This is my maternal grandfather, Thomas Earl Etsell, harvesting on the family farm in Virden, Manitoba, in 1966. I've always considered myself pretty lucky that I didn't grow up on a farm, mainly because my numerous allergies would have made life pretty uncomfortable much of the time. But I did enjoy our many visits to the farm, both before and after the deaths of my grandparents. Southern Manitoba is quite beautiful in the summer, with its rolling hills, meandering rivers and gorgeous, pristine lakes. (Wintertime is another matter.) I was too young to do any farm work before the farm was sold, so my vision of the job is somewhat romantic; these photos match my imagination nicely. Of course, Mom told me about some of the more gruesome chores, such as pest control and animal butchery. I don't think I have the stomach for such labour, although perhaps I would have developed the skills had I really needed to. I'm just as happy to write for a living, all things considered.
When Sean and I met up with our parents in Virden in 2009, Mom revealed that her father had donated the land for the one-room schoolhouse, River Valley School, that still stands as a heritage site near Virden today. Here are some photos:
Finally, here's a shot of how the Etsell farm looked in 2009:
Sadly, the old house was burned down by an arsonist last year, but the rest of the buildings remain. The land itself endures, of course, changeless to human eyes, though the land, too, shall shift and move and transform itself as the centuries crawl by. For whatever reason, I've always been keenly aware of the passage of time and the havoc that passage wreaks on human beings. Sometimes I feel as though I cheated myself out of my childhood, always worrying that this or that era of my life would only last so long, and no longer. But I take comfort in these images, because they remind me that even though people come and go, memories remain to inform and educate the generations to come. I barely had a chance to know my mother's father, but the farm and his daughters provide ample evidence that he had something very valuable to contribute to the world - something even more precious than the harvests of the fall.
CORRECTION: It was actually Mom's grandfather, Peter Leask, who donated the land upon which the River Valley School stands. Thanks to Mom and Aunt Jean for the correction.