Saturday, October 30, 2010

Alberta: Part One

Maybe it was writing about the family bible.

Maybe it was watching Great Canadian Rivers: Milk River on the Knowledge Network.

Maybe it was the day at work I spent listening to Corb Lund sing about cattle on the old Milk River Ridge and husking Taber corn.

Maybe it was the subsequent conversation with a coworker about how she used to drive from Calgary to Taber on the weekends to get fresh Taber Corn.

Maybe it was realising that this November will be four years since I've been back and that's the longest I've ever gone in my life without a visit, but somewhere in there I started to miss Southern Alberta. Missing it turned into an ache and then it became down right painful. That's right, I miss it so much it hurts.

Big Bro and I at the Alberta-BC border on the Crowsnest Pass

My mom hails from Milk River, a small town situated along the river just a few kilometres north of the Montana-Alberta border. My mom was raised on the family farm a few clicks east of town but by the time I came around, Grandma and Grandpa had retired and moved to town. The farmed passed to my uncle, Phil, and now to my cousin, Ryan. Still, I've always called it "Grandpa's Farm" and I challenge anyone in my family to tell me that it's not (except Ryan because, well, see above).

Grandpa may have retired to town but that didn't stop him
from still working the fields every chance he got.

The only years I don't remember going to Alberta in the summer, I was in Ireland. Those years, however, we often went to Alberta for Christmas so really, I'm pretty sure that my visits to Alberta would average one a year until Grandpa passed away. Although I have never referred to Alberta as 'my other home' like I do when talking about other places I've lived, it really was a second home (although with funny tasting water). The majority of trips were made by plane, but there were a handful of road trips and even a trip on ViaRail.

My most vivid memory of the trip was the drunk guy getting kicked off in the middle of the night.
Hmm, maybe I should do the trip again and make a better memory.

Growing up I used to complain that Alberta was so boring, that it was so flat. I was a west coast girl, with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other, what's there to see in Alberta but wheat, cows, more wheat and more cows? In one moment that whole opinion changed; I was walking south from Milk River Town towards the river, I would have been 17 at the time, I looked out towards the Sweetgrass Hills and it hit me: yes, visually Alberta could be considered plain compared to BC but, my goodness, was it ever beautiful in its own way.

Big Bro in the wheat fields. Somewhere there is the same picture of me but I can't find it.

I loved staying at Grandma and Grandpa's. You'd wake up in the morning, climb the dark stairs out of the basement, and open the door to a bright kitchen. Coffee and tea would be made, cereal would be lined up for the choosing and the cinnamon buns would be waiting for the icing. Oh, the cinnamon buns. They were to die for. Years later I learned that grandma would make a batch and freeze it. When she had company, she'd just warm up a few in the morning, drizzle a little icing and voila, Grandma's 'fresh' cinnamon buns. They were the best part of breakfast.

At some point during our trip, Grandpa would take us out to the farm. If we went in the car we'd be stopping in for a visit to the house, but if we went in his Ford truck we'd be driving out to the fields. He'd tell stories as he drove: who owned what fields, if and how the owner was related to us or someone we knew, what crops they grew every year or if they were experimenting with something new. On and on he'd prattle, eventually landing on stories about great-grandpa and great-great-grandpa living on the farm. I wish that I had thought to write some of the stories down because all I have now are snippets from my foggy childhood memory. I'm never sure how much of the story was told to me and how much is my own memory trying to fill in the blanks.

Grandpa's Ford on the left. I loved spending time with him in that truck. He taught me to drive in it.
He taught me how to recognize when a Chinook is coming. He taught me that great-great-Grandpa
bought the farm because it had a slough to water the horses. I learned a lot in that truck.

Learning to roller skating on the flat driveway, going to the public pool four days in a row, walking the golf course while Grandpa, Uncle Dave and Big Bro played a round, scampering around the hoodoos at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, walking to the Milky Way for an ice cream, picking up the mail from the post office on the way back, watching my brother on the local news being interviewed about the dinosaur eggs found outside of Warner, Ryan teaching me how to flip my eyelids inside out, walking across the Coutts/Sweetgrass border crossing just to play a game of tennis, playing a game of Nerts with Grandma and any other cousins who were around, seeing my first buffalo at the Miller farm, inner tubing down the Milk River, watching old family movies on the wall above the fireplace. There are a million memories attached to summer holidays spent in Milk River, each one a story unto itself, yet Milk River was a just a fraction of the time we'd spend in Alberta.

Writing-On-Stone in the winter. As the name of the park suggests, there are pictographs carved into the rock face.

There were Ellert family trips to Waterton National Park where we'd sleep 20 of us inside the cabin and everyone else outside in tents, where Jolene and I crashed a rented bike-thingy and walked away unhurt, where we took a tour of the Prince of Wales Hotel then took a picture in the wind with our hair going every which way, where I saw the Northern Lights for the first time, where some guy flashed us from the back of his buddy's van while they drove by, where we took a paddle boat around Cameron Lake and made a joke about making a break for the American border, where I read my first romance novel, and where we decided to hike to Little Bertha Falls because the name made us laugh.

We'd visit Taber. My uncle was the principal of the elementary school and sometimes he'd let us 'sneak in' during the summer so Big Bro could play basketball. We once came up with the great idea of getting out as many of the bouncy balls as we could and get them all going at once. You know those old balls, the ones you'd use at lunch time for dodge ball and squares? We made such a racket that my uncle came back from his office to tell us to stop it but he just ended up helping us get even more going. I would play the old family piano in the basement, the same piano that my aunts and my mom learned to play on. It even had some of their old lesson books. I'd pull them out and give them a rattle on the out-of-tune keys. Lethbridge, Calgary, more family, more laughter and more memories.

My one and only time at the Calgary Stampede.

The only trip better than a summer in Alberta was a Christmas in Alberta.

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