After Reg left, the milking chores which had been Fred's, fell to me. Morning and night I sat on a stool in the barn, my head firmly planted against the flank of one cow after another, filling pail after pail with the steamy white liquid.
Our cats used to sit in a row watching me. Occasionally I would direct a squirt at one. It would open its pink mouth wide to catch the expected treat, never stirring from it's sitting position. The next in line would wait patiently, catching the stream when it's turn came as expertly as the first. Down the line of cats I went, never breaking the rhythm of my alternating hands.
Father bought a separator which helped lessen the work con siderably, but made one more thing to be scoured and washed after each milking! I still had my regular duties each day - feeding the chickens, turkeys and geese, gathering eggs each morning, driving the team on occasion, and churning butter. This was the worst of all! It seemed the wooden paddle sloshed forever before I heard that first welcome 'thunk' as butter began to form.
I could ride a horse and snare gophers as well as any of my brothers now, and was accepted as one of them by everyone, including Father. Only my Mother's occasional voiced regret at the lack of amenities for ladylike development reminded me that I really was a girl.
The farm was truly beginning to prosper now. After the losses resulting from the spring hailstorm, the summer months had produced an abundance of everything. Perhaps Nature was trying to make amends for her moment of anger.
Droves of people came to Moon Lake Valley to shoot wild duck that third autumn, and we had many guests for meals on Sundays. Our smoke-house was filled with our own hams and bacons and our barnyard houses with thriving flocks of fowl. The root-house was filled to capacity with our home-grown vegetables, and the grain not needed for winter by ourselves had been converted into cash. For the first time since coming to Canada, we felt secure for the coming months. Still Father went to Saskatoon each day to conduct his real-estate and animal stock business.
"I think I shall enquire in town to see if I can get someone to come out and help you over the winter months," Father announced to Mother as they sat around the kitchen table one night after supper, sipping tea together as usual.
"That would be wonderful, Joe," she said. "I just dread the cold weather with my varicose veins and those frightful chilblains!"
"I was speaking with one farmer who was in town today looking for a hired man. Apparently he is a bachelor and lives quite a distance away. He said he had tried several men but they had all left him. He complained bitterly that, 'They turned up their noses at good gopher soup'!"
"Gopher soup!" exclaimed Mother, and they burst into laughter. Then she said, "Well, anyone coming to this farm will certainly fare better than that."
But there were jobs for the asking in Saskatoon in those days and no one would come to such an isolated farm as ours.
"Never mind, Joe," Mother said. "We'll just have to make the best of it. We always seem to have managed, and we always will!"
Father gazed at her, adoration shining from his eyes.
"I just wish three Englishmen I saw this morning in front of the tavern could meet you," he said.
Mother looked enquiringly at him over her shoulder as she emptied the tea-pot into the slop-pail.
"They are obviously remittance men of the worst kind," he went on, his hands suddenly thrust forward in a downward motion of rejection. "Two of them were standing together when the third came alone. 'Good mawning! Good mawning, Old Boy', they said to one another in superior tones. "And how are you today?' One said, 'Alright, old chap, but I shall be a jolly sight better when this bah opens!' Then they all trooped in together, laughing like lunatics.
"It's a shame," Mother said, pursing her lips in disapproval. "Those few who cannot adapt to the life here just squander their money and give a bad reputation to all English people. And most of us have worked hard and done well," she added with that sudden lift to her chin.
"It's those few who are responsible for the heading on the 'Help Wanted' notices in town. It says 'No English Need Apply'." Father's indignation made his words reverberate.
"That's shocking!" said Mother. "And to think, that some of those men come from the best families back home!" Her head shook slowly from side to side and her tongue 'tak'ed her feelings.
Winter came inevitably, and white snow enveloped us in isolation once more. This year it was even colder than the year before. Temperatures dropped to sixty-two below zero - and stayed there. Blizzards raged. Ice thickened on the river, and Fred had to cut through the many layers to get water for the cattle to drink. I drove them down to the river each day. They were afraid of the ice underfoot and advanced slowly to the hole, testing each step gingerly in advance...
Gamma, the third calf to be born on the farm, drank her fill. As she straightened up, her left foreleg shot out from under her and she sprawled on the ice, bawling. Fred and I did everything to get her up on her feet, but she was terrified and no amount of coaxing, pulling or showing would budge her.
"I'll get a rope from the barn," said Fred at last, and hunched his shoulders against the biting wind for the mile round-trip, taking with him the rest of the cows ready to go back to the barn.
I thought perhaps Gamma's leg was broken as I waited an interminable time for Fred to come back.
"No it Isn't," he said in reassurance after his return, kneeling beside the sprawled figure and running his bare hand over the limb before putting his mittens back on.
Fred had brought a length of stout rope and young Buzzy. The three of us tied the rope around Gamma's neck, then with Fred pulling at her head, Buzzy and I pushed from the side and back. Gamma just lay there. Finally we lined up behind each other and pulled on the rope in unison to Fred's chanted, "HEAVE ho! HEAVE ho!" and we managed to pull her along the ice to shore. Still she w ould not help herself.
"I'll just have to go back for Billy and the stoneboat," Fred said at length. "This is getting us nowhere. If we don't soon get her up, she'll freeze to death. And Father would never let us live that down!"
If Gamma should die...I grew ever colder at the thought of Father's wrath.
So Buzzy and I waited again. Our breath came out In short gasps as we pulled and pushed futilely at the reluctant calf. Our eyelashes froze into spikes which bit into our faces like knives when we brushed at them with our mittened hands. We tried to keep our mouths closed, for cavities in our teeth ached with a nighty throbbing when we sucked in the bitter cold. We were exhausted and very nearly frozen ourselves when Billy finally lumbered into view, his big head swinging from side to side in rhythm with his slow but certain gait. Gamma was dragged onto the stoneboat by Billy's gargantuan strength. By now we were ready to drop where we stood, but with Billy leading our procession, we all reached the barn at last. Once there, Gamma felt secure and lumbered off the stoneboat under her own steam and walked sedately into her stall!
"Big, stupid, bloody thing!" said Fred -vehemently. I was too cold to have any feelings at all...
Each evening we watched for Father to come from Saskatoon. No matter how wild the storm or raging the blizzard, he never failed to emerge from the grey circumference into our vision, his tall frame huddled down beneath fur robes, face turned away from the slaching wind, hands moving constantly to keep from freezing. His feet rested on a pillow-shaped tin pot filled in town with burning charcoal, but the heat lasted for only about three miles, and then the ever-increasing cold began to penetrate the innermost fibre of his being. Each night he brought sacks of 'shorts' to feed the cattle. Their formerly well-padded flanks seemed to diminish to skin and bone as winter wore on.
Mother's chilblains made her feet so swollen and itchy that she could no longer wear shoes. Each night she treated the painful sores with baking soda and camphor ice. Her varicose veins pained her too, and Father wrapped her legs in red flannel bandages each morning before he left for town. Mabel, in her quiet capable way, assumed the 'standing' chores while Mother coped with the 'sitting'. In spite of the heavy burden of work, my sister was always tranquil. She took over the washing, ironing and baking. While the girls of her own age in town were going to parties, dating, and singing in choirs - all things Mabel loved - she slaved away. Never once did she complain.
One night Father brought home a huge box. With great delibera tion he opened the package and placed the various items on the table. It was a gramophone! Ceremoniously he put the metal cylinder on the machine, attached the large horn, and wound the handle up tight while we waited breathlessly for the first sounds. The magic instrument pealed forth Madame Melba, then John McCormack and Caruso - right there into the room with us!
"We must have a party," said Mother, clasping her chilblained hands together. "We will invite all the neighbours!" The buggies arrived about eight o'clock and the guests streamed in. Other than Mrs. Lang and the Priors, we knew few of our neighbours at all intimately, but an invitation had gone out to everyone for miles around.
They brought their babies, found a place to sit, and then waited shyly for someone to say something. Mabel and my parents made a valiant attempt to carry the conversation, but soon discovered that the only topics on which any of the men would express an opinion were crops and animals, and Father found himself at one end of the kitchen talking with the other men, while Mother and Mabel drew the women out finally by talking about children and recipes.
Everyone sat enthralled when the magic machine played. Even restless infants ware still as the music encircled us. Fingers and feet tapped in rhythm when a familiar melody was recognized. Heads nodded in time to the music. All at once there was a warm exchanged between these people who barely knew one another. Distance and differences in background had presented false barriers in the past, but now these were gone and human understanding and communication took over. It showed in each face - a tangible thing.
Mother and Mabel had prepared a fine meal of special dishes -our own smoked ham, Mother's famous Yorkshire tea cakes, and a variety of cookies and candy. It was late when the party finally broke up.
As the last guest left, Mother said, "I don't think I shall ever feel quite so isolated out here again."...
When spring came Mother suddenly announced to me one day, "Mabel and I are going to England for a visit, Patty. We shall be gone two or three months. Do you think you can help look after things here?"
"Why are you going to England?" I wanted to know.
"Just for a visit," she replied in her 'children-should-be- seen-and-not heard' voice.
Emmy came to visit two weeks before they left. She was as surprised as I to learn of the coining visit abroad, but the half-packed bags lent reality.
"Lucky people," she said. "Just think of all that shopping, and the visiting, and seeing plays!" Her voice shoved the envy I too felt.
After Mother and Mabel left, Father took me into Saskatoon to visit Emmy one Sunday.
After we had finished supper, Father's face grew rather red. He harrumphed for a minute or two, then announced, "Your mother has gone back to England to have another baby.!" Emmy, now the mother of three herself, was furious! "Well, she certainly could have said something to ME!" she exploded...
We were all a little lost with Mother and Mabel away. Little Ray, at six, was inconsolable. He cried his heart out every night for endless weeks until we were all frantic. First Father would go up to comfort him but his sobs continued to wreck us all. Then Fred and Buzzy would take a turn. Finally I would go up to see if perhaps I could console my little brother with the news that he was no longer the baby in our family. We now had a new little brother named 'Bernard' who had weighed twelve pounds at birth!
One night Ray's sobs suddenly ceased. I felt a tightening in my chest and hurried upstairs to see what had happened. He had apparently been rummaging through Mother's chest of drawers as he had cried that night, for clothes lay strewn all over the bedroom. There lay my little brother, across Mother's bed, his face smiling in the first relaxed sleep he had enjoyed since she left. He had one of Mother's nightgowns hugged closely in his arms...
After that, Ray took the gown to bed with him each night, and there were no more tears. There was peace at last in Moon Lake Valley....
Father hired a man to help on the farm that spring. Bill was a New Zealander and a bachelor. We four children doted upon him. Our remaining parent was anxious and more short-tempered than usual those days with Mother away, but he cooked and baked for us and did the washing and ironing at night after his long day in town.
One night, Father took a little longer than usual in preparing supper.
"I'm hungry, Father," Ray said. "When will supper be ready?"
"Shortly, my boy. Shortly. I've prepared a special surprise for you all tonight. I promise you that it will have been worth the waiting."
"What sort of surprise?" we all wanted to know, but Father would say no more. We were all sent from the kitchen while he took the meal from the oven and placed it on the table. "Come now, children!" Father ordered in due course, and we filed past his towering height back into the kitchen. The most delicious smells had already reached us and we had been guessing what the surprise would be.
At each person's place lay an individual meat pie. It was particularly 'individual' because each person's initial had been picked out with care in the covering crust! Our exclamations of delight made my Father flush with pride and he presided at the head of the table that night a with a more even temper than at any time since Mother left...
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