The Character (s) of the Old Farm

Not only did the family farmhouses of old have character themselves, they sometimes also had a band of characters fondly associated with them.  These characters and their personalities brought with them features, much like your home would, except as I remember them a much more colorful and experiential zest for life we can’t always find these days.  Much like the featured image (also posted below) I started this post with, my grandparents’ farm had characters of all sizes, shapes, ages and real-life experiences.  That’s me in the picture with the exhausting smile on my face that seemed to come over me every time there was a tractor involved in anything I was doing.

Grandsons at the Farm 1970s
From left to right – my brother Mark, myself, my brother Tim, Grandpa and my cousin Don. This was taken in the late 70’s.

You will notice the smile on my grandpa’s face is similar to mine but the decades spent riding around on a tractor may have dampened his enthusiasm somewhat.  It also could have been a sign of mild exhaustion that often came about from having a gaggle of grandkids around for the weekend (actually he really didn’t seem to mind!).  My brother Mark is the one riding on the gas tank and wearing denim coveralls and rubber boots. While I can’t comment on his fashion sense I can say his somewhat reserved smile could be a sign that he is enjoying his day or just holding on for dear life.  My brother Tim (sitting on my grandpa’s lap) appears serious and is possibly thinking that Mark shouldn’t be sitting where he is, but also understanding tractors are fun and can’t hurt you.  My cousin Don  who is closest to the tire has a look on his face that seems  to threaten the photographer not to take this picture.  I am not sure who was the holder of the camera but I can tell you that every time I look at this picture I get flooded with great memories and not only wish we could go back to those times but also share them with the kids we all have now…..if only! My sister Sue is missing from this picture as is my cousin Rebecca.  Likely they were in the house at the time gossiping about how stupid boys were for liking tractors and such (eyes rolling).

 

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That’s the white shack on the left and the granary beside it. Stormy the doggy is in the middle smiling for the picture!

When we built our home in the Okanagan we built a pool shed to house some of the pool equipment and pool toys.  We needed to keep it under a certain amount of square feet otherwise it would be designated an accessory building and fall under a mountain of bylaws and regulations.  In the background of my featured image you can see several other “accessory” buildings. They had colorful names associated with them like the “white shack”, the “granary”, and the “tractor shed”. The names made sense to us because their names told us what they looked like or did.  The white shack was white, the granary had grain in it and the tractor shed had tractors stored in it. (Actually, I’m not really sure about the name of the tractor shed, but since I can’t remember for sure, that seems fitting.) I have a butler pantry in my current home now and while it does hold pantry-like goods it most certainly does not have a butler in it. Boy things were less complicated when I was a kid. If you were able to see past me in the tractor picture, behind the large fuel tank, I can tell you with a great deal of confidence that was where the most important building of them all was located.  Yes, that is where the “outhouse” sat.  Close enough to the house to get to on a cold night and yet far enough away to dissipate any of mother nature’s odors!

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Stormy was a purebred Samoyed show dog.

While we all enjoy our conveniences of today like indoor plumbing and running water, I believe some of the speed I had running and skating came from my years of going out to the outhouse late in the evening.  This was not something as  a young kid you looked forward to but a bladder is only so big and even when it is “pitch black” outside a person can only wait so long.  Waiting for the sun to come up just wasn’t a viable option.  From the farmhouse (west veranda) you walked down a slight hill to the outhouse.  There was a light on inside that gave it a warm and inviting glow…lol. We turned the light on at the house so we could at least point ourselves in the right direction.  Now as a kid who spent time around a farm when we grew up, we knew about coyotes.  Not the ones who play NHL hockey in the deserts of Arizona but the ones who roam freely at night in search of chickens and kids with small bladders forced into the dark abyss by their parents. The trip down to the outhouse wasn’t the problem, it was the return trip.  You looked up to see the farmhouse at the top of the hill and then saw infinite darkness directly behind you.  I am sure it was safe, but as a kid we knew the darkness held hundreds of coyotes and other assorted monsters our parents never told us about.  This made it necessary to run like a madman back to the farmhouse before something could catch and kill us. In the summer it wasn’t bad but in the winter it seemed I was never able to make it all the way without falling or losing a boot in the snow…..ugh. All in all a very terrifying ordeal to take care of something that mother nature would describe as natural. As you read on you will learn that coyotes weren’t the only things going “bump in the night” that I remember.

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My sister Sue! You can see the stairs in the background and the ringer washer in the corner. Funny that someone actually painted an arrow pointing up the stairs! I hadn’t remembered that.

Sometimes the characters and personalities we came across in old farmhouses were not the people living in or visiting them.  They were the ones we can’t see, touch or hold on to.  My grandparents’ farmhouse had many of these characters inside its walls although, depending on who you talk to, our individual recollections may vary  ….but my memory is better than theirs so you can believe me!  I mentioned in my last post the possessed stove that sat in the corner of the kitchen.  If you were making soup with the burner turned on while stirring the pot with a metal spoon and then you leaned against the stove you got a heck of an electrical shock. Ouch! My dad said the stove likely had a short in it somewhere, which is scary enough, but maybe there was some other “not of this world” explanation?  Hold that thought while I continue. The farmhouse had an old set of stairs that took you from the main level to the upstairs.  The second level had two bedrooms similar in size with one corner closet and a window at either end.  My grandpa slept in one of the rooms.  I was told that when my grandma was still alive and getting on in years, she slept in the second bedroom ( a pretty common thing back then). Well, in the winter the farmhouse would get quite cold and rather than going out and buying carpet for the floor my grandparents would put newsprint down on the floor to walk on.  My grandma sometimes used to sit in bed at night and read, casually flipping through pages of magazines before going to sleep. I can recall times when I visited my grandpa in the summer, laying awake in bed at night and hearing shuffling footsteps on paper-covered floors above me or the sound of magazine pages flipping. In both cases the sounds came from rooms that only held furniture. Yikes. I also recall one specific summer visit when I would hear a tap at the window around the same time every night.  This went on for several evenings and I made mental note of it.  On the weekend when my parents and family joined me at the farm I shared my story of the late night tapping with them and they found it hilarious.  They took turns sneaking outside and tapping on the same window just to p*** me off.  Much to my disappointment the tap never did happen again that night but after I had fallen asleep the blinds on the window beside me flew up to the top with a crash and literally had me jump out of bed……it scared the crap out of me.! I’m sure my cousins would be able to share similar stories with you and while it was somewhat unnerving/frightening as a kid, my grandpa would tell us it was just grandma visiting. As an adult I can relate to such a belief and take comfort in knowing that was probably the case.  As a kid though, it made for some nerve rattling evenings …lol.

There are two other things that stand out in my mind about the character of the old farmhouse.  When I went to visit my grandpa every summer for a couple of weeks, I stayed on the main floor in the living room and slept on the hide-a-bed. The stairs that led to the upstairs were very creaky and squeaked with every step you took whether you were young or old.  Us kids we used to slide down them on our butts as the treads had worn smooth as glass over the years.  Sliding down these stairs was risky at best because if you failed to stop yourself at the bottom you ended up either slamming into the ringer washer that greeted you or sometimes you impaled yourself on one of it’s control handles.  Then there was the furnace. When it kicked in it made the most unusual sound, almost like a plane engine warming up. The smells that would come out of the floor vents then were like a cross between a dusty musty smell, burning oil, and every other smell that celebrated and marked the passing of time.  Even today on the rare occasion my nose will pick out a scent when I am out and about that I can’t quite pin down but reminds me of the old farmhouse furnace.

Well this post could go on for another 1500 words or so, but may end up being too much of a good thing.  Looking back at all these old pictures has brought a flood of memories/emotions back to me and I have enjoyed sharing them with all of you. So having said that, I can’t guarantee that this is the end of them!

Please share with me any thoughts, feedback or stories you might have.  I am always open to suggestions and a helpful critique of my writing.

Cheers!

Remembering the Old Farmhouse

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The farmhouse with new shingles and siding on it.

It’s interesting how as we get older some of our fondest memories can come from the simplest times of growing up. It’s not about the job, the big house, how much money we make (or made), but just growing up.  These days I often find myself looking around our modern retirement dream home that we built in the Okanagan and thinking nostalgically about those simpler times.

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The farmhouse when I was growing up.

One fond memory I have (of many, many actually) is about the old farmhouse where my grandparents lived and my mom and her two sisters grew up. The picture on the left is that particular house after the additions of the tidy blue vinyl siding and modern screen door on the front.  I don’t actually remember too much about these changes as they were made long after my grandparents had passed away.  I remember the aged and weathered wooden siding that to a child never showed any sign of aging.  It just was as it always had been. I remember the wooden shingled roof that always seemed to be losing parts of itself when a storm blew through. My dad showed me how you could take a roof shingle and karate chop it in half if you hit it with the grain of the wood.  If you hit it across the grain you had a much different result and perhaps even the odd tear because of your sore hand. This, I am sure, got a silent chuckle from my dad.  I remember the 3 lightning rods at the roof’s peak and remember wondering if I would ever see lightning actually strike and wishing it would happen.  For the record, I never did see it strike but was told it often did strike and it wasn’t something to wish for!  But hey, I was just a kid taking in the world fascinated by things we didn’t have in the big city.

The house had two entrances that were enclosed by “verandas”. What?  Yes, verandas.  In the city we had decks and patios but old farm houses where grandparents lived had verandas.  You may want to make a note of that and tell your kids. These verandas even had names.  The one on the back of the house was called the west veranda but the one on the front wasn’t called the east veranda.  It was just called the veranda. This was always very confusing to a kid.  In the middle of each veranda sat a set of stairs that didn’t always seem to be level but when you jumped off from the top of them it didn’t seem to matter anyway.  They were only the pads that launched many a grandchild off into the yard.  Both entryways into the farmhouse had screen doors on them and when you opened them and went inside you were greeted by someone shouting “don’t slam the door”, just as you let it go and let it slam.  Even as we said sorry (not always) we still walked away with  a bit of a devilish smile and little laugh inside.  We were kids after all….. making noise was just something we did.

In the olden days (days before me at least) houses were built for practicality, necessity, basic needs and not on square footage.  Everything had a function like to keep you dry and warm, a place to sleep and have family meals together. Not like today where we build rooms to house home theatres, gym equipment, and double wall ovens.  At the farm, home theatre consisted of someone strumming on a guitar, papa playing a harmonica (sort of) or one of us fighting with one of our siblings.  More often than not the fighting and rough housing was what took centre stage.  We were kids after all….. creating drama was just something we did.

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My littlest brother at the kitchen table. Yes, those are star wars things he is playing with.
Papa at the Farm
My Grandfather (Papa) sitting beside the ringer washing machine.

On our many visits to “the farm” (as we fondly referred to it) we would have considered ourselves lucky if we ever made it inside the farmhouse during the day.  After all, we were kids and kids didn’t need to be inside………. ever! :)especially when they had so much outside to do and see! Lol. I kind of chuckle to myself because there was very rarely ever a ball, a bike or even a wagon at the farm.  Even in spite of these great challenges we never ran out of things to do and play with.  There were adventures at every turn but I will defer on those until a future post.  Back to the farmhouse itself.  If we did get inside, you saw the same room from either entrance.  You saw one main room with a small kitchen table, a possessed stove in the corner, a fridge, a ringer washing machine at the foot of the stairs leading up to the second level.  There was an armchair by the front door, a chimney that hadn’t functioned as one for many years.  Around the corner from the fridge was a wash stand with cold water, soap and a towel hanging on it.  The towel, of course, had many a dirty hand print on it.  Kids didn’t use soap or even water to wash their hands. We just gave them a quick wipe and went to where the food was.  We were kids after all…. being dirty was what we did. Now this room may seem grand by description and as a kid it may have appeared so but trust me when I say it was probably 10′ wide X 20′ long (maybe). Calendar from the local Wheat Pool hung from the wall, an old AM radio sat on the table tuned into Camrose radio and played nothing but classic country music.  I can still sing words to all of them (well at least the choruses) and still remain very fond of classic country music, one of many loves my fiancé and I share today.

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My second youngest brother putting a model together (I think).

To your left there was the doorway that led to the “living room”. This room was about the size of the kitchen and in today’s lingo would be called a “flex room”!  Lol.  It was a flex room because it served as a dining room at Christmas, a TV room most evenings (2 channels maybe and black and white of course), an extra bedroom with a hide-a-bed couch along one wall, a concert hall when my cousin Reggie brought his guitar by, and just generally a place we all congregated and shared many a laugh. When my kids complain about the cable being out or the internet not working I have to laugh because the TV got its signal from a set of rabbit ears on top that had a cable that led to the roof of the house (I think).  Sometimes someone had to add pieces of tin foil to the rabbit ears so we could get a clearer picture and finish watching Don Messer’s Jubilee or Hee Haw.  As a kid we wondered what tin foil had to do with the ears on a rabbit but we were kids after all….. and wondering about everything is what we did.

I find myself wondering what my kids’ memories will be from when they were growing up….

Stay tuned, on a future post I will tell you about the grand second story of the farmhouse as well as the scary basement!

 

 

 

 

I am Feeling Consta-Patient-ed – Are You?

Have you ever gone through a time in your life where you feel like your patience is constantly being put to the test almost to the point of breaking? I am not talking about the normal work week or life event that brings about some level of frustration but them quickly subsides as you move on to something else.  I am talking about a slow-moving, restricted and inhibited intolerance for delays and/or problems “without” becoming annoyed or anxious. If I could Google a definition or get a prognosis for this overwhelming feeling I believe it would come down to “Consta-Patience”. No matter how many times you bite your tongue, take a deep breath, sigh, or send a positive message to the universe it doesn’t help. There are days when it seems like (on the surface) that everyone is there just to annoy me and press the last nerve I have.  This is, of course, is not the case and often a well-timed knock on the side of the head can do wonders to snap me back into the present.

In life there will be lots of challenges that come our way and test our resolution.  They will stifle our ability to breath while drowning in a pit of “will you stop bugging me”?  In the not to distant past I had my many moments of silence seeking hope where I could take a moment to catch my breath.  I needed to take stock of what is important, focus on those things and the many gifts I have in my life that I am truly thankful for.  I have great kids, the love of an amazing woman, good health that has followed me into my early retirement, and recently a relocation to an oasis of outdoor beauty with opportunities to grow. These are the things I need to focus on and keep myself steady, all while taking deep breaths and remembering to “slow down” in a sort of smell the roses kind of way.  As the great American poet Jimmy Buffet says, “go fast enough to get there and slow enough to see”.

 

A Love Letter to my Adult Child

Some wonderful words and thoughts in here. They require quiet reflection on the part of our young adult children and ourselves. A great blog post. Cheers!

theempathyqueen

generations by gilad

I love you and you will always be my child. I have been trying to stretch and grow to accommodate your view of life, but I realize that I am uncomfortable at times. Perhaps, it is because I am out of my comfort zone trying to be inside of yours. When I raised you, I had hoped to give you good character and kindness. Given your origins, independence, intelligence, and strong opinions could not help but be part of your nature. Sometimes, those opinions hurt me. You know I am sensitive and I was an easy target. But, still, I love you.

You have chosen to live your life differently than I have chosen to live mine. I try to keep my door open to you whenever you want to walk through it. We have made, and continue to make, different choices. I did not want to choose sides. I…

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