Saturday, August 11, 2018

Those Were The Days: Childhood Summers on the Farm

Priscilla du Preez |

As a kid, I never thought we lived in an interesting place. To me, it was just so ordinary. Plunked on a small farm in the middle of rural Alberta, there were no lost pirate treasures to be found, no abandoned spooky cabins or fairy tale cottages to be discovered, no caves or forests to explore. The adventures the kids had in my storybooks were way more exciting and exotic than what was going on in my small regular life. How I used to long for some of those adventures.

Little did I realize, when I look back now, we had everything we needed to stoke our imaginations. Warm summer mornings would call to us as breezes blew on our faces. Our little chores done, we would be free to play the rest of the day. The entire farm was our oyster. There was nothing much that we could really get into trouble with either, which is probably why Mom had no problem with us playing anywhere. We just had to tell her where we were heading.

Half the fun was deciding where we'd explore on a given day. We could go down past the chicken barn to the woodsy area. Tall willows and poplars created a shady spot where weeds grew tall. There we'd make tracks in the nettles for games of Fox and Goose, or we'd play on an old swing left over from my dad's youth. When we tired of that, we'd move down towards the creek, always a fascinating draw for us. We would hear the warning Mom would give on our way out the door, not to get too close to the creek. We were mindful of her words and we did tread carefully, but mostly because we didn't want the water tipping into our boots as we hunted pussy willows. 

The creek ran through the southeast corner of the farm, and the only time it amounted to anything would be the few days during spring thaw. From the back meadow, the deep drifts of melted snow would rush and roar their way through the worn gully down to the creek bed, at which point the water would carry on through the culvert into the neighbour's land. I used to love that roar as it gushed past the barns. It was that sound that I imagined when I read about the wind soughing through the fir trees Heidi used to listen to as she fell asleep in Grandfather's chalet loft.

Out behind the barns there were rock piles and the family's collection of refuse -- old tin cans mostly-- that provided many happy hours of exploration. We didn't put our garbage there, so I always thought it was from my dad's time as a boy. That felt funny to think about. Sometimes we found little pieces of coloured glass or odd shaped bottles. Climbing around on the rock piles and past the low tree branches was always an exercise in agility. Who needed a playground? The rusted out body of an old car (1940's?), hauled out there long before our time, created hours of playtime, driving and braking and signaling as we turned corners on imaginary roads. 

Sometimes we'd decide to walk along the fence line where shrubs and bushes and wildflowers grew. We'd watch the butterflies and hear the bees buzz past as we'd tromp through the fields. Mom would say one sunny day that the berries were getting ripe, and we'd be sent out with pails tied to our waists--to keep the spillage to a minimum. A happy trek to the outer edges of the property line where we'd find the tall Saskatoon bushes-cum-trees. Some years they would be loaded with fat, purple berries. The best bunches always seemed to be on the top branches and we'd have to fan-dangle ways to bend them down low enough to pick from -- usually that required team effort. Other years when there had been less rain the berries were small and harder. Still tasty. It was always a sad little moment to hear the lonely plunk of that first berry as it hit the bottom of the pail. Such an echo merely echoed our own secret thoughts at how very long it would take to fill our pails. We'd sing all the songs we knew to help while away the time as we picked. 

A walk past the barn to the west would bring us to the gully where the spring waters had run. In the deep of summer it was completely dry, so it created a lovely dip and hill for our bike riding and hiking. Up and down we went, the dog always happy to have company as he explored his trek of gopher holes and smelly rotting piles.

Amelia Bartlett |
We took for granted all the wildflowers and grasses that grew on our farm and ditches along the roadside. How freely they grew: nettles, alfalfa, clover, purple vetch, wild sweet-peas, yarrow, cowslip, yellow sow thistles, fox tails, goldenrod, chamomile, to name a few. We'd go out and gather bouquets and then play wedding in the front yard. The cement steps always made for good seating for the wedding guests. There would be dress-up clothes and much planning of the big event. We usually played this when we had playmates for the afternoon. 

Some days our explorations took us to the barnyard and the big barn. Ours was not painted the usual red colour. Dad decided on silver when the new barn was built. And we always loved that it was silver. We'd slide the big door open and walk into the cool darkness. Sometimes there'd be sows and their piglets to see. We were always told to stay out of their pens as sows could be nasty. Stanchions stood ready for milking time, when fresh hay would be put down for the cows. I never learned to milk as the cattle were sold and we never kept cows after that. But I still remember what it felt like to have the calves suck milk from my finger tips. Or, watch the cats slurp milk still warm from the cow. 

The hayloft was a fun spot. Climbing the ladder on the side of the wall and then playing in the hay. Looking for kittens. I remember it being hot and steamy up there and how poky the hay felt if it got down our shirts. Sunbeams would stream in through the loft door, showing the air was alive with dust and bits of hay. Birds would flit in and out. Definitely pigeons, maybe barn swallows too.

There were other days we'd opt to stay near the house...especially if it was too hot to stump over hill and dale. So, we'd play house under blanket tents we'd become expert at pegging to the step railing. We'd don our bathing suits and use the water hose to make a tiny spray park. We'd sit with our snacks in the shade of the big poplars and read our books, or sit on the back step slurping Popsicle's and eating watermelon, the dog panting at our feet.

Some afternoons we'd tromp half a mile across the fields to meet our friends on the next farm. It never seemed far, and what a happy sight when we caught sight of them waiting for us at the property line. We'd while the afternoon away learning to whistle blades of grass, or watch cloud formations in the blue sky, or trek through their swamp to stay cool.

Funny, for such a small ordinary life lived on a small ordinary farm, we never ran out of things to do or places to explore and re-explore. Our days were full of everything and nothing. How happy these memories of summers on the farm make me feel today. I hope they stir your own happy memories. Truly, those were the days, my friends, those were the days.

Hugs and blisses,

Friday, August 03, 2018

Where You Tend A Rose

"Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable, determinedly courageous one. ... Two things cannot be in one place. Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.” ― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

It's been a while since I wrote my first post in my new series, How I Found My Beautiful Life.  CLICK TO READ  I'm not sure why it's taking so long for the second post to get writtenI have been giving it a lot of thought, dreaming about what to share next, but so far nothing's been gelling. As I wait, I begin work on this new post about that lovely old movie, The Secret Garden.

Turns out when you let the Muse take the lead, she'll often bring you to the spot where you wanted to be in the first place. She likes going the round-about way, which is a lot like me, as it turns out. Something started bubbling up that I never, ever thought I'd share with anyone. One doesn't usually advertise one's foibles and imperfections, especially online, but my little story seems to have found its place of belonging when I started writing this post about The Secret Garden. Here goes...

Many years ago when my really kindred bosom friend, Jean, and I were housemateslong before either of us were marriedwe used to watch the 1987 Hallmark version of The Secret Garden. We loved it and were both drawn to a line the crusty old gardener said in the movie: "Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow." We loved that line and would often quote it to each other with an English accent. It fit so well with our growing desire to think good thoughts and to pull up any that were weedy and noxious in nature.

Although you can hardly imagine it (wink), I used to be a bit of a whiner-grumbler if things weren't quite to my taste or satisfaction. I'd feel a keen sense of loss and disappointment when things didn't turn out right or if I felt hard done by. I would most often whine inside my head about these things, but sometimes folks around me heard about it too. One thing I really disliked was getting up early in the mornings. I was a night owl and it was a real chore to get ready for work. It was always the hurry, hurrying to get out the door on time which made me feel owly. It was so stressing.

I shall never forget one particular morning, I was in the kitchen ready to leave for work, when I very clearly heard a Voice inside me speak, 'Would you quit your whining!'

You can be sure I stood up straight and took notice. Shocked was I to hear the Lord's voice so clearly. He was not amused that day. Not sure why he took exception that particular morning, deciding to say something that would get my attention. Although I can hardly blame him for piping up, having to listen to me muttering away every single morning. Someone might ask how I knew it was God speaking. You see, I have always believed there is God and, at that time, Jean and I had been practicing to listen for the still, small voice, so we would grow to recognize it. I wanted to be able to hear him speak when I asked for direction, when I wanted to learn something about his ways, or when I needed encouragement, that sort of thing. But, until that moment, I'd never heard the Voice so definite, so clear ... yet I knew it was him. And, I knew I deserved the reprimand.

Never shall I forget that moment. It was a life changer for me. I became very aware of my attitude and how I was processing my inward thoughts about all kinds of things. I didn't realize just how negative I was inside. I did a decent job of covering it up most of the time, but my heart was a bed of weeds and thistles. I eventually told Jean about my encounter and she very nicely created a sign which we posted on the refrigerator door. WHINING, in bold letters, inside a big circle with a diagonal line drawn through it. You get the idea. The reminder was ever present and I sorely needed it.

I was so glad. I wanted my thought life to change. I wanted to think beautiful thoughts. For, not only could I hear the wilderness of thoughts in my own head, but Someone else could hear them too. I wanted him to hear thoughts that were lovely and worthy, honourable and seemly, winsome and gracious. I wanted those kind of thoughts for myself for we've heard it said, as a woman thinks in her heart, so is she. That's who she becomes. As I worked to change this icky habit, eventually my thoughts grew less negative and, thankfully, less grumbly. The other lovely thing that happened was that my whole life brightened because my inner world had taken a turn for the better. I started to see things differently, and I began to look for the beauty in the middle of whatever was happening in my life, pleasant or unpleasant. As I say, it became a life changer.

To this day, when I catch myself starting to grumble, I remember the divine encounter I had that morning so long ago. I also remind myself of Miss Burnett's lovely thought about where we tend roses, thistles cannot grow.

And that, dear readers, is an important step in how I  came to find my beautiful life.

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed
and every morning revealed new miracles.”
 ― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

On to what I wanted to tell you about The Secret Garden. As I said, Jean and I both enjoyed watching the 1987 movie, which included a very young Colin Firth, who played the adult Colin Craven when he came to meet Mary Lennox in their secret garden as young adults. They say it's a movie for children, but really, it's for anyone young at heart. And any lessons we can glean from it are worthy at any age.

Did you know that there is a remake of The Secret Garden in the works? And, Colin Firth is to once again have a role in this story. Thirty years later, he'll be playing Mary's benevolent, yet neglectful guardian Archibald Craven (formerly played by Sir Derek Jacobi). Do you think he'll make a good Archibald Craven? I certainly think so.

From all accounts, the story, which was being filmed earlier this year, is to be tweaked from the original, with the latest film to be reset in a slightly later time period, removing it from the Edwardian era to shortly after World Word II in 1947. It will be on the eve of Partition in India and in the aftermath of the war in Britain.
"When Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), a prickly and unloved 10-year-old girl, born in India to wealthy parents, is sent to England to live with her guardian Archibald Craven (Firth) on his remote country estate, she begins to uncover several family secrets, particularly when she meets her sickly cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst). These two damaged, slightly misfit, children begin to heal each other, partly through their exposure to a wondrous secret garden, lost in the grounds of the manor. Julie Walters plays the head housekeeper" (Indian Summers on Masterpiece Theatre). excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter
I'm always a little nervous with remakes of old favourite films. We get attached to what we knew first, don't we? So, to the fans of The Secret Garden, will you be okay with the story shifting to a later time in history? I think it can still work. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds. I could not find a release date yet, but it's something new to watch out for.

As a final wrap up, here are a few other lovely lines from this classic well-loved story:

“Sometimes since I've been in the garden I've looked up
through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy
as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest
and making me breathe fast." 

“And they both began to laugh over nothing as children will
when they are happy together. And they laughed so that in the end
they were making as much noise as if they had been
two ordinary healthy natural ten-year-old creatures—
instead of a hard, little, unloving girl and a sickly boy
who believed that he was going to die.” 

“But the calm had brought a sort of courage and hope with it.
Instead of giving way to thoughts of the worst,
he actually found he was trying to believe in better things.” 

* * *

Here's wishing you a beautiful day!