Depression-era experiences imprinted on the senses

From our January 2013 issue

By Franklin Vick – Prince Albert, Sask.

The Great Depression of the 1930s brought difficult economic times upon the families in our community. Money was an extremely scarce commodity. It was a time of hand-me-down clothes, self-reliance, and neighbourhood get-togethers for entertainment.

Our family suffered less than other families. We always had adequate clothing and footwear and we never suffered a shortage of food. We were kept fed from the farm and a productive garden. Having been born and raised in this period, it all seemed perfectly normal to me. I suppose one doesn’t miss a prosperity to which one has had no introduction.

I can look back on this period with a certain amount of nostalgia. There were certain experiences that appealed to the senses and left a lasting impression on my mind. They are as clear as if they had happened only yesterday.

East of our house stood the old earthen-floored blacksmith shop. I spent many hours there turning the crank on the old forge blower as my father, the blacksmith, hammered out dulled plough-shares, shaped welds, or fit horseshoes. The odour of forge charcoal perfumed the air with a rather pleasant fragrance.

Soft swishing sounds

On cold winter evenings, there were the daily trips through the barnyard to the barn with a coal oil lantern to light the way. By raising or lowering the lantern, silhouettes of varying dimensions were cast upon the white blanket of snow. I could be a monster or a dwarf with the mere movement of my arm.

On those cold clear nights, the skies above were alive with dazzling displays of northern lights. Dancing in an arc from horizon to horizon, I could stand alone in the silence and hear the soft swishing sounds they seemed to emit.

The quiet was broken on occasion by the woeful wail of a coyote and from a distance, the long-drawn whistle of a train would sometimes pierce the cold crisp air. It would reverberate and echo through the bush land hills.

The fragrance in the cow barn was somewhat less delightful. On cold winter nights when the cattle were fed, I could pick out the aroma of hay and fresh milk. In this atmosphere, the sounds of the cattle munching feed and milk hitting an empty pail blended into an environment that had an air of contentment.

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