Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Parents Were Stoners!

Okay, the title of this post may be slightly misleading, but I think you will understand my title choice by the time you finish this post.

My great-grandparents and some of their children moved to the Pembina Valley from southern Ontario back in the early 1890's. They settled on a parcel of land with a creek flowing through it. My grandfather married my grandmother in 1909 and together they raised 5 children on the family farm. When my father married my mother in 1944, he had already begun to do a lot of work to improve the landscape of the farm.

My dad wasn't just a farmer - he loved to garden, Dad, planted dozens of trees along the lane to create a windrow that would protect the property during winter and provide a shady place to enjoy the summers. He planted the trees in such a way as to create a pathway to walk through and also seeded a lot of green space. Dad planted evergreens, willows, birch, crab apple, chokecherry, and many other varieties that would thrive on the fertile prairie land and survive the bitter cold of winter. He also planted lilacs, peonies and other flowering bushes and perennials to add touches of colour and beauty to the landscape.

In the early years of their marriage, the focus was on the children, grain fields, livestock and a massive vegetable garden. The garden was a lot of work, but the bounty of the harvest helped keep lots of healthy food on the table all year long.

In the mid 1960's, they did the first major remodel of the 1909 farm house. They took the second floor - with it's 3 bedrooms - off and built a large dining room/living room on the south side of the house and turned the old living room and dining room into bedrooms. This meant that some new landscaping would have to be done. They started out simply enough, but well, one thing led to another and ... Wait I'm getting ahead of myself.

After us kids were grown and my brother had pretty much taken over the day to day farm operations, mom and dad had a lot more time to focus on the garden and the yard. Cutting back on their usual large garden wasn't easy and the first few years, there was lots of extra produce to share with neighbors and friends. As they cut back on the vegetable garden, the size of the various flowerbeds grew. Dad started well over a thousand plants every spring. He set up grow lights in the house, then moved everything to a small greenhouse - that he built himself with old windows and scrap lumber. There were also lots of bulbs to be planted and he often bought a few trays of bedding plants as well.

Even though dad was no longer a full time farmer, he and mom loved going for drives to look at the crops. Along these drives, they would stop to explore the surroundings and if they saw an interesting stone or rock, they would put it in the trunk of the car and bring it home. For most farmers, finding rocks in their fields is a problem as it can break equipment, so any stones that are found are usually just tossed in the ditch or piled in a corner of a field. Occasionally, they would ask a farmer permission to remove the stones, but most were just glad to get rid of them! Mom and dad also made frequent explorations into gravel pits and quarries in search of the larger stones that were too big for general use. Again, most owners were glad that someone had use for them. It wasn't unusual for them to come home with the trunk weighed down almost to the ground with uniquely coloured and shaped stones.

If I happened to be home while they were out on one of their "drives", I told any callers that my parents had gone to a rock concert to get stoned! Some of their friends also jokingly referred to them as "The Flintstones" which was somewhat appropriate as that was my dad's favourite cartoon and we were a "modern stone aged family"! I'm not sure that mom and dad actually knew what they were going to do with all these stones when it all started and like most collections I don't think they even realized just what they were getting themselves into. The big question, was what were they going to do with all of them and how could they be displayed to their full beauty?

One of the first things they did, was to create a flower bed around the foundation of the new living/dining room. At first, dad just placed the stones along the edges to separate the grass and sidewalk from the flowerbeds. The problem was, that the dirt used to fall out between the stones and make a mess on the sidewalk and grass. Dad bought some cement mix and permanently positioned the stones with the cement to create the first flower beds. It looked great and they got lots of compliments - and questions of what were they going to build next? Especially since there were still a LOT of stones to work with.

The next project, was a 2 foot tall stone fence that served as an east/west divider between the grass and patio that dad had created between the garage and the house. It was eventually raised to almost 3 feet high and had flat rocks all along the top for sitting. To balance that they built another slightly curved wall at the west end of the patio. They decided that the center of it would be lower so that the gas bar-b-que could be placed there. The wall to either side of it would also have wide flat stones along the top so that the area could be used for setting up serving buffets for parties or just for sitting.

After that, there was a raised flower bed built under their bedroom window and a triangular flower bed in front of the garage to edge the driveway, walk and lawn. To divide the driveway and the perennial beds, there was a low row of rocks similar to the first ones they built around the house. That row along the drive ended at the pole for the yard light, so of course they had to build a stone flowerbed around the base of it.

I'm not sure exactly where along the line this next part happened, but at some point dad came across a second hand cement mixer for sale at an auction. He and mom decided that having their own cement mixer would make the work go a lot faster! Until then, they had been mixing small amounts of cement by hand in a wheel barrel!

Well, they kept finding stones and rocks and kept finding creative ways to use them. They built a wishing well near the yard light and dad built the wood shingle roof for it. Ir is full of dirt and has flowers planted in it. When they decided to put a patio door off of the south side of the living room, they built stone steps to go in and out.

The area behind the bar-b-que wall, led down to a grassy area that we called the bluff. It flooded every spring, so wasn't really suitable for planting a lot of things, but the area leading down would be great for a layered stone garden and stairway. Dad even designed part of those flower beds to include a waterfall that flowed over specifically selected stones into a small stone pond.

Dad almost never cut the stones, but instead carefully laid them out in various positions to see what their best sides were and where they would fit the best. He used a pressure hose to wash the stones and by doing that he was also able to see more of the coloration, veining and striations of the stones. Mom and dad spent hours deciding where all of the stones would go. They would measure everything. While mom mixed the cement, dad would prepare the various stones and have everything ready. They did it all as a team.

In the early 1980's, mom and dad did another remodel to the house and built a sun-room off of the kitchen. The first year or so they had your standard concrete steps but they knew that wasn't going to be permanent.The last project they did together was the back steps into the house and a raised flower bed under the sun-room window. Dad had been saving flat rocks specifically for this purpose for at least a couple of years.

The yard looked amazing! The trees, lawns, flowers and seemingly endless stonework was a true showpiece! My parents were always getting calls from friends and relatives asking if they could bring friends out to see the yard. Mom and dad always obliged as they enjoyed showing their work. They were never willing to enter it in any yard contests though as dad never felt comfortable with that kind of scrutiny. The yard was for personal enjoyment not prizes.

Mom and dad spent countless hours weeding and tending to the yard. As they aged, they were unable to do quite as much as they used to, but it was still a beautiful display. By the late 1990's, my mom wasn't really able to do much gardening anymore and the last year that my dad was able to do all the work was 2001. My brother and other family members and friends helped out, but it was heartbreaking for both of my parents to not be able to do the work themselves.

After my dad died in November 2003, mom wondered if the beds would ever bloom again. Well, thanks to my brother and a long time family friend, the flowers still bloom every year. There aren't nearly as many flowers as there used to be, but there are flowers and other greenery in all of the beds. My brother does all the mowing and a lot of weeding. The family friend comes as often as she can, and putters around in the flower beds. Every spring she and my brother plant a few hundred bedding plants while my mom watches and remembers her and dad all those years ago. It saddens her that she can't do it herself and that her soulmate is no longer here to work the beds either, but she is also happy to see their work carried on and enjoyed by those who still come to call.

I went through my old photo albums a couple of weeks ago and found a bunch of photos of the yard from the 1980's. The colours of the old photos weren't great, but I tried to correct them as best I could. I then put them together into a slideshow and added music that I thought mom and dad would both enjoy. This is my first slideshow and I hope you enjoy it



goozer said...

Simply lovely!

dnsyl57 said...

Thank you my friend! For my parents this truly was a labour of love. :-)

Bev said...

What a beautiful tribute to your stoner parents!

dnsyl57 said...

Thanks Bev!

Allison said...

D n, this is absolutely lovely, wish I could have some that work done at home!

dnsyl57 said...

Thanks Allison. Neither of my parents had any real training in this. The stonework started with simple boarders around flower beds and progressed to the harder stuff as they gained experience. They both had naturally green thumbs and imaginations to visualize their dreams. Amazing what a little imagination, creativity and enginuity can accomplish!