‘No child-proof lids on medicine bottles’

From our February 2013 issue

By Sylvia O’BrienSwift Current, Sask.

If you were born to a farm family in the mid-1930s and are still alive today, you are a survivor. First you survived being born to a mother who smoked and/or drank alcohol while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese and maybe never saw a doctor or hospital until the birthing.

Ultrasounds? The only ultrasounds our mothers were exposed to were the high-pitched screams of a colicky baby.
No breast milk for us. It wasn’t fashionable. Our milk came from the barn in a pail, was strained and boiled and most of us thrived on it.

If we were lucky enough to have an actual crib, it had probably been prettied up with cheap lead-based paint. There were no child-proof lids on medicine bottles and in the winter the stove was always hot, no matter where a child touched it.

When we were thirsty we drank water carried from the well, not from a vacuum sealed plastic bottle. We ate white bread slathered with real butter and gallons of Rogers syrup which came in large lidded pails that were recycled for various household uses.

We ate fried pork, fresh or salted, accompanied by eggs which were dropped into the hot fat and transferred sizzling onto our plates. We poured real cream on our oatmeal porridge and topped it with lots of sugar.

Nobody was overweight because we were always busy. Children actually worked. There were no CDs, DVDs, or video games. There was no TV and heaven forbid a child who dared to touch the radio or phonograph. Everybody had chores to do.

I remember setting the table, sweeping floors, gathering eggs, picking peas, beans, lettuce and onions from the garden, and hanging laundry on an outdoor clothesline. Later, at the age of 10 or 11, I remember carefully measuring out grain for our barn full of horses, and filling mangers with fresh hay. We learned to saddle and harness horses, milk cows, and even skin and dress out a sheep.

A clean barn ranked right up there with a clean house, so we learned the art of removing and hauling away manure when dad was too busy. Yet, we still had lots of time leftover to play, explore, and get into mischief.

In the summer we played marbles in the dirt, built a makeshift raft and rafted on weed-clogged sloughs, drowned out and snared gophers.

In the fall we made tunnels in the new threshed straw and jumped off the barn roof into the new mown hay.

In winter we made snow forts and tobogganed down the snowy slopes on flattened cardboard boxes. We would be gone for hours. Nobody worried about us or came looking for us. We were okay. Our parents knew we would be back when we got hungry.

During our school days we fell off horses, got cut, bruised, broke bones and teeth, yet there were no lawsuits filed in regard to these incidents.

We ate bugs and mud pies, tried to smoke sage and grass cigarettes, and lived to brag about it. Kids who lived less than two miles from school walked. The rest rode horse-back, usually doubled up and without a saddle. No big bus pulling up to the driveway then!

Teenagers in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s didn’t have marijuana, crack, or crystal meth. Their high consisted of finding the guy in their group who was able to borrow his father’s big Buick car, so you could cram four in the front and six in the back.

The girls, with their taffeta party dresses and billowing crinolines folded demurely around their legs, perched precariously on their boyfriends’ knees. There were no seatbelts then. You probably had a couple of bottles of cheap liquor. Who remembers lemon gin? Then off they went, careening down the narrow winding dirt road, pedal to the metal in a cloud of dust, headed for the nearest school dance.

How we all made it home, safe and sound, in the wee hours is a mystery. We must have had guardian angels around us.
Nobody told us we couldn’t or shouldn’t drink and drive. Looking back, our lives were pretty good. We had freedom and also responsibilities, successes, failures, deprivation, and disappointments.

We had the whole spectrum of highs and lows – yet we didn’t need Valium or Ritalin or grief counseling. We simply dealt with it. As I said in the beginning of this story, we are survivors. The fact that there are so many of us here proves it.