Homebodies - Don't have to travel far for a good story


By Rita Friesen

I just finished re-reading “Welcome Home, Travels in Smalltown Canada” by Stuart McLean. Written in 1992 McLean travels across Canada capturing the essence of small towns. 

Striving to capture the diversity of our great country, McLean spent months reading The Canadian Encyclopedia, all four volumes, and jotted down the criteria for the places he wanted to visit. No bank machine. He wanted a French town and an English one. A winter town and a summer one, a mountain town and a prairie town. He finally selected Maple Creek, Sask., Dresden, Ont., St-Jean-Matha, Que., Sackville, NB, Foxwarren, Man. and Naksup, B.C.– spending time in these places, getting to know some of the individuals and recording their stories. He did it well and it is an interesting read.

The characters and celebrations McLean encountered triggered a thousand memories of my lifetime. Time spent on a mixed farm, a grain farm, and semi retirement. The leading edge of the baby boomers, I worked with horses, rode the binder and helped with threshing. Milked cows by hand and shovelled excrement. 

My first school bus was the neighbour’s station wagon – no seat belts and 10 of us piled in the back. Winter roads and horse drawn vans. Getting stuck or tipping and arriving at the school an hour late and half frozen meant we got hot chocolate and time to huddle in the furnace room to thaw out. Skating on the frozen pond, snow skiing behind a car or tied to a galloping horse’s tail. Christmas concerts and field days. And always the people– characters. 

There was the senior whose first language was German. Patriarch of a large family, he educated the first child and then it became the responsibility of that one to pay for the education of the next one, and so on down the line. He was near 90 when he was still planting apple trees, aware that he would not taste the fruit, but his children and grandchildren would. Our conversations were interesting, his thoughts expressed in the German language and mine in English. He maintained if that arrangement was good enough for Khrushchev and Eisenhower it was good enough for us. Tiny bent gnome of a man, wise and wordy. 

Ed never regretted moving away from southern Manitoba. He maintained that the wealth of people we got to know was so worth it. I agree. The bachelor that lived in a tiny two bedroom cottage, the dining room table his workshop and his favourite denim jacket worm to frayed ribbons. But he knew exactly how long each of the prongs on a tv antennae was and what frequency it picked up. And he could repair anything, well, not his jacket, but anything else, darn his socks and dine on a garden potato that had been sitting on the wood stove all morning! Don’t have to travel far for a good story.