PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
It was only a matter of time before I contracted poison ivy by romping in the bushes so much. My wrist began to itch terribly and the rash was spreading. We would sometimes use calamine lotion in those days, but there was none on hand. Auntie cautioned me to not scratch or it would spread further. She didn’t know what else to do for me. Then teasingly, she suggested I spit on it. I went away, taking her seriously, continued to spit on my rash, more or less keeping it moist for hours at a time. In a day or two, it was gone. Auntie was surprised. “I was only joking,” she laughed.
I recall going to the outhouse and after having a bowel movement, I looked down and found worms in my feces. I told Auntie. She told me to be sure to eat some dill pickles, which were canned with vinegar and salt. Within a couple of days, there were no more worms.
My father could never see the necessity for toys or children’s activities. If it didn’t interest him, there was no point in hoping for anything I wanted. Each winter, the school would pack an area of snow and flood it with water to make a skating rink. While at Uncle’s and Auntie’s for grades one and two, I wanted to join the kids. Skating seemed like so much fun (and it was), but nobody would buy me a pair of skates.
Later, when someone gave me a used pair, I wanted to play hockey, but I had no stick. I kept asking for one until, one day, Uncle surprised me by making one and presenting it to me. I was ecstatic! But his stick wasn’t made to flex or take punishment. I had hardly used it when it broke. Uncle was disappointed when he saw it wasn’t repairable, but he never made me another one, and they didn’t buy me one, so while I was at Riverbend school, I did without.
I had no toys or playmates while at Auntie’s and Uncle’s for the year and a half; however, I did have one regular chore, which became a pastime most days during the summer, that being swatting flies at the house entrance so they didn’t get into the house when people entered. Manitoba summers produced zillions of flies. In an hour, there wouldn’t be a living fly nearby, and the steps, door, and door frame were splattered.
What a way to entertain myself! To this day, when I see flies, I go for the swatter.
One day Auntie and Uncle drove to the Regina Exhibition with my parents, taking me along. I got terribly carsick, but the Indian “encampment” I saw when we arrived more than made up for that. Living in the days when cowboys and Indians were popular, and being fascinated with the portrayal of Indians in Peter Pan, I was thrilled to see Indian boys and girls dressed in fringed tan buckskin, with beaded necklaces, headbands, and feathers. Their skin and eyes were dark, and their ways were different. They seemed to have a wildness about them, capturing my imagination.
While in Regina, we visited Victor Chipley, a relative who built a miniature railroad track around his house and what seemed to me to be an exact replica of a steam locomotive, about a foot high, that ran on coal, complete with smoke, train whistle, and sounds just like the real thing. How tickled I was to see it in operation!
Uncle and Auntie went to visit the Pshebnicki family. They took me along, and there I met their boy, Jim, who was about my age. He and I showed off how much money we had in our change purses. Using his trade instincts, Jim sold me a tiny keychain for ten cents. It was likely worth one or two. When Uncle found out about it, he scolded and ridiculed me for being a great fool. This incident haunted me for many years and, I believe, subconsciously affected my financial dealings for the rest of my life.
My time at Riverbend School was a painful one. I was hated by most of the children and plagued by a bully for over a year. Adding salt to my wounds, my cousin Ed, whom I expected to defend and support me, sided with the bully and all the others at all times. Privately with me, he was friendly; publicly he mocked and scoffed at me, falling in with all the rest.
What a strange, perplexing thing! Being constantly betrayed by someone I valued, I was thoroughly battered and bruised emotionally. Ed’s laughter and glee at my misfortune hurt far more than the baseball bashing my nose.
“With his lips the hater makes things seem what they are not, but deceit is stored up inside him; When he says fair words, have no belief in him; for in his heart are seven evils: Though his hate is covered with deceit, his sin will be seen openly before the meeting of the people” (Proverbs 26:24-26 BBE).
But I now see that these things were divinely purposed. Little did I know God was preparing me for a future calling, wherein these kinds of challenges would not defeat or faze me, though they would be many and constant. The times would come that counted for far more than healthy noses, sympathetic friends, and winning ball games, and I would be ready to suffer for what was important.
I have often pondered why Ed hated me and was so ready to betray and take a public stand against me without provocation, no matter what the circumstances or who was involved.
I now recount an incident that scared me, which is the only explanation I can think of for his strange behavior. We had a family get-together when I was perhaps five or six. I overheard Ed’s mother, Aunt Jennie, complaining to her sister, Aunt Mary, about her marriage and how she and her husband, Uncle Max, were fighting. She spoke of breaking up, which in those days was a much more serious matter than today.
Not knowing any better, I told Ed what I had heard, and I asked him if these things were true. He was surprised, incredulous; I think I saw color leave his face. I believe he was unaware of anything serious happening with his parents. And perhaps his mother was simply feeling sorry for herself and complaining without any real intent to do anything.
The scary part was that, days later, my parents came to me in anger and alarm, as though I had caused or highly contributed to the Boyechko marriage breakdown. They told me that Ed and his brother, Dennis, were living in fear. When his parents would prepare to go out, leaving his brother and him at home by themselves, Ed would panic and cry, begging them not to go. He was afraid he might not see one or either of them again. When they asked him why he was acting that way, he, of course, told them what I had repeated to him. I was told I had a big mouth and was destroying a family! I felt terrible about it.
Ed’s parents reportedly assured him they would not abandon them. I have wondered if they told Ed I was making up stories, either to deny Aunt Jennie’s complaining of their problems, or to pacify him. Whatever the case, I was made to feel responsible for their troubles by repeating something I had heard his mother say.
Did Ed think I had lied to him to torment him? Was he so psychologically impacted by this incident that his bitterness became a permanent unconscious attitude toward me? That is the only thing I can think of to explain his bizarre behavior toward me, a mysteriously treacherous behavior not remotely duplicated by any other.
I would see, many years later, that all these things were necessary, ordered from above. This experience of classical two-facedness would serve as a foundational conditioner in my life and calling. God was preparing me.
The Riverbend country school had anywhere from 15 to 20 students at a time, comprising grades one to eight. Every one of them was Ukrainian or Polish. The teachers were Ukrainian. Everybody understood and spoke Ukrainian. I do not recall anyone there other than Ukrainians and Poles.
One day Ed and I started verbally sparring with each other and were calling one another names. In Ukrainian, I called him an old lady (“stara baba”) and he called me the same. The teacher overheard us, called us over, and strapped us.
Why did he strap us? It was not because we were arguing or calling each other names or talking in class. It was not for vulgarity, because there was none. It was because we were speaking Ukrainian. We were to speak English and English only. It was the only physical punishment I ever received in school.
So while the aboriginal peoples of Canada cry foul because they were denied their language rights in school, perhaps people should know that Ukrainians were also denied those rights. And it was Ukrainians who enforced the strict letter of the law against their own language and people. It could be argued that we needed to learn English; the sooner, the better.
To promote good health and hygiene, a chart with our names was posted at the front, with certain activities listed that were required of us, like eating from each of the four food groups, brushing teeth, washing, and so forth. It was based on an honor system. Depending on our performance, each day we would receive a blue, red, or gold star. I wanted to have a steady stream of gold stars, the highest award.
One day, I believe it was a certain food that I missed having, or I had forgotten to brush my teeth, so I lied when questioned. The teacher knew I was lying, the kids knew I was lying, but I insisted, knowing they could not prove anything. I got my star, but the pleasure in having it was gone, gone, gone.
It is a sad thing that people lose their peace of mind and even their souls – for what? Recognition, honor, respect, pride? Why not be honored for honoring? Are we honoring and respecting our neighbor, from whom we hope to receive honor and respect, when we cheat and lie to him? What irony! What a contradictory heart beats in our breasts! We are proud creatures, and we stop at nothing to satisfy our pride.
Somewhere, somehow, I got it into my head that the word “maybe” was “mother” or vice versa. When I came home for a weekend and told my mother, she tried to correct me, to no avail. I had learned in officialdom by a “real teacher” that “maybe” was “mother,” and who was my mother to tell me differently? I argued stubbornly. I don’t recall how my exasperated mother resolved the issue; I only recall vaguely that she proved me wrong.
What is it about officialdom that causes a child to disrespect and distrust a parent’s judgment and authority or to go against common sense? Is it the way the parent nurtures, teaches, and trains the child? Or are we as children vulnerable to a societal influence that overrides our respect for individual family members, even our parents? Is there no family loyalty, no honoring of parents that comes before respect of strangers? Or are we by nature an erring lot from the womb? Is it all of the above?
Is this how tyrannical rulers take over children and train them to betray their parents, to death if necessary? I withstood my mother over a misunderstanding on my part. What happens when children are deliberately indoctrinated, with lies or propaganda fed them repeatedly when they are young and malleable? I mistakenly believed a simple error, one I was not taught, and I could not be told otherwise by my own mother. How intransigent we can be in error! I think of the quiet monsters created in our public schools with evolution, atheism, humanism, amoral sexuality, and other lie systems.
Auntie and Uncle Atamanchuk had an 800 square foot bungalow. On the main floor, there were two small bedrooms, a small kitchen/dining area with a chrome and red arborite table with chrome and red vinyl chairs, a cupboard, and fridge. There was also a small adjoining open dining room with a wooden formal dining table and chairs, hutch, sofa, kerosene heating stove, and a tiny enclosed front room/sewing room. This was the main floor of the house, but… we never lived there!
The house had an unfinished basement with painted cement walls and rustic wooden floor. There, they had a large old woodstove for cooking and heating, a cot, a wooden table with bench and four chairs, an open wash area with basin, hanging towel hook, and small mirror; a tiny cupboard with a galvanized steel water pail and common enamel dipper for drinking, a wooden Wabasso crate for firewood storage under the unfinished stairs, some wooden benches along portions of the walls, a large 500 gallon water storage tank, a floor model cream separator, ringer washer, and adjoining closed storage cellar for root vegetables, canning, and general goods. The basement had two tiny windows.
Except for sleeping, that’s where we lived – that was the strange part to me. I can understand why they would choose to live in the cool basement in the heat of the summer, but year round?
The Hafichuk family gathered at the Atamanchuks for some special event, likely Christmas. People were all seated in their basement, with two four-seater backless benches placed end-to-end between the stairs and the main living area. On those benches sat Uncle Bill Atamanchuk and Don Hafichuk, among others. Their backs were to the stairs, the only exit from the basement. My brother Archie and I were standing quietly against the wall opposite, facing the seated people – just quietly standing there. (I must have been six or seven and he a couple of years younger.)
Suddenly, Archie hit me in the stomach from the side. I was surprised. I said, “What are you doing?” I wanted no part of a spectacle in front of everyone, so I ignored him. Seconds later, he hit me again, this time harder. I looked at him, shocked that he should try to pick a fight with me and wouldn’t back off. It was perplexing. I tried to ward him off with a couple of light body punches and leave it at that. He came at me with all he had and knocked the wind out of me. I started crying.
Then I saw a reaction from Uncle Don. I thought he was pitying me, so I began heading over to him to be comforted, but as I approached him, he ignored me and was cheering Archie for being the tough guy. Uncle was laughing and cheering him as well. I realized I was the loser, without sympathy, and quickly passed by the benches and up the stairs.
Slow on the uptake, it was many years later that I realized that one or both of my uncles (likely Uncle Bill) had secretly goaded Archie into striking me while I wasn’t looking, for some devilish excitement, I suppose. Decades later, in a dream I had after he died, God would reveal Uncle’s cruel nature to me.
My birthday anniversaries were always painful, sometimes physically. On my seventh or eighth birthday, I came home to Auntie and Uncle’s, headed straight for the upstairs woodstove, which Auntie never used, and put both my hands flat on the surface. Why? I guess I sensed, by heat perhaps, that something was going on with it and decided to prove myself wrong. Auntie rushed upstairs when she heard me screaming in pain, and she began to nurse my wounds with salve and wrap. Both hands were fully blistered.
On another birthday, I ran across a pool of water in the schoolyard and slipped on ice concealed beneath (it was the time of spring melt). Not having a change of clothing, I was stuck with the wet, soiled clothes for the rest of the day. I recall such a thing happening only once, and it had to be on my birthday.
On a birthday, the teacher asked me to come forward to ring the hand bell to start the day. I thought I was being honored. Instead, I was being fooled. I shook the bell…no sound. They had taken the ringer out. They all shouted, “April Fool!” and laughed.
Had I been of a carefree disposition, as some seem to be, I would have laughed, too, but I was anything but carefree. I think I was spoiled and proud and was getting all that I deserved or needed. Also, the Lord was showing me, even then, that observing birthdays was not something with which He was at all pleased. He certainly wasn’t pleased with mine. And I never felt comfortable with anyone’s birthday party. While I understood nothing about birthdays then, the time would come that I would understand, being informed.
Auntie and Uncle kept a bronze variety of turkeys. When I was six or seven, I often teased a hen that sat on her eggs in a shack. She would then come after me, and I would run away. She usually turned back. One day I crossed the line, and she did not turn back. I panicked, tripped, and fell. She jumped on my head, scratching my face.
My uncle stood watching from inside the barn across the yard, leaning on the bottom half of the split barn door. It seemed like he was not doing anything to help me. I had been asking for trouble, and perhaps he thought I needed a lesson. I have the scar near my right eye to this day over half a century later. I consider that I could have lost my eyes. I did learn not to pester the hen anymore.
One day, Auntie and Uncle drove to Angusville, Manitoba to visit some people and took me with them. As we walked, I spotted something on the gravel road. Picking it up, it appeared to be an old coin. When we brought it back to the house and cleaned it up, we discovered that it was an 1891 Queen Victoria large penny. I was excited! Maybe it was worth a lot. It turned out that it was worth very little, especially in its marred condition. The seed of collecting coins was planted, however, and not many years later would bring enjoyment and even bear a modest financial return for a young kid.
We were in Angusville because the eldest son (Lawrence) of Auntie and Uncle’s neighbors (the Fydoras) was marrying a woman there. I recall the way they carried on whenever Lawrence dropped by to use the phone to call his fiancée (his family didn’t have a phone). He used every love expression one could ever hear, putting Cyrano de Bergerac to complete shame – even Cyrano’s swordsmanship wouldn’t help. It was unreal. I would later imitate him, and Auntie and I had a good laugh about it.
Lawrence’s mother treated him and his brothers as though they were God’s peculiar and precious gifts to mankind, raising them to have a high estimation of themselves. The consequences followed. I would find out the tragic fruits of his unreality several years later.
Perhaps I sound like a whiner with a victim mentality. I am not sure why I relate some of these unpleasant memories, but somehow I expect they will serve their purpose for others. Whenever I had “good things” happening, those would often find a way of turning sour.
I brought some of my prized school materials home from Auntie and Uncle’s, things like pieces of artwork for which I received rare praise and recognition in the midst of a general climate of ridicule and ostracism. I had once copied and colored a picture of a yellow baby duck sitting on a stone well with roof, rope, and bucket. The teacher and students all gathered around, marveling and praising me. How different from the usual it was!
At home, my younger brother Archie and sister Barbara had free access to the cupboard where my personal belongings were stored and destroyed my precious possessions. I was frustrated and angry at my mother for letting them do these things. Obviously, I placed great value on them while she did not. I don’t know that I was ever able to forgive them or her for these things until God took hold of my life many years later.
While in high school, I tried building a plywood storage cupboard with a lock on it to preserve my possessions. Archie always found a way to break into it and take whatever he wanted.
I’ll get ahead of myself chronologically here for a few moments and tell of another pleasurable art incident in school: I once did an 8” x 11” crayoned abstract when I was about ten or so. The teacher, Mrs. Cassin, gathered the students, displayed my piece to them and my father and even invited other parents to see it.
Why did I not become an artist? I enjoyed it, yet I did not pursue it. I wished that we had more of it in school, but the curricula contained almost nothing in art. I missed it, was not encouraged in it, and opportunities were not provided. It was not given to me to be an artist.
When I began attending the Dauphin Plains school, it was a relief for more than one reason. First, the food intake was drastically reduced so that I began to lose weight. I immediately ceased wetting and soiling myself. Second, for some wonderful reason, Gordon Ryz, a boy my age and grade, took a distinct liking to me.
From a “Gordon” who hated me to a “Gordon” who loved me – from “fatty, fatty two-by-four” to “chubby, cuddly Teddy bear”! He was tickled with me! Having his favor, and he being popular, all others seemed obliged or inclined to treat me well.
He was “heaven-sent,” like welcome rain on a parched ground, or sunshine breaking up a long, dark, gloomy day. I found it hard to believe and impossible to comprehend, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. We became close friends for a while; I suppose that after the novelty wore off, he became more objective or normal. But it lasted long enough to encourage me on life’s road.
The Cassins bought a new blue ’59 Chevrolet Impala with the “revolutionary” tail fins. In those days there was often pride, at least among kids, as to what brand of car their family owned. It seemed to almost define what kind of person you were. My father was a “Ford man,” that is, until his older brother Bill became a car salesman with the Dauphin Dodge-Chrysler dealer, Tibby Munro.
My friend Gordie Ryz’s father Frank also bought a new Chevy with fins, and they were proud of their car. Gordie and I had a slightly competitive spirit as to whose brand was better. In those days imports were not common; Ford, GM, and Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler were the big three. Volkswagen was just breaking into the market, and there was the oddball or two, like Kaiser-Frazer, which somewhat impressed Uncle Fred Prestayko.
With some other kids standing around, I fell into banter with Mrs. Cassin about her car first thing one morning as she was opening the school. “Fords are better,” I contended, though I had no clue why. Back and forth we went, until she came back with, “Fords are no better than a tin can with a stone rattling in it.” The kids chuckled, and Mrs. Cassin broke into loud laughter. I was stumped and went into heavy duty embarrassment mode, speechless, with face red and contorted- trying to save face, yet losing it.
I felt awful. I deserved it, though, for being disrespectful of elders and authorities. And I learned not to enter into debate or competition with anyone unless I was prepared and knew what I was talking about, not that I always heeded the lesson. I also learned some manners, like not being smart-alecky.
We all wanted to go out trick-or-treating in our costumes at Halloween for free apples and candy (mostly candy, of course). The problem was living in the country. Who was going to drive miles for a few candies? My dad certainly wouldn’t. Who was ready to hand out treats to kids in the country? I so wished I could be in town and go house-to-house until I filled a big bag with goodies.
I found out that the Cassins’ older son Larry had invited Gordie Ryz for Halloween night in Dauphin. He would leave with Mrs. Cassin after school that day, stay the night with them, and return the next morning with Mrs. Cassin to school.
I wanted in. I recall being persistent and others hesitant, and finally they let me come. I felt guilty and unwanted, not that there seemed to be any overt expressions from anyone to make me feel that way. It seemed they tried to accommodate me, though not enthusiastically. I felt I was putting a damper on things for them.
We went out that night in our costumes, Larry, Clinton (Larry’s younger brother), Gordie, and I. It turned out to be not such a big deal. We got our treats, not nearly as many as I imagined we would, returned to the Cassin home, and went to bed.
I didn’t sleep well at all that night. Talk about a fish out of water. I was embarrassed that I had forced myself where I wasn’t wanted. While I had my own bed, the covers were strange and uncomfortable, and the room was too warm. It was awkward being in a strange home, having to rise early, and coping with uncustomary circumstances and unfamiliar etiquette. Being introverted and shy, it was a trying experience. It may not have been a nightmare, but close. I didn’t think I would ever want to go anywhere again where I wasn’t wanted, certainly not for fun or candy.
There was also something about Halloween I was uncomfortable with. I didn’t understand what it was, but one day I would.
I don’t know if anyone knew if it was a nervous breakdown or menopause or simply stress, but Mrs. Cassin had emotional problems. She would have outbursts of anger and would break down and cry in class. I recall my father and other parents trying to have personal talks with her. It was rough on the kids; they never knew what to expect. I think it was because of these problems that Mrs. Cassin eventually left. I saw her several years later, and she warmly greeted me.
One day, Dad came home from town announcing that he had bought a treat for us. If we were good, he would give it to us later. We did chores, finished supper, and waited until it was almost time for bed. Because we were so very unaccustomed to treats, not even getting them at Christmas, we were eager and impatient, pestering him relentlessly. Suddenly, he rose up, stormed out the door, and returned in a rage. “Slam!” went the door and “Smash!” went the cellophane bag of licorice allsorts all over the kitchen floor. “HAVE YOUR DAMN TREAT!” he bellowed.
We sat there, stunned and frightened – but not for long. We sheepishly slipped off our chairs and on to the floor, groveling and crawling in humiliation, gathering the candies.
They were under the woodstove, the table, the freestanding cupboard, and everywhere else. We didn’t miss a nook or cranny. There were great balls of fluffy dust, and the candies were mixed in the dust, but we didn’t care. We gathered and ate, I trying to swallow with a lump in my throat. We sorrowfully learned the literal meaning of the word “bittersweet.” But how much more bitter to the soul than sweet to the mouth!
Why do I tell this story? I see lessons here, not that I was able to take advantage of them until I was granted a new nature to not only learn and practice those lessons, but also to possess their value within:
One: That which is pleasing to the flesh is not worth the cost incurred to the soul and the assault on legitimate human dignity.
Two: Perhaps it is good not to promise something to children, then delay keeping the promise if it is going to cause strife and torment. Yet does not God try His children, promising first and then taking us through a trial of waiting for the fulfillment? Indeed, it often appears that the opposite happens – that He breaks His promise.
Three (the most important one): Do not wrest something from, or press someone for, anything. Be patient and wait. Better not to have it than to get it in an unpleasant way, incurring the giver’s wrath.
I dare not press God for things He is not pleased to give me at the present time. Having learned His ways, however, I do have confidence that He will, in due time, gladly give me what I ask without badgering Him for it in unbelief.
Unlike my earthly father, who often broke promises to us and whom we subsequently did not trust to keep his word (which is partially why we badgered him), the Heavenly Father will keep His promise without coercion or begging.
The Scriptural example of the importunate (persistent) widow of Luke 18, by the way, is not an example of badgering. Jesus was speaking not of pestering, but of the sure reward of an indomitable faith and hope that is never surrendered.
When my brother Archie came of school age, our parents decided that we would begin to attend the Dauphin Plains country school nearly two miles from our home. Leaving Auntie and Uncle’s at the end of grade two was a very sad time for me. I would not be returning to my second home and those who had become my second set of parents.
Many years later, Auntie confided to me that she had wept bitterly in the following days from sorrow and loneliness. I don’t recall perceiving their sadness at the time. I only know that I was very sad, yet I had mixed feelings, too. I wish now that I had had the knowledge and ability to console her then, but I also know that things had to be the way they were.
An irony is that children are exposed to these trials of life without the ability, opportunity, or knowledge to deal with them as adults may. The greater tragedy is that adults often lack the ability, opportunity, or knowledge, too, though one would think they should have these advantages. Or they are unwilling to exercise them, for whatever reason. One day, I would come to possess the Answer to this crippling problem.
A pleasant memory is of my neighbor friend’s (Raymond’s) grandmother, Mrs. John McKillop. She took me under here wing in third grade and taught me to sing “Mr. Christmas Tree” at school Christmas concerts, while she played piano. For some reason, it was a hit, and they took me to sing at both the Riverbend and the Dauphin Plains schools. People laughed and cheered.
“Mr. Christmas Tree, tell me if you see, a jolly old man passing by, in a coat of red, and my mommy said, he’s got a little twinkle in his eye….”
When I was only eight years old, Uncle Bill got me to help him each fall with the grain (wheat, barley, and oats) harvest. I drove the John Deere AR tractor that pulled the binder, on which he sat and operated. I had to grab and pull the long steel floor clutch real fast to stop us from hitting large rocks hidden in the standing grain, which would have damaged the tractor or binder. One field was particularly rocky, with rocks ranging in size from footballs to two-gallon water pails. I had to stand in the tractor all day, being too short to see coming rocks soon enough if seated.
Uncle was very happy and full of praise when I spotted them and stopped soon enough. He was full of anger and curses when I did not. I learned how to cuss very well (why didn’t I learn to praise?). It was a serious matter if the binder broke down from hitting a rock. Farmers have only so much time to get their harvest in. A breakdown needing repairs could be very costly, not so much in parts and labor as loss of harvest income.
As a young boy of about eight or so, a man came to our country home, selling my parents a large, fancy Catholic Douay Bible, filled with pictures of priests conducting Mass and mostly of Mary and her glorification. I can imagine the fix Mom and Dad were in. They didn’t have much money and it was an expensive purchase, but they didn’t have a “family Bible”; what kind of Catholics would they be if they didn’t buy one? Shame! So they bought it and, as I recall, there may have been some kind of payment on installments.
I suppose that seeing they had made an investment, they felt obligated to make use of it. Dad never took time to read it, but my mother red some to us children. Her attempted interest and reading didn’t last long. It was a very unpleasant experience to me; the Bible seemed so boring, so dead. The Bible remained closed, on a shelf, worshiped and hated at the same time, occasionally dusted for the next many decades. I expect it was a torment of regret and guilt to my mother.
I must relate a peculiar event, one that seems perverse, yet I believe it contained the seeds of the call of God on me – I was inclined to identify with Jesus Christ and His sufferings. At the bottom of the stairs, on the main floor, I placed myself against the wall and stretched my arms across the horizontal wall trim and asked Archie and Barbara to pretend I was Jesus and that they were crucifying me. They followed through, play-acting.
My mother saw it and objected, but not strongly. I believe it struck her and caused her to wonder why children would do this sort of thing. The day would come when that bit of play-acting became a spiritual reality.
One day a tall, lanky stranger came by our farm looking for work. He, Jim Carson, had been in the Canadian Army in World War II, and when the war was over, there were many soldiers on the road searching for work. My father said he couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so Jim worked for room and board.
He was a gift from above to my parents – dependable, capable, cheerful, voluntarily up early every morning to do the chores. He was a hard worker, enjoyed playing with us kids, and had a sense of humor. He was an all around “good guy”; we all loved him.
Sonny Dawson, a large, strong, boisterous man, paid Dad a visit. When introduced to Jim and hearing that he had been in the army, Sonny challenged him to a fight. While Sonny was close to 250 pounds, Jim was likely about 190 pounds. Sonny didn’t believe all that “nonsense” about how men trained in the army and size wasn’t the decisive factor in hand-to-hand combat. So Jim, Sonny, and my father headed out to the pasture.
Jim proceeded to turn Sonny into a sore sack of potatoes, tossed about at will, somewhat mashed. Sonny quickly learned to believe all that “nonsense.” My dad was impressed with Jim’s skills, and he often told the story with pleasure.
I don’t recall how long Jim was with us – two or three years maybe? Years after he left, he returned for a visit while recovering from a serious injury. He had been clearing brush when the operator of a nearby bulldozer decided to play around. He swung his blade and “accidentally” struck Jim, tearing off a large section of muscle in his upper leg.
Jim was never the same again. I hope things went well for him.
Do accidents happen, or are they caused? Was the man fooling around, or was it intentional? The results are much the same.
This would not be the last time I heard of a man coming home safely from war and getting injured in work or play.
Our main livelihood was our small Holstein dairy milk production. My father had a quota that provided us with an income of approximately $200/month, about ten times that in today’s figures – not a lot, but we got by. While we also had grain revenues, we had farm expenses to pay as well, like buying machinery and paying for utilities, upkeep, and fuel – expenses not factored into non-farm incomes.
I was likely about nine or so when I was awakened around midnight by sobbing. I got out of bed and headed downstairs to find Mom and Dad sitting at the table with a bunch of papers before them and handkerchiefs to their faces. Their eyes were red and tear-filled. I hadn’t heard of anyone dying. I wondered what in the world could be wrong. “Go to bed,” they said. But I wanted to know what was wrong, and they told me.
Not that long before, Dad had purchased a milk cow from a farmer some miles away. It would have been good to have her checked out and certified as healthy; as it turned out, she had the dreaded Bang’s disease (Brucellosis). The contagious disease spread, and the entire dairy herd had to be put down. There was nothing to salvage from it. It was heartbreaking.
We survived the crisis; they borrowed money, held their milk quota, bought a fresh herd, and continued, but I believe it was a major factor in their beginning to consider another livelihood. Farming as we knew it simply wasn’t easy for us.