When I was a little girl, about six or seven I'd say, we lived in a town at the edge of the prairies. It was a small town, maybe 1,000 people except for the air force base which swelled the population by another 2 maybe 3 thousand. But I could be wrong. The town could have been larger, or even smaller. And there could have been more military, or less.
Memory's like that. It's not good with numbers.
On a good day, and only if I rode my bike to the top of the hill that rose behind the 'base' where we lived, I could see the mountains, far off in the distance, sprawling across the western skyline. "Blocking the view," as one farmer called it.
There was a farm there. An old woman and a man owned it. At least, in my memory they seemed old. I don't remember their names, though I like to think they were 'The Frasers'. Mr. and Mrs. Fraser. I don't remember any children either. Just Mr. and Mrs. Fraser, a black and white dog, lots of cats, chickens and a cow.
On Saturdays my father and I, and sometimes my sister, would drive to the farm and buy eggs. Farm fresh eggs were the best, my father told us. Clear of everything. No pollutants. And when we got home he'd demonstrate. Show us the difference in the colour of the yolk. Pale yellow for store bought. Bright orange for the farm fresh. "See. Clear. Fresh. No pollutants," he'd say.
Like the prairie sky above us. Clear of everything. No pollutants.
He used to say that every time we drove down the highway towards, 'the city' to the south. My father would drive and point out the gas flares and say, "That's pure Alberta air. Best clean air in the world."
On the farm, Mr. and Mrs. Fraser grew accustomed to my arrival during the hot summer days. Short legs pedalling my bike up the gravel drive. Long black hair flying about my face. I'd pull into their yard unannounced, wave, jump off my bike, (I think it might have been green), drop it to the ground and walk over to pet the dog. He'd always greet me, black tail wagging, mouth open, tongue flopping. He'd make a fuss and Mr Fraser would admonish him, "Down Rufus," and while I don't clearly remember if that was his name, it somehow seems fitting in my memory to call him that, "Rufus."
After the greetings were over Mrs. Fraser would invite me in for a glass of lemonade. "Come in. come in, child," she'd say as she opened the creaking screen door to their kitchen. And I'd go in. Happily. I'd sit at their Formica kitchen table, its surface covered by a sheet of clear plastic and drink my lemonade and watch the goings on of the farmyard.
I chattered a lot back in those days. Everyone said so. I chattered up a storm, no matter the weather, and asked lots of questions. Question after question after question.
I imagine I asked Mrs. Fraser where all her children were. And in some dim recess of my memory I feel the fragment of a memory tingling. There was a tragedy, somewhere in the not too distant past. A son. Lost. An accident I think, involving some piece of farm equipment.
It happens, Mr. Fraser said. It happens. And I imagine he put one arm awkwardly around Mrs. Fraser's shoulders as she twisted a corner of her apron in her hands.
Those days on the Fraser's farm happened many years ago.
We moved to France after that where I stayed for many years. I remember the day our plane landed. I looked out at the patchwork network of farms neatly stitched together as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, a town was stitched into the fabric of the land, a pocket of activity where people met and lived and talked and led lives beyond my prairie imaginings.
Those farms were vastly different than the prairie farms of my childhood. Those farms were small and compact. You didn't live 'on the farm' in France. You lived in the town and rode out to your land on tractors, and sometimes your bicycle. Not much had changed on the land, though centuries had passed and farmlands had passed down from hand to hand to sons and daughters who still worked the land and lived in the towns where they were born.
On the prairies, farms were vast and lives unfolded far from neighbours and other folk. Farms passed from hand to hand but those hands were not as caked in the mud of years gone by. Those hands were not as worn into the soil of centuries passing by.
On the prairies, wide open spaces called. Children left their father's farms and ventured into the cities. Children wandered far from the land upon which they were born, the land their father's father and mother cultivated by hand a few short decades ago, their dreams for the years to come expanding out across the prairies, as far as the eye could see.
I remember that farm of childhood wonder. There was freedom there. Freedom and comfort. A place to call home. A place to belong, to be welcome, to be happy. Those wide-open spaces call to me still. They beckon me to leave the city sidewalks and wander out beneath the cerulean arc of clear blue sky calling me to open up to the expansiveness of life all around me.
Prairie grasses sweep out to that place where the horizon gobbles up the east. To the west, jagged peaks soar skyward touching the heavens with every upward thrust of their craggy tips, "blocking the view," as that farmer said long ago.
And still the prairies sprawl. Vast. Golden. Inviting.
I've never gone back to visit The Frasers. Never gone to see if their farm still stands, rusted mailbox at the edge of the drive where it meets the road taking you away from farmhouse to city life to living off the land far away.
I've never gone back. Perhaps someday I will.
It's blog carnival Tuesday and today's one word prompt is "Farm".
To read more wonderful posts on the prompt, FARM, drop on by and set awhile at Peter Pollock's place. You'll be grateful for the rest on the dusty road of life.