In which Wade reminiscences about life growing up in Hays. Seeing as
how he is currently visiting his childhood home for 2.5 weeks.
The (very tiny) town of Hays, Alberta that I grew up in had its 50th year anniversary in 2002, and everyone who had ever lived in Hays was asked to provide a short history of their life in Hays. All the histories would then be collected together into a book so we could read about everyone else's experiences in Hays as well. A wonderful idea, and not something that is remotely practical in any context other than very small rural environments. Hays has had a population of about 72 for as long as I can remember. The surrounding farming community totals about 350 people. The Hays school goes from from Kindergarten to Grade 9, has between 50-70 students (total) at any given time. We were bused to a larger neighbouring town (Vauxhall) for high-school.
The following is the history I wrote back in 2002. A few minor comemnts I made back then are not entirely accurate now, but I've left the history as is.
The Unremembered Years
I was born at 6:10am, Dec. 11, 1969, in the Taber Hospital. Unfortunately, I don't remember the event personally, but I have every faith in my parents recollection of the events. Thankfully, since then I have managed to make my own memories; we'll see if I can manage to accurately describe some of them in the pages that follow.
In the past 32 years, I have developed many friendships, and talked to many people about their childhoods. I've come to realize one simple fact from these friendships and the associated conversations: I was very lucky to have been born and raised in Hays. I had a wonderful childhood, free of so many of the stresses that other children experience, because I had a loving family, a backyard spanning hundreds of acres of farmland and pasture, and a community that emphasized cooperation as opposed to isolation.
The Early Years
My first memories were of the old farm house, before my father and grandfather rebuilt and extended it. Green rugs, cold linoleum, and rust-colored couches. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, the big yellow stuffed lion. Sandy, our first dog, who loved to have tug-a-wars with old socks. Tricycles. Playing with ant hills (yeah, I know, I wasn't very bright).
The First School Years
Kindergarten. The bus ride. Learning to tie a shoe using the big blue shoe that was strangely heavy. Growing plants in little Styrofoam cups. Making structures out of huge red, green, and blue plastic building blocks and climbing around in them.
The first grades. The embarrassing incident involving not being allowed to go to the bathroom and deciding to do something about it. Didn't work out the way I'd planned. Learning how to print and write, with those little booklets with the blue dashed lines. Playing Red-Rover at noon with students from every grade. James Rodgers and I making up outlandish stories that others actually seemed to believe. Maybe they were just humoring us.
Living in the basement while the new house was built, grandpa almost losing a thumb while cutting some wood on a power saw, the porch slipping away from the house and dad plummeting from the roof onto the foundation. Helping dad lay the bricks for the fireplace downstairs, wallpapering, laying down the rug. Using a smoky kerosene lantern to make neat patterns in the wet paint on the basement ceiling. The really, really big mirror being installed in the bathroom.
Hugo coming to put the slate on the outside of the house, bringing Todd and me toffee, marbles, more toffee and more marbles. When he was finished, he left us an entire ice-cream pail of marbles, which we had hours and hours of fun with afterward, and which I have many fond memories of.
Making forts in the house with my brother out of cardboard boxes, blankets, couches and every other item we could get our hands on. Tonka trunks, little cars and complex miniature farms and towns made of dirt and grass. Running around in the house, up and down the hallway. Coloring books, paper airplanes, and paper snowflakes. Magic rocks, polished rocks and seaweed.
Going in to Taber to visit our grandparents and Aunt Elaine and Uncle Larry. Being able to watch cable! Riding in the back seat and pretending the dashed yellow line was a laser beam that we were shooting cars with. Driving home and falling asleep on the way, and having Dad carry us in to bed. I remember one time when we were in Lethbridge during the winter, heading home at about 6pm, already dark out. It had started to rain and freeze at the same time, and it took us 2 hours to travel from Lethbridge to Taber, during which Todd and I had the most fun imaginable counting the 76 cars and trucks, 13 eighteen wheelers and 2 school buses that had slid into the ditch. In hindsight, our enthusiasm was certain to be rather trying on our parents, who were surely stressed about being the 77th car in the ditch. We ended up staying at Aunt Elaine's that night, which was fun in its own right.
Watching Mom and Dad and Aunt Elaine and Uncle Larry play cards. The joking and teasing and laughter. Todd's family-famous "tut your trap". Todd's grumpy kindergarten picture. My 133 degree overbite and braces, which would last, in one guise or another, until I was 17. They never really caused me any stress though, and the monthly visits to the dentist in Lethbridge afforded me the luxury of a Big Mac at McDonalds, so in my mind, it was all good. I was easy to please back then.
Todd and I would sometimes sleep in the same bed, and would talk for hours, making up stories, trying to out-gross each other. Our bedroom was facing toward Staples, and so any vehicle coming toward our place would shine lights into the bedroom, casting shadows because of the trees around our yard. We called them our personal "movies". I was still easy to please back then. Seeing these "movies" was significant, because we live at the end of the road, so seeing such a movie almost guaranteed visitors to our house, and visitors were always a good thing.
The trip to Disney Land with Aunt Claire, Uncle Bill, Trevor and Tammy. Space mountain, the haunted houses. The cap guns, and having Todd, Trevor and myself jump out of bushes with a cap gun in each hand shooting at strangers. If we tried that nowadays, we'd probably get shot for real, but back then, it was the most fun imaginable. Going to Circus Circus and winning oodles of stuffed animals and posters.
Reading. Lots of reading. Every single Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Black Stallion, The Three Investigators. Admittedly, the Hays school library isn't all that big, but I'm pretty sure I signed out and read more than half the books in that library.
Monkey-fights on the monkey bars, hours on the swings, parachuting and competing for who could get highest the fastest. Climbing all over the tire mazes.
At home, there are thousands of memories. Playing with lego and mechanics and wood burning and models. A toy rifle that shot light called Tin Can Alley. Evel Knievel toy motorbikes that could be wound up and jumped and raced and everything else. The rather terrifying experience where Todd and I begged to stay in the back of the tandem while dad was unloading grain, and I had the bright idea of flowing down with the grain. Fine for me, but Todd was shorter than the grain was deep. His head went under the grain. Dad couldn't hear me screaming over the truck moter and grain augur. He finally noticed and pulled Todd out. I had nightmares about that for weeks afterward.
Mom buying a new package of animal cards for me every month. I spent hours pouring of the pictures and the information, memorizing all sorts of useless but fascinating facts. A blue whale weighs up to 115 tons, can reach lengths of up to 40 meters and has a heart the size of a small car. Just in case you were wondering.
Mom buying an encyclopedia set at Safeway, one volume each time we went into Taber. Reading about far off places and all sorts of amazing inventions and facts and ideas.
Frisbee and trackball, koolaid and freezies. Swimming in the ditches and canals. Running through the sprinklers, sliding in water as it pooled on the lawn. Frogs and garden snakes. Snowmobiling, snowmen and snow forts, including some truly impressive snow tunnels in the canal. Vicks, Mercurochrome, and Bandaids. Learning how to drive the farm trucks, and feeling so proud when I could help dad do chores.
Mom and Dad bought Todd and I pedal bikes, which we put to great use. We ranged all over our farm and the surrounding land with them, and took them camping wherever we went. I remember helping Dad make the bike racks that were put to use for ten years afterwards. And of course the memories of skinned knees and other injuries, thankfully much less serious than they could have been. To this day, I have a fear of hydrogen peroxide. "It won't hurt", mom said. "It won't hurt", Aunt Claire said. Yeah, right!
The Staples were our neighbors at that time, and Brenda and Darryl took turns baby-sitting us on the occasions when Mom and Dad went out. Darryl spent many hours teaching and playing chess with me, and deserves medals for patience. I remember "helping" Brenda make meals and "helping" her do her homework. In hindsight, I probably made her take three times longer than normal because I'd be asking all sorts of questions. Practicing music with Sherry. The lilac bushes and flower beds that Linda always kept so well groomed.
During this time, my parents and their friends were involved in a friendly war of playing practical jokes on one another that would have a significant effect on my future tendencies. I remember one day Dad going down to Staples yard with a tractor while they were gone, and putting their snowmobiles on top of their chicken coup. And of course, putting saran-wrap on their toilets and cornflakes in their beds.
Numerous other examples of practical jokes occurred as well, some small, some truly impressive in scope. For example, in one situation, I remember all of our vehicles being lined up in the middle of our yard, from the chainsaw and lawn-mower, to the motorbikes to the cars, trucks and the motor-home. It was great to be part of that sort of friendly camaraderie, and I loved it just as much whenever someone did something to our farm as when Mom and Dad decided to play some practical joke on some friend of theirs.
And of course there is the UFO story. A story that has reached the status of legend in our family, and is always good for a two hour laugh fest. I believe that the story has been told elsewhere in this book, so I won't bother describing all the details. Suffice it to say, Mom, Dad, Aunt Claire and Uncle Bill managed to convince themselves one night, amidst some card playing and maybe a wee little bit of alcohol, that there was a UFO hovering over the garage. Needless to say, it turned out not to be a UFO, but things got pretty intense there for awhile, involving the loading of rifles and more than one phone call to the outside world. Let's hope that real alien's don't make first contact with my family, because they might not get a nice welcome!
Mr. Wickenhieser, Mr. Campell, and Mr. Windrum taught me in Grades 7-9, and I have fond memories of all of them, especially Mr. Wickenhieser. His quirky sense of humor, his word games, and his teaching style were all sources of laughter. And his squeaky boot was very useful in warning us when he was coming, so we could stop whatever chalk fight, eraser war or other chaos we might be engaged in.
I seemed to get lots of detentions for some strange reason. Poor me. Ironically though, detentions were usually a good thing, because if there was more than one of us in detention, it would degenerate into a chalk fight or some other form of amusement. And on the rare occasions when I was the only one in detention, there was always a book to read.
I remember Gordon and Kevin and Crystal cracking the rest of us up, and distinctly remember laughing so hard once that I fell out of my desk. I'm ok now though. Competing with Glenda and LaWanda and Lisa for marks, and not doing a very good job of competing - they always did better in the long run. The fateful day that Gordon decided to spice up an exam by spelling his name backwards, and became known as Nodrog ever since. Eraser and chalk fights. Perpetually having to keep one's stomach clenched so as not to get one's wind knocked out due to an unexpected stomach punch from others. The silliness of teenage males. The girls and their tendency to snap us poor boys with their combs. Grass down the shirt was the usual response to such undeserved attacks. Passing letters to Lisa and Antoinette. Playing Red Rover many times on the front lawn of the school, and having spear-grass and cactus-berry wars. Skating at the Hays arena. The bus-rides to and from the school were fun too.
Our class was one of the larger one in recent Hays history, with a staggering 14 students, and we had the dubious honor of being the first class that started within Kindergarten. Rebecca, Crystal, LaWanda, Glenda, Lisa and Antoinette. Kevin, Barry, Joseph, Gordon, James, Brad, and myself. Most of us were together for 9 years, and another 3 years at high-school, and although we've gone our separate ways, we shared a level of camaraderie that very few people can lay claim to. I know there are many memories from those years that I have forgotten, and I'm looking forward to reminiscing with my class mates at the 50th anniversary.
I have fond memories of starting to playing baseball, although I remember the practices much more clearly than I do the real games. I have very clear memories of tossing a ball back and forth with my brother for hours on end, especially on summer nights up against one of the sides of our house while the sun set. And of course Frisbee, trackball and anything else we could throw around.
At home, I remember when my parents bought our first computer, for $2900. It had much less memory than most calculators today (literally!), and started out not even having lowercase characters, but it was still a source of a great deal of enjoyment. I spent hours and hours writing programs and stories and playing games. Playing Loadrunner, experimenting with Logo, writing a program that animated a little baby carriage for mom and dad's anniversary one year. Spending years writing a program that became so large that the computer didn't have enough memory to run it. It didn't really matter though, because it was the the process of developing the program that I enjoyed most anyway.
Learning to ride a motorbike was a big event as well. Todd and I first learned on Dad's Yamaha 90, but shortly thereafter we got Honda XR dirt-bikes that we put through a great deal of abuse. We spent a truly amazing amount of time racing around the pastures and farmland around our farm, much to mom's stress, I'm sure. We traveled the same routes so many times that they developed into well-worn paths, and we even went so far as to establish names for some of them so we could quickly indicate to one another where we were going as we flew past each other. Dirt and manure piles made excellent challenges for jumping and climbing, just to add some spice when we weren't out looking for speed. We roamed around the surrounding area with Barry Glas and Kevin McLean as well, especially the gravel pits. Cattail fights were always fun, picking a cattail that was just about to explode and tossing it at the other person as they roared by on their bike.
When we weren't riding bikes, there was always the option of making forts out of straw and hay bales. Not something that Dad was too enthused about, especially after some of our grander schemes that involved reorganizing an entire stack, bring in plywood and making a bale tunnel that blocked off part of the farm. That particular endeavor was also when a mouse decided to take refuge and dashed up one of Todd's pant legs. He grabbed it somewhat north of his knee, and I can assure you that when he was finished squeezing, it wasn't climbing any higher. Makes me laugh every time I think about it!
Even then, I still read constantly, whenever I wasn't doing anything else. I would read late at night after mom had sent us to bed, using a little red pen light. I became an expert at hearing mom when she got out of bed to check on us, and remember pretending to sleep on many occasions. I would take a book everywhere, and for awhile, would actually get car-sick if I wasn't reading. Traveling home from visiting relatives in Taber or dentist appointments and shopping in Lethbridge, dark out, I would have the back light in the Lincohn turned on, careful to hold up my book so it blocked the light from reflecting off the front windshield.
Around this time, Todd and I started curling as well. We become Dad and Tony Meier's lead and second. I have great memories of the whole process. Getting ready to go into the civic center, the hustle and bustle of the center itself, the ritual of pebbling the ice. Playing and joking around among ourselves and with our opponents. Competing with each other for style and intensity points in delivery and sweeping. I haven't curled in far too many years.
Between seeding and harvest, our family would pack up the motor-home and go on a two-week holiday. Often, we went to Fairmont and Radium hot-springs. To this day, I love mountains, trees and babbling brooks because of the memories they bring of the scenery along the Kananaskis. Water fights, lawn darts, horse shoes, swimming, diving and socializing. The teasing and laughing and pranks. Playing frisbee with 8 people and seven frisbees. The neck-ties around telephone poles. Talking to friends and truckers on the CB radio. The 18-wheeler whose back-end was on fire, and how nonchalant he sounded when Dad contacted him by CB. "Yep", he said, "just looking for a runaway ramp. Don't have any brakes."
I also have very strong memories about harvest time from these years. I was never a particularly effective farm boy, but I did love that time of year. The cooperation between my father and my brother and myself, being outside in the sunshine, the feeling of progress. Back then, when machinery wasn't so expensive and everyone wasn't overwhelmed just maintaining their own farms, it was common to go help out a neighbor with harvest as well. Even life on the farming has become much more complex and busy than it used to be.
Other farm related activities. Feeding the cows and bulls. Chopping up feed for the yearlings. Having a whole group of farmers get together to help each other brand calves. Trucking the cows to lease. Diking, harrowing and baling. Working on the machinery, keeping things in working order, finding the thousand and one grease nipples on the various pieces of equipment.
Unlike many people, I enjoyed high-school. The bus ride to and from Vauxhall allowed us Haysians time to joke around together. I enjoyed all of the classes, although I would have liked to have more selection in what was offered. Mr. Pawlowski did an excellent job of teaching Physics and Chemistry and was my favorite teacher. Mr. Edwards and his cynical view made Biology amusing as well as educational, and I appreciated his sometimes non-conventional methods to get us to learn something. Mrs. Himel taught English and had some great ideas on how to get students to learn by teaching. Ms. Knibbs taught French and her classes were always fun. Mr. Seaman with his ever present coffee mug and eidetic memory, capable of giving a lecture on Social Studies and repeating the entire lecture word for word if necessary. Mr. Dick and his conducting style in Music, also another favorite teacher. Mrs. Hafstein taught Math, and although it wasn't her area of training, her heart was in the right place.
Developed new friendships with people from Vauxhall and Enchant. I counted James Gerhing, Boyd Crowson, Barry Glass, Ken Lickiss and Shane Allen among my close friends, in addition to all of my Hays classmates. Played cards with Ken and Shane during many a noon hour, and went exploring Vauxhall, Taber and Lethbridge with James, Boyd and Barry regularly.
There are a variety of memorable experiences from high-school. The band trip to London, England in Grade 10 was so much fun, including the year of practice beforehand. We were a hit with our sharp uniforms and Stetson hats, even though we weren't exactly the worlds best marching band.
The water-balloon incident turned out somewhat different than expected, but was still rather amusing, once it was established that no-one was hurt by the thousands of shards of glass. Changing the rocks down by the river to spell Grad'87 instead of Vauxhall has fun, but some people ended up getting rather upset with our creativity.
Somewhere in these years, mom and dad had gone somewhere, and I had the bright idea to make a bomb. My Uncle Ken had given me a chemistry set a few years before that with all sorts of fascinating chemicals, test tubes, and Bunsen burners. Previous experiments had involved mixing every chemical to together in a test tube, putting a cork on it, and heating it up. The blue stain from the resulting mini-explosion is still visible on the ceiling of my bedroom to this day. The sheets on my bed that were ruined are, however, no longer among us. So, anyway, back to the bomb idea. The chemistry set had instructions on how to make a fuse, so I had spent some time making the ingredients, soaking the string in the special mixture, and letting it dry. I invited Barry (a first cousin and neighbour) over, and he, Todd and myself went out to the middle of our yard, put some diesel fuel in a beer bottle along with some fertilizer, put my home-made fuse into the beer bottle, ran out the string to some distance away, lit it and ran. I don't even remember if the fuse even worked. The bomb certainly didn't, much to our disappointment at the time, and much to my thanks in hindsight. We ended up trying all sorts of things trying to get something interesting to happen, and ended up at one point holding a brass rod and green plastic funnel over the beer bottle, which was merrily burning with an open flame. I really was not a very bright kid. Suffice it to say, at one point we were pretty sure we were going to burn the farm, although we managed to get the fire out before it got in among the trees. The funnel was melted into green goo, and the gas can we were using imploded. Quickly disposed of in the canal, of course. Dad was puzzled for years as to what happened to that gas can, and every time he brought it up, I had this flashback to that incident and shook my head at how crazy it was.
During the summers, I worked on Gordon and Janet Mattson's honey farm. Might not sound like a particularly enjoyable job, but it was actually a great deal of fun because of the people I worked with. Scott Fisher managed to re-enact every Monty Python skit imaginable while we were working, and to this day, I have never appreciated the real Monty Python half as much as I did his renditions. The two of us amused ourselves by playing word games and joking around while we worked. Gordon and Janet were wonderful bosses, and all of us had many interesting conversations while we worked. However, I have not had honey more than three times in the past 10 years, because I overdosed on it while working there. We would fill huge 45 gallon barrels with 660 pounds of honey using this massive 3" pipe that ran honey from the extracting tank to the barrel, and would constantly be dipping a finger in to take a taste.
During the early months, feeding the bees syrup, wearing nothing more protective than a pair of cutoffs, a hat and a hair-net down to our necks. Good way to get a tan, although you had to be careful the bees didn't go wandering places they shouldn't. Fresh honeycomb was a delicacy. Finding the queen bees, adding new bees and new queens, becoming experts in the use of the ever-present hive-tool and smoker. The hive-tool let us crack open the boxes and separate individual frames, and the smoker lulled the bees into complacency so they didn't get too angry with us stealing all their food. The various strategies for making the bees leave the top boxes so we could take them, full of honey, back to be extracted. The acid boards, with a solar panel on one side and an absorptive sponge on the other, on which we poured a special acid that generated intense heat when warmed by the sun, chasing the bees down into lower boxes. The warm days were always appreciated because you knew that you'd only be getting a few bee stings a day, usually on the fingers. It was the cloudy days that were painful, because the acid boards wouldn't work, so we would need to use the blower, manually blowing the bees off of each frame. Bees don't like being blown off their homes at 200kph, and tended to get a little irritated with us. And in case you haven't seen a bee hive, there happens to be a lot of bees in there. On one particularly bad day, cloudy and chilly (bees don't like chilly), Scott and I went through one yard in about 45 minutes. Scott was stung 38 times, and I was stung 31 times. We were both feeling kinda dizzy after that one. It wasn't usually nearly that bad though, and the fun times far outweighed the momentary pain. The true test of beekeeper devotion was when you were lugging a eighty pound box to the trailer and a bee managed to sting you in the middle of the back, and you kept on walking (well, running) cause you didn't want to get grass all over the bottom of the box and dirty the honey. Worth mucho respect from one's fellow beekeepers, but it could get trying at times.
Back at the honey farm, extracting the frames full of honey from the hives, passing them through the decapper, placing them in the spinner, juggling numerous activities at the same time in order to be able to extract as much honey as effectively as possible. The yearly pit detail, where we spent three days in the huge honey tank scraping out last years remnants of solidified honey. My aversion for being sticking stems entirely for those days, covered in half-melted honey that covered our entire bodies in this insanity-inducing stickiness. I'm ok now though.
I am truly grateful that I grew up in Hays. As children, we were able
to stay innocent much longer than children in more cosmopolitan
places, and thus were able to enjoy our childhood far more than many.
During all of my conversations at university with all sorts of people
from all sorts of place, I have come to realize that I had the most
perfect childhood of anyone I know, and I owe it all to my family and
the place I grew up.
Happy Anniversary, Hays.
I left home at 17, bound for the University of Alberta in Edmonton. The history that I sent in for the Hays 50th included a discussion of those years, but sadly that portion was deleted. When I received the book, I noted with amusement that even when my history was editted to stop after highschool, it was still 10 pages long (and 8 pages longer than anyone elses - damn slackers :-).
I'll post the university-years history in a separate entry.