Pearl Sklapsky-Holben Memoir – written April 22.1989

One day, while she was tending the garden beside the field of flax, ripening in its seed balls, a breeze came up. Mother had the children with her, and when young Fritz heard the flax rattling, he put his hands out saying, “Let’s go into the house. It’s raining!” It was funny he couldn’t feel the rain drops, but he knew it was raining because he could sure hear it. He was most insistent that it was raining. It was the first time Fred had seen and heard flax in his young life and it provided an amusing incident for his family.

After the flax was seeded and even before the land was completely ready, Dad and the older boys were out in the next thirty acres digging the rocks and getting them into piles so that the land could be broken up.

Stand here, if you will, with me as I join them and look. Look for miles and miles, and see nothing, absolutely nothing but waving prairie grasses on undulating ground, studded with rocks and wildflowers. Knee high grasses, which, since it is spring, are greenish toward the ground, but golden brown above, rippling in the cool breeze. The spring air is so pure, bursting with ozone, and the heat of the sun warms your heart. Sky larks soar up into the sky until they are nearly lost to sight, then here they come drifting earthward, wings closed and singing fit to break your ear drums with the passion and joy of life. See the beady-eyed gophers standing as high as they are able, to keep an eye and ear on the hawk that is circling high overhead, but below the puffy white clouds with their flat grey bottoms. The air is so calm you can hear the gophers and the grassland birds all over the prairie, and you hear a neighbour, somewhere off in the distance talking to his oxen to Gee or Haw, whichever direction he wishes it to take. It is glorious, but too soon to fade.

Spring was turning into summer and there was lots to be done. Since a barn had to be built for the oxen, and a granary for the grain, Dad hauled lumber from Brock, as there were now a few stores opening up in the little town as merchants came to make a livelihood providing the settlers’ needs. The barn was built, and used.

During the hottest part of the day, the oxen, being ornery and smart, I guess, would Iie down in the middle of the field rather than continue to trudge the prairie pulling the plough share through the centuries old roots of the tough prairie sod. Guiding the oxen and holding a plough down into the soil was definitely not a job for weaklings. It took a great deal of strength and endurance to plow, hour after hour in the tough prairie.

There were numerous rocks to dig out of the land, and load on the stone boat, to be piled in one area. These rock piles became great hiding places for small animals, and a good place for soil to drift and weeds to get a footing. Most became camouflaged with rose bushes and buck brush as years passed. In the early days though, they were rather conspicuous on the bare prairie.

Roots of prairie sod grasses reach depths of over six feet in the drier areas. It was a good thing Dad was a husky man who enjoyed a challenge, as were his sons. All the hard work and fighting in the lumber camps really paid off now!

Many settlers and other travellers that passed across our quarter section that summer would stop for a rest and a visit before continuing on their way. You could see the ‘Old Battleford Trail’ to the east of us for many years as the wagons cut a narrow rut into the ground and the grasses never completely regrew in them.

I remember Mother pointing it out to me and recalling one band of Indians going through and stopping for a rest in the yard. Mom gave them biscuits and water for refreshments and after resting a while, they continued on their way. I wonder if she counted her children, remembering the fears of the people in the States. Members of the R.C.M.P. also rode in on the way to Swift Current, checking on the settlers to see how they were faring; if any were in dire need.

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