Family ‘fun’ had berry-picking and froggy funerals

From our July/August 2019 issue

By Ione Skafte – Lethbridge, Alta.

At least twice a year, we traveled from Lethbridge to Speers, Sask., to visit my husband’s family. We usually did this in the summer.

We’d spend a couple of weeks visiting various family members and getting in a few hundred hands of Kaiser, the favourite family card game and provincial card game of Saskatchewan.

A year after Dad Skafte had passed away, we arrived at the height of Saskatoon berry season. After the obligatory two days of playing cards with family and neighbours, Mom Skafte (Maria) said she wanted to pick berries.

We packed the station wagon full of various sizes of picking containers. There was also a large tub to store the fruit, water, bug spray, and lunch. Soon enough, we set off to the secret family picking spot.

Nature’s rules for berry picking

I think there must be some rule of nature that Saskatoon bushes have to grow on the sides of steep hills full of thistle and all kinds of prickly bushes.

On we went, beating back the mosquitos as we foraged. We also watched for any bears who may have been upset with us taking their provisions.

The boys were about six and nine at the time. They tired of this game after picking only a few handfuls that never made it as far as their containers.

We said they could go to the car and play with the games and toys we’d brought along for just such an eventuality. I could see the car from where we were picking.

We picked berries for the better part of the morning and early afternoon, then headed back to the car. The boys had stayed very busy and didn’t seem to mind how long we were taking.

Pockets and pails emptied

As I dumped the small containers of berries into the larger container, I spotted a small spotted frog. The boys had discovered a little water in the ditch beside the car and had been catching frogs.

I emptied out their pockets and their Saskatoon/frog buckets and we headed for home. It was a very hot day–another one of nature’s rule for picking Saskatoons–and we were all very tired.  At home, we took our bounty in to wash and get ready for canning the next day.

The following afternoon, we went out to the car to retrieve something we’d forgotten and were hit with a stench reminiscent of a garbage dump. It was horrible.

Closer inspection revealed many dead frogs. They’d escaped from the buckets the previous day and were now decomposing in the scorching heat of the car.

The boys insisted we have a funeral for the frogs as was only fitting. After the ones still whole were buried and a proper prayer said over them, we started with the ones that were no longer whole. Then, we searched the car for any that remained hidden.

It took the rest of the day to remove all the seats, the rugs, and as much of the dash possible. We scrubbed, disinfected, bleached, and tried every manner of deodorant. The smell of the frogs followed us back to Alberta and didn’t completely disappear until winter.

The Saskatoons were so much easier to take care of than the frogs the boys had picked!