In posts the last two months I mentioned receiving a revelation about being a bridge. This bridging has occurred in my life in several ways. Today I want to talk about how I see myself as a bridge in time, or between time periods.
I was born on a farm in southern Manitoba. In the early fifties, when I lived there, we had no indoor plumbing. We had an outhouse in the summer. In the winter we had a portable toilet in the basement. We would huddle under some of the asbestos covered heating ducts from the furnace (which in my memory were like octopus arms, weaving here, there, and everywhere!)
The house was heated with coal. A room in the basement was to store the coal. This was fed through a chute from the outside. Coal would be hauled in by truck, and then dumped into the basement. The furnace was then fed by shovelling coal into it.
We had a cistern in the basement, basically one concrete room, with no door, but open at the top. I remember peering into it a few times. It was always very dark and looked quite sinister. We as children were often warned not to play near there, and certainly were never to climb into it!! During the winter my father would drive his pickup to a lake about ten miles away where workers were busy sawing (by hand!) huge blocks of ice out of Morden Lake. These were then loaded onto wagons or trucks. My father would dump this block of ice into the cistern to slowly melt and supply us with water. During the summer my mother would walk across the yard to the barn where our well was. We would hand-pump water into pails and haul it back to the house.
In fact, this feature of our farm likely saved my life! I am not sure exactly how old I was, but quite young. I was playing in the barn, around the ladder which went up into the hayloft. This ladder was just boards nailed across two vertical studs in the outside wall. Because bales of hay were often thrown from the hayloft down to the main floor through this hole where the ladder was, a lot of loose hay would build up around this area. Somehow, climbing and playing around this ladder, I had gotten myself turned upside down and wedged between the ladder and the wall. My head was down in loose hay and my nose and mouth were getting filled with dust and hay. My mother came to the well to get water and heard my feeble cries and came to rescue me. If not for the timing of this, I probably would’ve suffocated.
When it was time for our weekly bathing, we had a tin tub which was placed in the middle of the kitchen. My mother would have water heating in the kettle on the stove. Mixing this boiling water with cooler until the temperature was right, us boys got to bathe first, oft-times more than one in the tub at a time! Then my father would bathe, adding hot water as needed. Then the tub was emptied, and my mother would bathe with fresh water.
We had a phone in the house, like you now see only in museums, mounted on the wall, with an earpiece on a cord, a mouthpiece mounted on the wood box of the phone. There was a crank on the side of this box. I am not sure exactly what this crank did, but was probably linked somehow to the power needed to operate the phone. We were on a party line of course. And I remember at least once when my parents went to the neighbours a mile down the road, leaving me home (around age eight or nine) with my two younger brothers. They left the earpiece hanging by its cord. This way I guess the party line stayed open and they could periodically listen to see if all was quiet in our house. We were supposed to be in bed, sleeping!
I grew up in the 1950’s and we always had motorized transportation of course. But I can also boast of going to school by horse-and-buggy or horse-and-sleigh! Our road was a dirt road. When rain made it impassible our neighbour would hitch up his horses and, coming by our house, I would climb aboard and ride with him as he took his daughters to the one-room country school a mile and a half from our house. In winter when snow drifts closed the road, he would come by with horse-and-sleigh. I remember wrapping up in thick blanket or robes. In the buggy I was fascinated watching little balls of mud being flung high into the air and come dropping down beside the buggy.
While performing my current job of driving city bus people sometimes ask me how long I’ve been driving. I mischievously answer, “60 years!” I began driving truck and tractor on the farm around age eight. My father would proudly tell the stories of my helping with harvest. I would sit in the 3/4 ton pickup at the edge of the field and watch as my father pulled the combine slowly around the field. When the combine hopper filled up, my father would wave, I would put the truck into low gear and slowly drive across the field. I would pull the truck right up beside the combine and could judge very well exactly where to stop so my father could empty the grain into the truck. When the truck was full, my father and I would switch positions, he driving the truck six miles to the elevator, and I driving the tractor, pulling the combine around the field. My father told of returning to the field and seeing me up at the hopper, moving grain around with my hands to the empty corners in order to be able to keep on going until the truck returned to empty the hopper.
Another driving story: My father had left the pickup a half mile from our yard, out at the highway, with a tank of water (I guess drinking water). The dirt road was muddy and he feared getting stuck. One morning he said he was going to walk down and get the truck. I replied that I wanted to go get it! My mother did not like the idea but my father allowed me to do this. So I walked the half-mile down to the highway, started the truck up, and slowly drove it up the slight grade to our farm. I don’t think I drove fast enough to shift gears, likely just idling it slowly along. At the turn into our driveway, my father said he was watching me approach. I was going too fast for the turn and he was afraid his trust in me was misplaced. He thought I would crash into the ditch. But I wrestled that truck around the corner and into the driveway. My father said it leaned over quite severely but I was able to keep it under control. I didn’t know what all the fuss was about later!! Between my mother and father!!
Sundays we would drive the ten miles into town for church services. Often we would visit my maternal grandparents after church, and often with other cousins present. My Grandpa Janzen had a television! This was really special in those days. Sometime during Sunday afternoon the TV set would be tuned to one of only two or three channels to receive “Lassie”. In grainy, often snowy, black-and-white we watch enraptured each week’s episode.
So, my beginnings were fairly primitive by today’s standards. But I have so many fond memories of that farm and my foundation in life. I was nine years old when we moved off the farm and into a small town. Which also was a good experience. But I am always proud to identify myself as a Manitoba farm boy!!!
Now, of course, in the span of my life, I am blogging, on an iMac with a 27″ screen. I have an iPhone. I built, owned and flew my own airplane. I travel by airlines to numerous parts of the world to visit. The world has changed drastically during my nearly-seventy years. But I can remember my simpler early years. I can understand an older generation when they talk about the “hard times”. And I can also enjoy the relatively easier lifestyle I now live. I have bridged the times from hard-scrabble Canadian prairie life to life in a modern city.