The Rakings by D. L. Greene

Chapter 8

     The trail leading from the north bank lay across a level tract known as Bernard Flats. I crossed the Flats, and arrived at the Anderson home, where I introduced myself. I was given a hearty welcome, but was warned that some people might look upon my advent with suspicion, because of an unpleasant experience from which the community was just recovering.

     It appeared that earlier in the season some kind of free lance gentleman had arrived in the district representing himself as an accredited agent of the Anglican Church, and had held some services in the homes and schoolhouses. He had been received in good faith. But soon stories of conduct inconsistent with the role of a missionary, began to circulate. An enquiry was made of outside authority, and information was received, which resulted in the man leaving the community. Mementoes of his sojourn in the form of a certain kind of can opener, which he sold as a sideline, were left in a bachelor's shack. These were afterwards given away with the bachelor's compliments.

     When I began to journey about the country telling people that I was an Anglican Student come to do missionary work, I was occasionally met with the 1910 equivalent of "Oh Yeh! We have heard that one before". Some of the folks felt like the storied Indian once, shame on white man"; "White man fool Indian twice, shame on Indian". It took me a little while to live down the distrust of skeptics who were inclined to believe with the psalmist that all men are liars.

     However, when I announced a service that first Sunday in the new schoolhouse at Sunkist, a fair number of steelers came to see and hear. Overlooking my amateurishness in conducting services and preaching sermons, they came again and again. We seldom opened on time, for clocks and watches varied greatly, and there were no radios, telephones or whistles to regulate chronometers. Consequently I used to announce that the service would begin at three o'clock, or as soon after as enough people arrived to be able to start. Fortunately our organist Mrs. Rusnell lived near by, and she generally managed to arrive with her children in good time.

     The teacher at this school was Francis M. Turner. He had no permanent quarters so we decided to purchase a shack that was for sale, and set up a bachelors' establishment. The shack was to become the property of the mission, but as the Church held no land, we appropriated a spot on the King's highway close to the general store. I found accommodation for Artie in a neighbor's sod stable.

     As a bachelor, Turner was a good philosopher. "His body is here, but his mind is far away", one farmer declared. He would stand for five minutes in the middle of the floor holding a tea towel against a plate he was supposed to be drying, while he gazed into infinity and discoursed on analytical chemistry, or sought an answer to his perennial problem "Why doesn't the manufacturer put more onions in the mixed pickles?"

     He persisted in breaking up sticks of driftwood, without holding the stick down with his foot, until the inevitable happened. A piece flew through our window breaking the large pane of glass, and we were forty miles from any source of replacement. Consequently the lower half of our window was boarded up all summer. As a companion, however, Turner was quite congenial, and our partnership proved a satisfactory solution to the room and board      

     From Sunkist I worked out exploring the country in all directions and opening mission appointments in four other places. In Dermaine district I found the man whose name the district bore, laying sods on the pole roof of his sod house. To him I repeated my usual formula of introduction.

     "Glad you came along today", he greeted me, "I'm just needing a man to heave those sods up here".

     "Well I'm your man," I accepted his challenge, and threw off my coat.

     On Sunday Mr. Dermaine reciprocated by bringing his whole family in a wagon to my service, which I held in a tent at Cyril Sharpe's homestead. Here again I found an experienced organist in Mrs. Ruinet. At Vera school the teacher was a theological student from Wycliffe College, Toronto, so I delegated him to the duty of conducting services at that point. Maurice Hill was a baseball catcher as well as teacher and preacher. He claimed that his stock in trade was a Bible and Catcher's mitt, an effective equipment for catching young or old.

     One of his disciples was an irreligious oldster who sat on a bench at the back and whittled a stick all through the service.

     Community consciousness developed early in the history of Canaan. That summer, 1910, saw the first Dominion Day celebrated at Sunkist. Flags and bunting decorated the store and the refreshment booth. People came in buggies and in wagons and on horseback. Proceedings began with a parade of the Terribles. There were Indians on foot, and cowboys on bronchos, and a number of floats. One of the latter was a bucket and ladder wagon operated by Fire Chief Jim Scott. Another was a portable cage housing Yob-Yob, the Wild Man from Borneo, a fierce looking creature with long strands of hempen hair draping his shoulders. He uttered weird cries and snarled at bystanders.

     Turner and I rigged up the good ship "Never-Been-Sunk" for which purpose we commandeered Willie's stoneboat and team. I drove the horse, while Turner wearing a towel around his head, manipulated the sails.

     There followed foot races, pony races and stunts, and most important of all a basket lunch. We closed with a Dominion Day speech by the missionary, and the National Anthem. It was not a pretentious or expensive celebration, but it sufficed to see the district launched upon its patriotic career, and it provided an outing which relieved the monotony of pioneering life, and helped the settlers to get acquainted with their neighbors.

     Another highlight of the social season was the dance to celebrate the completion of Giel's barn at Vera. This was a commodious building for those days. The dance was held on the hayloft floor, and was attended by everyone within driving distance. It was featured by old time fiddling and "calling off" that would have served as a model for a modern radio programme. Lovers of the terpsichorean art hoed it down until dawn. The pioneer spirit of good fellowship was seen at its jolly best.

     Turner, Hill and I, being doubtful of our ability to acquit ourselves creditably on the dance floor, looked on from the sidelines. Our turn for getting under the spotlight came, however, at the lunch hour, when we were called upon to provide some entertainment. Having
partaken of the goodies provided by the young ladies we could not refuse, so we went into a huddle and drafted an impromptu programme.

     Hill told the story of a farmer in a drought area who decided to grow corn as a successful dry-weather crop. In the fall he cut his corn and piled it in the haymow. The corn, following the nature of corn, soon began to heat. The variety proved to be popcorn and it began to pop. It popped up to the roof, and burst off the boards. It came down into the corral like snowflakes. The cows, thinking a blizzard had struck, lay down and froze to death. The farmer, not wishing to suffer a total loss, cut up the carcasses and sold the meat as corned beef. Hill's story went over big.

     Turner for his contribution sang to a long metre tune a little ditty that went something like this:

Good morning, have you used Pear's soap?
Brook's Monkey Brand will not wash clothes;
Electric oil is good for burns;
Use Carter's Little Liver Pills - SAPOLIO.

     Turner was born thirty years too soon. Today advertisers are singing their wares over the radio in equally wretched verse to popular tunes.

     I decided to give a reading and chose for my selection that classic version of "The House That Jack Built", which boys who have lost their baby teeth and learned high faluting English are supposed to favour. "This is the domicilory erected by John; This is the agricultural produce deposited in the domicilory edifice erected by John; This is the noxious vermin which devoured the agricultural produce deposited in the domicilory edifice erected by John -",and so onto the bitter end of the cumulative story. Only before I had reached the conclusion of the jaw-breaking recitation someone in the audience shouted, "What about Jeremiah?" This incipient heckling threw me off the track, and I had the cock which should have crowed in the morn, milking the cow all tattered and torn. I gave up. But anyway it was a grand night, and the people were cheered up by the outing.

     They needed cheering up, for it was a hot dry summer, and prospects for a crop off their fresh breaking were very poor. The settlers had spent all their ready cash freighting in their effects, and building little shells of houses, which as one droll woman put it, barely shut the inmates from the public gaze. They were depending on garden produce for vegetables, prairie wool for fodder, and a few bushels of wheat to buy groceries and clothing. Potatoes were scarce, and had to be replaced by beans. Salt pork, fried eggs, and dried fruits were staple diet, while long hours and hard work daily routine.

     Occasional trips to town were necessary to haul in building material, coal and general supplies. These trips took two or three days, depending on the condition of the river. Frequently teams were held up for hours because of contrary winds or low water, which exposes shifting sandbars that impeded the ferry scow.

     When men set out for town they told their women folks to expect them back when they saw them. During the men's absence the women did the chores which included feeding the pigs and chickens and hoeing the garden. Bachelors left their chores in care of obliging neighbors while they went to town for needed supplies.

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