I find it really interesting to read about Grandma’s take on pigs here – this was not what I got from her at all as a kid. She used to tell me stories about how pigs are like something like one generation away from becoming feral, and how they would bulldoze through whatever fences were built to keep them in, become wild and super aggressive.
My Dad owned a farm north of Cochrane and sometimes when he would go up there to plough he would take me with him for a few days. We batched in the big house and I remember thinking he was a grand cook. He would fry potatoes mixed with bread and onions somehow and I just loved them. There were plenty of prairie chickens around and his fried chicken was delicious. I would sit on the plough with him and watch the willow roots turn up and to me they looked like people, some dancing, some family groups, some bent to the storm. Years and years later I was so thrilled to see someone else (an artist) had the same fantasy about roots – only used cypress roots and I only wish I’d bought one of his sculptures while they were still in my price range.
We had a piano which my mother played and later Ruth took lessons. Alice Andison and Dolly Mortimer used to come and play with me occasionally and all Alice ever wanted to do was play the piano. That wasn’t much fun to my way of thinking but I liked to play at Alice’s place, she had a really cute playhouse built for her in their yard.
There was a big high board fence around our barn. That corral would hold a couple hundred heads of horses I think and often it was full. I loved to sit on the fence and watch them halter-break colts around the snubbing-post in the centre.
Burnhams lived down near the racetrack, where the Burnham-Quigley brick yard once was, and I chummed with Annie and Vella Burnham. They had a lovely cool milk house with a sod roof covered with lush green grass and yellow dandelions. We used to go in there on a hot day and drink buttermilk or fresh milk. Mr. Burnham and my Dad hayed land opposite Midford. We loved going out in the hayfield with them.
When we moved out of Cochrane (sold our home to Bob Armstead) I at last got a pony of my own. But what a horse! You just couldn’t make him move off a slow walk. We bought him from Mrs. Ripley who lived up Big Hill Creek. I had to ride him to school but always felt I’d be just as well off walking. Finally my Dad got me a lovely little Welsh pony called “Polly” and I began to enjoy the ride to and back from school in Cochrane. It was a lovely path I followed down a ravine where once there was a stone quarry. Then along the Big Hill Creek. I still think it is one of the most beautiful spots in the country. Jean Russell spent all school holidays with me at our place or sometimes at her home in Didsbury. When at our place we rode over every foot of that Big Hill creek country. We would pack a frying pan, a tin of beans, and some bread and sausages and would build a campfire and cook our lunch up at the Big Hill Springs. How natural and beautiful it was then, with the petrified rock ridge at the head of it. That rock wall is gone now, the rock was taken to Calgary due to the distinctive red rock.
When we first moved to the farm we bought a heard of milk cows from Sid Chester who then moved into Cochrane to live. There is no way I could ever work up a love for even the nicest milk cow, but I did have to help with the milking now and then. We also had a small flock of sheep and I loved the lambs, but the whole flock was such a nuisance, always getting into a field where they weren’t supposed to be. I am sorry to say that any affection I had for them was worn pretty thin. Bob Hogarth used to come and help my Dad shear them and we always enjoyed his visit. To me, the pigs had more character and personality than either the cows or sheep. One old sow must have been a great grandmother many, many times over and she was very wise. The darling little ones almost talked to you – yes I learned to talk Pig Latin at an early age. That old granny sow could smell a storm coming days before it came. She would fill her huge jaws with hay or straw and build up her nest. Incidentally, their nest was kept spotlessly clean, they always just used one area for a toilet. Recently when I was in Africa quietly stalking some wild rhinoceros, our guide said “They are quite near, over there is their community toilet”. Some folks thought he was joking, but anyone who knows anything about the pig family knew he was in earnest.
Pigs have such huge families there is nearly always one little runt in the bunch. Once I made a pet of a runt just to give it extra feed. The clock in its tummy kept better time than any old CPR dollar watch. It would come over the hill, down to the house squeaking every foot of the way until it reached the kitchen door and got fed promptly at the same time daily. One day when we were away and didn’t get home until long past his feeding time he was gone, and gone for days. About a week later a neighbour, “Mrs Adams”, about three miles distant, met my dad in Cochrane and said “You know, an funny thing happened the other day. We were sitting in the kitchen with the door open and a tiny little pig with a can stuck on hits head came running in as if he owned the place.”
Here’s another remarkable story about a pig too. My Dad must have liked pigs quite well too and once when we were shipping cream to the creamer he had an excellent crop of rye. He got the bright idea of buying buttermilk from the creamer, mixing it with rye chop, etc and feeding what looked like marvellous gruel to the pits. They died. He was so upset he just couldn’t believe all that good food had killed them. So he got a team and dragged a huge big dead pig out behind the barn, sharpened a butcher knife and went to the swollen carcass to preform an autopsy. He put his foot on it and there followed such an explosion as has never been seen before nor since. My Dad claimed it lifted him off his feet, hit him square in the face! My mother heard him calling and went out to see him coming towards the house. He would walk a few feet then, stop and vomit, then swear like you couldn’t imagine, then walk a few feet more. Mom didn’t know what was the matter with him but she knew he stunk awful and was heading for the house. She wouldn’t let him in but threw some clean clothes out for him and made him bath and change outside and bury his dirty clothes. He never experimented feeding pigs fancy feed again.
My mother was a lovely, frail little lady. One day when she went out to gather the eggs she accidentally put both feet in a binder-twine off a sheaf where we had fed the livestock and neglected to cut the twine. She fell down hitting her nose on the edge of the egg pail; it left a slight scar for the rest of her life, but she often laughed about it. Once someone gave me a beautiful little bantam rooster. He had a marvellous arched silky tail, brightly coloured. I called him “Andy” because he reminded me of Andy Chapman, our postmaster. I had two beautiful snow-white pigeons too; they would light on my hand for feed. Our neighbours, Camden gave them to me.