There is nothing like a birthday (especially one that officially ushers you into the “Old Age” bracket) to trigger a spell of nostalgia and remembering. Watching my 8-year-old granddaughter’s fingers fly over the computer keyboard and realizing how ‘tech’ savvy she is about things I will never understand, it causes me to wonder how we “old folks” ever grew up and managed to learn anything at all.
Sixty-five is not really that ancient (except to the youngsters) but it seems like a different world now from what I grew up in. How so, you may ask?
Well, I spent most of my elementary school days in a one room country schoolhouse. We did live in London for a couple of years and I attended a big city school there. But I started in grade one at SS# 1 Beehive, and graduated grade eight from there. One teacher taught all eight grades. I remember the hand pump outside and the water bucket inside. A big box, wood burning furnace supplied the heat. In the winter we would roast potatoes along the inside ridges. Oh what a wonderful smell! And the big scare when occasionally one would explode with a loud boom.
I learned penmanship with a straight nib pen and a bottle of ink. Seriously. And what fun we had playing baseball and Annie, Annie Over in the warm months, with snow forts and skating on the neighbour’s frozen field in the winter. I was lucky in that we lived only two farms away from the school. Some of the kids had a three-mile walk!
And oh yeah, we actually had opening exercises every morning that included saying the Lord’s Prayer, singing a hymn, and saluting the flag as we sang Oh Canada. GASP! How many “rights” were we infringing on?
Our farm had a long creek snaking through it. That feature was a year-round playground for us. We floated down it in homemade rafts. A deep hole was our swimming pool (complete with blood suckers and crabs). We caught fish, frogs, little turtles, and had fun finding clams and shells of various sizes. Sometimes when our city relatives came we would have wiener roasts on the banks at night. So peaceful and serene to hear the water gurgling mysteriously in the darkness outside bonfire’s ring of light. And of course there was ice to play on in the winter.
Mothers today would shudder at the freedom and “dangerous” playtime we enjoyed. We actually spent 80 % of our time outside in the fresh air. My three brothers, sister, and I loved to play in the barn. We would swing on ropes to land in the hay mows. Or build forts out of hay bales. Hide and seek in the gloomy cavern was fun. So many places to skulk in spooky corners. The empty granary bins made a great jail. (Strangely, I was often the “prisoner” as my older siblings wandered off and forgot about me until mealtime rolled around and Mom would ask where Ruth Anne was).
Another thing we did that even makes me shiver to think about now, was walking the beams of the barn. Yes, I mean the high beams that went from one side of the barn to the other. 25 feet in the air with nothing but a hard floor beneath us. What a feat of balance and fearlessness. Quite sobering to think of now but not one of us ever had a fall or accident. Our guardian angels must never have taken a coffee break!
We also climbed trees; ate green apples rubbed with cow salt; made bows an arrows out of willow branches; constructed go-carts out of things salvaged from the junk pile; and walked all around the fields on the top of rail fences. Another exercise in balance and concentration.
The search for wild blackberries in the fence rows produced an awesomely sweet treat. We sucked on sap icicles from the maple trees and chewed pitch “gum” from cedar trees. Drank milk fresh from cows. And were seldom sick.
There were chores to do. Picking stones, pulling weeds, bringing in wood for the stove, helping with haying and harvest. The boys helped in the barn and fields and the girls helped in the house and garden. Although, I spent many an hour on the tractor when the boys were not around.
I can just remember the horses being used for farmwork. But I do vividly recall riding the grain binder. This was a machine that cut the ripe oats, and bound it into sheaves. My job was to trip the cradle when six sheaves had dropped into it, leaving a pile ready to be stooked. The hay loader was another fascinating machine. It picked up the cut hay by a series of forks and canvas rollers, dropped it onto a wagon where it was forked evenly into a big load. Then the wagon was taken to the barn where the hay was forked into the mows. What a treat it was to ride on top of the swaying load of warm, sweet smelling hay!
And the threshing bees. This happened when the huge threshing machine owned and operated by a neighbour, would set up at the current farm whose crops were ready to be harvested. The stooked sheaves were forked onto a wagon and taken to the roaring, mammoth thresher where they were forked into the machine. Magically the grain was separated from the straw, spewing out two golden treasures. It took several men and sometimes several days to finish one farm before moving on to the next one. The farm wife was responsible for feeding the men while they were working on your farm and that meant providing hot, hearty meals for 8 – 10 men twice a day. When I was a teenager and Mom was working out, that job fell to me. Then came the advent of the combine and one man could do the whole harvest himself. Progress.
We had the old wall mounted crank telephone with separate ear phone and mouthpiece until I was an early teenager. Several people shared the same party line and we each had our own distinctive series of rings. So you always knew who was getting a phone call. Depending on how nosy your neighbours were, you learned to be cautious about what you said on the line!
Now almost every family member has a phone of their own and are never “disconnected”
Not everything was better in the “good old days”. Things change because there are flaws and unmet needs. But looking back simpler somehow seemed easier. Certainly there was more time and opportunity to enjoy nature and each other.
I have a wall plaque that reads:
Those were the days that I could master. The pace was slow and I was faster.
Good grief! I AM getting old!