Finding a skunk under the porch was bad enough, but then the school inspector made a visit. | Getty Images

Black and white threat was cause for alarm

The arrival of the school inspector was almost as dreaded an occasion as a skunk making itself at home on the farm

Skunks made regular calls to our chicken house, cranky old clucks notwithstanding. I went to gather eggs one day and as I approached, there was a black and white “kitty” we didn’t own looking out at me from the hen house. I beat a hasty retreat with my basket, while the skunk just ambled off […] Read more

The joys of learning to skate at the rink of hard knocks

I was 13 years old when I got my first pair of skates for Christmas. From then on, I imagined myself gracefully sliding across the surface of the outdoor rink in the village about two kilometres distant. I was too afraid to venture that far on cross-country skis (have you ever been alone in the […] Read more

Long-awaited accordion produced a miracle of music

Of all the instruments stacked beside the piano in our living room, my brother’s big Hohner accordion was my favourite. If only I had a smaller one just like it. Eaton’s mail order catalogue was most accommodating, featuring a little 12 bass accordion on its pages. Not only that, but customers could make full use […] Read more

Dad bought a Massey Harris Twin 101 tractor the month I was born, so I always felt a kinship with it. | Screencap via

Eccentric implements kept farm rumbling

The author’s father was always rounding up quirky makes and models of tractors, while many of the cars could be cranky

On the quarter-section farm where I grew up, we had an odd collection of cars and machinery that growled, roared, rumbled, whined or snorted across the land. Some became exasperatingly silent, like the 1931 Studebaker that would seldom start on a Saturday night when I was excited to go shopping at the “big” town 20 […] Read more

The author, seen here, liked to go out to play but hated getting dressed for the occasion.  | Alma Barkman photo

Recalling highs and lows of a child in winter

Playing outside with siblings was fun, but struggling into a snowsuit could prompt a kid to rethink the entire endeavour

As a preschooler during the winter, the cold wasn’t as much of a misery as getting all bundled up to go outside. Mom used her treadle sewing machine to make a snowsuit for me out of someone’s cast-off coat and the imitation fur had a stiff, canvas-type backing that scratched me to pieces. “Do you […] Read more

In the 1940s, the festive seasons were bright occasions in otherwise dreary winters on the farm.  | Getty Images

Christmas often required ingenuity in 1940s

Homemade treats, improvised ‘fireplaces’ and creative tree decorating helped make the prairie holidays a festive time

I thumbed through the Eaton’s catalogue until it was dog-eared, my wish list for Christmas circled with far more things than I would ever receive, but it didn’t hurt to hope. In the 1940s, the festive seasons were bright occasions in otherwise dreary winters on the farm. The smell of spicy fruitcake emanating from the […] Read more

Homemade ice cream was going to be the perfect treat for a farmhouse party, if only everybody could co-operate.  | Getty Images

Ice cream outdoors — what could go wrong?

The long and arduous task of making homemade ice cream turned into a perilous venture for these three prairie women

On a winter’s night back in the 1940s, there was a party in full swing at my parents’ farmhouse. Fiddles, guitars and a banjo were reeling off western tunes while square dancers in jeans and plaid shirts worked up a sweat that fogged the windows. It was downright cold outside, as only a December night […] Read more

Rural nickname tradition met its match in the early ’70s

Giving neighbours a second name was commonplace back in the day, but what to do when the ‘flower people’ arrived?

Back home on the farm, there were no such things as flocks and herds and litters. To me they were all individual creatures, and I spent many solemn hours as a precocious kid mulling over names for the chickens the pigs, the pups and the kittens. So maybe to a Rhode Island Red it made […] Read more

Hushed crowds still gather to pay silent tribute at Canadian cenotaphs on Nov. 11.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Heroes’ long-ago sacrifice still remembered

The act of remembrance continues as Canadians pay tribute to the men and women who fought and died around the world

I was too young to realize the full impact of the Second World War, but each day at 9 p.m. a solemn hush descended over the household as my parents sat in front of the cabinet radio to listen to the CBC news. The voice usually said something similar to, “Good evening. Casualties were high […] Read more

The simple act of digging potatoes in a prairie garden was the perfect illustration of the life lesson, “you get out what you put in.”  |  Getty Images

Digging potatoes brings satisfying memories

A heaping bowl of mashed potatoes would look particularly appetizing if they had recently been unearthed from the family’s vegetable garden

The one chore I didn’t mind down on the farm was digging potatoes. Maybe it was because I liked spuds. I liked them mashed and sprinkled with smoky bacon grease. I liked them scalloped with lots of onions and thick cream sauce. I liked them cut in thin slices and fried on top of the […] Read more