The Great White Winter

The Great White Winter

Winter. The most vilified of seasons, especially in a place like Saskatchewan. But there is beauty in it. And memories. Winter is a time for remembering. Every time I take a walk around my farm, memories are everywhere. The day I captured this photo, one of the first days of true winter (long before the calendar said it was so), I thought about what it had been like to be a child growing up on this farm in this province. I hadn’t known then how fortunate I was. Sometimes I think I would do almost anything to return to those days of play.

Let me tell you something about this house. It was my first home, the house my parents lived in when they were first married and when I, their firstborn, came along on a mid September day in 1988. Drought years, the ’80s. Dad was already done harvest that year on September 16th. Unusual. I have always been his “harvest girl.”

What about the house? What I know is what I have been told. I could probably dig for some facts, but what I know from what I have been told is enough for me in this matter. Not everything needs to be researched, cited and verified.

The house belonged to my uncle. He was off somewhere else making his fortune, and so lent the use of the house to my mother and father. It is on my family farm. My grandparents, still alive then, lived in the other house.

It used to belong to a school in Radville. It was a dormitory. Then it became a private home, and I know people who lived in it. My uncle had it moved sometime in the ’80s.

It was a magical house to me. I lived there until I was four. I had nightmares there, and sweet dreams. I looked at the moon out of my bedroom window, which faced south. I could see Ceylon – 4 miles south and 4 miles west – and her elevators. There were three, then. Now there are none.

I could see my grandma’s house. My memories of her are few: parsnips, grapefruit juice, many cats, cat food at the bottom of the stairs. I sampled this cat food on at least one occasion. Salty. I’ve always had a salt tooth.

There were “secret” passages through the closets into the adjacent bedrooms, a remnant of the dormitory, so I was told. It was mysterious and exciting to inhabit a house with secret passages. There were four bedrooms on the second storey, and a tiny bathroom.

Downstairs was a long kitchen, a big living and dining room, a bathroom, an extra room, perhaps a study or a bedroom or a place filled with odds and ends.

The stairs were large and scary. My room was full of shadows cast by the yardlight just outside my window. But my parents were always there to soothe me.

My sister came along 2 and a half years later and I was jealous. I drew with soap on the walls. Perhaps the evidence is still there.

I remember my father’s birthday – a chocolate cake. I remember a wooden riding horse, a gift from my mother’s father.

We moved out when I was four, to the house next door on the farm. My grandpa had passed away and Grandma moved to town.  So we moved. But my uncle lived there sometime after us, and his wife. And so the “big house” as I thought of it, was still part of my life. I have always loved it.

It stands there still, though a bit worse for wear, unoccupied for many years now. Perhaps its life as a place of living is done.

It was always the backdrop to children’s play. In spring, the melting snow would gather in a depression out front, and we played in the massive puddle that resulted, soaking through multiple pairs of boots a day. Barbies were floated on cardboard boxes. Kingdoms rose and fell.

The deck my uncle built on the front became a stage. Sometimes the house was a graceful southern plantation mansion, other times it was an English manor house, circa 1550 or so. Other times it was a grand castle. It was never what it really was: a prairie house, first a dormitory, then a family’s home, then a farm house.

Because I have a confession. When I was young, I was always pretending to be somewhere else: England, France, the American South, a made up land, Tolkienish, but of my own creation. I wanted to pretend that I was not in Saskatchewan, because what was so special about Saskatchewan?

The grand prairie surrounding me was just home, nothing else.  It took me awhile to understand that I had grown up in the best place in the world.

Finding places in between