Like many kids, growing up I had four grandparents; my dad’s parents and my mom’s parents. My dad’s parents lived in Lethbridge Alberta and my grandad raised pigeons for racing when I was really small. This hobby ended for him when I was in my early teens as he just got too old to drive to the races and such. One of the few memories I have of my young childhood is the pigeon coop in my grandma and grandad’s back yard, and just hating the smell but thinking the little building itself was so cool. My older sister coined the term “Pigeon Gramma and grampa” for them when I was like 5 and it stuck. Pigeon Grampa contracted Alzheimers and died when I was about 20, pigeon gramma moved into a home and died a few years later. I missed both funerals for various reasons, and have never felt too good about that.
My mom’s parents lived just outside of Bentley Alberta on a farm. Bentley is a bit northwest of Red Deer, a tiny little village that considers going to Lacombe or Rimbey a trip to the city. Seriously. The town actually has one “saloon” and one restaurant. As they were farmers, they were, of course, called “tractor gramma and grampa”. As we lived in Edmonton when I was very small and then Red Deer throughout my teen formative years, we saw Tractor Gramma and Grampa alot more than we saw Pigeon Gramma and Grampa. As kids, we spent alot of days at the farm, playing on the antique equipment and walking around the fields and just generally being nuisances. My grandparents had equipment from when he homesteaded that farm in like 1927, so there were tons of ancient farm implements. You’d walk around the small wooded area near the house and quonset and granaries and find the fossils of decaying gear here and there…a wooden spoked wheel here, a rusted seat there, maybe some forks from an early threshing machine (now called a combine). I know at one point they donated a nearly complete thresher from the 30s to the museum in Edmonton…it was still there last time I went to that museum.
Even the live gear grampa used to farm his land was old. He had two old Massey Ferguson and one even older Massey Harris tractors, 1 Massey ferguson and 1 massey harris combine, stuff like that. As children we would sit on those old implements and try and make them go, often getting in trouble something fierce if accidently made one of them move. I remember the bizarre transmissions on the old combines…like a “3 in the tree” manual shifter on an old car, except with a bunch of gears. I remember he also had an old grain truck…a big old 3 ton dump truck basically that had a stick shift that hardly worked and springs poking thru the seat. The first time I got to take a load of wheat (or maybe it was barley) to the elevator in Bentley with him was real exciting…but I must say I never wanted to do it again. I think my kidneys are still sore from riding the 2 miles in that truck to the elevator. And it was 30 years ago!
For most of my teen years I hated going out there…just nothing to do at all for a wannabe urban, angsty teenage goth kid. My grandparents listen to two kinds of music: Country, and Western. They didn’t watch much TV and if they did they only had two channels anyways (mind you, we only had 3…heh). My grampa smoked until his 70’s…he would roll his own Vogue cigarrettes…as a teenager I hated the smell. Who knew i’d become a smoker…heh. We would go out and all afternoon would just suck ass for me, and then we’d eat one of my gramma’s amazing home cooked meals (this was a skill, btw, that she passed on to my mom, and let me say as an aside here that my mom was right. See she always said “you don’t know how good you have it here, eating roast beef dinner 2 or 3 nights a week. One day you’ll wish you could eat like this again!” Noooo shit! Live on your own for a few years and not have the skills to cook like that and you totally miss it! Anyways…I digress). After dinner, which usually ended with fresh saskatoons or raspberries and cream, we would play cards for a few hours. That part I always loved…my grandparents were monster card players, and I learned alot from those games. Crib, hearts, kanasta…they were good times. At some point during the card game gramma would bring out a pot of tea and cookies and try and fatten us all up (heh it worked on me).
The last time I was out at the farm was about 3 years ago. I was out actually for my grandparents 60-something wedding anniversary. (!!!!!) We went out to the farm a couple days before and I walked around just looking at all the museum pieces. It kind of amazed me how as a kid I had taken this stuff all for granted, but my grandparents had a veritable fortune of antiques and collectibles, just buried in the long grass or collecting dust in the basement of the house my grampa built with his own hands 60 years earlier. It was like a history lesson of prairie life walking thru the farm area, and from an anthropological point of view it was interesting that it was actually striated…the further out from the house you got, the newer the stuff. Of course my gramma cooked an awesome meal from her amazing garden and tried to fatten us up. I tried to buy the bar off my grampa, he wasn’t selling. See, for as long as I can remember he’s had this old bar in the basement from the 50’s. When we were kids we would play bartender behind it, pretending to drink all the airplane liquors he had in it as display. The bar itself is quilted cream colored leather, with a glass window and lights inside. It is sooo awesome and collectible! I tried for years to buy it off him but he wouldn’t sell it to me. Heh.
On sunday my parents were in town visiting me. When they travel, they don’t use a mobile phone (although they do have a bag phone in their car that they only turn on to make a call!!! lol…welcome to the 80s mom n dad). We had some lunch and then they wanted to go down to deep cove. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, as Ruth was at my house and we had kind of planned to do something that afternoon, but in the end the lure of honey’s donuts won. I called Ruth to invite her, but wasn’t sure I wanted a yes…it feels a bit early for “meet the parents” stuff hehe. She said no and so me and my parents headed off to deep cove. I had just bought some donuts and a coffee when my cell phone rang. It was my sister calling, which struck me as humorous cuz I don’t think she knew my parents were there. I said “just a minute” and passed the phone to my mom without telling her who it was.
It turned out she was looking for my mom and did know they were visiting me. My grampa had died about 20 minutes before, and arrangements needed to be made. He was 93 years old, and the interesting thing is that as the phone rang my mom was in the middle of telling me how much he had been deteriorating of late. I will always remember my grampa as a tough son of a bitch…he farmed his own land well into his 80’s (!!!!) and didn’t take any shit. I’m kind of glad I haven’t had much opportunity to see him these past few years as he became a frail old man, and I can keep the memories of him as the well living tough guy farmer.
His funeral is next monday; I need to get myself out there for it, as I don’t want to miss another grandparent’s funeral, and so I’m using up some aeroplan miles to fly. Rest well, Wil S., Tractor Grampa, you lived well.