Thursday, December 23, 2010

Prairie Grain Elevator

My first summer job when I was 15 was cleaning out the grain dust in the bottom of the bins in the Pool elevator for Bill McClughan , the operator! We lived in the railway station across the tracks from the Pool elevator which also had an attached annex. My brother Ken used to sit in the railway office and shoot rats around the annex through the open window with his 22 when our dad wasn't around. One day he aimed too low and the bullet hit the track and ricocheted through another window. That ended his rat hunting career! My job was to shovel out the grain dust , rat droppings and general debris, in the bottom of the bins, to get ready for the fall storage season. The prairie elevators are now an iconic reminder of a special past and a way of life when industrial farming was nonexistent. The elevators announced each town in large letters to the passers through, a statement of importance to us. The elevator had a grated weigh scale where the grain truck was weighed full and then empty. Grain was dumped through the grate and samples taken by the elevator operator for grading during the dumping stream, Then the grain was carried by the elevating buckets to the top of one of the 16, 80 foot high bins and poured into them. During the fall and winter when the grain was loaded into box cars the loading was not from the bottom. As a consequence the detritus, rat droppings, chaff and dust settled to the bottom of each bin over the winter and spring to about three to four feet high as I remember. It was a dusty job cleaning the bins out, getting them clean for the fall harvest. The dust and detritus got in your clothes and hair and nostrils. I was happy with my first paying job but I understand why Bill McClughan didn't want to do it. I was strong and never got sick. We didn't have running water so it was hard to keep clean every day since our water had to be hauled from the town pump and heated on the stove top. My bath water in the galvanized tub looked like porridge at the end of each bath. I have a slightly altered view of the romantic nature of the iconic prairie elevator.

Monday, December 13, 2010


This supposedly disparaging comment toward the forgetful or the thoughtless requires some reexamination! For the past two months the robins on our plot in Lotus Island were notable for their complete absence. They were abundant during the early fall. Nothing had changed that would have occasioned their departure. The worms and bugs remained in plentiful numbers. One thing however is noted and that is the holly berries were not quite ripe during that period. The robins of course are omnivorous. They don't exist on protein alone. They must have, if not an internal clock, an internal calendar, or alternatively a readily available Dayrunner. They are no" birdbrains" ! They may even follow a Sonoma diet plan for all I know. At any rate, they appeared in spades about 4 days ago. They started in the orchard by turning up the leaves in the windrows that I haven't been able to drag to the compost yet. Tossing their heads as they threw leaves helter skelter, seeking the cringing bug or worm. Once I saw them I knew what they were really after. The appetizer may have been bugs and worms, but the entree was my holly berries. The assault on the holly tree usually starts about the 5th of December and despite it being a loaded 50 foot tree they clean it up in 4 to 5 days! This year the tree was a bit late in ripening like everything else! How they knew? That kind of timing doesn't suggest a birdbrain is forgetful or thoughtless. They may not be able to spell well, but they are not stupid. Neither am I because I cut all the holly we needed three days ago, preempting their action. They can go to it all they want now! The only drawback to this feeding frenzy is the distributed seedings I have to weed next year from the droppings. Nevertheless, La Chaim!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Motley Crew

As I march through the commercial nursery greenhouses from time to time I feel a touch of envy over the pristine, row on row of abundantly flowering or verdant house plants for sale. They smack of the beauty of the young but are often bought, treasured, and turfed when they are no longer so beautiful. If you see perennials as furnishing, to stage your house for beauty, you will see no sense in any alternative use for them. However if you anthropomorphize your house plants, you will, as we have over many years, create a Confederation of a Motley Crew. The pianist has said, from time to time, we should get rid of some of these plants since they are too big, some are ugly and they are taking over the house and greenhouse. I don't disagree with her observations about ugly and large but have so far avoided some of her suggestions with regard to action. A good marriage seeks compromise. I do have a bottom line, and have euthanized and buried the worst to the compost. Such an act is love in action and they will rise again. The survivors are old friends. They can be primped up to be at least acceptable, but it does become more and more of a struggle. They provide memories of the olden days when they were young and beautiful. I am not a callow person. I am not "Sans Loy". They can rely on us to give geriatric care, to water regularly, to avoid rich food, to amputate at times to stave off death. We are more a happy home for the elderly rather than a hospice and we share their joy. The Cymbidium in the photo we have had for years. Some years it blooms, some years it doesn't! I have two others that have not favored us this year. I accept that. They have a mind of their own. I can always wait 'til Mother Nature chooses to reward us with her "presents"!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Pro Career

In 1953 I was recruited to go to Wynyard, Saskatchewan as a baseball pitcher for their ball team! Since it was my summer job I needed the money for school in the fall. The team had the desire for a winning team, but they had neither the money, nor a pitcher! A philanthropic business man in Wynyard, who owned a service station, came to their rescue and paid me 250 dollars a month to pump gas and be a go-fer in his business so that I could be at the behest of the ball team. 250 dollars was too generous for the job I did for the business owner, Mindy Halldorson, but it was expeditious to his town's ball team. I,of course, was flattered that they wanted me. My pro career, since I was the only pitcher, included providing this service 3 days a week at local sports days around the area, and usually,since we often won,generally pitched three short games a day. My job on the field was also to carry the equipment, bags and bats, to our next venue since I was the only "paid " player.The team felt that was a reasonable request since I was only 19 and I couldn't go with them to the beer parlor in between games. A real source of discontent for me. Predictably, half way through the season, pitching without respite, and having no brains to pace myself, I developed a severe rotator cuff tendinitis in my pitching arm! It was so bad I had trouble lifting the bag of jelly doughnuts I brought to the garage mechanics for coffee break twice a day, when I was working the go-fer shift! The black day came when the ball team manager took me aside and told me the team was not making enough money to pay me anything further. I of course, couldn't pitch for them because of my arm, but never thought to question why I was fired, since Mindy Halldorson was paying for me, not the ball team. I was of no further use. Used up! I did see the local doctor but he was a quack and gave me some talcum powder to rub on my shoulder! My pro career ended and I went back to the track at the CNR for the remainder of the summer! Oh, brief fling of greatness dashed!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


When my dad retired from the railway in Lotus City,and he could no longer garden; but before he was anchored to the apartment by an oxygen hose,he did volunteer driving for the housebound! He was getting on a bit however, and found driving in the city a bit tense. He would drive elderly or disabled people to the doctor or dentist, or for treatment to the hospitals. Wait for them and drive them back. He had not much else to do so he was content to wait for them. My dad was not a reader but he enjoyed engaging others in the waiting room in conversation since he was never shy! He was given to frequent expostulations in his conversation generally. These were never scatological nor sacramentally incorrect but were provided with some passion nevertheless. His routine passionate epithet, prefacing remarks, was "By Dad!". Certainly beyond criticism! One day in my office I was visited by an elderly woman with a hip problem. At the end of our consultation she volunteered that she knew my dad and that he was often her volunteer driver. She said, "He's quite a character!" I agreed. Then she observed that when he drove her to an appointment he was frustrated with other drivers passing him and and bumper hugging. She said he would mutter, or sometimes yell, "You jackass" ,during the trip. I said, "I know that. He drives so slowly that people pass him abruptly and he is nervous. It's his word! We know it well." "Well ", she said, "I like your dad a lot but one day I was very late leaving the apartment and he was waiting for me a long time. I just knew when I got to his car he was going to call me a jackass." "He would never do that!" I said. "You're right",She said, "He just smiled and said he hoped I was feeling well." I can see my dad now in my mind's eye, trying to remain useful,tense with driving, but enjoying the company of fellow strangers, staving off the eventual time of relative immobility,fighting the feeling!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Pansy

The pansy, or for that matter the shrinking violet; what misnomers! They are tough little plants! The pansies are anything but pansies and the violets may be modest in size but they are mighty! We had minus 6 centigrade here on Lotus Island last week. The foundation box chrysanthemums turned black but the pansies didn't turn a hair. How could anyone have taken these plants as a metaphor for timidity? The pansy was always the favorite flower of the pianist. As a little girl she saw the flower as a face! I can see that. Anthropomorphizing again! Particularly for me as well, the yellow and brown petal arrangement are about as close to a little face as any flower I can think of. They not only are tough, but they are not in your face. Never mistake modesty for weakness! I am long enough in the tooth to know that with some other plants, what you see is not always what you get! On the island, the pansy winters over beautifully, waiting for that first soft warm breath in February to flourish, when under planted in the foundation boxes with the emerging daffodils. The reflected heat from the house allows them to spring forward. Being greeted by these harbingers of spring, as we leave the house, puts the spring in your step as well as in your heart.