunday mornings we dressed in our best clothes and drove those long ten miles to Glenavon for Mass. The little church was filled and we found it interesting to hear a sermon in English - in Brandon it had been Polish and in Dunrea it had been French. The roads were all dirt trails and very slippery when wet. We had one long treacherous hill to climb and I sat in fear and trembling until we reached the top. Your grandad and I took Mom back to the farm some years ago, and that steep hill of my childhood had become a gentle slope, just as the huge red barn I remembered had shrunken to little more than a two-storey shed. No wonder I had been able to jump so bravely from the loft to land on a pile of hay in the yard.

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