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City Confidential is a documentary television series where a different city is featured in a high-profile criminal case. The shows were narrated by Paul Winfield and then Keith David. A homecoming queen is killed in a car accident where her boyfriend, Glenn Evans, was driving under the influence.
My sister, Kate Maher, enveloped in barley. Our grandfather might have laughed when we asked what grain grew in this field. Photo by Mary Margaret Hansen. Lewell and Shirley Thompson's home on the prairie,now abandoned.
Traveling to biggar, saskatchewan to find a family’s prairie beginnings
Lewell and Shirley Thompson with sons Wendell and his older brother Dean, on the right. Photo from the author's family album.
Shirley Keyes Thompson, prairie wife, school teacher and memoirist — just like the author. This is part three of a series. Check out part one here and part two here. There is time to explore Biggar and eat an early lunch.
We discover Prairie Malt Limited, a sizable plant that we surmise is the buyer for unending fields of Saskatchewan barley. Our waitress is an older white woman. I can see the Chinese cook in the kitchen. The other folks sitting at tables may have come from church and are ordering breakfast dishes. When I break open a fortune cookie, my fortune re in English and French. I am indeed in Canada, far away from my hometown. The Poletz family stayed put in Saskatchewan. Our Scotch Irish grandparents worked hard as homesteaders for the first eight years of their marriage.
Then, lacking funds to carry them through lean years when crops were destroyed by weather and insects, they and their two young sons returned in to northern New York State and dairy farming. The five of us sit around their table, finding commonalities as we converse.
We speak about grandparents and grandchildren.
It is 43 degrees with light rain as we approach a forlorn shack of a building. We sift through memories of old photos.
When its owner married a widow with two children, it was moved and a second room added with its roof slanting down from the ridge pole. Had we known enough to oil same, it would have lasted longer and the mop and my fingers would not have picked up so many slivers.
Liberal application of lye assaulted both wood and our hands… At last the shack smelled clean and would be our own in more than name. She was just another prairie wife struggling to make a home. If this gallant soul failed to reach standards of cleanliness, there were extenuating circumstances. The prairie homemaker fought against great odds. John, Kate and I stepped into this tiny structure, walked around it, stood in front of it, glimpsing for the first time, the primitive conditions in which our grandparents performed heroically to become wheat farmers and part of an extended prairie community.
At the time, we did not think this out of the ordinary. It was just what we hoped for… 80 acres of virgin plowing harvested 2, bushels of 2 wheat and that acres of stubble, plowed in the spring, produced 4, bushels of oats and barley. Lewell had come home with money and it was ours. Whatever joyful sound I made was as nothing to the dammed-up joy within me.
Again and again, I see a feminist who notices inequities and the habits of men. Trains from the East loaded with seasonal job-hunters discharged their load in successive towns. I learned that these women feed their men first; sit at the table only after their satisfied men have risen and need no further waiting on.
The he of grain do not drop or show the blow at once.
And during this interval the man who has sown the grain, watched it grow and planned to pay his debts with it, tries to feel hopeful. There were many friends and good times in those eight years of prairie life — as the text details. We just never got weary of singing and stopped only when we were hoarse as crows.
Lewell and Shirley were raising two small sons, the older of which was Dean, our father. One old Plymouth Rock hen persisted in following him about. He played with little pigs. If he fell off for any reason, he usually had to walk the rest of the way. Our present aim was to pay every cent we owed, with the ultimate objective of pulling up stakes and returning to the East. Leaving the Saskatchewan prairie was a heartbreaker.
Produce could neither be sold nor given away. It wooed and scorned us by turns.
The prairie conjured a vision of execution on a large scale; held out the apple of promise: blue skies fecundity, spring moisture and sun; and then gave drought, or grasshoppers or early frost or dust storms or hail…mocked our temerity in daring to hope…living on the prairie was a glorious adventure. John, Kate, and I walked the land on which our paternal grandparents homesteaded.
John would fly home to Houston as Kate and I drove westward to Alberta, land of dinosaurs and stone hoodoos, hot springs and Lake Louise. Photos by Mary Margaret Hansen. Part Four — the conclusion of this road trip odyssey — will run next month on PaperCityMag. Beyond the magazine. Create. Already have an ?
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Another restaurant serving Chinese-Canadian cuisine. John sharing stories with Darrell and Brenda Poletz. John Lewell Thompson in a field of Saskatchewan barley. Amber waves of grain: a swath of Saskatchewan prairie. Kate and I head toward Alberta, land of mountains and dinosaurs. Summer Essentials Swipe. Share Share Pin Comment.
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