Tuesday, April 12, 2011
There were nineteen of us borne to our mother and father. There we were in a Sears and Roebuck home built in the center of Saskatchewan. We piled on each other and yelled and scrapped the whole way through. When my mother couldn't have children anymore after the stillbirth, I was 24 and not a nickel to my name. I begged that old man for 100 acres and damned if he didn't deny me. He said he couldn't afford to take the loss but that was a lie. He spat that lie at me in his thick German. George and I looked at the books one night when my father was asleep. He had the pennies to set us up, George and me. All we wanted were wives and land to farm. But he wouldn't give us that. He wanted us to live and die on his farm without pay, without the company of women, without a chance in the world to stand on our own feet.
When mother adopted the little one off the orphan train and set her to work washing floors and beating rugs, I knew some of my pennies went down the hungry maw of the ingrate. And when my sisters were married off, I know my pennies were packed into their marriage trunks along with all the frippery of weddings. And that bastard still didn't give me my land.
When I went to church, I prayed to God and the Holy Mother to kill him. I imagined him trampled to death beneath the oxen pulling the plow. I saw him keeling into the soil and getting wrapped up in the short roots of wheat and suffocating. I saw myself with an axe...
The winters are so terribly long and dark. Nothing moves for fear of getting colder. The sky gets wider and paler. Look far enough and watch the earth curve to the sides. The land goes dull. Winter is a hard time.
Mother assuaged the little ones with stories of Alsace. She sung German and French songs. But when she started to smile and lose herself in the past, Father would curse her and remind her of the hellish Lutherans. Wars of kings. I cared little for history.
George and I taught ourselves English by reading catalogs and an English Bible. We spoke well enough to trade at the general store. Soon, Father entrusted us with the negotiations, but never the books. George wasn't strong in the maths, but I knew my way with numbers. I knew Father was hiding money.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Brother Gil died of fever. His last view was from the bedroom window, looking over the hills. He was twelve. He burnt up and cooled off in one evening. He didn't make a sound. Our mother gathered him in her arms in the morning when the cock crowed. We buried him on a Sunday. The mound of fresh dirt looked like a promise. I helped our father dig the grave. We took special care to make it just so. Brother Gil had a nice box in which to lay; he liked right angles.
Our mother’s face sunk onto her teeth. She blessed the Sunday meal with a flat voice and went to bed after one piece of cornbread. Our father kept silent except for the clicking of his chewing teeth. Afterwards, he lit a pipe and kept the fire stoked. He stayed rocking in the glider and made the floorboards creak.
I wiped the table down, watching the crumbs travel in the grooves of the wood. I shook my foot this way and that. Dust shot out from around the legs of the table. It didn’t seem right that Brother Gil was dead and dust could do whatever it pleased. I let loose a tear but sucked my lip over my bottom teeth. I sucked my lip so hard it bled a little.
In town, people nodded to us knowingly. Most of them looked hungry. Some of the women wore clothes that draped their bony arms. Winter came hard and fast. Two of our cows wandered into a blizzard. We didn’t find them for two weeks. When we did, they were slick and bloated. Our father said it was a blessing we could not smell them--the cold air kept the flesh from stinking. John from the next farmstead came and helped our father drag the carcasses into the wood. The ground was frozen.
In the middle of winter, four farmhouses were set on fire. John said one of them was likely an accident. The other three were the work of incendiaries. I felt sorry for people who were so cold they would set their house on fire. But our father said it wasn’t to stay warm, but to get a new start.
Our mother kept mostly silent that winter. She said a blessing every night. Her eyes wandered toward the horizon during the day.
In January, John came down and sat with our father in front of the fire. He drank whiskey straight from a glinting flash. He sang a few songs. His voice was like rustling wheat. John had walked from Canada to set a farm up in the territory. He told our father the land was worse than what he had heard in Calgary. He told our father it was too damned much to farm it. He also told our father he was thinking about a mail order bride from Germany. Our father said it was a bad idea. Then, John looked at me for a long time. I felt ashamed but curious.
My hands shook the rest of the winter.
Location: Detroit Rock City!
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We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate When the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning; At the source of the longest river The voice of the hidden waterfall And the children in the apple-tree Not known, because not looked for But heard, half-heard, in the stillness Between two waves of the sea. Quick now, here, now, alwaysâ A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything) And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well When the tongues of flame are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one. -T.S. Eliot "Little Gidding"