Photos help jog your memory

"A few weeks ago while writing a bit of family history, I asked my brother if he had a photo I remember taken in 1938."

Family photographs snapped in our household were rarities as my brother’s album proves.

Dad gave the album to my brother as a Christmas present in 1937. My brother was three months shy of four years old.

Thirty-nine photos document our preschool years. Yet they reveal much about our daily life, the frugality of a farm family who had weathered the Great Depression.

They also show how much the prairie landscape changed between the time the homesteaders moved in and today 75 or more years later.

In the earliest photos dated April 1,1933, our two-storey house sits alone on a flat area with nary a shrub, poplar or other tree in view.

A mile away glimmers a lake; it, too, has only low vegetation, perhaps silver willow, along its smooth shores.

In the final photos, a row of maple trees marches between the house and the barn; lilacs reach my grandmother’s waist as she holds three kittens; and a bluff of poplar trees creates a barnyard windbreak.

One notable feature is the toys kids enjoyed then.

As a one year old, my brother had a knee-high wooden horse on a wheeled platform with a pull string.

Three years later he had a bronc fashioned from a 6” poplar three foot long set on four peg legs, with rope for reins.

Our winter toys were handmade sleighs carpentered from sturdy lumber with 2×4 runners and a platform that could carry a couple  hundred pounds without buckling.

Our black-and-white terrier was a willing passenger.

In a summer photo, our put-upon farm dog resignedly pulls us along in a homemade wooden hayrack built to last.

Several photos catch us “helping” with farm chores: opening a haystack banked halfway up with snow.

Watering the cows on the frozen lake with my brother and a big cream can on the stoneboat pulled by the ubiquitous Percherons.

Feeding five grey geese, two turkeys, and a dozen Plymouth Rock chickens.

In all our activities Mom’s younger sister, who lived with us and Grandma at the time, took part, aiding and abetting or supervising like a full time nanny.

She pulled our sleighs, or held us steady on a big horse’s back.

Only by paying attention does one notice in these photos the simpler methods used to keep a house warm in winter.

The house foundation is still banked with straw insulation in April.

The storm windows have three one-inch holes in the lower frame for ventilation.

In one snap, my brother stands atop a sleighload of poplar poles soon to become firewood for the kitchen range.

My family’s history began in the 1930s when even a box camera was special, a roll of film typically provided eight photos which then had to be mailed to the nearest city photographer to be developed.

If you saw the final print  in a month, you were ecstatic with the swift service.

A few weeks ago while writing a bit of family history, I asked my brother if he had a photo I remember taken in 1938 when we lived for a year or two in Timmins where Dad worked as a gold miner.

The photo was of my brother, me, and a brother and sister our age, neighbours, with whom we were inseparable.

We stood like suspects in a criminal lineup alongside a roadster with a rumble seat.

I needed the photo of us kids to jog my memory.

My brother recalled his two foot long metal oil truck painted in company colours.

He sent me the complete album. On the roadster’s running board sits his oil truck.


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