Prologue to “Stories From My Prairie Childhood” – Why I’m Here
From retirement on I began to receive and amass a considerable amount of family memorabilia. In 2017 I had become totally overwhelmed by the mountain of disorganized information and didn’t know where to begin. Then I discovered Learning in Retirement at Carlton University. Courses on writing memoirs were available and I jumped at the chance that I might be able to climb that mountain. I’ve been scaling it ever since, at times still overwhelmed, but determined to at least reach the age of 20 on this wondrous and revealing trip into the past. I am assisted by what I learned on the courses and by the informal group that has persisted since my first class.
The series “Stories From My Prairie Childhood” focuses on a period that span years of depression and WW ll from the perspective of a pre-teen with two exceptions – “Tough Love” (still to be published) and “Rubella or Rubeola?” (where I was at the ages of 13 and 14). The stories are relatively ordered but may dissolve into disorder from time to time. Memories are like that.
The first story in this series is 1. The Pasture.
10. How Much Did I Cost?
I was born in the middle of the Great Depression – 1935 – dead centre of the Dirty 30’s. “Great” in this context certainly meant “terrible”. My parents paid $3.41 cents for me and paid on an installment plan. I know this because Mother kept the receipt. It was much later when Mom and Dad told us what was going on in the 30’s.
In 1935 I was not aware of drought, depression, stock market crashes, or ruined millionaires jumping out of high buildings, men riding the rails or shuffling down roads as hobos, soil blown away by relentless winds, endless dust coming through every crack and crevice of fragile clapboard homes. Had I been aware I might have wanted to be unborn.
The horse drawn wagons of indigenous couples frequently stopped at our place, space that had once been their space. When I was l little older I wondered why they never had children with them. I didn’t know about the residential schools. Always they needed food and we did our best to help. I know now that many were starving.
We farmed in Parkland Saskatchewan on a quarter section of land that my father had acquired through a rent to own agreement. We worked land that had been bargained away from its indigenous population and then divided into townships to attract farmers from the United States, Eastern Canada and the British Isles. My parents were aware of what was happening in the Dust Bowl that was devastating Southern Saskatchewan farms and those in the prairie states across the border. They were thankful that we were being spared – close to penniless but able to care for our animals, harness our horses and grow our own vegetables. Bushels of berries from the hedgerows were a reliable source of fruit. Those hedgerows also helped to prevent erosion.
Our little triad of communities – Spalding, Daphne and Watson – all in a row along Highway 6 – had not been decimated by the departure of neighbours who fled from both drought and depression. Our communities remained intact and could still support themselves and each other. And they did.
In Southern Saskatchewan communities disintegrated as If they too had been blown away in the dust storms. As I became more cognisant and better read I began collect stories in my head and in my notes. The lessons we were supposed to have learned from the Great Depression were taught in elementary and secondary schools. We listened for a while and then we forgot. We went to war and after that we forgot even more.
Memory is a generational thing. We may try to share our experiences with our children but ultimately each new generation will carve out its own particular destiny – for better or for worse.
So – how much did I really cost? In addition to the $3.41 other costs included “parental loss of full nights of sleep plus 20 years of room and board, clothing and a college education, all of these during particularly challenging times. I don’t think I can put a final number on all of that!
My birth receipt