Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Days

Well it is almost the end of July, and the summer is half over. Here in Manitoba, we haven't had a really normal summer. The temps have actually been below level. We had a cold spring and now a cool summer. Apparently we are on track for a record nine months of below normal temperatures. That doesn't bother me though, as I prefer the weather to be a little cool! I don't do well in anything over about 27C - especially if it is humid.

I've actually been thinking about my summers as a kid and some of my memories of those early years growing up on the farm.

We never really took a summer holiday because that was always the busiest time on the farm with the fields and garden to take care of. We did occasionally take a day trip to my aunt and uncles cottage at Delta or to a nearby lake to enjoy a little beach time or boating. If there was family/friends visiting, then there would be picnics in the town park.

Most of the time, we found our own amusement on the farm. There is a creek that runs through the property, but it really isn't that great for swimming. Since it floods every spring, a lot of branches and other debris are carried down stream. Those things get hung up on reeds, rocks and other stuff under the surface which makes it unsafe for any regular use. Every year after the floods, dad hooked up a pump and garden hose so that he could use the creek for watering the flower beds and the lawn. On really hot days we'd run through the sprinklers for temporary heat relief.

My brother found an old horse watering trough one year and cleaned it up so we could fill it with creek water from the hose, just to sit in and cool off. He put it on top of the cistern (where we stored our potable water). That was on the north side of the house (near the back - northwest corner), so there really wasn't any sun there until the late afternoon sun came around to the west. The trough wasn't that big - maybe about 6 feet long and about 30 inches high/wide. It wasn't in great shape and there was a couple of small holes near the top, so you couldn't fill it really full, but it served the purpose of staying cool! It would comfortably fit two people - one at either end - as long as you didn't mind an occasional kick from the other persons legs.

I spent hours in that old thing! I'd take a book with me and sit in the cool water reading or just listening to music from a portable radio.

It's seems so absurd now, but back in the 1960's and 1970's we would pour on the baby oil or something like Coppertone and then lay roasting in the sun. I rarely spent long periods of time tanning, as my body never liked the heat, but I did get a couple of sunburns and a couple of heat strokes over the years. Those were not fun at all, so I was usually pretty careful not to overdo it.

Finding a nice shady spot to relax was pretty easy as we had lots of big shade trees in the yard, but the mosquito's and other bugs also enjoyed the shade! Even so, I loved taking an old blanket out on the grass and enjoying the breeze and a bit of sun with a book or the radio. I could while away hours listening to the music and watching the clouds role by!

I have vivid memories of sitting on the steps eating big pieces of watermelon and the juice running down my chin. Mom would by cherries (in season) and we'd have spitting contests with the pits. If we had Popsicles or other frozen treats, we were usually sent out to the steps to enjoy them so they wouldn't melt all over the house.

Since I have brown thumbs when it comes to gardening, I wasn't really expected to help in that area very much. Occasionally, mom would have me help her pick vegetables, but my assistance was usually reserved for shelling peas, cutting beans or husking corn. We did go strawberry picking most years. If the Saskatoon's were good, we'd also drive up into the Pembina Hills to pick berries and stop for a picnic along the way. I also helped mom with the canning/freezing of the produce.

We never had air conditioning, so mom would usually close up the house early in the day. She'd draw the curtains on the east side of the house as early as six AM if it looked like a hot day. The windows on the other sides would be closed as the sun came around. Unless there was a breeze, the windows would also be closed. We had two or three box style fans and a couple of oscillating fans that could be moved from room to room, which would help cool things down. There was a fan on the furnace, that could be switched on to draw the cool air up from the basement. That didn't get turned on till late afternoon though, as the house didn't really heat up too bad before then. Whenever possible, any cooking was done early in the day. Sandwiches, salads, cold plates and bar-b-ques were often a part of the summer menu.

When my dad and brother were working in the fields, during seeding and harvest, we made meals to take out to them as they never wanted to have to stop to come in. Good weather and working equipment are precious commodities on a farm - you don't waste them! We'd cook for noon, then take out sandwiches and fruit or a dessert in late afternoon. They often worked till after dark, so there was also a lighter meal waiting when they came in.

The mail was delivered to a mail box three days/week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) about 1/4 mile from the end of our lane. During the summer, I usually walked or biked down for the mail in late morning. If it wasn't too hot, I'd go early and take an extra long walk or ride. There wasn't a lot of traffic on our road, but you did have to pay attention as nearby farm equipment or the wind, could sometimes drown out/distort approaching traffic. Farm vehicles and neighbours would slow down for someone walking/biking or even honk to alert you, but strangers didn't always have that same courtesy, so you had to be ready to pull over into the ditch at a moments notice and watch for loose gravel flying up behind them.

We lived nine miles from town and did most of the shopping there on Saturdays. If we needed something during the week, mom would often go to a little country store in a village about 5 miles away. There had been a town there many years ago, but it gradually died out. I sort of remember my siblings going to a school there and my parents going curling in the rink, but mostly I just remember the little store. It was the only place we ever went that mom never made us get all cleaned up first! We'd wash our faces, necks and hands and make sure there were no stains on the clothes, but other than that, it was a quick trip and if we did run into anybody we knew - besides the store owners - they would also be farmers, so it didn't matter! Going there was always kind of fun as the place was a real throwback to the old stores. There was a bit of everything there. Also, if we behaved, mom would let us get a soft drink, or a fudgesicle before we left!

Summers on the farm seem like a lifetime ago - a far away dream. I never really liked the isolation of the farm. I hated not being able to go somewhere when I wanted to, but I do have some great memories. Even though I was born and raised on a farm, I am a city gal at heart. But, sometimes, I really miss the quiet simplicity of living on a farm.


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