Tag Archives: childhood

Three Days in Eastend – Chocolate Peak

Reid Dickie

Day Two

Day Two in Eastend finds me standing before this pretty house. Author Wallace Stegner lived in 20 places in eight states and Canada, one of them being Eastend when he was a child. His little house, well-maintained and loved, is now a local tourist attraction and houses resident artists. Stegner’s autobiography, Wolf Willow, is the seminal work about the prairies, much of it youthful remembrances from the Eastend area. A worthy and honest read. In 1972 Wallace won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with Angle of Repose. Here’s an excerpt from Wolf Willow about how the prairies feel. 

“There was never a country that in its good moments was more beautiful. Even in drought or dust storm or blizzard, it is the reverse of monotonous, once you have submitted to it with all the senses. You don’t get out of the wind, but learn to lean and squint against it. You don’t escape sky and sun but wear them in your eyeballs and on your back. You become acutely aware of yourself. The world is very large, the sky even larger, and you are very small. But also the world is flat, empty, nearly abstract, and in its flatness you are a challenging upright thing, as sudden as an exclamation mark, as enigmatic as a question mark.”

The SW Quest for Art & History is a self-guided tour of various historic and artistic places in southwest Saskatchewan, the Stegner house one of its stops. Their website gives you the entire tour.

On Day Two, Today Eastend offers us some recent and geological history wrapped into the same site, Chocolate Peak, situated just outside of town. I won’t spoil the sweet treat. Find out what I mean by watching my short video report.

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Filed under Day Tripping, Local History, Natural Places, PRAIRIES, Saskatchewan

My Memories of a Ghost Town

Reid Dickie

Part 2 of 3

HAYFIELD, MANITOBA

This article about Hayfield along with a store picture was supplied to the Souris and Glenwood Municipality history book, published in 2006.

    I may be the last person alive who ever lived in Hayfield, Manitoba.

    My parents (Bruce and Helen Dickie) and I moved from Margaret, Manitoba in 1952 when they purchased the Red and White store in Hayfield. I was three years old. Dad bought grain in Margaret for Pool Elevators after he returned from the war and wanted a new experience.

   Hayfield provides my earliest firm memories. The country general store my parents bought was a huge two-story rectangular building with shed-roof wings, slat siding and Red and White Store emblazoned across the front. We bought the buildings, not the name, from Mrs. Canning after Mr. Canning passed away. Thereafter it became Dickie’s General Store though the white with red trim remained. As you came over the rise traveling west on Hayfield Road, the store, blazing white in the bright sun, stood against a rolling landscape of crop and fallow making it impossible to miss.

Front view of Dickie’s General Store in Hayfield. Note the handpump-style gas bowser. The child in the picture is me.

    The store, which faced east, had a flat roof and façade with a central entrance and sidelights bracketed by two large multi-paned display windows. The sidelights sported large Coca-Cola decals. On the façade a pair of narrow rectangular windows opened into the second floor. The wing on the south housed vehicles, the one on the north a storage area with its own entrance. A windbreak of trees to the north and west of the store helped protect it from inclement weather.

    Don’t mistake Hayfield for a town or even a village. It was mostly just a store. Besides my parents and me, just two others resided in Hayfield: the hired man, Lawrence Murphy who rented a room from us and an older man named Dave Rogers who lived in the only remaining house in Hayfield. More cats and dogs than people lived in Hayfield.

   On the main floor, our store sold groceries, dry goods, house wares and a few farm supplies. A soft drink cooler – the kind with a tank of cold moving water holding drinks like Kik Cola, Wynola, cream soda and a myriad of Stubby flavours – stood next to the front door. Customers came in from the summer heat, opened the large lid of the cooler and either poured over the vast variety of drinks or reached right for their brand, likely Cokes all clustered together. I accumulated a huge bottle cap collection from the sticky catch bin of the cooler.

    At the rear of the store, a post office offered the services of the Royal Mail. Mom was the postmistress and Dad delivered the mail to the local farms. In winter, he drove a horse and cutter, in summer he used a half-ton. The post office was the only place off limits to me, federal property and all – there and Lawrence Murphy’s room upstairs in the corner, personal property and all.

    Oiled wooden planks, likely original to the place, covered the floor of the store. I recall the slightly chemical smell of the crumbly green stuff we put on the floor before we swept it. In front of the store in the parking lot was an Esso gas bowser, the kind with the glass tank overhead into which you hand-pumped with a handle the required number of gallons then gravity pulled it into the tank.

   We lived at the back and above the store. Behind the store were our kitchen, family room and mudroom. A crude summer room led off the kitchen. Our bedrooms were upstairs, my parents in the front corner, Lawrence’s in the opposite back corner, mine along side Mom and Dad’s. These bedrooms all opened into a huge living room with linoleum floor and four wood frame windows across the south side We never had much in the way of furniture up there (our financial situation was modest at best) so I rode my tricycle around and around in the bright airy empty room.

    In one upstairs corner down a short hallway, a dusty storage room housed an enchanting assortment of things from the store’s past. A moveable type printing press, in pieces but with the type open and available to my little fingers sat next to store displays for products that hadn’t been made in decades and a few personal effects of families who lived there before us. I’m not sure why but my parents completely ignored this room and its contents. It became my secret place.

    The mysterious and intriguing thing that turned the storage room into a secret place was not left behind by a person. On the sill of a west window, I found the perfectly preserved skeleton of a mouse, bleached white by the sun. It provided my first exposure to death encountered suddenly in an unexpected place. I remember how the sheer brightness of the tiny bones reached out and grasped my attention, how I would stand and stare at the glowing white structure, arranged like jewelry on the grey wooden ledge, the sun pointing slanty fingers through the slowly moving dust.  My young imagination strained to picture those frail dry bones supporting a tiny body in a soft fur coat, tail sweeping back and forth, warm life pulsing inside. Over the years, I watched these fragile bones turn to a soft white powder.

This promotional item from Dickie’s General Store is a small first aid kit in a plastic box containing an antiseptic solution, cotton absorbent, a spool of tape and basic first aid instructions.

      By the time we arrived in Hayfield, only a short section of the raised grade across the prairie remained to remind you that railway tracks once ran through here. At some point Hayfield had at least one elevator but all that remained of it was a metal grain bin set deep into the ground, its shiny slanted metal sides gaping and open to the sky, a great danger to anything that fell into it. It usually held enough water in the bottom of the hopper to drown a child, a constant worry to my parents. I recall Mom’s frequent warnings not to go near the hopper. It was the most dangerous thing I ever encountered in Hayfield.

   North of the wooden store, two small sheds and a barn, all with gable ends, sat next to a corral. The last building in the row, a big wooden hall, provided me with endless hours of amusement. (This was formerly the Hayfield church.) The hall consisted of a large room with rectangular windows along both sides and an open raised stage at one end. Used for storing lumber, the place was full of planks in piles. I found some old drums left behind by a band that made music there at some previous time. The skins were broken but I can recall standing on the stage all alone banging on the drums with a stick singing at the top of my lungs to my captive audience of old planks.

   Being an only child in a rural setting without nearby children, I became a self-amusing kid, my performances to old lumber an example. I roamed the area with our black lab, Jet. Mom could always tell my whereabouts because she’d see Jet’s black tail above the tall grass or crop and know her son was safe. 

   left: Bruce and Reid at front door of Dickie’s General Store in Hayfield, 1955  below: Mom in front of store 1955

    Cats abounded in Hayfield. I recall one rainy day racing back and forth from barn to house excitedly reporting every new kitten our cat Freckles produced. A few barn cats tried to keep the mouse population under control.

     Southwest of the store, a dilapidated wooden fence encircled a space for an ice rink in winter, another hint of Hayfield’s past. Unused by the time we arrived, Dad would cover a small section of the rink with water, clean off a smooth patch with a rusty old ice scraper and let me skate. I learned to skate on this bumpy ice by pushing a small kitchen chair ahead of me.

     In summer, wild windstorms swept in from the northwest or, more scarily, from the east. Dust devils as big as funnel clouds came swirling across the black summer fallow, lifting cones of dry dust into the heat. The wind would pop out a pane of old glass in the upper floor of the store, sweep through the place looking for egress, punch out a window in the back room downstairs and continue its desperate journey across the prairie. I have jumbled, frightening recollections of the wind and thunder pounding outside while we frantically held pillows to the windows on the storm side of the house. On more than one occasion, the weather became our enemy, vulnerable as we were out there.

    Dickie’s General Store would be the last store in the old building. Newly mobile, people found Brandon nearby, alluring and centralized. Our country store was obsolete. In the fall of 1957, we held an auction sale liquidating the stock. Dad found a job running a Texaco consignee business delivering bulk gas and fuel oil to service stations, farms and homes in and around Shoal Lake, Manitoba out on Highway 16. He moved there first and we followed a month or two later. I don’t know the arrangement but Lawrence Murphy stayed on as caretaker of the Hayfield buildings. He may have run the post office for a few more years after we left. Later Lawrence lived in Souris.

The store and all the remaining buildings in Hayfield came to a sad but useful end in the 1990s when firefighters in training from Brandon and Souris used them for practice. They set the buildings on fire then put them out, set them on fire then put them out, and so on until they were gone. It brought a tear to Dad’s eye when I told him the details of Hayfield’s demise but we agreed the cause was worthy and a fitting finale.

Helen Dickie passed away in 1993, Bruce in 2001. They lie side-by-side in Shoal Lake Cemetery. I make a living as a freelance writer, working out of Winnipeg although since my wife Linda passed away, I am trying to retire. My areas of interest include urban and rural architecture, history, heritage issues, music and spirituality.

My years in Hayfield, ages three to eight, were formative in my life and in the world. Humanity emerged out of the darkness of a great war into a time of sunny optimism when hope invaded our hearts and souls. The future glowed with promise and prosperity. Somehow, that sense of optimism filtered through to our little family and gave us the strength we needed to move and survive in a new town.

Though I consider Shoal Lake my hometown, Hayfield, Hebron School and the Brandon Hills left indelible impressions. That was where the mysteries of life and death revealed themselves to me in obvious and subtle ways, where I learned lessons that are still useful and relevant to me every day. Hayfield is gone but I expect its lessons will last a lifetime.

A bluff of trees in a cow pasture and the grade of the lane suggest Hayfield but its only a suggestion against the big prairie sky.

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Filed under 1950s, Family, Ghost Towns, Linda, Manitoba Heritage, Prairie People

A Cup of Coffee With the Folks

Reid Dickie

“There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” – Deepak Chopra

        I had a sister I never knew. Dayna Lee died a year before I was born. She was ten months old.

1965

            She had me on tenterhooks.

            Every day, in the week preceding my sixteenth birthday, Mom mentioned the surprise gift she had for me. Day by day, I coerced tidbits of information from her about the mysterious gift.  Mom was way ahead of me, of course. Everything she told me was a red herring.

            I came straight home after school on my birthday and found a note on the kitchen landing. “3:15 Darling, Gone to Phil’s for coffee. Love Mom.” I don’t ever remember coming home from school and not finding a note that said where she was if she wasn’t at home.

            Phyllis was Mom’s school chum from down the street. Mom lived five miles from where she was born. Phil lived ten miles from her birthplace. They’d been little girls together. Now they were Moms having coffee together.

            Frig snack in hand and TV on, I was prone on the couch when the familiar tinkle of the oriental chimes that, for thirty years, ‘rang’ every time anyone opened the door, announced Mom’s arrival.

            She gave me a big hug after putting her shoes carefully on the landing and stepping into slippers.

            “Phil wishes you happy 16th and a big kiss. Make it a wet one, she said, so…”

            Mom lathered up her mouth with her tongue and planted a big wet one on my lips from Phil, and another from her. Laughing, she handed me a towel.

            “So when do I get my surprise gift?” I could barely contain my curiosity. Mom’s tantalizing tidbits had worked their necessary magic.

            “Just as soon as I get my soda.” She plopped ice cubes into a ceramic coffee mug and poured in fizzy 7-Up.

            We went to the couch and she sat next to me. This was important! She wasn’t sitting in Her Chair. The cup of 7-Up sat on the coffee table beside the fruit basket with the beautiful butterfly spread-eagled under glass at the bottom.

            “Well, Happy Birthday son.  Dad and I pillow-talked this over and we decided it would be a good idea for you to know this now.” A long pregnant pause.

            “Wow! What can this be? I’m enthralled. Umm…”

            “Don’t start guessing. Just listen. Back before you were born, Dad and I lived in the village of Margaret, south of Brandon. He was a grain buyer. It was just after the war and we had already started our family. Your sister Dayna Lee was born in September of 1947. She was a happy robust baby, always smiling and laughing, carefree. We were new parents, green and scared, though I did have a good idea of the process having been one of six daughters of a midwife. You know all of this so far, right?”

            I nodded. I did know it all…so far.

            “This, you don’t know. One bright early May morning in 1948, Dad and I were sitting on the stoop with Dayna Lee, enjoying the sun and the smell of the apple tree in bloom. A stranger came walking down the street toward our house. There weren’t more than 100 people living in Margaret at the time so we knew a stranger when we saw one.

            “He was a friendly sort. Spoke right up and introduced himself as James Reid, a writer by trade he told us.”

            Mom paused and looked deeply into my eyes. They had named me James Reid.

            “He was older than us. I was 35, Dad 30 when Dayna was born. I’d say James Reid was in his early 50s. We invited him in for a cup of coffee. Much obliged, he joined us in our little kitchen. Bruce played with Dayna Lee; I made coffee, set out some cookies and we chatted.

            “We talked about the weather and the crops. He asked Dad what occupied him in the little town. We asked about his career as a writer, what he wrote about, his travels. He had seen some very strange places, experienced some incredible things. I remember he said he was having some heart problems. It sounded serious but he didn’t go into detail.

            “All the while he’s talking I’m thinking how familiar he looks. Where do I know this guy from? It became such an intense feeling that I couldn’t take my eyes off the man. Dad was bouncing giggly Dayna on his knee and, as James bent near to tickles her chin, it struck me. The stranger looked very much like Dad.”

            “He was a long lost brother?” I exclaimed.

            “No. Be quiet and listen. He even sounded a little like Dad. Anyway, at that moment, the telephone rang, it was Winnie Seeback, Dayna needed changing and was getting moody so James excused himself, thanked us for the coffee and left. No one else in Margaret saw him coming or going. He’d been in our house maybe 25 minutes.”

            “Ss…who was he?” My curiosity was dancing from foot to foot.

            “He was…” she paused, took a deep breath and said, “…you.” She watched closely for my reaction. Bewilderment described it accurately.

            “He was me? What do you mean? I’m confused.”

            “The resemblance was so great, son. It was you, visiting from the future, from after your Dad and I die. I saw Dad in your eyes and lips and on your brow and in the way you held your chin in your hands almost as if you didn’t know you were doing it. Dad shares the same mannerism with his own father.”

            “What did I look like?” I asked.

            “Like an older Dad, less hair, frailer. You were very handsome too, I might add. Your hair was cut very short, just like Dad’s during the war. Dad let his headful grow back after he was discharged, so you two were quite a contrast: Dad’s dark bushy hair and your sparse salt and pepper buzz cut, both overarching a similar face. You weren’t fat and you had a good tan. You wore blue jeans and a blue shirt.”

            “Good one Mom! You got me good.” I was sure she was pulling my leg.

            “Okay. Ask Dad when he gets home.” I recognized her earnest tone. She wasn’t kidding.

            “So did Dad recognize me too?” I thought I had her.

            “After you left I asked Dad if the stranger had seemed familiar to him. Dad thought for a moment and said he had a strong sense of having met him but couldn’t place where. I waited several days before I offered my theory to your father.”

            “Oh oh. He just became ‘your father.’ He didn’t agree with your theory, right?”

            “Eventually he did. As life’s circumstances began to play out for us, he came to realize what had happened. I was certain all along, a mother’s intuition.”

            “What did I do while I was there? Did I ask you questions? Did I snoop through your drawers?”

            She paused, pensive. “You watched, I guess you could say. You watched with a sly pleasure as Dad and Dayna played together. You enjoyed laughing with us in a certain way that only family can. You looked wistfully around the kitchen, studying everything that was on the counter as if you were trying to imprint every detail for later. You actually apologized for this at one point when you thought I’d caught you staring. You said it was part of the writer’s life to soak up detail but I knew something else was up.”

            “If you’re so certain it was me, why did I visit you?”

            “What are you saying, that you’ll never visit me after you leave?” She was being playful with me. “That I’ll never hear from you again? Not even a phone call?”

            “Maybe a phone call,” I jibed.

            “Okay. That would be nice. Why did you come to visit? You know I’ve often wondered about that, son. I never have come up with a satisfying answer. Maybe you wanted to meet your sister before it was too late. Maybe you were “shopping for parents.” I can’t be certain. Which is part of the reason I’m telling you today. Maybe you’ll figure this one out. If not now, then in about 35 years, when you are a writer. I’m so proud of my writer son.” She kissed me on top of my head. “Happy Birthday!”

            She got up and left me on the couch alone, befuddled with my gift, my mystery.

2002

            She was right.

            Tonight in my trance as part of my shamanic practice, I journeyed for myself. I journeyed to sort out some problems that were plaguing me; health problems, mental problems, spiritual problems, all the realms represented. It was late in my journey, with my power animals and spirit helpers out in full force that I went to Margaret.

            Webbed Flight, my central spirit ally, took me to the village, to the street, to the house, through the door, into the kitchen with the smell of the apple blossoms wafting in. He made me watch them first, their happy smiles and easy love evident.

            “Why have you brought me here? Why are they in black and white?” I asked him.

            “You know why. Watch. In a moment, you’ll visit them,” Webbed Flight said.

            I watched and saw them tending a person I’d never know, a baby that would be dead before the winter, claimed suddenly, senselessly. Their happiness was so full of hope and expectation.

            “You’ll visit now,” said Webbed Flight and I found myself walking down the street toward my parents. I was my current age, fifty-two.

            I did visit, enjoying every precious minute, gazing into the faces of family that wouldn’t know me for over a year, if ever. I saw the rooms that I would inhabit for the first three years of my life. I was nourished once again by the imaginal world, the realm of the soul. I found, inside this place, the connection to the personal source and the universal source that I needed to relinquish the pain of my problems.

            A healing happened there in that old kitchen with a new baby and strangers who were future family. On that day and in that way, a pang of the universe was relieved in a mysterious beautiful union, just as it always is.

Spring 2002

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Filed under Family, shamanism, Spirit