Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Heart-Warming Time In The Heartland

BRUNO, SASK. — The Caravan is zigzagging across the country now. We were in Saskatoon yesterday for a roundtable with colleagues and then last evening in Bruno, about an hour northeast of Saskatoon.

Today, it’s back to Alberta for a big event in Calgary on Monday (see the blog entry above this one).

But back to yesterday...and Bruno.

To save money, we have been staying in people’s homes on our Odyssey. Some we know, some we have never met. Last night, I, at least, knew our host. She is Marie Dyer, product of my blended family: my step-grandmother.

I last saw Marie in July, for (I don’t think she’ll mind me telling you) her 85th birthday. She is a resourceful woman who ran her own business – a dress shop in Bruno called Marita’s. She started it herself, not really knowing anything about retail, though she had worked at Woolworth’s in Vancouver as a cashier.

Women in the area — Humboldt to the west, Saskatoon to the east, Lanigan to the south and Birch Hills to the north and all points in between — were her loyal customers. When she retired, she donated her store to the town of Bruno and it is now a library.

Bruno is a town of about 500 people. Like many small towns in Canada, it’s undergoing a transition. Many young people have left their farming communities for the city. Older people who used to farm have moved into the town.

It’s pretty. The land “gently rolls,” as they say. There’s a main street that has a pharmacy, two grocery stores including Pulvermacher’s — home of Pulvermacher’s award-winning homemade sausages — a garage or two, the credit union, the requisite Chinese-Canadian café and Marie’s library.

Getting back to Marie... I first met her about 30 years ago. I had come to Saskatoon to visit my then boyfriend. My stepmother Pat had said to give her a call just to say, “Hi.”

I was 20, had my first job in radio (part time at CFMK FM, a country station in Kingston, Ontario). I saved up to fly out to see him. Let me just say, within a few hours, I knew the visit wouldn’t work out. — it was something to do with seeing a set of Clairol electric rollers in his medicine cabinet that weren’t mine — or his. So, I called Marie and said more than, “Hi.”

I asked if I could spend the next few days with her? She got right on it. She came and got me and there I was with someone who was sort-of-a-relative.

What I remember most vividly is the food. Our first dinner was a pork roast, with potatoes, carrots, peas, pickles and salad, rolls and butter tarts. Everything had come from the area and the vegetables and baking had come from Marie. It tasted fantastic!

I couldn’t get over it. I was from the generation that added two cups of boiling water to a box of Tuna Helper and called it dinner.

Fast forward a few decades to another out-of-the-blue call to Marie.

“Hi, Marie! This time there will be three of us. Can you put us up for a night?…And maybe we could have dinner?”

Sue, Natasha and I got there late afternoon after driving through torrential rain. We could smell chicken in the oven. And Marie had been out in her garden digging potatoes, cutting cabbage, broccoli, cucumber and tomatoes for our dinner. The rolls were still great, the butter tarts and matrimonial cake, perfect. All from where she lives.

Dinner is punctuated by, “You’ve got to finish it,” as though we may never eat again.

Then around eight, neighbours and relatives start arriving with squares, dips and cheese balls. We are going to have lunch — after dinner! Can’t go to bed hungry (and if you were working the land as my step cousins Susan and Alan, Donna and George, Delores and Pat are, and step uncle Leander did, you’d want that lunch….you’d be burning it off the next day, at this time of year, harvesting). It was all delicious.

At breakfast there were cinnamon buns, nine-grain toast, Mr. Pulvermacher’s s sausages, fresh from the garden cherry tomatoes…and eggs.

Sue tells Marie that in Toronto, you'd have to pay money to buy a meal like this at a gourmet restaurant. I think Marie is pleased, though puzzled. It’s how she and her family have eaten all their lives, right from the land.

“Have more,” says Marie, “You’ve got a long drive.”

And indeed we do.

- Shelagh

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Anonymous Yubi said...

I know this was not the main purpose of this blog and your Caravan as it is now ... but because of this "mess" ... here I am, eagerly reading your daily posts, looking at the pictures and hearing your podcasts ("sounds" familiar ;-)) ... learning a lot about a country I love ...
Good luck from Switzerland!

10:23 PM  

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