Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: farming

The Day I Had to Bully My Father

Two years later we had a very dry summer. About the only things that flourished were the Russian thistles. Then they would dry up, break off at ground level and blow across the prairie landscape. Often they would collect in great masses along fence lines, becoming fire hazards. Dad liked to collect them in a pile and burn them.

One day in late summer, Dad came into the house with a big hole burned in the back of his coveralls and the shirt beneath. He told me to go across the dam and see if he had got the fire completely out. I saw that his Russian Thistle fire had gotten away on him. There was a large blackened area in the grass and here and there small flames still flickering. When I was sure had stamped them all out I returned to the house.

Dad’s back was badly burned; Mom and I knew he had to go to the hospital. He refused. “Who will milk the cows? Who will do my janitor chores?”

I told him I would do all that, but still he refused. Finally I raised my voice to a bellow and manhandled my father out to the truck and drove him to the hospital. Mom had called Doctor McCaw and he was there to admit Dad and take charge.

The chores at home I knew how to do. The responsibilities of the hospital janitor I did not know. But those were simpler times. It helped that my cousin Ron was on the hospital board and the hospital matron, in charge of housekeeping, was Barb Hunter, a friend of the family from Mossbank days. With Barb coaching me I tried to do everything that Dad had done. I stopped in to see him each day and to see how his back was healing. I think Dad spent ten days in the hospital. His work got done and he got his full pay cheque.

At home I fed the chickens, gathered the eggs and milked the cows morning and evening. I cranked out the cream on the cream separator and did all the chores that needed doing. As far as I can remember Dad never did say thank you, but I think knowing that I had taken care of things eased some of the tension between us.

[This is part of chapter 10 of my memoir. I have done a thorough re-write and rearranging of the material I have previously posted and am ready to start on the next section)

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Minimum Requirements For Farming

  1. A wide-brimmed hat, one pair of blue jeans and $20 boots from the discount store.
  2. At least two head of livestock, preferably cattle, one male and one female.
  3. A new air-conditioned pickup with automatic transmission, power steering and a trailer hitch.
  4. A dog to ride in the bed of the pickup.
  5. A gooseneck trailer small enough to park in front of a cafe.
  6. A little place to keep the cows on land too poor to grow crops on.
  7. A spool of barbed wire, three cedar fence posts and a bale of hay to haul around in the truck.
  8. Credit at the credit union.
  9. Credit at the bank.
  10. Credit from your father-in-law.
  11. A good pocket knife, suitable for whittling to pass away time.
  12. A good wife who won’t get upset when you walk across the living room floor with manure on your boots.
  13. A good wife with a full time job.

[Author unknown, published 1985 in the Craik history book (my home town)]

Chapter 1 – Why couldn’t I be the healthy one?

My cousin Dennis has often been a friend in time of need, knowing just when to show up. He came over the morning after my father’s funeral and we sat around a table with my mother, reliving bygone days with the help of her old photographs. There were photos of my father breaking land, of my father when he attended auto mechanics school in Tennessee, of my mother in her younger years, of me as a baby, of my cousins.

Then we came to a photo from when I was in Grade 2, all the students and the teacher grouped in front of our one-room school. There were two little boys in the front row, one bright-eyed, smiling and healthy-looking, the other wearing a heavy sweater and making a feeble attempt at a smile. Impulsively, I pointed at the healthy looking boy and said “That was me!” Dennis glanced up, his brow furrowed, and said, “No, that was David Harlton.” Then pointing to the sickly-looking boy he said, “This is you over here.”

He said no more about my mistake, just carried on talking about school days. I carried on too, hoping the pain inside me was not visible to others. I knew he was right, but why couldn’t I believe for just one moment that I was the healthy one? I guess a true friend helps keep you real.

I had frequent bouts of colds and flu as a child and was well-acquainted with Buckley’s White Rub and other home remedies. I am a genuine phlegmatic; it’s not often that I don’t have some nasal congestion and a frog in my throat. This affects my inner ear, causing vertigo and a poor sense of balance. When I was four my parents took me to the fair and put me on a merry-go-round, expecting I would be thrilled at the ride. My head began to whirl, my stomach to churn and I cried to be rescued.

I had frequent outbreaks of hives as a child. Eventually we figured out that they always happened when I had oatmeal porridge for breakfast two days in a row. Later in life I realized that the cold and flu symptoms were usually allergic reactions to dust, pollens and other stuff in the air. These reactions often led into sinus infections and recovery times were a matter of several weeks.

My mother told me that I was raised with cow’s milk formula because my father thought that was more modern and sanitary than breast feeding. I had an allergic reaction at the beginning that caused my face to puff up until my eyes all but disappeared. The cure was to give me only water for awhile, then gradually reintroduce the milk. Perhaps that is where my allergies began. Or it may have happened at birth. Doctors today have linked birth by cesarean section to allergy problems in the child. The doctor had opted for cesarean when I was born because of my mother’s hip dysplasia. In the end it doesn’t matter, it won’t make me healthier to find someone to blame for my poor health.

When I was in my twenties I discovered antihistamines and they have helped me cope with life. A little pill once or twice a day, a corticosteroid puff in each nostril once a day, a saline nasal spray plus a decongestant when needed, keep me going – most of the time. But I can’t always escape those times when allergy symptoms leave me feeling wiped out. Those episodes can hit any time of the year but spring and fall seem the worst.

I have learned by experience that some occupations are best avoided. I’m just not the robust type who thrives on outdoor activities. It isn’t that I’m always sick, but when I do get sick it takes several weeks to recover to where I can breathe freely and my body doesn’t ache.

But maybe that’s alright. My frequent sicknesses kept me indoors more than most other children and facilitated my love for reading, and writing. Perhaps God has allowed these circumstances to steer me in the direction He wanted me to go. In any case, here I am, with all the things I have experienced, observed and learned in life, and I want to use them all to His honour.

[All comments and critiques are welcome. Please help me improve this writing.]

The parable of the train-chasing dog

Many years ago, in the time of small farms, one such farm was located beside a railway that connected several of the big cities of the area. The farm consisted of a number of small fields, cultivated by a small tractor, and a pasture containing a few cows and their calves. There was a little valley running across one corner of this pasture with a creek where the cows could drink.

In this bucolic setting there lived a farmer with his wife, their three children, and a dog. Now this was a noble dog, whose heart was set to protect the farmer and his family from all dangerous intruders. And he proved this determination eight times a day when a great growling and howling creature approached on the railroad tracks. The dog immediately began to bark and to run towards this oncoming threat, reaching the tracks just as the last car of the train passed by. The dog continued to bark and to follow until he was satisfied that it was gone, then returned home.

There was in the same neighbourhood a person whose motives were not as noble as those of the dog. He observed that the farmer and his family grew accustomed to the barking of the dog and took no notice. This person began to walk by the pasture at odd hours, always bringing with him some treat for the dog, who soon came to regard him as a friend. Thus when this person came one night with a truck and loaded up some of the calves, the dog made no barking, for was not this his friend?

It occurs to me that I have known in my time several persons who resembled this dog. They fancied themselves to be watchmen of Zion, and began to bray loudly at the approach of any innovation that they regarded as a threat. People learned to ignore them, for were they not always braying? And did not the imagined threats always pass by harmlessly?

Yet these same self-appointed watchmen were prone to become intrigued by a speaker or a book that professed to uphold the faith, yet contained some unorthodox line of thought. As these watchmen considered and digested these ideas, they spoke of them often to others. The result was that a few others found the new way of looking at things so captivating that they left the fold to follow the errant doctrine. And no one quite knew what had happened.


A short while ago I published an item in this space entitled The Millionaire and the Scrublady, having no knowledge of who had written it.  A reader informed me that it came from Parables of a Country Parson by William E Barton. I have since obtained a copy of the book. Therein is the story of The Dog and the Limited, wherein the writer observes a dog futilely attempting to catch a passenger train. It seemed to me that the dog was not trying to catch the train but to chase it away. And in this he succeeded, as far as he could understand. Those thoughts led to the writing above.

The half-converted farmer

Years ago, there was a farmer in our neighbourhood who lived a simple life. He had no need of electricity, running water or a lawn mower. He didn’t seem to have a need for a wife either, though it was rumoured that once long ago there had been a lady of the house. Perhaps the rustic simplicity of the homestead soon lost its charm.

This rustic farmer had a simple approach to farming as well. In the spring he seeded his wheat and in the fall he harvested his wheat — as much as his equipment could capture. For you see, the fields produced a much greater crop of weeds than of wheat, in such a manner that the wheat that did grow was short in stature. What is more, there were many prominent rocks throughout the fields that needed to be avoided in seeding and in harvesting. As we passed by his fields after harvest we saw much wheat still standing, waiting to be gleaned by the birds, mice and gophers. The proximity of these heads of wheat to the rocks or to the surface of the ground had made them inaccessible to the harvesting machinery.

Then came a day when the farmer announced that he had seen the light, from henceforth things were going to be different. He purchased top quality seed and fertilizer, enough for all his fields. Nevertheless, he chose not to attempt to remove the rocks and the weeds. The good new seed, he said, with the help of the fertilizer, would produce such vigorous plants that they would choke out the weeds and grow so high the rocks would not be a problem.

Unfortunately, the bad seeds far outnumbered the good. With the help of the fertilizer, they grew taller that year than ever before. The wild mustard plants did indeed resemble small trees. I did not ascertain if the birds of the air built their nests in these great shrubs , but I did observe them flitting joyfully from branch to branch.

Harvest that year was neither better nor worse than in previous years. Whereupon the farmer declared that scientific farming was a fraud designed to separate gullible farmers from their money. He would never again believe a word of it. And the latter end of that farmer was worse than the first.

I have observed people who approached Christian life in like manner. They are convicted of the futility of their old ways and resolve to follow the way of Jesus. They begin to read the Bible and attend church, and verily their countenances are changed. They have hope.

Still, there are all the hurtful things they have said and done in the past, and perhaps dishonest things as well. These are great rocks in their life and the problem of removing them seems insurmountable. The cost and effort of confession and restitution is higher than they are willing to pay. Thus the rocks remain, ever a hindrance  to the trust they desire from others.

Worse yet, their tendencies to hurt feelings and flare ups of temper still remain and get in the way of the good they try to do. An apology would be too humiliating, better to wait and hope people forget. They are keenly aware of other people’s faults, and quite blind to their own. Such thorns in their personalities choke out their good intentions. After a time, they conclude that Christianity was only an illusion and return to their old ways.

It need not be that way. But too many well-meaning evangelists neglect to explain that one cannot live a fruitful and fulfilling Christian life without removing the rocks and the thorns.

One kernel of wheat

How many people can be fed with one kernel of wheat?  David Fife fed millions.

The Fife family came to Canada from Scotland in 1820 when David was 15.  They settled in Otanabee township, east of Peterborough, Ontario .  When David was 20, he married Jane Becket and they began to farm on their own.  Farmers in this area were growing a winter wheat variety known as Siberian.  It did survive the cold winters, but was low yielding and susceptible to rust, a fungal disease that weakened the plant.

David Fife wrote to a friend in Glasgow asking for a sample of a better wheat.  His friend found a ship in the harbour, unloading wheat that had been loaded at Danzig and had probably been grown in Ukraine.  He managed to obtain a few kernels and sent them to David Fife.

The package of wheat kernels arrived just before seeding time in 1842.  Neither David Fife nor his friend knew if they were winter wheat or spring wheat.  David Fife planted half of the seeds in spring, planning to sow the rest in fall.  It must have been winter wheat, as the spring seeded grain did not mature — except for one plant which produced three heads of ripe grain.  David Fife planted the seeds from those three heads the next spring and continued to multiply the seed, until he harvested 240 bushels in 1848.  By then he knew that he had a variety of wheat that yielded much better than Siberian, matured early and was not susceptible to rust.   In addition, it had excellent milling and baking properties.

David Fife began to make this wheat available to his neighbours and by 1860 it had supplanted all other varieties of wheat grown in Canada.  Since the kernels were red and the variety was introduced by David Fife, it was given the name of Red Fife.  By the end of the nineteenth century Red Fife wheat had the reputation of being the world’s best spring wheat.

When the prairies began to be settled the first wheat grown was Red Fife.  The Prairies growing season was a little too short, though.  Charles Saunders crossed Red Fife and Hard Red Calcutta and selected the best cultivars to develop Marquis wheat, which made the western prairies a bread basket.  These varieties have been supplanted over the years, but are now making a small comeback, for reasons I will discuss in my next post.

It all started with a single kernel of wheat.  No one knows if that kernel of wheat came from a naturally occurring variant of the other wheat on that shipload, or if there were mixed varieties in that load.  Because of David Fife’s careful work in multiplying the wheat grown from that single kernel, that kernel has provided nourishment to millions of people.

Never think that the little bit that you have to offer is too insignificant to bother with.  ” For who hath despised the day of small beginnings?”  (Zechariah4:10, as it is in French translations of the Bible).

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