McGregor Says: Looking back at life on the Prairies

The stories he heard growing up always include hardship, but never talk of giving up, says our columnist, Jim McGregor

I was helping out at a book signing for a friend who wrote her memoirs about growing up in Saskatchewan during the Depression years.

There were many folks who stopped by to purchase a book and share their stories from that era as well.

So many, in fact, that I’m beginning to think that I am in a distinct minority having been born in Langley.

Everyone seems to have come here from ‘the Prairies’ at some point in their life and it seems that I never hear upbeat prairie stories.

I’ve learned that the spring and summer dictated how the rest of the Prairie year would go.

I have yet to hear someone say, “Oh that was the year we had a pleasant spring and wonderful summer.” The spring was always too wet or too cold. The summer was always too hot and too dusty.

There was never enough rain and too much hail and the crop prices were always well below what they should have been.

Dad always told us how tough it was with stories like, “Our dad could never afford to buy us shoes; he just painted our feet black and laced up our toes.” Or my favourite, “You kids are lucky, you just go the tap and get a glass of water. If we wanted water, we had to bang hydrogen and oxygen atoms together and make our own.”

Most folks built their own barn then a house and when the soil blew away they moved somewhere else and built another barn and another house. The entire family worked to survive and they always ‘made do’ with what they had, where they were.

A good illustration is the day my dad’s garage door cable broke. He could no longer work over his head because of his heart condition so he said he would buy more cable and I could come over and fix it.

He called me when he had the cable. When I came over, he told me he had reattached the cable at the bottom.

I got on the step ladder and pulled the cable up and through the pulley and there was barely enough to tighten the bolt to. It worked fine and I said, “You got pretty cheap buying that cable, there was barely enough to do the job.”

In his proudest Prairie Depression survival voice he replied, “No, the new cable is still hanging on the wall.

“I cut the frayed ends off the old one and you can see it works just fine.”

I still have that 10 feet of new cable with a Pearce Hardware sticker on it hanging on my shop wall, just as a reminder of how our country made it through the tough times. Nothing was wasted or thrown away.

In all those conversations I’ve had with Prairie folks, I’ve never heard one of them say, “So, I finally gave up.”

They struggled and they made life changing decisions to move east or west and everyone benefitted from their skills and tenacity. Thank God no one tried to stop them at the Alberta border.

I’ll never get tired of the Prairie stories because they take me back to our family picnics when I could sit and listen to Dad and his brothers.

They never let the truth get in the way of a good story and Prairie stories are always great stories.

At least that’s what McGregor says,