Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Homeplace that Built Me

Down highway 34, just past Pine Creek bridge, turn left, four miles west to Delta Colony road, turn right, one mile north, turn left, one and half mile west to the farm with a long driveway and a little white shed that looks like an outhouse at the end of the lane. That where I grew up. Dairy, beef farm and home place of Cornie and Mary Friesen. The place I called home for nineteen years; full of jam-packed memories. This past summer I visited friends that were visiting only about  two and half miles away from the farm. I turned off the thirty-four to head west and immediately images filled my head of times spent in this area. Six years later and the drive feels so familiar like it was just yesterday that I was driving Dad's Chev to Wednesday youth night. After my visit I felt the urge to turn right and head to my old home, maybe just drive past. I didn't though. The last time I drove by I struggled to keep the tears and memories at bay. I guess it's hard to go back and realize that it's not that life anymore and the connection is severed by someone else calling it home now. After Dad died we wanted nothing more than to find closure by say goodbye to that place in life, I was eager to leave the burden of sad memories the place created.

 However, time and healing takes away the burden and now I look fondly at the place where I was raised. It's bittersweet to take that road back in time. Part of me wants to feel the walls, sit at the kitchen table, open the barn door, take in all the smells of the farm, but it wouldn't be the same anymore. For now it's easier to look at pictures, the moments that were ours, frozen in time, stored in my heart. Someday I will go back when my children are old enough to understand stories of my childhood. When I'm ready to show them a part of their heritage.

It was a simple home, efficient and practical for a Mennonite homemaker who worked the farm with her husband, raised three children in the early years and a latecomer (me) in her later years. The house leaves me with thoughts of faspa, wood panelling,shmaunt fat and fried bologna, mom's long telephone cord reaching everywhere she went, Dad sitting at the head of the table with a cup of coffee, CBC radio, Saturday chores, nieces and nephews terrorizing me, the basement that scared me until I was fifteen...and that's only the beginning of endless moments. 

The Dairy barn; mom and dad's livelihood. I don't know how many years they ran it but it was what I knew until I was fifteen. I spent countless hours in this place, riding my trike around and around, napping on stacks of used up baler twine, playing with cats, watching mom separate the milk and cream,  filling watering bowls, spraying the floor in the milk house and shoveling cow manure into the gutters. My siblings before me all got a hand in milking the cows but Dad was just beginning to let me help when they decided to sell the quota. I was always disappointed that I missed out on that. Some of my fondest memories in the barn were that Dad never failed to wave goodbye to me from the barn door in the mornings when I was walking down the lane to the bus. I loved winter milking when mom and Dad would bed the cows with a walk behind bale shredder after milking. I loved the smell and coziness that filled the place and there were usually bales for me to jump around on. I'll never forget Dad's voice out back when he called the cows in for milking, "com moos, com moos.."Worst barn memory: dropping my backpack in the gutter and taking it to school because I was late for the bus. My back pack ended up in the janitorial due to a very foul odor smelling up the class. Talk about Grade two embarrassment.

Mom and dad did beef farming after the dairy. Dad couldn't part with the cows and would remain a farmer to the end. It was what he knew and lived. It was always sad to me to see that barn sitting cold and empty. Hindsight and years later there have been those of us who wish we had kept the dairy going but I suppose it wasn't meant to be.  

I loved going with mom to the field to bring out supper on a summer baling day. Or driving with dad in the old blue ford to say if the hay was dry enough to bale. Times of coolers, lawn chairs, food on the end gate, catching up on the days progress, wind blown faces, clear blue summer skies. I think next fall I might hitch a ride with someone to get the supper field experience again. :)

The smokehouse, only in use once or twice a year but with many memories of butchering. It was an event that was so exciting to me as a child. It meant friends and cousins coming to play, productiveness and play at the same time, Coca Cola, chips and baking, adults with a bottle of schnapps, Dad smoking the sausages till they were just right or a little crispy if he wasn't paying attention due to much fun he was having. The whole experience was family tradition, the smells, laughter, stirring the cracklings, eating the fresh spare ribs and ladling the lard into containers. It a lot of work but always a good time. We still carry on with it each winter, now at my sister's home with my brother-in-law manning the smokehouse with lessons he learned from dad.

Farming life was hard work and grit between the teeth for my folks. I didn't grasp how much time they put in to that lifestyle. For me its was exploring, free to roam, playing with friends, nieces and nephews, cousins, neighbours and hutterites,  jumping bales, riding along where I could, sledding down snow piles in winter or being snowed in and staying inside, forts in the bush, getting on mom's case, and so on. It's lifestyle you take for granted and in today's changing world it's hard to find.

Remember learning to drive standard in this old thing and the many times sitting on the back while driving to the fields or chasing cows.

These gas tanks never held much meaning to me until I was sixteen and allowed to put in the fuel and drive away with mom and dad's truck. What a feeling of freedom that was!

You know, if I remember correctly I took the black and white photos of the farm while Dad was still alive and yet looking at them now they portray such a finality, a foreshadowing of a farm closing its doors. The photos in color are a symbol of how very full of life my home place was. Oh, there was  from good to bad: anger, slammed doors, sorrow, tears, anxiety and worries. In fact those were common feelings in our household many years.  Many of those characteristics have shaped the way my family thinks and acts today. We've had to rise above the hard times though and I'm left forever thankful for took from my childhood home: love and care, security, respect for elders, hospitality, traditions, faith, family ties, commitment, prayer, learning from correction, sympathy, forgiveness,  homemaking, a simple life, and living that life in effort to please the Lord.

That place is now the in the making of memories for another family and I pray they are blessed by their life spent there. I will visit someday but for now will go back in the pages of my albums and memory.

We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it. ~George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860



  1. Chris, it would be neat to do a mini scrapbook with your photos and these reminiscing blog posts titled something like "The Way it Used to Be". People would love to read and look at it!