I am on a “blast from the past” mood. A couple of days ago my mom, niece Susan, nephew Jesse and I headed out to my brother’s farm to renew the family tradition of Saskatoon berry picking. My mom, despite being so crippled with arthritis she can barely walk, insisted on stumbling around the shrubs to seek the perfect berry. Alas, we all failed. It’s been a dry year and the birds beat us to whatever berries were ripe. Nevertheless, we had a grand adventure. Mom decided it was time for a road trip. So, off we went.
We drove past the old haunts – the “5 hill road” named by Susan for its roly-poly gravel laden hills. Yes, hills do really exist on the prairies. They may be few – and small, but nevertheless, they are hills – and these hills are packed with memories. If you hit the one hill at just the right speed, you can get a stomach-dropping thrill as you rush over the peak and head down to the coulee bottom. Of course, you have to have looked for the tell-tale sign of dust to indicate someone was coming from the other direction, as the road really is meant for only one lane.
We drove past Sherbune Hall, the now abandoned social gathering place for 3 generations of Kinniburgh area residents. Many family reunions, family meals, family gatherings, and family fun events were held at that tiny hall. The kids kind of grew up there – it was only a few miles from home – and it was so much easier to meet there for family gatherings than to over-run Mom and Dad’s house. Of course the family functions also often morphed into stellar moments of family dis-function. It comes with the territory when growing up in large families. The hall was also the meeting place for many community groups – the TOPS group that held annual “mystery dinners”; the community Turkey Shoots and Pancake suppers, the weekly badminton games, community dances, and more.
The hall, like so many prairie places, is now empty. The community no longer exists. The families have moved, the farms have been sold to larger corporate entities. Many of the remaining farmyards are now owned by acreage people willing to trade a 30 minute drive to work for an endless prairie sky and solitude. The school is gone. The Kinniburgh airport with it’s tiny runway – just big enough to land a spray plane – is overgrown and has almost vanished.
Although the area survived only 3 generations at best, it leaves a legacy of rural growth. The golden years – the 1950s, the 60’s and even the 70s were a time of great growth and relative prosperity. Communities developed and thrived. Children enjoyed freedoms impossible to be even dreamed of by today’s youth. Swimming in canals, riding bikes down gravel roads for hours, driving farm equipment without safety training, playing on teeter totters, swings, and metal slides belong to our generation’s memories. I remember snatching a few moments during recess to simply lay on the playground dirt / grass carpet of our rural school yard, staring up at the endless prairie sky, telling stories about the creatures we saw in the clouds, and dreaming. Simply dreaming. One year Canada had agreed to be a fly-over testing site for American B-52 bombers coming from Great Falls. During those fly-overs we tried to quickly fly a kite high enough to touch teh low-flying planes (maybe they were learning to fly below the radar?). Needless to say, we never quite touched them. But to our young minds, the planes were close enough to catch.
Anyway, I digress. But that is what trips down memory lane do. They lead you in directions you haven’t visited for years. They provide rose-coloured glasses to view the past, and seem to ignore many of the unpleasantness that inevitably existed. And that is just what that day did for us. For just a few short moments – we revisited our past. We laughed as we remembered so many warm family memories. That day was made even better because of my mom’s prankster personality. On the way out we had driven past a roadside sign advertising fresh Saskatoons for sale. When we drove by, we had joked that we could always go back and buy some of we didn’t pick any. So, when we realized our pails would be empty. we decided to do just that. On our way back home we stopped and filled two pails with freshly picked, plump, clean Saskatoons raised on a nearby irrigated farm. We even made sure our mouths and hands were berry stained to ensure our story was believable. I chuckled to myself as I peeked through the rear view mirror and saw my Masters Degree, College Instructor, mathlete niece and her brother shoved Saskatoons into their mouth, their eyes crinkling with pleasure. Most importantly I watched my 88 year old mom remember and become once again my younger mom, able to teach her children and grandchildren the pleasures of berry picking – and the gentle blush of pleasure spread across her face as she realized how much we all treasured the memories she had worked so hard to build for us.
Maybe that’s part of the meaning of retirement – having the time to re-visit the simple pleasures of our youth – and watch those joys being reflected
in to the next generation. Funny how a simple road trip can be so important.