Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Farm and Why it was So Loved

The farmhouse was very old , we found the year 1829 etched into the attic boards of the old part and 1867 above the woodshed when we were exploring. Imagine living in a house that had seen so many prior generations living in it. The rumour was that a retired sea captain had the house built after he decided to leave the life of the sea. Treasure was said to be buried somewhere near the house and for us that explained the odd old coin that surfaced in the garden or by the lilac bushes. When they installed the plumbing (and the houses first bathroom with running water!) in the 1960's Mother told the fellow who excavated for the tile bed that if he found the treasure, we would share it. Mother was a romantic at heart, even though there was little time to indulge those sentiments, and the thought of a treasure and an old sea captain really peaked her curiosity.

Coming to the farm meant meandering down a long lane, bordered both sides by oaks and elm trees that were absolutely regal in the summer, framing the passage way with a living, green canopy. The lane itself was covered with crushed stone, that was variably dense or sparse depending upon whether we had money to buy a load or two of gravel or whether we used the stones that we ourselves picked from the soil of the garden. We picked stones out of the garden to save the ploughs we used from damage and to make the plants germinate and pierce the earth without obstacle.

Father loved to garden; he loved it his whole life. He ploughed in the early days with one of the work horses and a plough that he "walked" behind. I still remember the reigns from the harness slung over his shoulder as he "drove" the plough. I can still hear him urging the old horse on with his slow and steady voice, calming and encouraging old Jim to first of all, continue; and, to move along in a straight line from row to row. It was a dance of sorts, a little awkward for sure, but captivating to watch. Father knew just how much to spur the magnificent partner on and when he needed a break to rest and for that long, refreshing, drink of water. During the break Father would scratch that place under Jim's harness collar where he knew (somehow) that it would be itchy and, behind the ear, under the bridle, where a rub was always welcome. They would rest a while together, Father whispering and the old horse nuzzling, and then, together, finish the job.

Inside the farmhouse the smells of fresh baked bread or pot roast in the oven would permeate the air. Mother would be busy getting a meal on while Father worked. There were always seven of us for supper, sometimes more. Because Father loved to grow things, we had fresh fruit and vegetables with meals. The farm came with a small apple orchard but we never fully understood how to care for it so it seemed to produce a little less every year. We also had two cherry trees and in the back of the farm beside the "far" well there was a pear tree. I discovered the pear tree with my brother Fred one time when we went looking for the cows out there. He somehow knew where it was; possibly from his hunting trips with Father. The cows ate all the low hanging fruit so he picked me a pear as far up as he could reach from the height of our horse, Tina. It tasted tart but so good. No preservatives there.

So the farm helped to sustain us through what the land had to offer, what the animals produced for us in milk and meat, and, with the shelter provided by a century old home.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ahh Yes Skating...there was always a Pond for Skating!

The Farm was 150 acres of cleared land, woods, streams, and ponds and we loved it all year round but winter was particularly magical! The frost on the trees, the warmth of the fire inside, the smell of hot chocolate warming on the wood stove, the quiet and peaceful surroundings absent of car horns, fire truck sirens, or city busses passing made for an atmosphere of peaceful reflection!

In the winter the walk to school always seemed a little longer in distance but the time taken to make the trek was shortened by the necessity of the brisk pace! Often I walked the mile huddling my face behind the back of an older brother. His sturdy frame shielded me from the blowing wind and cold. It was like walking with your eyes closed - all I could see was the back of the coat my brother was wearing and I dared not peer beyond on those days when the wind was particularly wild, wisps of snow "cutting" my face. Once home from school chores were completed as quickly as possible. We could use the remaining light of day to play a game of hockey or skate around the frozen pond in the front of the house near the road or over in a distant field where the rains had left huge pools to freeze over.

My fondest memories include skating with my older brothers and trying to be included in their ice games. I learned later that the role they had given me was less part of the game and more designed to keep me out of harms way! For that reason I often found myself tending goal a great distance away with our lovely golden lab as a playmate. The occasional skate by of one of my brothers would be enough to leave me with the impression that I was, indeed, a part of the real play. Real or not the chill on my cheeks, the fresh air in my lungs and the blissful feeling of exhaustion at the end of the afternoon, as dusk was approaching was nothing short of wonderful. Mother , with the hot chocolate ready, and the warmth in the kitchen that always waited for us to return, made us feel so good. Winter on the farm was just perfect!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Father's Birthday was the 29th of June.

Father's Birthday was the 29th of June. My last post has a great picture of them both. Father will have been deceased for ten years this September (16th) and I do miss seeing him! He always could answer a question about history, particularly European history; he had a green thumb and loved plants and animals; he was always there!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mother's Birthday Was The 17th of April...

Just a quick entry to share the fact that Mother's birthday was April 17th and she would have been 91 were she still alive today. She loved her birthday and the weather, just like this year, was always very nice on that day for as many years as I can remember. Father planted Crocus bulbs and Tulips in the garden so she would always have something pretty to look at on her birthday.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Goldie (and Christian's Flying Shoes etc...)

Goldie was our beloved yellow Labrador retriever and came to the farm in Christian's car after he stopped by the animal pound in Kingston. Goldie was big, boisterous and beautiful with the most amazing brown eyes you could ever imagine. She was a very curious dog, and always had her nose in or around something. She loved Christian and would follow him around the farm wagging her long tail and with a 'girlish' spring in her step.

Christian was ten years older than I was and left the farm when he was 21 if I recall correctly ... maybe it was earlier - I know when he reads this he will email me if I am wrong :-) ! His age is important because there was quite a difference in age between us and so when he brought Goldie home in his car I was at first excited and happy to see her but wondered what Mother and Father would think of another dog. No worries. They welcomed her into the family with open arms and so she became one of us. The only hitch was that she would sleep in Christian's room and be cared for primarily by Christian. (Hmmmm...it sounds like something a parent would do.)

Christian, in addition to his love of animals, or perhaps, more to the point, his inability to visit the dog pound without leaving with one, also loved his sleep. He was a bear when it came to sleeping; snoring loudly, and ensuring his bed was piled high with covers, often at the expense of the rest of us. Some evenings the farmhouse was cold and often you would wake in a chill only to discover that the quilt Mother had made for you had mysteriously disappeared. If you checked Christian's room you would see that he had not only his own quilt warming him, but those of as many unsuspecting siblings as he could rob that particular night.

Christian did not like to be woken from his sleep, loved to sleep in and was very grouchy when you woke him for anything! So, you didn't...but then there was the matter of his roommate, Goldie. She was a sweet, sweet dog but needed to go out at night to pee and when she got out, it was never a simple matter of her getting to it and coming back in. Oh no! She had to sniff around the grounds, check on the chickens, run to the garage which was a good fifty yards from the house, and, generally, do a few things before she was ready to come back in. So Christian would invariably not wait for her to finish but would return to his warm bed and resume (or try to) his sleep....

Problem was , when Goldie had finished her rounds, she wanted to come in! She longed for the comfort of her sanctuary in Christian's room, the, to her ears only, sweet mellow sounds of his breathing and snoring and the warmth of the foot of his bed. She couldn't imagine where he was, why he had not waited for her, and she knew (somehow) which window in the farmhouse was his! Her only choice was to sit under his window and bark, and howl, and bark and bark and bark...she never stopped barking hoping he would come and save her from the loneliness of the farmyard at 4 am. Christian's answer to the problem - throw a shoe down at her, first one then she would sniff at it and move it around a little wondering if this were some human signal that said he was coming to get her - her beloved Christian! More barking...then another shoe....more sniffing, more waiting, more silence then more barking...another shoe ... more barking ...another shoe....more barking... an endless waltz of wills between man and dog!

Oh for goodness sakes! Finally someone let her in from outside and she was happy, all was silent again and Christian could sleep...but only Christian, since the rest of us typically had no covers on our beds and had been awakened by the calamity that was Christian and Goldie. In the morning, under Christian's window on the lawn, we could always find our shoes if they were missing from under our beds.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Christmas on the Farm

Christmas was Mother's favorite holiday and it was particularly magical on the farm. We had two big work horses; one black, Jim, one white, Queen; and two riding horses called Tina and Tamara. A couple of weeks before Christmas Father would hitch up one of the horses to a sled so that we could go out to the woods to find the best Christmas tree. It would always seem very cold, somehow there was always snow for the sled to glide along and somehow the tree didn't take that long to find. I suspect that my Father had found the perfect tree during his many hunting trips in the fall and could take us right to it when the time came.

I recall one such time when Fred, Tony and I were with Father and I fell off the back of the sled into the deep snow - not too far from home, because Tony and I were laughing so hard at something silly. Tony and Fred tried to get Fathers attention to stop and let me catch up but the sound of the horse pulling the sled, the jingling of the sleigh bells and the rustling of the tree in the wind drowned out their cries. The more the gap widened between me and the sleigh the more we all laughed. After a short while Tony jumped off to walk with me the rest of the way home so I would not be alone. It was very funny and when we got home the hot chocolate Mother had made to warm us up and the feel of the warmth by the wood stove were very welcome indeed.

Once the tree was home, Mother, with our help of course, trimmed it with many home made decorations and a few precious glass ornaments that she had collected along the way. There were hearts made of shiny red and white paper woven into a small receptacle that would hold candies while it hung on a tree branch. And there were pink or white paper nets , cut expertly from folded tissue paper that were also filled with candies. The lights were the old bulb variety in beautiful colours of green, yellow and red but no blue. (Mother didn't like the blue ones.) They got very hot so we had to be careful not to touch them and not to leave them on too long.

It always seemed to be snowy for Christmas and the farm seemed somehow a little magical at this time of year. Mother made chocolate candies and she baked cookies and bread. She cooked roasts, hams and turkey. And there was always Christian's favourite red cabbage on Christmas eve. We had an old friend of the family visit on many Christmas eves, a bachelor who lived on Amherst Island where we had a beach lot for summer fun. His mother was a Baroness in Denmark but you wouldn't know he had such noble roots because he was a very plain, and quiet man who lived an almost hermit like existence. He always brought along a bottle of beer for each of Mother, Father and himself. In those days with five children and one paycheck, beer was a luxury that Mother and Father rarely enjoyed. Christmas was one of those occasions and then only because it came as a gift from a friend.

Mother always wanted us to sing before opening the Christmas presents. Usually it was the hymn Silent Night, Holy Night because it brought the true meaning of Christmas to the celebrations. None of us sang very well as I recall, but it didn't seem to matter....

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nellie Has Puppies!...Many, Many Puppies...

Nellie was a dog that came to be at the farm the way most of our dogs came - Christian or Fred went to the dog pound and rescued an animal! Usually there would be something about the animal that "spoke" to them, that appealed to one or more of their senses. They must have had a cold the day they picked Nellie because she was a smelly hound dog. We nicknamed her Smelly Nellie! She was as sweet as she was smelly and we all loved her! When we learned she would have puppies I, for one,was very excited...I could hardly wait for the big day and it was a certainty that I would be in the barn when it happened.

Nellie was a black and tan hunting dog who enjoyed running in the woods and through the long grass. She could go very fast and was really a true hound dog. She had the longest ears and when she ran through the grass all you could see was the flopping ears over the tops of the grasses. She had a voice that one could only compare to an opera singer's soprano; piercing, projecting and full of wonderful and varied tones. She loved the farm, not so much the farm animals but the space to roam free. Our dogs were never on a leash on the farm. The one thing that Nellie really disliked was water, not to drink, but to run through. In fact, if she came to water she would not run through it - she would stand and whine until someone helped her across. This made it difficult - no, let me correct that - impossible to bath her which only added to the smelliness of Nellie! Nellie was so smelly that when we took her to the vet, people around us would get a particular expression on their faces and move far away from her.

Nellie's puppies were close to arriving and I was sick with the measles - how awful - I was devastated. I asked my Mother if I could go to the barn to be with Nellie and she said "Absolutely not! You have a fever and you must stay in bed!" I begged and pleaded with her, but the more I begged the more she stood her ground and the further away it seemed my chances of seeing the newborns would be... Nellie had chosen a place in the barn to have her puppies, a place I knew very well and if I couldn't go there then I wouldn't get to see the newborns for a long while...Father said that the puppies could not be moved until their mother was ready to move them and there I was, stuck in bed. I was actually very sick and only felt like sleeping most of the time but my heart was breaking over the distance between me and the puppies once I heard that they had , in fact, arrived safely, all six of them.

One Saturday morning, soon after the puppies arrived my brother Fred came into my room where I was resting in bed, the grip of measles now slowly leaving my body. I was starting to feel a little better. I thought Fred was coming to bring me a drink of orange juice or ginger ale or to play a game of cards with me, but, the real reason for his visit was much, much better than any of that! He came into the room with his barn coat still on. That was strange since it was nice and warm inside - the wood stove was roaring with heat. He pushed the door closed a little so Mother's watchful eye would not take in what he was concealing. He sat down on the bed with me and motioned that I had to be quiet by putting his index finger to his lips and uttering a very quiet "shhhh". ... then he slowly and carefully pulled the littlest, furry creature I had ever laid eyes on from his jacket and said "here have a look, and you can pet her gently, but she can't stay because I have to bring her back before Nellie misses her too much." I was too excited for words...she was so precious, so tiny and so black. Her ears were tiny flaps of soft skin and her eyes were not open yet, she was so soft. She had the tiniest nose and nostrils the size of the holes in a button - she was a perfect little puppy and, oddly enough, she didn't smell bad! She was a little less than three days old.

When Fred left to take her back to the barn and her mother, I was content. He gave me the best gift ever that day. I knew that soon I could visit the puppies any time I wanted and it would be often!