Clearing land, you know, it never ends. My land, and then Henry’s down the road.
Hard work. Real hard.
We came here with our families, see. From the ol’ country. Across the pond in one of them big vessels packed with other hopefuls looking for a new life.
We left everything behind that wouldn’t pack in a steamer trunk or two.
Ol’ Sal, my honey love, not so thrilled to leave behind gran’s antiques passed down the generations. Cupboards, and such. But passage for eight children is dear and sacrifices must be made.
We came here because the Canadian government was giving away land to newcomers to clear and make productive. One-hundred acre parcels in northern Alberta. Things is rough in the ol’ country and we want to give our wee ones a fresh start. So, we took the bait and, after months of planning and saying goodbye to the life we knew, find ourselves ‘ere ~ in this right pickle.
Imagine. Homesteading at my age. In my late 40s with a war wound or two. My hands ‘ave known hard labour, but nothing like this. I was a soldier. The Great War. It was hell, but a different kind. And I was younger then.
Clearing boulders and bush and dead trees by hand in all weathers, with the ‘elp of my wee ones and a couple of old plough horses is gruelling work. Friendly neighbours lend a hand when they ‘ave the extra time, which is rarely. They are farmers, after all. Like me from the old world trying to eek out a living in a new one.
It’s the 1920s. Times are tough all over.
We’ve been at this now for several months. Ol’ Sal cries into ‘er pillow ever’ night wondering why we came ‘ere. Can’t say as I blame ‘er. I wonder sometimes myself. And now we’re heading into winter which, I’m told, is hell frozen over.
So, we knock down all the dead pines and ash and maple, and a few healthy ones too, and break it up to store as fuel. Till the soil, saving some of the smaller rocks to heat in the stove for when we go out in the sleigh. I’m told it gets to 40 below around ‘ere. Neighbours who’ve already been through an Alberta winter are kind enough to ‘elp us prepare.
Ol’ Sal is putting in canned goods; buried in an ‘ole in the ground ’til we get the cellar done. It’s ‘ard times, but we do our best to smile through it. The wee ones, ranging in age from 18 to six, are getting tough with it.
We remember fondly the dear ones we lost and left behind. Five cherubs, all buried in Motherwell. Sad times.
Still, it’s not all bad. Weekly chicken suppers and dancing on a Friday night down at the school house lifts our spirits. Jim O’Malley plays the fiddle, right enough, and Will Grogan tickles those upright ivories with his giant farm labouring hands like it’s nothing. When we’re not dancing a jig we’re singing the ol’ songs around the piano. Kids run around making mischief, as they should. Hard labour is soul destroying when not balanced with a little high jinx.
My music talent lies with the bagpipes, but not at the suppers. Church on Sunday and funerals, mostly. Amazing Grace the most popular choice. I’m ‘appy to do it. Reminds me of my homeland. Brings a tear to these jaded eyes.
But, I must get on. The winter waits for no one and I and ol’ George Ivey from the farm across the way ‘ave wood to pile by the makeshift barn. We’ll fix that up next spring.
Tough times, sure enough, but at least there’s hope in a new life.
This is written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words. It started as a free writing exercise, calling upon the memory of a dream I had a couple of weeks ago, an experience in a restaurant where you eat in the dark and years of therapy.
Sara, my teenage niece, waltzes into my living room like she owns the place and demonstrates scant interest in my choice of music as she flops in the big leather chair in the corner. I’m sure she’s secretly hoping I’ll turn it off.
“Pearls, darling … you know, the kind oysters cough up.”
She rolls her big brown eyes and fiddles with her mobile.
“Why would anyone call a song that? And who’s playing anyway?”
“The Glenn Miller Orchestra.”
“Never heard of them. Sounds old.”
I look at Sara with love. My sister’s only child. A law unto herself and now sitting in my living room challenging my taste in music.
“Not so old. 1940s era actually,” I explain. “James Stewart made a rather splendid film about Glenn Miller.”
Yes, indeed he did. Or at least I think so. I haven’t seen it in a while.
“Who’s James Stewart?” the myopic girl asks absently.
“Why only one of the greatest American actors of all time!” I exclaim. “Sweetie, you need to open your eyes. There’s more to life than reality TV and flavoured lip gloss.”
She looks at me somewhat impatiently.
“No, auntie, you need to open your eyes. Stop dwelling in the past. One hundred years from now no one will remember Glenn whats-his-face and his geriatric orchestra. I didn’t even know him now!” She plays with a length of brunette hair that curls over her left shoulder. “Take it from me,” she continues with all the confidence of her innocent age, “the only musician anyone will be remembering in 2114 is … ”
“Don’t even say it,” I interrupt playfully. I can’t bear to think of where this is heading. “You need to have this conversation with your BFFs, I think. We will never agree on the longevity of that Canadian mischief maker.”
Sara heaves herself from the deep leather chair and gives me a peck on the cheek.
“All I’m saying is that when you lot are gone your music will die with you.”
“And yours?” I ask with astonishment.
“Our music will live on forever. How can you get any bigger or more unforgettable than …”
“No, don’t say that name,” I mock scream and present my fingers in a cross as if to ward off evil. Sara turns and smiles as she leaves. She loves to push my buttons.
As I watch her lithe figure sashay into the kitchen all I can do is sigh. She’s young. She does not yet understand that not everything we perceive as timeless stands the test of time.
I turn up the volume, in the mood to indulge in more of my big band favourites. It may not be one hundred years since ol’ Glenn recorded these gems, but in my book anyway, he and his music are immortal.