Family Life

written by Harry Forbes

Our parents were married early in June, 1917. Between then and the end of 1926 seven of us were born: one boy, myself, followed by four girls and two boys. We thought we were a family. Well! We had a little meeting, just us children. We thought seven of us was enough, we didn’t need any more brothers or sisters. Then in 1931 Leonard was born, in 1933 Ralph put in an appearance followed by Betty in 1934 and in 1943 Kenny came along. We learned we didn’t have much say in the matter.

During those years, in the thirties, we visited back and forth with other families in the neighbourhood on weekends or Sundays. I don’t know how the parents managed to feed us all as sometimes there would be dozens at one place but I don’t remember ever going hungry.

At one time every family milked cows so had milk, made their own butter from cream and still had cream to sell. They all had gardens to grows potatoes, turnips, corn, cabbage, onions, peas, beans, rhubarb, even horse radish and whatever else they desired.

At the flour mill in Maple Creek, for three bushels of wheat, 180 pounds, they milled you 100 pounds of flour and you also got your 80 pounds of bran and shorts screened off the white flour. I do not know at what price.

There were meat rings where every week farmers took turns butchering a beef. You got your share of different cuts as your turn came. The meat was kept cool in the well or screened on a high pole for air. Later there were cooler compartments at the creamery in Maple Creek where you could store quite a bit of meat and take it out as needed.

For preserving pork there was a brine cure of 4 1/2 gallons of soft water, 8 pounds of salt, 2 pounds of brown or white sugar and 2 ounces of saltpeter (to keep the meat red). This was brought to a boil until the ingredients were well mixed, then 100 pounds of meat were submerged in it. Curing would take from two to six weeks depending on the different cuts of meat. Dripped dry, the hams etc. could now be smoked if desired. Bacon could be preserved in a similar manner. There were other methods of preserving meat. Beef was often canned in sealers and pork cooked, packed in crocks and then covered with pork lard.

There were also chickens, turkeys, geese and maybe a little wild meat (if your luck held out) that were canned or could also be brine cured. Wild partridges yielded delicious meat.

During those years Mother raised turkeys as well as chickens, sheep and a big garden. Some of the turkey gobblers would get pretty mean and tackle most anything. They would jump at you, maybe grab you with their beaks, flap you with their wings (which really hurt) and try to knock you down and tramp on you. An old gobbler attacked four-year-old Ralph one day. He knocked him down halfway between the barn and the house and tramped on him. Ralph escaped and came into the house complaining to his mother, “I’ve got turkey tracks all over my back!”

In the early twenties my mother was not very old. We had such dry years and hot winds. I can still see my mother looking out the south window of our homestead house and crying because our crop was not very tall and was burning up more every day. The crops burned up many of those years until the wet year of 1927.

I can remember mother killing a den of little badgers with a small stick. She said that all you had to do was to hit them on the end of the nose with the stick and it would kill them. It seems there were six or eight little badgers that she killed. I don’t know where the mother badger was or if she killed her too. Badgers are quite vicious with sharp teeth and very long, sharp claws with which they can very quickly dig a hole in the ground. They will go right after you with those dangerous claws and teeth if cornered. The farmers did not like them around because of the large holes they dug. The holes were dangerous as farm animals sometimes stepped in them and injured or broke their legs.

As we each came of school age, we attended the local Somerset school. Grades One to Eight were taught, and then you could take correspondence courses to Grande Twelve.

Ralph started school in 1939. After the first few days at school he came home and told Mother that he was going to be in Grade One until he died.

During that time the school nurse came around every so often to vaccinate us for one thing or another. After one of those vaccinating occasions, when Ralph got home, he told us that they were going to vaccinate him dead. He would pass out at each vaccination. He didn’t have much love for those needles.

When Leonard and Ralph were quite small, Dad had left some small stakes around the house used for holding board for banking the house in winter. Leonard had a little axe and was chopping into the top of one of those stakes. Unfortunately Ralph put his finger on the top of the stake just as the axe was coming down and the end of his finger was accidentally chopped off. When the doctor asked Ralph where the end of his finger was because he wanted to sew it back on, Ralph told him that the chickens ate it.

Ralph and Leonard, when quite small, were sleeping together in our bunkhouse. Ralph accused Leonard of kicking him. When we had two horses standing together in the same stall and one kicked the other, we put a pole between them, so Ralph put a pole down the centre of the bed so Leonard couldn’t kick him.

After our parents purchased the Dick Plain farm in 1928, I, being the eldest boy in school, inherited the janitor job. The job consisted of arriving early at school and building a fire in that big pot-bellied heater to keep the school warm. The wages were $60 per year. My aim was to use the $60 to buy a bicycle.

In the early winter of 1930 or ’31, my dad didn’t have enough money to buy winter clothes. He asked if he could borrow some of my janitor money to buy clothes for the rest of the family. I felt pretty big to think that I was able to help. There was another year, probably 1933 when Dad only had $80 to buy winter clothes for the whole family.

In 1934 Dad gave me the crop off 20 acres of wheat; that far more than paid for what he had borrowed. In the dry spring of ’35, when we had dust storms like blizzards, he helped me find a Clyde gelding that I named Fred, to team up with my Flyer and I had money left over.

In threshing time in 1934, to save hiring more help, my two younger brothers, David aged nine and Elmer aged eight, each drove a team on a grain wagon. They hauled the grain from the threshing machine to a bin in our yard. I stayed at the bin to unload the grain as they came in. I was 16 years old but could unload a 60 bushel grain box in 12 minutes. These days it would take me 12 days! One 60 bushel grain box would be getting filled from the thresher while the other was being hauled in, unloaded and taken back out before the second one was full. This kept us busy so the threshing machine would not have to wait on us.

In 1935 I worked for Bill Herman on Sid Doe’s threshing machine, threshing sheaves from a binder and barge stacks from a header barge. A barge is a box, maybe eight feet wide, ten feet long and five or six feet high. The back door was hinged on top and the floor was hinged, closer to the front than the back. When loaded the weight was heavier at the back than the front; when the floor and door catch that were operated by the driver were unhooked, the door flopped open and the floor dropped down behind. With the team pulling the barge ahead, the stack was dumped on the ground. The barge was loaded from the elevator on the header. That year those stacks had been rained on and had to be torn apart to thresh the unspoiled part. That is how I ruined my arms with rheumatism that bothers me to this day.

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