It was surprisingly cool, as the grain enveloped me all the way up to my waist.
The scent in the old barn was of mounds of fresh wheat, and old wood, and the air was warm and dry, and filled with expectation. All was quiet except for the shrieks of exclamation as one by one we lept from the upper rafters onto the piles of the lovely stuff.
For many summers, my family traveled west to spend time out on the farm with our cousins, and grandparents. The wild Canadian west was calming to me, and the flat, golden prairies stretched out for miles, like a lovely yellow canvas of golden hues.
The air always had a distinct scent of maturing grain, and, and hearing the morning doves give their cooing through the wind was a comfort to me upon the morning breeze.
It was always an adventure, each and every day, and even though the lemonade stand at the the end of my grandparents drive yielded little revenue, it was a time of sitting in the collapsible lawn chairs, underneath the umbrella of the huge oak tree, and gazing at the initials carved in its’ trunk, and wondering what lay ahead for us little folk.
My Nan planted flowers all along the left side of her dirt driveway, and her vegetable garden out back always yielded delectable carrots, which us kids would steal on a daily basis, but the distinct taste of fresh carrots pulled from the earth, and popped into my mouth..well it . still lingers, and it was worth stealing the bright orange rabbit food for myself.
Even as I munch carrots with the skin on, it takes me back to that time in her garden. The gritty essence of dirt on your tongue, and the crunching of it on my back molars transports me there. The garden was surrounded on three sides with trees that seemed to whisper secrets to me through their flowing branches.
There was wind, and billowing fluffy clouds that dotted the distinct blue skies, and this childhood held so much expectancy, and there was not a care in the world, about future lives, and what mysteries in the universe that lay ahead. It was a lovely childhood.. My cousin and I would sleep upstairs in her double bed, with fresh 100% cotton sheets, dried in the fresh air, and we pulled the crisp covers up around our noses. Her room was plastered with billboard photos from multiple teen magazines, with “ Leif , Shaun Cassidy,” and of course her personal fav, an import from Great Britain, “ The Bay City Rollers.” She was crushing on them all at once, and as we lay in bed chattering away like little canaries late into the night, the gentle breeze flowed in through the open screened window, and the spot light illuminated the barnyard,and was an ever present nightlight sentinel.
Every summer it seemed, one of us kids would have an accident of some kind, and need to be hauled into the emergency room, to have some part of our anatomy stitched back together again. It was like we systematically took turns deciding who would get injured every summer.
To us kids, the risk of not having fun, and gleaning every advantage of playing on dangerous farm equipment was out of the question, so the injuries continued, and we all have the scars on our flesh to prove it. Just ask.. we can show you…
Being in the old barn, the stored grain surrounding me , was one of the most satisfying sensations, kind of like a warm hug, or being swaddled in a blanket.
Ive not quite captured that same sensation since then, but I still travel back there in my memory, when I need some holding.
I’m still not sure we were allowed to be leaping into the storage mound of wheat, but like being a kid does, the pure pleasure of doing what could possibly get you into trouble was too tantalizing of a temptation to forgo.
My Nan and Papa’s modest cottage was painted a cheery aqua blue and white, with a large picture window in the front room. It was a one bedroom house, and my grandmother kept it neat as could be, even when we 6 came to visit, which had to be a challenge of great proportions.
There was only one bathroom, which was tiny, and I recall that when my Nan ran the bath water, there would only be about 2” of water, because she said we had to be frugal with our water useage, since we had a limited supply in the water tank.
There was an outhouse out back that was made of wood, and held a distinct scent of pine air freshener. The trail that led from the cottage to the outhouse was made of paver stones, and even heading out to do your business was an adventure. After all, we didn’t have the outhouse advantage back in the east where I was from.
My grandparents rented a cute RV trailer where my parents would spend their nights, and it was parked just outside the cottage in the stone driveway. I thought the trailer was super cool, and while sometimes my cousin and I would stay out in the tent that resided out by the trout pond, I wanted to sleep in the trailer so badly. It had that distinct feel of the 70’s, with chrome accents, and white linoleum.
The interior of my Nan and Pappa’s Cottage was a collection of beiges, and orange, and dots of earthy greens. The sofa was a practical tweed mix, and I remember it being a little rough on my bare legs when I sat on it in my cut off shorts.
The little old black and white tv sat in its place on the hexagonal oak little table, and throughout the day, we kids would rush back into Nan and Papa’s cottage to watch “ The Beverly Hillbillies, Leave it to Beaver, and Green Acres,” on the little 12”.
Beyond the tv, and through the window, the trees blew gently , and the lush green lawn was dotted with Canadian geese, a favorite of my grandfathers’. He had a wildlife sanctuary there, and would enjoy feeding the geese. He seemed to know each of them personally. He explained to me that geese mate for life, and that when one lost it’s mate, it would honk in such a forlorn way, it would make tears flow gently down his cheeks, as he spoke of it. They were very tame with him, and seemed to know that they could trust him. He was kinda a “ goose whisperer” of sorts.
When I hear the distinct fluttering of wings, and honking overhead, I picture it being my departed grandparents flying throughout the heavens, together again, in tandem, gazing down from their lofty view, and reminding me that they are never really very far away.
There was always something delicious being baked in my grandmother’s kitchen, and there were things waiting, and rising to the occasion. It was like a regular flow of delicious expectant baked goods constantly, or so it seemed to me.
My favorite time was the day of the week that she baked bread and buns..
Her large pale yellow crockery bowl with the hidden mound of dough rising beneath the cotton tea towel was such temptation for the dough lover in me .
When Nan’s attention was diverted elsewhere, my wandering fingers would creep beneath the towel, and grab a big pinch of the raw dough, with the pungent yeast scent that enticed my taste buds . It tasted delicious, and I still love freshly rising bread dough. That scent takes me back every time to the warm country kitchen, and the feeling of love, and hard work that existed there.
If we could wait until the softly browned buns were brought from the oven, the waft under our noses practically would drive us mad with expectation. We would grab the tub of salted butter from the fridge, and pull apart the steaming bun, slather it with the now melting butter, and often put a slice of sharp cheddar cheese on top… the taste was so incredible, and as our finger tips held remnants of butter, mixed with crumbs, we licked them clean, and then prepared for round two of inhaling and taking our fill of yet another bun. One was simply not enough when Nan’s buns were around.
Dont even get me started on her cinnamon rolls, fresh fruit pies, and jam turnovers. There was never anything that was taken out from her oven in the cottage that did not make us drool with longing.
She would study us over her glasses, and often cross her eyes at us if we were stealing her dough. I’m sure she knew who the guilty ones were, but her eyes twinkled with merriment, and they held a devilish and satisfied gleam when we were devouring her baked delicacies.
Her kitchen was her happy place, and whenever I’m in the kitchen, I do think of her, and the teaching that she bestowed upon me about nourishing my own family through good food cooked with love. Cooking for people is one of my most treasured things, and I’m certain that I learned that satisfaction through her.
Also, she always wore an apron, and collecting aprons , and wearing different ones alternately reminds me of times spent in that cottage kitchen.
As we gathered around the little wooden antique table, and thanked God for his gift of our freshly prepared meal, our tummies never went away not being satisfied. We were in a safe protected environment, and this was a sanctuary.
The cuckoo clock would sound out it’s call, and with the fresh aroma of coffee brewing, and warm apple pie straight from the oven , often slathered with vanilla ice cream, promised dessert was set upon the table, and we dug in with great expectation.
My grandfather had a best friend that would often stop by after work for a visit , and I remember he only had a few upper teeth still present in their original location, but his broad smile, and glittering eyes were warm and friendly. He and my Papa would share a laugh or two, and their was undeniable deep kinship between the two.
Even as my Papa grew more disabled as the ravages of a type of multiple sclerosis diagnosis progressed, they were never sure if broad pesticide use on the crops hadn’t created his ailments, this would require him to use two crutches, his loyal friend was never far away from his side.
I was to learn a lot about the power of unconditional friendship from those two gentlemen.
As a young girl there is a certain chemistry that I didn’t recognize at the time, but was fascinated with, that these two friends shared.
An understanding, and I’m gonna stick with you attitude that would brand itself on my young mind.
The farm did not have cows, or horses, but there was a stocked trout pond, and the geese would visit in season, plus a Siberian husky named “ Nishka,” and a black cat with eerie golden eyes named, Cole lived at the main farmhouse. I know there were other dogs that came through, but those two were the ones that really stick out to me.
Cole was a stealthy hunter, and would often be seen creeping across the fresh mowed grass with an unfortunate rodent dangling helplessly from his jaws. The husky had a wonderful howl, that could be heard as he howled away at the moon.. because.. it was in his nature to do so, of course. His coat was a fluffy white and grey of dense fur, and his eyes were steely and always alert. They were both masterpiece pets from my point of view.
Before these pets, I do recall with great affection, Tippy,” the beloved beagle. His baying was something that was a welcoming sound that I found that I enjoyed. He was my cousin’s puppy, but he frolicked back and forth, between the main farmhouse, and my grandparents cottage, depending on who was giving out the snacks. He had kind brown eyes, and was gentle and sweet…
” Life on the farm is kinda laid back,” thank you John Denver, for reminding us that our roots are strong in farm life. There was a simplicity to being a kid enjoying summer vacation out on the Saskatchewan prairies… it was pure, simple, and revered…
I adored my girl cousin , who was 4 years my elder. She had an easy laugh, and a broad white smile, and long flowing hair… and she loved eating “ spits,” or sunflower seeds, as they are commonly called. She often daydreamed about all things “boys,” and I looked up to her, and enjoyed our friendship.
One morning, after a deep rain, we walked barefoot through a barren field of mud, and the sensation of thick cool mud on my tootsies is still prominent in my mind. Each step took effort, as the suction that encapsulated each foot step, held us in place quite securely, until we lifted each weary leg to trudge forward.
The day was clear, and calm, and the earthy stench of dark mud still fills my nostrils. It had rained the night before, and the air just felt cleansed. It was a time of simple pleasures that farm life afforded us…. It was glorious.. we were queens of the mud field, rivaled by none, yet champions in our own minds..
The scent of oil mixed with dry dirt was intoxicating in the barn. The barn was shaped like a half circle of sorts, and it held all types of combines, and tractors that went all the way back to the end of forever in the space. Every step taken in the dirt would kick up dust. Playing hide n seek on the old equipment was scary, and excellent, quite the heady combination.
There was a large work bench to the right of the barn, and that’s where all the “ fixing” and “ tinkering” took place. Often I would see my uncle working away at a project with great diligence, and later my Papa would sit in his wheelchair observing the goings ons with rapt attention.
The light that shone through at the rear of the barn would cast the distinct shadow of a passage , a portal that one could pass through, and remain ever young. It was promising, and I yearned to crawl up there, and venture in.