At January’s Farm Tech 2010 in Edmonton we were treated to a very heartfelt portrayal of thankfulness from a Newfoundlander who was grateful for prairie farmers. Rex Murphy, host of Cross Country Check-up was the guest story-teller on the podium. He admitted he was feeling under the weather, but another audience member who had heard Rex speak before said this story was his best performance, because he let us into his soul.
Rex told of the 31,000 cod fisherman who were 10th generation fisherman, suddenly out of not just a job, but a complete way of life, a culture that supported the way Newfoundlander’s built their out ports, and even share their lilted language. These resilient folks were taught to go miles out to sea without GPS and do the tough jobs of hauling in the cod fish, and many of the things they learned were handed down by experienced mentors, the captains of the ship. The skills and character cultivated on the high seas were not things one could learn from school books.
“How we live here (in Canada) is deeply connected and conditioned by the virtues where men and women had beneficial contact with the land and sea.” says Rex Murphy. Then Rex spoke of the outpouring of Prairie letters that hit CBC Toronto after Murphy’s documentary of the demise of the codfish industry. He got the historical connection later on a farm near Redvers Saskatchewan where an old timer, the grandpa who had survived the “Dirty Thirties” explained the hope that arrived in the salted codfish barrels through the generosity of the “people of the rock,” the Newfoundlanders.
Fast forward to the economic upheaval of the end of cod fishing in Newfoundland and the great migration to find oil patch jobs in Alberta. Alberta’s economic hunger for skilled workers on the oil fields was fed by “Newfies” who were hard-working, resilient, and ready to commute to another province that could keep the debt hounds at bay. Murphy used the opportunity before the Farm Tech 2010 audience in Alberta to say a heartfelt “Thank-you.”
Good stories that cause us to pause and reflect about the character of Prairie producers are the fuel to kindle hope for the future. The things that you are teaching your children in the fields, the barns, and the farm yards are likely skills that you take for granted.
My sister and I have no fear of driving across Winnipeg, or the bald prairie in winter. Yet we notice that our peers are not willing to take these risks. We think nothing of checking our own oil dipstick, or the tire pressure. We don’t need make-up in layers to help make us feel secure when we go out in a crowd. We can pull off long hours of work when necessary, if self-employed folks don’t work, they don’t eat!
So what character traits do you have as an honest, hard-working farmer? Your ability to bounce back from stress with resilience through communication and connection with the community’s support is somewhat of a rural marvel. I have tons of support in my small town I could call on at any time of day, and someone would be at our door to help when asked.
I have written previously about my faith community where folks are loving, caring, and encouraging. The folks in Newfoundland understood the plight of the prairie farmers in the dustbowl years, and the favour of economic support went in the opposite direction years later. As Canadians we need to be more grateful for the way we are willing to share, care, and show up for support.
Let’s start telling more good news stories about what is happening in rural Canada. Let’s invite lone eagle innovators to move to our towns boasting high speed internet and slower paced main streets that invite coffee pauses and story-telling.
Our community has been blessed with a home that invites musicians to share their stories, and helps us feel a bit more cultured as we laugh, sing, and share cookies while checking in with each other.
When Rex Murphy was telling the codfish barrel story in a school in rural Saskatchewan, a confident young girl in his audience had a burning question. She knew her grandpa had received a barrel of fish, but he didn’t know what to do with it, so he buried it in a location known to his grand-daughter. The grand-daughter wanted to know if the fish was good over 60 years later, and Rex said “It sure is!”
Good stories last longer than salted codfish. I encourage you to start telling more family history tales around the kitchen table over dessert, nuts or popcorn. Shut the TV off for the night, and listen to each other’s observations and gleanings from the week’s activities.
Every person has a story. Sometimes we need urban folks with a different context to help us see our common sense, grounded character and closeness to the nature, life cycle, and seasons we embrace.
I hope there are lots of people at your funeral. Folks who come from a place of respect for a life well lived. I hope that you tell your loved ones how much you cherish them, before they die, and don’t let those fabulous vignettes of life die with them. Get out the digital recorders and do some oral history recording. Get the photographs organized and labeled. You don’t want to be the one who gets to throw out heaps of un-identified relatives after Mom passes.
Sharing story can also be a healing process for the cocooning phase of the cycle of renewal. This is a time of inner reflection and healing to work out what the next chapter of life holds for you. Journaling, asking questions, and connecting with nature can help you focus on what gives you purpose.
As farmers who are working a frantic schedule some weeks to put a crop in, protect it, and then get it in the bin, we sometimes forget to pace ourselves, and share a good laugh or story to re-energize the workload. The year that Bill had his “lucky leak” still makes us laugh. Bill, a retired farmer helped us with harvest because his goal was to drive a combine with a cab – his farm didn’t boast the latest equipment. Bill could smell smoke from his perch in his combine’s cab, so he decided to stop and relieve himself. Seeking some privacy at the back of the combine he spotted the stubble’s source of the smoke, and quickly extinguished the fire… thus “the lucky leak” story.
Sit awhile and spin some tales this month, before the busy season starts up again. If you have the constant demand of livestock at your place, you have huge fodder for great stories. One of the most animated stories at my mom’s funeral was my brother’s cow-chasing story, (sorry, you had to be there to appreciate it!)
I have to go now to have tea with my friend Ralph Clark. He knows my story as a teenager, and I have some more questions for him about what he perceived being cultivated in my youth.
Pick up the phone, write the email, and post the letter. Share those great stories and be proud of your farming roots.