A pioneer farm boy reveals his secret about the new windmill.
The day they come to drill the well for the windmill is a day I will never forget. Cummy McCharles drilled the hole with his old Lyons-Dominion well driller that ran off a steam engine that sounded like the enda the world and smelled bout as bad. The engine poured out steam and smoke.
A bit of grass caught fire from the driller and we hadta use buckets of trough water to put it out. Lucky for us that’s when Cummy hit water and shut the contraption down. Mama said Satan was operating the gears inside of that well driller.
The water gurgled up right away. It was cold and sweet tastin’. The next day, Mr. Levon came and builded the windmill. He was the first guy round here who builded those things and it took him but one day to have water for us. We needed a few days to get usta having this tall thing in our lives, in our yard. No more primin’, no more pumpin’! Us boys couldn’ta bin happier.
I can see the windmill out of the bedroom window and that first night it was the full moon. Moonlight flashed between the wings of the windmill and danced like diamonds in the room. The windmill gave me two of its wings and we flew together through the deep blue night with just the stars to guide us. We still do that when the moon is full.
Sometimes I dream the house is surrounded by fields of sweet smellin’ yellow flowers but when I wake up it’s always the same old black dirt full of ruts and dung.
The innocence and complexity of childhood unfold in this little yarn about an extra special day.
The year is 1906 in a rather desolate location surrounded by a few fields freshly cut from the hard prairie ground, new soil for the old ceremony.
The boy is 10 years old, his voice hasn’t changed and he expresses a continuous tone of amazement at what happened that day. He can hardly contain his excitement at the event yet he doesn’t speak quickly. Instead he is still in awe of the events he describes. It’s a slow dazzle.
The boy is wholesome but poorly educated and has significantly bad English. This is an intended part of his charm, along with his odd enthusiasm, to illustrate the era. He needs to drop every “g”, use all the sloppy shortcuts and misuses of words as written. He is typical of children of pioneer families who were required to work more, school less.
As he recounts the story, we learn, in his innocence, he has great respect for his parents although Papa goes unmentioned. He reports on the religious nature of his mother. The first three paragraphs have enthusiasm and the thrill of experiencing something for the first time.
During the fourth paragraph, he becomes more wistful and his voice takes on a whispery aspect, as if he is sharing a secret. He tells of the windmill’s wings and flying through the blue night but this is NOT a dream. This communion with the windmill on full moon happens regularly. He is not trying to convince you this happens, he is simply telling you what happens.
Finally he mentions a dream he has that moves from sleep to waking using the sharp contrast between “yellow flowers” and “ruts and dung.” Although pioneer life had its exciting moments, like getting a well drilled, the hard fact of the ruts and dung remain the daily course of their lives. The excitement he felt at the start turns to enchantment and winds up resignation to his life. Yet he knows there is more, much more beyond the farm, but, for now, the windmill is his escape route.
Cummy is short for Cumberland McCharles. Mr. Levon is my homage to Shawn Colvin. The boy shows completely different forms of deference to the two men by using their first or last names. This is a reflection of his father, the only hint of him in the piece.
I caught Allan Palmer, the young actor who voiced the Boy, just before his voice changed. He did a fine job of expressing the excitement and enchantment of the boy’s experience. More on Allan here and here.
I was surprised at how difficult it was to find a windmill that was still reasonably intact, working and close to a tumbledown barn or house. Most of the windmills I found were in towns, part of museums or just the support structure without any wings.
I was visiting the buffalo effigy, a frequent haunt of mine in southern Saskatchewan south of Big Beaver, when along the gravel grid road leading to the site I saw this little old house and its dilapidated windmill. The wavy ripe grass and the heat simmer brought a small majesty to the place. I shot it from the side of the road knowing the almost-hypnotic grass would contribute greatly to the prairie imagery.
The actual spinning windmill was next to a new barn on a working farm in southern Manitoba. That’s about as specific as I can get location-wise. I used the yellow canola crop around the farmhouse to accentuate the boy’s fantasy and also his reality.