Memories from the last century
A rabbit hopped across our lawn this morning. In another world, another era, I would be looking for its path through the bushes for a suitable spot to secure my snare to catch the “beastie.” If successful, I’d consider it another notch in my piggy bank (a sock) towards a warm Melton wool snow suit for my two-and-a-half mile trek to and from school each winter day. I remember getting my first outfit from Eaton’s catalogue — a deep maroon color, with piping and buttons in contrasting paddy green. It smelled so rich, so divine. I felt I was the luckiest student at our school — and the world, for my world did not yet extend beyond our community.
Of course, at about three or four cents a frozen rabbit at a fur company in Winnipeg, it would take more than one winter to save enough for such a big item. What a gift it was that a Jeske Transfer truck made regular pick-ups and deliveries of cream cans — and rabbits — at our highway corner! These were the 1930s — Great Depression times, when everything was “cheap” but money was “as scarce as hen’s teeth.” Pennies mattered.
If we had a surplus of anything it was time. In my case, I would order and receive, on trust, some vegetable and flower seeds to peddle among our neighbours living a half-mile apart: lettuce, radish, turnip, etc. Turnips would become feed for the pigs, but we children would sometimes sneak some for our own enjoyment of its tangy, crispy crunch.
Every family, no matter how impoverished, would have flowers, mostly perennials, everywhere — along the house, the granary, or the vegetable garden nearby. My trip to Ukraine in 2001 was a throw-back to my childhood when I saw their country houses and gardens outlined with the familiar Sweet Williams and mint and hollyhocks of yesteryear.
The Gold Medal Seed Company also sent us packets of Valentines to sell. This venture on my part turned out to be a lesson in integrity. As time went on, I was hounded by my conscience — I had not turned in the payment for the last box I’d sold. To their credit, the company never sent a reminder. But whenm at age 17 as a Grade 11 graduate, I got a paycheque while teaching on permit, I wrote a letter of apology and refunded whatever I owed them. It is difficult to describe the relief I felt through my act of contrition. Concepts learned in catechism classes each summer had/have served me well.
(This excerpt is published at the behest of readers of my previous columns in the Free Press Community Review East. They want more first-hand accounts of life in those earlier years so that today’s children will become better acquainted with the times their own great-grandparents went through in the last century.)
St. Vital community correspondent
Anne Yanchyshyn is a community correspondent for St. Vital.