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A Father’s Wisdom

The deep timbre of Dad’s voice was soothing as he asked me to sit beside him on the sofa.

In 1973, I was a young woman relishing the joys of having my first job, my own money, feeling grown up. Suddenly, my new independent life was shattered. I was downsized, laid off, pink-slipped… fired! Desperate for a hug and some hope, I sought out my father. The deep timbre of Dad’s voice was soothing as he asked me to sit beside him on the sofa. With a sympathetic, reassuring arm wrapped around my shoulders, he showed me this grainy, black and white picture of him as a lad and my grandfather walking behind a horse-pulled plow.

He pointed out the tall, onion-domed church, the rough, dirt road that would one day become a highway, the plaster-over-log homestead buildings typical of the time. His hand stroked the horses as he fondly recalled each name. A finger traced the angles of the wood and iron plow then circled over the furrowed ground and came to rest beside the two humans. Tapping lightly to draw my attention to the plain, practical, peasant clothing, he smiled and said, “We weren’t snappy dressers but we were warm.” This was his world as a child in the 1920s and ’30s on the family homestead in Gonor, Manitoba. “Making a living on a farm was sweaty, dirty, physical work, for everyone, even the children,” he said. “In this picture, I am too young to plow but not too young to listen and learn.”

This was my cue to listen and learn and I remained quiet as Dad continued to recall the treasured times spent with his father under the endless Prairie sky. Time slowed to the plodding pace of the horses and afforded the opportunity for father to share with son the mysteries of farming and life. “Remember to keep your hands on the plow and keep looking straight ahead,” he said, mimicking my grandfather’s voice. “If you keep looking back, you will wander off track. You’ll lose sight of where you are going. And, you’ll be discouraged because you can’t change what has passed.”

Pointing to the cloud-filled sky in the picture, Dad recalled another of Grandfather’s warnings. “Son, those clouds could mean bad weather. Bad weather, like trouble, usually comes at the worst time.”

My dad’s voice choked with emotion as he explained that life was very tenuous, unpredictable, even deadly on the Prairies before modern roads, services and social safety nets. Natural disaster loomed in every change of weather. Disease, accident, fire, even insects could destroy crops, homes and threaten a family with financial ruin, hunger and worse. At times like that, family and friends had to pull together. Dad reminded me that by the grace of God, he and seven siblings had survived and thrived through good times and bad. With eyes focused straight ahead in unswerving hope and hands firmly on the plow, they had endured world-shaking events like the Great Depression and later, the Second World War. As well, they had weathered all the usual troubles that storm through every family… like losing a job.

Snap! We were back in the present moment in a warm, comfy living room. I felt the strength, resolve and hope of my ancestors inspiring me. My tears stopped and my job loss seemed less of a crisis. Dad ended our talk and rose to put the picture back in its album. Pulling me gently to my feet, he said, “So let’s check the help wanted ads, my dear. Your mom and I will help you get through this.” Again mimicking Grandpa, he said, “Walk straight ahead. Keep your hands on the plow. You’ll be better off for the experience.

I did. And I was. – Diane Gourluck writes from Winnipeg

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