Their prayers were answered I guess, since not too long afterwards their parents returned to calm them and inform them it was not the end of the world, but a prairie fire, and the sun through dense smoke appears very red and eerie looking. Most, if not all homesteaders learned early to plow a wide fireguard all around their homesteads, and to keep that strip of land plowed and black. The ploughing of this fire guard was the first undertaking of most prairie homesteaders.
The loss of a house or building was a large loss indeed. The adult members of the family fought the fire and though it must have been a horrendous undertaking, and frightful for all, the children’s “End of the World” experience completely over-shadowed the prairie fire.
I remember the homestead house, never in its entire existence being painted, having a lean to attached onto it. Mom told me it had been added on later. Also there were trees which they had planted at the north and west sides of the farm yard. I remembered, as a child, going down the hill to the North to granaries, but when we go there now, the hill is not really a hill at all. They had big gardens and in many of the old pictures, taken usually after a Sunday family picnic, the gardens are very much in evidence. The trees are in so many of the pictures, one could believe that there was a virtual forest in southern Saskatchewan, but I think people thought trees made a good background for pictures. Either that or they were very proud of having trees in such a tree-less expanse. In such wide open prairie, a standing figure tended to look like an exclamation mark, out of place in all the horizontal planes.
There are pictures of dogs. They had hounds used to hunt coyotes, and Mom would name them, Blue, Gyp, Nippy and Spotty, and tell us stories about each one. She told about a girl dropping one of the wolfhound puppies onto her foot. She also told me about her brothers asking her if she wanted a ring with a puppy dog on it, and when she eagerly responded in the affirmative, they told her how she could have one, and she was very, very insulted with the response given to her. If you would like to know how, you could probably ask one of the older Sklapsky members and probably one could tell you, but be prepared to be insulted as well. I heard her and Uncle Fred sharing memories about the hounds, of which they were proud. It showed through in their voices as they spoke. A little Boston Bull terrier by the name of Mitzi is in many pictures, as well as numerous cats.
They were also proud of the new barn built by their Dad and his boys in 1939, before he quit farming. It is still standing in this year 1996, as strong and as straight as ever, though only a few out-buildings are now all that keep it company on the homestead, and the farmer who now works the land has plowed the farm yard and seeded it. The only way descendants of Frank and Arletta Sklapsky are able to glimpse what life was like in homestead days is to read this book and Rex’s books, talk to the older members, and look through the old pictures.
In some of the pictures Mom and Aileen are holding cats. She wrote in her notes that they had gotten Tabby from Muriel Webster, and Edna from a sale in Brock. I assume that Tabby and Edna were names of their cats, but I am not sure. In one picture Mother is making an awful face. She said the reason for the expression is her brother Norman was under the car pulling the tail of the cat she is holding, I can see where Madeline, Norman’s eldest daughter, came by her extraordinary sense of fun. That love of teasing and tormenting is a common Sklapsky trait and I can’t help but wonder how many of them have run full tilt into an open closet door to dampen their enthusiasm.
I remember Uncle Virgel used to visit at our farm quite often when they lived northwest of the old homestead. One time he was there in the morning while my folks were at the barn milking cows, by hand back then. Dad had not yet installed the milking machine system. Mother was sitting half under a usually well behaved cow and concentrating on the job at hand. Her cow began hitting her aside the head with its tail. Mom spoke gently to her at first, and then more sharply as the intermittent hitting continued. Finally, exasperated with this cow, she sat back and caught her brother holding the cow’s tall. Whenever one of my uncles was around, there was bound to be fun and mischief.
Mom used to suffer from migraine headaches. There I wrote it too. No one ever is said to just have migraine headaches, they always are said to suffer from them, and I guess it is true. I remember Mom making a game out of trying to keep her brood of five quiet for a while so she could lay in peace on the couch with the room darkened, a cool wet cloth on her forehead. We were to see who could be still the longest.
Many years later I learned it was one of Aunt Lottie’s games. She would promise to give the quietest one five cents. My mother was there one day while Aunt Lottie was playing this game with her children. It wasn’t long before Frank was told by his mother, “Frank, you lost your five cents!”