I always felt trapped in the city of Sherbrooke because it is just the wrong size, in my opinion: Too small to be a real city where there might be lots of exciting things to do, and too big to relax in. Luckily, when I was in my teens and my early twenties, my family and I would go camping on my uncle’s farm. I remember the excitement of packing for the weekend, happy to just get away from the noises and confinement of the city.
My Uncle Gerard and Aunt Denise lived with their four boys in the very same home my mother was born and raised in. My mom loved that place more than any other, and so, she asked my uncle if we could set up our camping trailer near their house, so we could camp on weekends and vacations. My uncle agreed, and so began a wonderful family tradition.
My uncle had a herd of about 80 milking cows, and several hundred acres of sugar maples. The house itself was perched on top of a small hill, where you could see the other farms up to several kilometers away, and a river winding its way through the beautiful scenery.
When the weather was hot and sunny, my cousins and I would use the tractor to go down to the river for a quick swim. It was so much fun riding on that big rumbling vehicle, watching the scenery slowly drift by, while we jounced and bounced over the trails and hayfields. And no matter how hot it was, the river was usually much cooler than you expected it to be. But that was okay, in a refreshing sort of way.
My parents would go for long walks, and often return with a bucketful of wild berries to eat, or wild flowers to put in a vase. My brother would go for long hikes as well, bringing home brook trout that mother would cook up for supper. When I was unable to walk very far, I would play games like Skittle Bowl at our picnic table, or read books. When I grew tired of those activities, it was a joy just to sit there and watch the birds do their thing: Darting, diving, gliding, or just sitting on tree branches or telephone wires, fluffing themselves up and singing their beautiful melodies.
When I was able to walk for any length of time, I would feed my uncle’s horses Prince and Mud. They were Belgian work horses, massive and noble looking to me. When they trotted by, you could always feel the earth shake beneath your feet. I would also stroll down to the barn and try to find that season’s batch of kittens the barn cat gave birth to that spring. I could spend many hours just sitting, and watching them playing their kitten games, pouncing and chasing each other around the hay bales.
Speaking of hay bales, when I was able to stand and walk for really long periods, I would help my cousins during the haying season. My job was to take the hay bails that were dropped off at the barn, and load them up on what’s called a “hay elevator”. A hay elevator is a sort of ladder that had a motor attached to a chain with spikes. One cousin would throw down a bail to me from the wagon, and I would pick it up and spike it on the moving chain. My other cousins waited for the bails to arrive at the top of the ladder, where they would stack them in the rafters. In the middle of the summer, it was guaranteed to be hot dirty work, but, there was always the river where we could clean up and cool down at the end of the day.
Evenings always started with a camp-fire outside, when the various relatives gathered on the farm that day would sit around and chat, while the younger kids chased fireflies. This all happened during the 1970’s and 1980’s, before the internet, before satellite TV dishes sprang up everywhere, and before cell-phones began to interrupt our lives. It amazes me how we were all so happy doing nothing but relating to each other, while the campfire crackled into the night. If it rained, we would all cram into one camper or the other, and play card games until it was time for bed.
At bedtime, when everyone had settled in for the night, I would always plug my earphone into my Panasonic R-70 radio, and listen to “As it Happens” on CBC, followed by a radio drama. Late into the night, through that one little earphone, I would travel the world of news, and then onto other more fantastical worlds, before slipping into happy slumber.
The following day always started early, when the cattle came down from the hills at the ass-crack of dawn for their morning milking. Often they would pause right behind our camper, on the other side of the fence, for a quick nibble on fresh hay and grass, before heading down to the barn. If one let out a loud “moooo”, you can be sure the others would start mooing too. It was at that point I would briefly wonder, “Why oh why did I stay up past midnight?” But then, the cows would go away, and I would drift back to sleep for another hour or two, and then, another wonderful day in the country would begin.
(If you have any favorite summertime memories you’d like to share, feel free to post them here!)