While I have had many memorable summers in my
seventy years, one that will forever stay in my thoughts is the
summer when I ceased to be a child, and became a young man. The year
was 1950, and I was twelve years old.
My father's parents came from Iceland and
settled in Manitoba in the Interlake region (between Lake Winnipeg
and Lake Manitoba) before the turn of the century. Dad grew up on the
farm, but moved to Winnipeg where he worked for Trans-Canada
Airlines. My grandfather had died while I was very young, and
subsequently my grandmother moved in with us. Each summer, she would
visit her sister on the farm near Ashern, Manitoba, and I would
Prior to this particular summer, my time was
spent in play with my country cousins, and investigating all the neat
things a city kid would obviously find incredibly interesting on a
farm. Life there was for me a fun-filled existence with nary a care
in the world, with the only decision to be made being what to do the
next day. All this changed in 1950 however. My grandmother had passed
away earlier that year, but at my parent's insistence, I still made
the trek to the farm for the summer.
Times were tough that year on the farm, so all
available hands were pressed into service. Before I knew it I was
driving the tractor from dawn til dusk, seven days a week, to
get the crops harvested. As you may imagine, teaching a twelve year
old to do anything is difficult enough, but driving a tractor?
Needless to say, there were many exciting moments as I frantically
tried to follow instructions that were given quickly, and generally
misinterpreted. Why I didn't seriously damage myself or others was
probably just fortuitous.
The tractor pulled the binder which cut,
and tied the barley into sheaves. Then came the "real" work! The
sheaves had to be loaded by pitch fork onto a trailer for transport
to the thresher. At the start, it was all I could do just to get a
single sheave up high enough to reach the trailer bed. Meanwhile my
cousins were busy pitching sheave after sheave neatly and quickly
onto the trailer. Of course there were also a myriad of other jobs to
be done in our "spare" time such as haying, milking, feeding the
livestock, cleaning the barn, etc.
Each night I returned to the farm house
completely exhausted and vowing to myself that I would quit the next
day. Each morning however, I somehow dragged myself up depending on
pride to get me through another torturous day.
I didn't notice the change, but my
appetite had expanded to match the strenuous labour. Farm fare of
course is specifically designed to gratify gargantuan appetites. It
makes my mouth water just remembering the warm bread, real butter and
preserves, roasts, new potatoes, fresh garden vegetables, and
delectable homemade pies and cookies for dessert. Also, the work day
seemed to be getting shorter and less arduous. I wasn't so tired by
evening, and actually bounced out of bed in the morning, full of
energy. More importantly, I had learned first-hand just how much
strenuous labour was necessary to produce the food that city folk
took for granted.
When the time came for me to return to
the city, my 'uncle' Peter drove me to the bus station in town. As we
arrived, he thanked me for helping out, and gave me a $10 bill. I was
totally surprised, and said I couldn't accept the money. He insisted
that I deserved it for all the hard work I had done, and I finally
accepted the money. I wonder if he knew how proud he made me feel. I
had become a contributor, rather than a liability!
My parents were totally taken aback when
this bronzed, muscular, self-assured young man returned home. This
was quite different from the gawky, bashful kid that had left them
that spring. I had grown not only in stature, but also in maturity
and self confidence.
In later life I often thought back to that
summer, especially when I was presented with some seemingly
insurmountable task. I would remember the personal challenges I had
faced then, and the rewards I had gained by meeting them. I had
learned a very important lesson. Success can only be attained through
hard work; the harder the work, the sweeter the victory.