Sunday, June 21, 2020

Remembering the Farm: Good things about my Dad

Dad and I maybe 25 years ago

People often write loving tributes to their fathers on Facebook. I have never done that as I would feel like a hypocrite if I did. I have envied sons who farmed in partnership with their fathers eventually taking over the operation. It was certainly not for me. So many people have said good things about my father from their perspective.  They were not wrong but they were not me and they did not view his marriage and family life firsthand. But he was not all bad and I have tried to write about some of the good things he did as a father from my perspective, in no particular order and certainly not inclusive. I have this saved and will add to it as more things come to mind.

When Ross was a baby, I would have been about 3 or 4. Kaufman’s General Store had a baby doll on sale with a bottle and flow through tube so when you fed it, the doll needed changing. I’d seen Mom, looking after my baby brother so I asked Dad if I could have a doll. He said, “Of course”. The salesclerk said, “Dolls are for girls”. And Dad said, “No, boys need to learn how to look after babies, too.” I never forgot that.

Dad taught me how to play checkers. We had a round metal box with checkers on one side and Chinese checkers on the other that held the checkers and the marbles. I don’t know how old I was but likely around 10 when we started playing. Dad understood I didn’t need to ‘win’, I wanted to beat him, and he played to kill. I do not know how many games we played over three years, likely well over a thousand before I finally beat him. Dad could not get over how he would beat me time after time after time and I kept coming back for more. It took a while before I beat him the second time. Eventually we were about equally matched. The paint is worn off the board, but it is still around the old house, I think.

We were brought up very “small p” Presbyterian with all the usual DO NOTs, card playing, drinking, smoking, dancing etc. Consequently, until highschool, most of my friends were cousins. There was some question with some of my relatives, as to whether it was proper for kids to play on Sunday. Dad would have none of that. He said we worked all week at school or at chores and deserved time to have fun. There was a one acre patch of native prairie, known as ‘Across the Road’ because it was on the other side of the highway/grid from the farm site. That was our main summertime play area.

I was bullied all through elementary school at Cavell. It was a family thing. The father and uncle of the two bullies bullied my father and their grandfather fought with my grandfather on the school board. By grade three I was in bad shape and dad tried to teach me to fight back. He was no fighter, but he rigged a punching bag full of hay with a nose filled with grain and encouraged me to hit it hard and often. Sad to say, it did not work. I was too much of a coward to fight but he tried, and I give him credit.

In Saskatchewan you have to go down before you can go up, the saying goes. Our second cousins, two miles down the road had a coulee running just east of their yard, step enough to go tobogganing. Dad would often drive Ross and I over on a Sunday afternoon, when he would rather sleep than visit, so we could go tobogganing with Bryan and Barry. We would have been around 8 to 12 years old I guess.

Dad was very patient when teaching how to do something, as long as you were trying and did not argue. Both Oliver tractors, the 77 and the 88 were gasoline powered and gravity feed to the carburetor from the fuel tank. Water in the gas was a constant problem as our fuel was stored in 45 gallon drums and rain was bound to get in sometimes if the caps were not tight enough. Dad taught me how to remove, clean and replace the sediment bowl and set the needle valve so the tractor would run right. No idea how often he showed me, but it eventually sank in I guess, and I was able to do it myself if the tractor gave trouble in the field.

There was a slough about 3/8 mile away in the pasture with poplars and willows around it and sometimes even water in it. Grandparents Johnson had given Ross and I for Christmas a 6x6x6 teepee tent with a centre pole and four corner pegs. We would take the tent and go “camping” to this slough quite often when we were in elementary school. We asked dad to build a tree house for us, so we got some poplar poles which he nailed between four trees and we made a floor from other poplars. Making it was more fun than using it as it turned out because the floor was too rough to sit or lie on, but we used it to play pirate ship and other games.

Cattle were part of our farm from my earliest years. Our handling facilities were not quite the proverbial post in the middle of a barren quarter section but not a whole lot better. Building better facilities according to recognized cattle handling psychology was not going to happen. One had to learn to “think cow” if one were to persuade cattle to go into the barn or a pen. I learned to “think cow” from Dad, where to stand, how close to get, when to move where, to get an animal to move where you wanted it. I was never afraid of cattle (other than one B&W cow who hated children and skirts) because I knew what they were going to do.

We were poor; until dad started driving school bus, we were dirt poor. How poor I never knew or never noticed really. Our city relatives were much better off but that never bothered me. It is how things were. Dad did what he could with what little he had. Our allowance was 10 cents per week. But dad made sure we had money for Christmas. He would give Ross and I half a pig each to pay us for doing chores. Then when we planted miles of shelterbelt, he gave us the money that the RM paid us to hoe them.

Horses were also part of our farm life, from when dad farmed with horses when I was a small child. After he bought a tractor, he kept one team of draft sorrels, Victor and Kitten. They were young and not good with kids. Victor died when I was in Grade 4 and Kitten was no good without him, so she was sold. We got Bob and Bell, an old mismatched draft team from Mike Kump, which we drove or rode to school and used as a chore team around the yard. Dad knew I wanted a real horse, like any young wannabe cowboy. He bought a team of full sisters, Standardbred crossed with American Saddle Horse from Jud Robinson. They were one and two years old and we named them Jet and Star. When they were two and three, dad broke them to harness by driving them on the jumper sleigh in deep snow so they could not get too fancy ideas about running. He asked Bob Graham to loan me his saddle and helped me get the horses used to the saddle and then ridden, again in deep snow. Eventually I bought my own saddle and then two of us could go riding (Usually my cousin Lorne Dale and I). All through highschool I was so happy because I had a real horse to ride.

Leipzig Coop had a genuine Stockman’s jackknife which I diligently saved for. I’d had enough of cheap ones. This one was over $10. I bought it in October and that evening we dug and topped turnips. Dad had warned me if I cut myself with it, I would lose it for a month. So of course, while slicing the tops off turnips I gashed my hand. Dad felt bad because I had been using it on ‘family business’, so he put it on the windowsill and told me I just had to ask to use it. But I never cut myself again either.

Before we got big enough to be useful working on summer holidays, Ross and I would spend a week at cousins on Dad’s side (Lorne and I were the same age) or on Mom’s side (Joyce and I were the same age). Sometimes a week at each. Those were pretty much the highlights of our summers and we appreciated the time away from the farm, leaving Mom in the garden and Dad to do chores. There was still 6 weeks to weed gardens and do chores. Eventually though we had tree rows to hoe and summerfallow to work.

We milked several cows and shipped cream before dad started driving the school bus but for some years after we still had a milk cow. We would help milk in the evening or when it was just the one cow, do the milking.  Dad always did the morning milking and let us sleep in.

Dad has been gone 18 years next week. What I miss is his historical knowledge of our community when he was young and when I was small. There is really no one left now to ask. As a father Dad did the best he knew how. He carried a great deal of baggage from his father that accounted for so many things. I carried some baggage from my father, but at least I knew it and hoped I did better though certainly not always.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad. I love you, and I forgive you.


  1. I enjoyed reading your tribute to your Dad. I know what it's like to have mixed feelings about a father.

    1. Thanks, Debra. I wish no one had mixed feelings about their father. It is sad.

  2. Very interesting Allen. We all have so many memories of our Dads. Being a parent is challenging at times, never sure if we have made the right choices. However, we loved our dads dearly and they loved us dearly. Memories are so precious . Happy Father’s Day Allen!

  3. What clear memories you have of your dad. It sounds like you and your brother had fun growing up on the farm.
    I miss my dad a lot. And I have very happy memories of him as I grew up. I was born when he was 62, so he was a lot older than other kids' dads. He was a hard worker, and he loved my mum. And he loved me.

  4. I have the same feelings about my daddy I adored..

  5. Your good memories of your dad made me smile; and I'm sorry you have not-so-good memories. Kudos to you for being aware of his and your own baggage, and for taking action to deal with both as best you can.

  6. Shammickite, 62 is a fair age difference so I am glad you have good memories.
    Jackiesue, not surprising. I am sure she was a strong character like you. Parent-child relationships are so difficult.
    Diane, thank you. It is a daily struggle. Ella and Tanya both helped and my kids too. The sins of the fathers. . .


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