Rocking Chair Memories
Thunderstorms in January are quite rare in this part of northeastern Alberta, but this mid-January (1976) the neighborhood was awakened by loud peals of thunder and brilliant flashes of lightning that was enhanced by the whiteness of the snow. This brought to Harry Jenner's mind a beautiful January day when he was a teenager.
"We were short of feed that winter and my dad sent me with the team and sleigh to get a load of rye bundles from a neighbor who lived near Heinsburg. On the way a sharp crack of thunder made both the team and me jump; being daylight I hadn't noticed the lightning and there was just the one crack.
On arriving at the neighbor's farm I found him busily sawing short blocks off an oak pole; it might have been a wagon tongue, I don't know for sure, but oaks don't grow here. Anyway it looked to me like he was making little wheels. I stood watching for several minutes, wondering why he needed so many of them. Finally he looked up and remarked, "You're wondering what I'm doing this for, well I'm making sawdust for a filter. The girls are in the kitchen, go say 'hello.' "
I went in, and there were his two teen-age daughters cooking up a batch of home brew as unconcernedly as you please. After it was cooked they ran it through the "filter." It came through as clear as crystal. They bottled it, and after we had loaded the rye bundles he gave me a bottle of the brew to take home to Dad. I was scared! It was during prohibition and, as Dad was Justice of Peace, I knew the police were around. I stuffed it away down in the middle of the load. My fears were unnecessary, I didn't meet the police and delivered the "gift" safe and sound. Dad gave me a taste and it had quite a nip."
George Kjenner wonders how much horses can remember; he chuckled when he recalled hearing his cousin ask his threshing team, "Did you forget what I told you yesterday?" Well it is true that some farmers thought horses were more human than humans, and in courtin' days it was a good thing horses couldn't talk.
Donald Nichols remembers Oliver Brown asking his truck, "What do you think you're doing, heading for the ditch?"
Lois Nichols recalls her grandmother, Emma Bowtell, telling about sitting on a suitcase beside the road while Dr. Miller pulled all her top teeth without any kind of anesthetic. Jean Kinch remarked that even in the late 30's dentistry left much to be desired.
"My sister Elsie was subbing as teacher at Acomb School and rode horseback there and back. One evening she came home pale as a ghost and spitting blood. I asked what had happened. 'I've had a tooth-ache all week. I just met Doc Miller on the road, stopped him and asked him to pull the tooth. He didn't want to, said he had no cocaine with him. I told him to pull it anyway, so I sat down on the running board and he yanked it out.' She picked up the milk pail and went out to milk the cow."
Frank Bristow topped them all with — "My brother Dave was pretty handy at welding. Scotty Crawford had been suffering with toothache for some time. Dave made forceps out of a pair of pliers; Scotty sat down on a block of wood, and brother Fred held his head while Dave pulled the tooth."
Fred Granger's rocking chair memory was of a man called Torrance who did odd jobs for Dad when Earl and Fred were youngsters. "Torrance had a liking for raw eggs and couldn't pass one by when he saw it in the nest. When the hens slacked off laying in the fall Mom wondered what was happening to all the eggs. We told her that we saw a dog eating them. "I'll fix him," said Mom, so she took an egg, drilled a hole in the side and poured in a generous helping of cayenne pepper. She sealed the hole with paraffin and we took the egg out and put it in a nest, then we hid in the feed stack to watch. Along came Torrance, picked up the egg, cut it open with his jacknife and gulped it down. "Oh boy! I don't, know if it would have worked on a dog, but it sure worked on Torrance!"
The closing of Eaton's mail-order service brought to mind how much the early settlers appreciated the visits of the Rawleigh and Watkins travelling salesmen, and how they also liked to read Dr. Chase's and Dodd's almanacs. This reminded Doris Pynten that when she was young, a girl friend from the city came to visit at the Will Franks' farm.
"One afternoon we realized we hadn't seen Peg for quite a while. We called and called but got no answer. Then began an hour of frantic search. We finally found her in one of the smaller outside buildings, so engrossed in reading the jokes and articles in some old almanacs that had been put out there, that she never even heard the commotion."
Someone remembered Johnny Gregor complaining that cars spoil the roads for horses. He used to tell it like this. "They make the roads so icy the horses have to be sharp- shod and car tracks are two wide for the sleighs to follow. There was I, going down the road, one runner down in a car track, the other up in the middle. Along came a car toot-tooting behind me; it scared the dickens out of my team and I couldn't get the sleigh out of that icy car rut. Finally the car got past, but a mile or so along I caught up to it stuck in a snow drift. The driver had the nerve to ask me to pull him out. I obliged, but I couldn't pass up the chance to remark that 'the horse gets you there'."
Although cars weren't very plentiful in 1929, one afternoon as Fred Hall's team was stepping out at a pretty good pace, along came a hit-and-run car driver and clipped the wheel off the buggy. Fred wasn't too happy.
Ross Sanders' recollection was of Eli Evans helping build Pop Sanders' store in Heinsburg, when he hammered his thumb. He relieved his feelings with a few choice words. "My goodness, Eli," remarked Gerhard Gunderson, "you shouldn't swear like that." "What would you say?" asked Eli. "Hallelujah!" answered Gerhard. Needless to say Heinsburg rang with a lot of "Hallelujahs" before the store was finished that summer.
How many remember the phenomenal red sky that appeared in the mid-thirties? It was a beautiful evening. People who recall it cannot say for sure if it was summer or fall, but they all agree that it was too early in the evening for the northern lights to appear and too late for sunset rays. The sky began to turn pink, deepening in color until it became a brilliant red. It was weird.
To Frank and Grace Franks it was given special significance. Grace recollects that their friend, an old Indian named Louis Moostoos, was at their place at the time. When he stepped out the door, intending to leave for home, he called them out to see the sky.The color remained covering the sky for twenty or thirty minutes before it began to fade, and he stood there, looking upward, neither speaking nor moving, as though in reverence. After it faded he went with them into the house and explained to them in his mixture of Cree and English that he had seen the same thing once, many years before, and that it was a sign of much blood - maybe a war or much sickness that would make people die.
It may never be known if it was such an omen or not, but if old Louis was living today he could point to the Second World War, the Korean War, many revolutions, natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, etc., and a steady increase in crimes with violence.
This phenomenon was neither fiction nor a figment of imagination. Others who remember seeing it are Leif and Doris Pynten, George and Jean Kinch, Earl Granger, and we recalled the late Ed Nelson asking if we also saw it.
More recently there were the sundogs that became visible in the forenoon, increasing in brilliance and spreading until they crisscrossed all the visible sky. Finally, toward evening, they encircled the entire horizon.
The differences in culture were brought to Jean Kinch's attention when she was a teenager. "Mom and Dad never allowed us to call Dad 'The Old Man.' They said it sounded `cheeky.' One day a young Indian lad came to the door and asked if 'The Old Man' was home. I answered, "Don't you mean my dad?" He replied, "Yes, but I didn't mean to be disrespectful. Indians always call old people "Old Man or Old Woman," so they know we respect them because they have lived a long time and they know more than we do."
A short time later a young Metis man was having dinner with us. He picked up the dish of potatoes and passed it first to Dad with the remark, "Have some potatoes, Old Man.' " Dad's temper flared and it took a lot of explaining before he decided it wasn't meant to be `cheeky'."
Harry Jenner and Babe Sharkey realize that they are alive today because of good reflexes and the fact that Harry didn't look before he leaped. Harry's 8 N Ford tractor had stalled on the main road near Pete Bosvik's land and wouldn't start again. Babe came along in his school bus and, being the friendly type, stopped to help. The trouble was a plugged screen on the gas line. They had just got it cleaned and the tractor in running order again when Babe yelled, "Look out, Harry!" They jumped into the ditch just as a car slammed into the side of the tractor, right where they had stood a second before, with enough force to break it in two.
We remembered Fred Hall's dislike of cheese and how he used to laugh when he told about a piece of Limburger cheese that even the cat wouldn't eat. The cheese was left on the table when a neighborhood family went to bed. During the night the cat knocked it off the table and pulled the tablecloth onto the floor, covering the cheese. Fred's philosophy was that "anything that couldn't pass the nose shouldn't pass the stomach."
Three incidents came to mind as Evelyn (Womacks) Greene reminisced. Mrs. Sillem had come to act as midwife when she was about to be born. Bess brought a bottle of brandy, in case it was needed by either mother or child. However, the Womacks boys took the brandy and gave it to a calf. They never forgot the calf's antics or Evelyn's birth.
The wood sawyers were at the Womacks home on Lyle's twenty-first birthday - on Friday the thirteenth. His cousin, Ivan Ketchum, warned Lyle to be careful sawing as it was an unlucky day. During a wrestling match at lunchtime Lyle's leg was broken!
As a member of the local girls' softball team Evelyn went to a St. Paul tournament. Their team played Lindbergh and won, then they were spectators at the following game. Next they played St. Paul and won. This meant they had to turn right around and play Dewberry. Dewberry and Manville had two of the top teams. The play was all in the infield and the score low. Right to the very end it was a tie. Later a spectator remarked that it had been the best game he'd ever seen.
A favorite staff-room memory comes from Ed Smuk, teacher in Heinsburg for fifteen years. One day Harry Jenner, janitor, took an inner tube to the school. Placing it in a sinkful of water he located the hole, immediately circled it with chalk and hung the tube in the furnace room. Ed discovered it, got a piece of chalk and proceeded to draw numerous circles all over that tube. Needless to say, it was "back to the drawing board" for Harry! This story is oft repeated, and chuckled over as much now as it was at the first telling.
Back in the mid-thirties we asked Joe Bum to start hauling our winter's wood "tomorrow". He said something that sounded like "yuss". Several "tomorrows" came and went, but no Joe. A couple of weeks later Joe arrived, minus the wood, breaking a young colt to harness. He came to the door leaving the team standing, untied, in the yard. Noticing that the colt was nervous and chomping at the bit, George asked him if he wanted to tie them up. Joe replied, "No, when Indian say 'Whoa' - horse stay whoa". They did.
Old George Fiddler was with him. Mr. Fiddler often referred to himself, with pride, as an educated Indian. The pride was deserved for it was a difficult. achievement for an Indian to receive an education when Old George was young. He had come to pay back twenty-five cents that he had borrowed from me two years earlier to buy staymow (tobacco). I had forgotten about it but he insisted that I take it. George (Kinch) asked Joe how come he hadn't hauled that wood. Joe jabbered something in Cree. Old George interpreted it thus, "When said in a certain way `yes' doesn't mean yes, it means 'I hear you or I am listening,' it doesn't mean that I agree with you." They both laughed and we weren't sure if they were pulling a fast one or not since they both had quite a sense of humor. Years later Sam Dumont, who spoke Cree fluently, told us the same thing. Well, we are still not sure and maybe the Happy Hunting Ground is made happier by the laughter of three men.