There was always fun in the country

The oldtimer who helloed me one day in Safeway could have been still in his 60s. He seemed alert and interesting and, for some reason I never learned, he also knew my name.
Still slim and erect, he wanted to talk, so we did. Eventually, I found out his name was Norman McLeod and this caused a memory to pop up for me. Then he gave out his age as 98.
I knew I had him and next day I checked with Gordon Ross, the well-known retired teacher here, to confirm that my new acquaintance was the survivor of a Barwick farm story from away back, actually in Blackhawk.
Gordon, youngest of the well-known Ross family of boys, said he had believed Norman was long gone.
Seems the story I remembered was told by Gordon’s brother, Delbert, who established Ross’s Camp with brother, Don, on Clearwater Lake. That resort later was bought by Tompkins Hardware owner, Bill Mosbeck, who went on to build the Emo Inn.
But all that was nowhere in the Ross boys’ intentions while they put up hay for their father on the family farm and figured out a spectacular way to get even with their farmhand for teasing them all the time.
Those were the days of loose hay and pitchforks, not a baler in sight but a tall barn that needed filling in the most available way, using real horsepower, pulleys, and a hay hook like one I auctioned to Wayne Salchert for his Mud Lake showplace below Devlin.
Well, Normal McLeod was putting the hook and rope sling into the hay on a wagonload when one of the boys, being helpful—but also very playful—managed to get the ropes right around the wagon. He waved to the horse driver to hoist the load to the window high on the barn wall—and up went Norman as part of the fill.
Apparently he survived without injury because all Gordon remembered was Norman being quite vexed with everyone laughing at him. He has probably had more close calls since during his long years outdoors.
I think he said his recent home is Flanders, which most hardy old woods operators know well.
The Ross boys went their different ways also and seem seldom to have encountered Norman. But he won’t have forgotten them, I’d imagine!
• • •
The only previous sandbagging probably ever witnessed in this frequently damp corner of Canada occurred at the same time as the awful Winnipeg flooding half-a-century ago, and we dared not accept any Winnipeg refugees for fear our own area might be submerged next.
Rainy Lake had spilled into the Point park that spring and water was standing among the trees. So we filled and carried the sandbags to protect the old pumphouse full of electrical equipment that supplied the town’s tap water until about a decade ago.
We won that fight and never thought much about it again until a week ago, but it would seem now that flooding can occur here when we least expect it, unlike the Winnipeg scene which has been quite wet rather regularly but, there too, precautions have succeeded in sparing lives.
Our Rainy River valley has never let us down, everybody considering drought is fond of saying here, but there are times we can get too much of its bounty. Yet flooding is extremely rare as we continue to teeter on the edge of disasters which are always ended almost miraculously.
For folks who prefer to sleep in dry beds yet can’t stand to spit dust or chew sand in their meals, we still recommend our regular climate as safer and saner than most others.
• • •
Did you ever notice, though, how the skunks start wandering among us whenever weather strikes, as if we needed them to watch out for also. One even started eating out of our cat’s dish at the farm last weekend and I would have believed they had all abandoned my neighbourhood long ago.
There have not been many skunks reported downtown near the post office for many years since the town once engaged an exterminator to control a scourge of these pests.
Some of our gardeners became experts in that line also, baiting scores of the unwanted visitors into water barrels.• • •
Malcolm Douglas can point to an abandoned railroad spur behind his home on Colonization Road West as probably being connected to a historic brick-making business on the river here.
He says a long pit apparently dug many years ago lies between his property and that of the late Jake Kehler.
Is the clay red, I wondered, because if that’s where our first building bricks came from, I have not noticed any red clay along the river.
Malcolm has learned his local clay is grayish to start with, but turns red later—as red as the bricks in the old McIrvine school!
Malcolm was responding to my recent column discussing this long-forgotten industry and there goes a load off my mind because I had little to go on concerning local brick-making.
He wanted to help me, he said, in spite of a job I gave him years ago as counter for the Winnipeg Tribune bundles at the CN station six days a week. Starting time, he declares, was 5:30 a.m. I can’t believe Mack started quite that early.
• • •
Something now from Dalton Taylor, whom I continue to call “Darryl” because he worked with his father, Darryl, both being electricians like his grandfather, Bob.
He adds one note to my column of last week concerning the adventures of Jerry Sawicki. I said Jerry was the only son of a local woods contractor, Alex Sawicki. Dalton reports Jerry had a sister.
I wish someone knowing how Jerry’s plans turned out in B.C. would drop me a line or phone in. I hate loose ends on stories!
• • •
Home here last weekend was a well-remembered hockey personality, Gerald Melnychuk, now a Twin Cities lawyer. He enjoyed going over the exploits of his popular Jaycee juvenile and junior clubs here that were coached by the late Bill Lloyd.
Gerald promised to keep in touch.
• • •
Heather Duffy, one of the most wonderful waitresses ever to perform here for the A&W, has been singled out by the Arthritis Society as a “hero” and a star in the current Arthritis Society’s fundraiser.
Heather has had to pay $700 a pair for her special shoes for years and there are many days when work is too painful, but she perseveres with a smile.
Until Sunday, her many friends and customers had plunked $167 in her personal collection box for the drive going on. A marathon run in Ireland by a local resident Doris Nephin is highlighting this campaign.
Her grandfather, Cecil Duffy, and family are very proud. Let’s hear it for Heather!
• • •
Doug Jenson wonders about a Winnipeg Free Press story on Minnesota golf course, especially when it directs you to “slip back into Canada at Emo, Ont., and follow Highway 11 to Fort “Francis” and “allow at least two and half hours from Warroad to International Falls . . .”
That much time was once all our fast drivers needed to reach Winnipeg from here (before radar came on the U.S. highway).

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