Right in the centre - Life was harder, but simpler


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

Seventy-one years ago today (March 29), I was born at Holland, Manitoba. A lot has changed in the intervening years. Some of the events and methods of that era would shock people today.

For example, while I wasn’t born at home, I was born at what was called a nursing home. It was a private house across the street from the doctor’s office. The doctor’s office was in the front few rooms of a private home as well. The nursing home had three or four beds and they might be occupied with the sick, the elderly in need of care or expectant mothers just like mine.

Being late March and it being a late spring, dad took mom to town a few days before I was born and then headed back home to do the farm chores and look after my two brothers, aged 10 and 15. I will have to ask my brother how they got to school each day, as walking wasn’t the method, as we lived five miles from town. At times, even in 1948, school vans on sleighs would be hauled by horse power to get the students to school. In the late ‘40s, students went to school in cars or in the backs of trucks.

When I was born, it was the tried and true method to have mother and child stay in the hospital for several days of recovery and adjustment. I am told my dad wanted mom and me home, so he borrowed a closed in cutter from the neighbours, a covered sleigh drawn by horses, and brought me home as soon as possible and in some bad weather.

The farmhouse was heated by a wood-fired cookstove and a wood fired furnace. The food was cooked on the cook stove, which also served to heat the water for cooking and washing. By today’s standards, life was harsh and consisted of a lot of hard work. The house had no electricity, it may have had a phone, I will have to ask. The house was often cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Our generation mostly survived, in spite of living conditions that wouldn’t be tolerated by most people in rural Manitoba today.

Actually, I am not sure how my parents survived. I know they always kept food on the table. They had their own beef and pork, usually. The hen flock kept the house in eggs and sometimes there were a few to sell. They milked a cow or two or three. Not sure about when I was born, but the milk from the cows was separated and the cream picked up by truck to be made into butter at the Treherne creamery. I was told that profound sadness struck one day when the cream truck driver ran over our dog, a favourite pet of my mom’s.

I can remember my mother anxiously awaiting the baby bonus monthly cheque, a few dollars that could be put towards food or clothing. She also knew how to pinch pennies and would go over the grocery list ahead of time and pare it down as far as possible. Groceries were often charged on account at Kliman’s general store. Mother would pore over her grocery bill to make sure it had been added up correctly. If it was over, it was drawn to the clerk’s attention, even if it was just a penny.

Our little town counted their blessings. There was one doctor, who was also an army trained surgeon. There was the nursing home, as mentioned earlier, but no care home or hospital. The nearest hospital was many miles away and due to road conditions, not always accessible. There was a grades 1-12 school, three grocery stores and an egg grading and feed store. There were at least three garages and two car dealers that doubled as machinery dealers. There was, and still is, a municipal office, but there was no police presence that I can remember, nor was there a lawyer or accountant. Maybe there wasn’t much need for legal work and perhaps not enough money to need an accountant.

As a matter of perspective, life seemed a lot simpler then, harder, but simpler, and we adapted and survived. We can’t go back, but hopefully, the memory and experiences our generation holds will be helpful so that now three and more generations later, our young people can adapt and survive. Come to think of it, it is now five generations since my parents, as now we are enjoying our little great grandchildren.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.