Sunday, October 30, 2011

On the Farm

When I was a kid, on certain Sundays in September we city slickers piled into a couple of cars and repaired to a friend's farm where we picked potatoes and stooked wheat. Bob the farmer was eternally an old man in my memory - a disheveled bachelor dressed in dirty overalls. He had a goiter problem, a huge Adam's Apple and bulging eyes. He was skinny and the few teeth he had were yellowed from his continual smoking; a smoldering fag always hung from his fingers. He could smoke a cigarette down to the size of a pencil eraser and watching him drag on those burning bits was both fascinating and horrifying. At any moment you'd think you could smell his lips searing.

He spoke very slowly and deliberately. Despite his gruff appearance he seemed to like kids and he usually had a surprise of some kind ready for us on visiting days. Riding on a cow's back was one such surprise.  He'd pick us up and settle us on the cows back and then pile up some fresh cut grass in front of the animal so that it would stay in one spot. The elevation seemed very lofty to me and quite exciting. As I grew older I can remember reading on the animals back - one of the more curious ways I've read a book.

During my university years, I had a garden on his property. He'd turn the earth for me and I'd come out in the spring and set the rows with my hoe, sow the seeds and set strings above the rows. My father probably forced me to do this as part of the payback for tuition...I was too self-absorbed to think about charity and he was always harnessing me to the plow, so to speak. Dad did all Bob's legal work for free and likely called in a few chits to get Bob to indulge me in my continuing farm education.

Bob did all the really hard work in advance and I got the good part - planting yellow wax beans, beets,  rhubarb, potatoes, peas and onions as soon as the frost danger was over (it was never really over in Winnipeg). Harvesting in September usually yielded bushels and bushels of vegetables which we donated to an orphanage. My boyfriend's little black Austin convertible would be loaded down...I'd ride squeezed into the back using my body to keep the peas from blowing out as we crept our way to the orphanage. We'd make several trips a day on Saturdays until the plants were picked bare and the nights were getting frosty.

Old Bob came to my wedding. It was the last time I saw him. The reception was held at a restaurant in the airport presaging how my life was going to unfold. Bob, all cleaned up, smoking longer butts in honor of the occasion, and my three maiden aunts (all in their sixties at the time), resplendent in hats and gloves, got blotto drinking Manhattans in the Fly-Away bar before the wedding. None of them really drank much in real life and they ordered Manhattans because they'd heard the drink was sophisticated. What happened afterwards I shudder to think. My father reported that they all suffered mightily from hangovers. Fortunately, the aunts lived right next door to the Catholic Church; if "morning after" confession was necessary, they didn't have far to go.


  1. What a nice thing to do. You got the fun of the garden plus the satisfaction of giving the vegetables to the orphanage.
    I love your description of Bob. I almost feel that I know him.

  2. i loved this story. especially the part about you and your boyfriend driving the carloads of vegetables to the orphanage. what a picture.

    Was your first marriage to that same guy?

  3. Anonymous8:57 AM

    I remember going to the farm with your Father and digging up delicious potatoes. Great fun!