I come from a long line of optimistic liars. My grandfather was the best liar of all. He came west for free land and I guess you couldn’t blame him for being a liar because he was the first one to believe the lie himself.
Land available! Come and get it! The posters told Americans about their opportunity to claim land and farm it. In order to get 160 acres of one's own, all you had to be was an American citizen and 21 years of age. In order for the land to be yours all you had to do was pay a filing fee of $10 and reside on your new farm in the West for at least five years. And voila the land would be yours, free.
The lie of free land, oh he never paid a cent for it, that much was true. But it Cost him two wives and his first born son. His first wife died having her only baby too far from the hospital in the middle of a winter blizzard. That baby would be my Uncle Ebb; he tucked tail and ran as fast as he could, from what he calls hard work and misery, didn’t even finish high school. He just up and left one day, ‘”Why the combining ain’t half done,” my grandfather had said incredulous when he read Ebb’s note. His second wife, my grandma keeled over dead from heat stroke one day, stooking bales in the ‘glorious prairie sunshine,’ Even so my grandfather was forever an optimist, I’m guessing it came from years of believing his own lies. “Next year will be better he was in favour of saying.”
He said it when the bottom dropped out of the cattle industry. And we were left borrowing money to feed cattle that weren’t worth enough to sell, if we could even find someone to buy them. Feed was high too, what with it being three years into the worst drought since the thirties. “Next year,” My Grandpa said, “Why next year we’ll have so much rain we’ll have to build us an Ark.” Besides being an optimist my grandfather thought himself to be a conversational humorist and I guess we couldn’t blame him for that because we always obliged him by laughing. “Cattle prices will be up too I reckon,” he added lying through his teeth.
Anyway I remember this onetime when I knew my Grandpa was telling the truth. We were sitting out on the front step my grandfather, my father and I, it was shortly after my mother had left. “I’m just plain sick of hard work and poverty.” she told my father through clenched teeth.
To me she said, “You can come with me if you like but I will not stay on this place another minute;” She left in the only truck on the place that ran half decent.
“She’ll be back,”my father told me, don’t you worry son, “she’ll be back.” But I knew the only way she’d be back was if the truck didn’t make it as far as she wanted to go. Part of me prayed that she’d make it as far as the city and part of me prayed she break down and have to come back.
Anyway we were sitting there on the front step and my grandpa said to me, “Look up at that sky son.” Them stars were about the size of pie plates and man were they twinkling, some of them were so close it seemed like you could just about reach up and touch them. “You will never see stars like that in the city son. Never!” and for emphasis he spat when he said it.
Never ... that much was true.
I am a keeper of sheep on the beautiful Alberta Prairie and am blessed to have all of my children and grandchildren within hugging distance. I have always loved stories from both sides of the ink.