In the middle of a dreary winter, Valentine’s Day became a reason to celebrate relationships that were often taken for granted.  |  Alma Barkman photo

When Valentine’s Day lived up to its name

Whether it was a special card delivery in elementary school or a crokinole game in high school, this day never failed to disappoint

Valentine’s Day fell at a time of year when we were coping with the rigours of a prairie winter, when emotions were all but smothered by the very real effort it took to keep functioning. Between the doldrums of January and the reality of spring, when snow banks became grey and life was tedious at […] Read more

Anyone in the vicinity was fair game once the adrenalin kicked in.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Rooster’s bad temperament could put it in harm’s way

When I was a kid, it wasn’t a cowboy who wore the spurs around our farm. That honour went to a big, white rooster. That bird earned my respect — or at least my fear. When he ruffled his neck feathers and flashed his amber eye, smart people like me headed for the nearest door. […] Read more

Floral visions extinguish winter blues

The timely arrival of a seed catalogue was all the inspiration this young gardener needed while caught in winter’s icy grip

Winter was long, and I had grown weary of nothing but plain white snowbanks, bare trees and gray skies. I craved a splash of colour in my drab prairie world, and one day it actually arrived in the mail — the annual seed catalogue. This was heady stuff to read. Everything was guaranteed — every […] Read more


The author worried about what people would think about their tree, but in the end the family’s Christmas Eve party was delightful.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Childhood’s last Christmas

Youthful worrying about what was wrong with the season 
was replaced by a resolve to help make it a better time for others

On that Christmas Eve in the 1940s there was not much stirring in our big old farmhouse. It was a good thing, too, for behind the kitchen door, a trap baited with a dab of cheese waited for the resident mouse. And lurking in the shadows of the stove was the family cat. He had […] Read more

The outhouse underwent remodeling as time marched on with the shanty style giving way to a peak roof and the half-moon in the door becoming diamond-shaped.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Seeking solitude in a venerable institution

The trademarks of a genuine model were easily recognized by most prairie dwellers of a certain vintage

WINNIPEG — Houses came and houses went, but the old outhouse retained its Spartan lines, a familiar piece of architecture on the rural landscape. Although the outhouse was called many different names, most unprintable, prairie dwellers recognized the trademarks of a genuine model, like the one we had on the farm where I grew up: […] Read more


Untimely arrival was just another Christmas mystery

Why Dad couldn’t attend the annual Christmas concert was just the first of a night of unanswered questions

WINNIPEG — I had gathered from my older sister that the annual Christmas concert was something very special, and every year as a preschooler I desperately wanted to go. It seemed the concert always fell on a bitterly cold night, however, and my mother, being cautious about frostbite and wind chill and pneumonia, managed to […] Read more

We take electricity for granted today, but its arrival on prairie farms decades ago was cause for celebration.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Wired: when electricity changed rural life

The long line of utility poles carrying electricity to rural points had already reached my Aunt Emma’s farm by 1949, the first year I went to stay with her for summer vacation. I was enthralled with her new appliance called a refrigerator, and with the ice cubes she put in my lemonade. I drank so […] Read more

There was little enthusiasm when it came time to clean the pipes on the wood stove. | Alma Barkman photo

Keeping home fires burning required work

When Mom started fussing and fuming because the fire in the old McClary wood stove was sluggish, I knew it was time to clean the stovepipes again. Dad always dragged his feet about such matters, no doubt trying to summon up enough vocabulary to match the occasion. He succeeded admirably, especially the time I accidentally […] Read more


These old machines were harvest central in the early days of farming on the Prairies.  |  Alma Barkman photo

Harvest smells remind of old-time threshing

Life could take a turn for the exotic, especially for the youngsters, when threshing gangs invaded the family farm

As a toddler, I thought a threshing machine in full production resembled a giant grasshopper. Expecting it to take off after me in a series of intermittent hops, I clung to my mother’s skirt in fear. I was timid by nature and overwhelmed the first time the threshing gang invaded our house at mealtime. Attempting […] Read more

Hogs and apples: they are not always the best pairing

I was never too fond of heights at the best of times. Everybody else in the family, however, seemed to think it was up to me, being the youngest and most agile, to climb the crabapple tree and pick the fruit others couldn’t reach. Clinging desperately to a little branch already heavily laden with fruit, […] Read more