Writing Fiction posted December 2, 2020

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Memories of family time

A Boyhood New Year

by k watson

Christmas had just gone into the abyss of memory with the excitement of a child's new experience transformed into fantasy play, with the new toys Santa had left behind.
This was wartime, a snowy Toronto winter during 1944. Gasoline and basic foodstuffs were heavily rationed. Dad was away a lot, serving special duty overseas on troop ships as medical officer. Our childhood world was far removed from the realities except when grandfather was trying to listen to wartime news. This required a loud 'shush' that silenced noisy play.

Mother announced that my mother and my younger brat brother and I were to accompany Ida, our housekeeper cum control officer, on a train trip to Ida's home farm near Argyle for the rest of the holidays. This was not only terrific news but magic. I had never visited this wonderful place in winter.

In summertime, the farm provided us with lots of fun, so much to see and do. I was shown how to put two old car wheels together on a length of pipe. This became my very own automobile which was pushed all over the farm. There were cattle to be herded home. Milking time was busy and there was the usual fascination with the cream separator. Everything was done by hand except for the water system which was operated by a hit-and-miss motor lifting the hand pump up and down, filling the barnyard cattle trough. The two draught horses with very large feet, though gentle, seemed like monsters as observed by a small boy.

We all got on the train at Toronto's Union Station. From this point, we went backwards in time. The old passenger coaches pulled by steam-driven locomotive proceeded northward toward a little place called Blackwater where we had to change trains in order to arrive at Beaverton, Ontario. The trip seemed to take forever and certainly I was ready to explode with anticipation and excitement; but arrive we did.

An early Model A Ford met us at the station driven by one of the farm neighbors near Ida's folks. The old car saw double duty, carrying farm produce, calves, pigs, feed or people. I was fascinated by the fact that the ignition switch was a piece of wire, twisted together. This periodically shorted out on the dashboard, creating a huge spark. This was quite 'neat' to watch.

And snow, tons of it! Driving to the farm meant driving wherever you could find a clear space, and not necessarily on the narrow, gravel road. The chains on the tires hitting the fenders, the car lurching off the road, through fields and across ditches and back onto the road; traveling where the snow was less deep, following other vehicles' ruts. Oh, what fun! This wartime era meant a scarcity of men and material goods. So, road maintenance required horse-drawn plows. When roadways became drifted in and blocked, horse-drawn sleighs became the rule.

Complete with bells and minus 40 temperatures. Steam would rise from the horses' flanks and their muzzles and great hairy legs would be covered in frost and snow. All magic to a small, city boy, insulated from reality within the posh Toronto neighborhood of Rosedale. I didn't want to ever go back to Toronto. This rural life, though harsh, thrilled and entertained me every moment of the day. The families and neighbors in this farming community were ever so warm and kind. The food gave wonderful smells to the old houses, heated with cookstoves strategically placed to provide warmth.

New Year's Eve was still several days away and I guessed that my mother would probably be preparing for the big 'Hogmanay' at home, which meant an all-night party for lots of guests. After a few drams with Auld Land Syne, father would mellow and tell stories, wonderful stories. This I would miss. But here, it is 9:00 PM and past my bedtime. Rural Ontario stayed on Eastern Standard time which meant one hour later than Toronto's time. Not tired, just full of cookies and excitement, I was directed upstairs to bed...

The old farmhouse has early, rudimentary wiring which meant that each room had a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling with a pull chain switch. Important rooms upstairs had a long string attached to these early fixtures and conveniently threaded all the way downstairs so that a good tug on one of the strings provided light upstairs. My bed was piled high with homemade quilts which upon climbing into bed made me disappear into dreamland.

The next morning, crackling sounds awakened me. Wow, was it cold! I could see frost on the windows and walls and my nose belonged under the covers. I could hear somebody downstairs relighting the cookstove and sounds coming through the stovepipe that came up through my room. I had to go to the bathroom...major problem. I wouldn't use the thundermug under the bed which meant dressing and going outside to the little very cold building with two holes and a door that didn't close properly. This mission had to be done, so off I went.

The early morning sun was turning the blue snow quite orange. The hires had been finished with the steaming cattle going back to their places in the stable, watered and milked. I wanted to go down to the barn but a big country breakfast awaited my brother and me. The old kitchen felt wonderfully warm and the food tasted so good; all homemade. Ida rought city milk which embarrassed us kids. She would not allow us to drink whole fresh cow's milk, but we did anyhow.

We dressed and dashed outside, onward through deep snow, to the barn, to he driving shed, to the workshop, to the henhouse. Everything had to be seen and felt all at once. I found my old car wheels but they were buried in snow. An old buggy in the hay mow had to be sat in, bounced in and pretended to be driven to town with the help of an imaginary gallopping horse.

I heard a motor start. Off we went to the driving shed to discover the old Fortson tractor had started up. Apparently, arrangements were made to take this bellowing clanking monster over to a neighbor's farm in order to start their tractor. Of course, we all went.
The two tractors were lined up in a neat row with a very wide belt slung between their power take-off pulleys. The Fordson's motor belched when the pulley started to rotate against its load. Alas, the belt was slipping and I was instructed to go to the house and get some honey. Oh, man, I hate this part of life, but I went. I was shy, yet asked the lady for honey. She seemed to be more interested in who I was and did I want some milk and cookies. Anyhow, old Archie came running up and got a pail of honey, wondering what happened to me.

Honey was applied to the belt and the process started again. The Fordson belched and the other old tractor heaved. A great sheet of flame shot out of the stubborn tractor's motor. Archie offered that it would do the old bugger good. Now, there were two old belching asynchronous tractors vibrating and roaring. To make the morning perfect, we all went into he neighbor's kitchen to warm up with tea and homemade bread. I said that it was a neat trick with the tractors. I was no longer a small boy, but now as one of the men.
New Year's Eve was special to me as I got it only to stay up, but was accepted as part of the family. That night, there was old-time music...mandolin, fiddle, banjo and piano, stories and singing with harmony, all the old songs. If only the night would last forever. I fell asleep. I don't know who put me to bed, ut my dreams of such love and acceptance are still with me forever.
Happy New Year!

The time of my life: writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
Write a short story. The topic is: The best time you ever had in your life. It can be as an adult or as a child. Please keep it clean. Minimum length 100 words. Maximum Length 4,000 words.

Sometimes it seems like just yesterday!
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