Rural Manitoba life has always been filled with challenges - weather, road conditions, isolation. This was even more true in 1904 when Marjory arrived from England with her mother and siblings to join her father on a homestead outside of Oak River. Amazingly enough, a sketch of the homestead's log cabin remains. It was found for me by the current owners of the property. I can't imagine raising six kids in this cabin for twenty years. Keep reading for my imagined description of Marjory's first glimpse of the farm.
Mr. Glasgow pulls back on the reins one last time and says with a note of apology in his voice, “Here we are.”
At first, I don’t know what he means. Surely this can’t be Father’s farm. Barren and untidy, it bears no resemblance to the vibrant CPR posters that advertise bountiful plantations in the new world. Those houses are always white with porches. Barns are bright red not crudely constructed out of weather-worn boards. The place seems deserted as if God made it, threw up his hands in despair, and then moved on.
There is only a small log cabin with a few windows. A stove pipe jams roughly through the roof and tall weeds grow close to the foundation. At the back of the cabin, a clapboard lean-to shelters a wagon once painted green. Another log building, only slightly larger, must be the barn for I hear a low moo from within. Chickens wander around firewood heaped in a pile. Two muddy pigs wallow in a square pen that employs the north wall of the barn as a segment of fencing. They lazily gaze at us through the rough wood slats without interest, gnawing on cobs of corn. Dried stocks stand in a garden plot cut out of the prairie grassland beyond a tiny outhouse. All the buildings lie close to a bluff of squat poplar trees. A stiff north breeze frenzies their branches but isn’t strong enough to clear the air of the stench of manure.
As Mr. Glasgow climbs down and begins unloading our trunks, I quickly surmise that this motley collection of buildings is our new home, this rough homestead the prosperous farm that Father wrote of in his letters. I realize he exaggerated the beauty of the farm and its financial potential. All I see, as I stand with my siblings, eyes wide, mouths gaping, is work.
Mother clamours off the end of the wagon, tearing her petticoat on the head of a nail. She hastily flicks the cloth loose and covers her mouth with her hands, her eyes wide, her shoulders shaking. “Peter?” she calls tremulously, pacing the yard in a small, tight circle.
We hear nothing, no response to Mother’s greeting, just the sound of the wind whistling through the trees. Dry grass rustles in the breeze. A door rattles on its hinges.
“Peter?” Mother calls again, more frantically. I can see she is about to cry. Her chin is wobbling. She wipes her nose with the back of her gloved hand, an unpardonable sin in her books.
Mary grabs her arm. “Stay calm, Mother. I’m sure Father is close by.”
“Peter!” Mr. Glasgow yells much more loudly, startling us all. His cry is more effective though; we hear a dog yelp on the far side of the trees.
We rush towards the sound, past the squat popular trees, through tall dried grass, right to the edge of a cultivated field. Through bulrushes, beyond a little pond, a man walks towards us with a gun in his hand and a small deer slung over his shoulders. His pants are covered in blood. He has a thick, bushy beard. He looks like the sketches of prehistoric cavemen in our school books. Filthy. Unrecognizable. At the first sight of us though, he raises his gun and waves it above his head wildly. We hear him whoop as he starts to run, the dead deer bouncing against his neck.
Mother sucks in her breath. “Oh, good gracious, what is this?” she whispers, dropping to her knees on the dry grass, brand new travelling suit and all. “Mary—what is this?” she cries. “Why is he carrying that?”
But Mary has no answers. None of us does. Instead, Harry runs through the bulrushes, towards the hunter, his arms flailing. “Father!” he shrieks. “We’re here! We’re here! We’re finally here!”