Thursday, 16. January 2003
More Town Tour

Imagine the streets as an Xs and Os layout, where the lines are the streets. The streets of my home town could basically be represented by five lines crossing three. It’s tiny, and I would be surprised if there are more than 100 people living there now. They are mostly seniors.

Used to be, when you looked north down the main street you’d see one of a row of three or four grain elevators. Now all but one are gone, and there is this empty space there that just doesn’t look right. To people like me, who remember the elevators, something important is missing. The street looks too wide, now, and empty.

The school closed some years ago in spite of local parents mounting a huge fight against the closure, and the kids began bussing to the next town some 10 miles down the highway. That was the end of seeing kids walking around town at noon hour on weekdays, or coming and going from the rink for their bonspiels and other ice games all winter. A sort of life went out of the town.

The school sat empty for some years, then was sold to a contractor who knocked out some exterior walls and uses it in his bin-building business now. The grounds of the school are still much what they always were, its south end bordered on three sides by caragana trees. I spent the summer days of my youth (when I wasn't out riding bikes with my buddy Brian) running through the tunnel formed by the two rows of trees, climbing one particular poplar tree that had a crook for perching in just a few feet off the ground. To this day I have a fondness for caragana trees, while most people abhor them as weeds.

For many years after I’d grown up and left my home town, when I came home I’d go after dark to the school grounds and spend an hour or so on the swings.

Every little prairie town has a skating and curling rink as its activity centre during the winter months, and my home town, Margo, is no exception. In the summer, a temporary dance floor is laid down in the skating rink when someone is having a big party -- a family reunion, say.

My paternal grandfather’s house was kitty-corner from the rink, and I was a regular skater. After skating I’d head over to his place and we’d sit at the kitchen table and play cards. He’d taught me rummy when I was four, and later we played whist and cribbage. While outside the snow fell and the wind howled, Grandpa and I were toasty warm in his kitchen. He usually kept chocolate ice cream in his deep freeze because it was my favourite.

The day he died, my family was all at the rink. It was a summer day, and the town was throwing a reunion of all the people who’d ever attended school in Margo. The skating rink had been transformed and filled by about 800 people who’d come from all over the country to be with people they often hadn’t seen for 40 years. It was a wonderful time, flawed for me only by the news that Grandpa had died in the nursing home where he now lived.

Someone had come in and found Dad in the rink, and given him the message. He came and told me. I put my hand on his arm, thinking to comfort him. He brushed it off, not wanting to show emotion in front of all these people.

I remember waking up the next morning and the imploding feeling that came with the memory that alas, all was not well with the world. Grandpa was no longer in it.

I was only 20 at the time, and I don’t recall suffering Grandpa J’s loss as much as I did after my other grandpa died, when I was in my late thirties. That grief was the worst emotional pain I’ve ever felt. Yet I was close to both of them, well loved by each. They were foundation pins at the corners of my life, and it hurt to have them removed.

That's me sitting next to Grandpa. (Quit looking up my nightie.) He was an old fella even when I was only six or seven, as in this photo. That's my sister Karen on the far right, and our brother, Cameron, in the middle. Mom says when he was born, when I first saw him I said "I'd rather have a puppy."

Grandpa's funeral was an ordeal, and at the cemetery afterward, when the undertaker plucked white plastic roses off Grandpa’s coffin and ceremoniously handed one each to myself and my sisters, I felt bitter and angry. A plastic rose should mean anything to me? I thought. It meant absolutely nothing in the face of this loss. It was certainly no comfort, and nothing could be.

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You Can't Take the Home Town Out of the Girl

On the way to Grandma’s on Sunday, we spotted this coyote on the road. Too smart to stick around, it ran into the field when we drove up.

It’s about a 20-minute drive to my home town from here.

The village itself has a curved gravel road that crosses the railroad tracks as it leads off the highway at one end, and a short, straight road you can use when you enter at the other highway end.

There used to be three or four grain elevators, but the sad truth is that grain elevators are an endangered part of the prairie landscape, just as the small towns are since the elevators have begun closing up and getting torn down.

On the corner across from the elevator is the bar. How it gets enough business to stay open, I don’t know. I think it’s up for sale, and that doesn’t surprise me. I worked in that bar for a few weeks when I rented a house in town, before I got pregnant with Don. I hated it. I have no patience for drunk people. They bore the hell out of me, and irritate it back in.

Coming soon ... the main drag, the old school, and Grandpa J’s house.


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