A Life­time of Mem­o­ries

A fond look back at a full and re­ward­ing life

Our Canada - - The Way It Was - by Don Ma­jor, New West­min­ster, B. C.

Iwas born on Jan­uary 15, 1923, in Rocky Moun­tain House, Alta. My par­ents lived in Stra­chan, which was about 20 miles south­west of Rocky. We ba­si­cally lived in the wilder­ness, no graded roads or elec­tric­ity, some­times no bridges over the rivers.

It was a long drive to get to town, trav­el­ling over rough roads with a team of horses and a lum­ber wagon. You would have to stay overnight and re­turn the next day. The roads were so rough that when you hit a bump, it knocked the wind right out of you—no springs in those wag­ons!

For us kids, it was a real ad­ven­ture to go into town, where we’d see things such as ba­nanas, or­anges and ice cream cones. Once, on the way home, we crossed a flooded stream and the wa­ter came right up to the wagon box. We could feel the wagon float­ing! Dad was yelling at the horses and pop­ping the lines as the horses were lung­ing against the cur­rent. We got out safely, though.

We had some close calls as kids, as well. There was a salt block for the cat­tle, and one time, my sis­ter and I crawled un­der the fence to lick it, al­most com­ing face to face with a mas­sive bull! He low­ered his head and be­gan walk­ing to­wards us. We could see froth com­ing from his mouth, mois­ture run­ning down his nose, and his eyes were rolling. We were ter­ri­fied and frozen to the spot. I was sure we were go­ing to be tram­pled to death or eaten. My mother heard us scream­ing and came run­ning with a broom to chase the bull away. When I think back now, the bull was prob­a­bly just cu­ri­ous and try­ing to be friendly—we never for­got that ex­pe­ri­ence, though.

When it came time for school, we ei­ther walked the three miles, or rode on horse­back. In win­ter, it was too cold to sit in the sad­dle, so we al­ways walked. We had to cross a creek by walk­ing over a log bridge—the rush­ing creek was two feet be­neath us. We tried not to look down or think about what would hap­pen if we fell in. We also had good times trav­el­ling to school, es­pe­cially in spring when flow­ers were in full bloom, birds were singing and we could watch fish dart­ing around in the cold, clear wa­ter.

We rode horses from an early age. I fan­cied my­self a good rider. It was won­der­ful to feel the mus­cles of a good horse be­neath you, smell his sweat, sit com­fort­ably in the sad­dle and be in per­fect har­mony with your an­i­mal.

When I was 14, I was given a high-spir­ited horse named Jock. The first time I rode him to school, he pranced and danced all the way there. I was sure all the other boys en­vied me. On the way home, though, with the other boys ahead of me on their horses, Jock be­gan to buck. I was okay for five bone-jar­ring jumps be­fore hit­ting the

ground head­first and see­ing real stars. Jock kept bucking un­til the sad­dle turned on his side—was he ever in a lather! I got to my feet, brushed the dirt from my face, straight­ened the sad­dle and climbed back on. He never bucked again and was a good horse af­ter that.

There were other things I en­joyed be­sides horses. My fa­ther was very mu­si­cal and loved to sing. We had a pi­ano, so the neigh­bours would of­ten join us—with their in­stru­ments—for a sing-along. When I was older, I got my own vi­o­lin. To this day, I en­joy play­ing it, with my son Lew ac­com­pa­ny­ing me on the gui­tar or man­dolin.

I quit school at the age of 15, work­ing on the farm in sum­mer and sawmills in win­ter. We’d work ten-hour days for 90 cents a day, which in­cluded room and board. I didn’t en­joy work­ing in sawmills, so to earn ex­tra money, I’d take my dog and my ri­fle and wan­der the hills trap­ping squir­rels or weasels. You could get $1.50 for a weasel pelt—squir­rel pelts were only worth a nickel.

I was 17 when World War II broke out. Dad, a World War I vet­eran, joined the army as a mil­i­tary of­fi­cer. That left me on the farm with Mom and three younger sib­lings. It was hard work, but we still made time for fun in­clud­ing pic­nics, ball­games and dances, where I got to play my vi­o­lin. We also weren’t as iso­lated as we’d been be­fore. Roads be­gan to im­prove, more cars and trucks came through and we could lis­ten to ra­dio pro­grams such as Fib­ber Mcgee and Lux Ra­dio The­atre. We didn’t have much to com­plain about.

I worked at var­i­ous jobs as I got older, in­clud­ing join­ing the air force, but af­ter four years was happy to re­turn to our quiet farm back home. A few weeks af­ter my re­turn, I got a job with the Shell Oil Com­pany. Fol­low­ing that, I spent a win­ter on the traplines with my un­cle Ray. It took a while to get used to walk­ing on snow­shoes while car­ry­ing gear on my back. Ray and I worked alone for three or four days at a time, meet­ing up at a well-stocked cabin along the line. The hunt­ing was good; it was a wild and free life. Ray and I got to see frozen wa­ter­falls, north­ern lights and beaver dams a mile long—things city folks don’t see. We forged a strong friend­ship that con­tin­ued un­til his death.

Af­ter that ad­ven­ture, I worked as a for­est ranger in Nordegg, Alta., for the sum­mer. It had its ex­cit­ing mo­ments, but over­all it was a lonely ex­is­tence and I was once again happy to re­turn home.

In time I mar­ried and had five chil­dren, in­clud­ing two sets of twins. We moved to Bri­tish Columbia be­fore the twins were born and lived in the same house in New West­min­ster for more than 50 years. I am 94 now and it’s been a good life, al­though I miss my sweet­heart, Lil­lian. The old way of life is long gone, but the mem­o­ries linger on.

Don and his beloved Lil­lian in 1999.

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