FAIRLIGHT, Sask. — It was supposed to be a rollicking rural road trip filled with food, four women friends and fun. There was no room for sternness in our adventure.
“I should rephrase that,” says my co-road-tripper, stumbling over her words in an effort to define Brenda Thomson, the owner of the Home Sweet Home Tea Room and Gift Shop in Fairlight.
“It’s not that she’s rude or anything, she’s just a little bit gruff.”
The car goes silent.
As we pull into the tiny town that boasts exactly 21 dwellings and two businesses, I start to think the proprietor’s spirits are probably low because business is slow here.
“Well, it’s about time you got here, we’ve only been waiting 23 years,” says Thomson as we enter. She then embraces me with a hug, slaps me on the back and thanks me for coming.
Thomson knows she’s punchy, outspoken and abrasive and is not about to apologize for it.
“Customers who send first-timers here always say, ‘don’t go unless Brenda is there,’ ” says the 65-year-old entrepreneur. “I’m rude to them and they seem to like it. They wouldn’t come back if they didn’t.”
The door opens behind us as we attempt to shuffle out of the way of incoming customers.
She tends to all her customers the same, regardless of whether they are work-booted riggers, coverall-clad farmers or laughing ladies who have driven three hours to satisfy their craving for contemporary art, butter-drenched biscuits and cream-filled puffs.
A buffet of giftware is visible from the dining tables. A red wall is adorned with golden owls and copper lamps and brass mirrors.
There is a beach painting, fossil-embossed frames and shell-inspired ceramic vessels.
“This chicken salad is unbelievable,” swoons a customer, one of 40 in the tea house on this Tuesday afternoon. Another asks how she makes it.
“You take a chicken and you cook it,” answers Thomson.
“And if you want it to be really good, you get this kid from Maryfield to raise the chickens for you. You pay him an arm and a leg, and you take the chicken and turn it into salad. It’s not rocket science.”
The table of women bursts into laughter.
The business dates back 23 years when it was first established by Thomson and a friend in an abandoned farmhouse on a quarter of land rented by Brenda’s farm husband.
She initially catered to parties and weddings without running water, eventually moving to Fairlight when the Legion Hall came up for sale and buying the building across the street and filling it with giftware.
Her daughter, Robin, is the main buyer and her son, Jay, operates the farm, a necessity since Brenda’s husband passed away a year ago.
She also receives helps from two or three friends who help out when customers are calling and shipments are pouring in.