Before I got old enough to get my first job herding sheep during summer vacation, Dad used to drive the family west over two hundred miles to Grandpa and Grandma's farm. A beautiful quarter section of coal black soil with a tree lined creek running through it. Dad would stay a day or two, then head back to Chinook to take care of business, while we boys terrorized the barnyard, and Mother got a well-deserved rest, and family visit.
Grandpa and Grandma Ray
Dad always came back for us in two or three weeks but I remember one year I got so homesick for him and that dried-out prairie town of Chinook that it seemed like two months before Dad came for us. It was the first and worst case of homesickness I have ever experienced, and let me tell you it is a terrible disease.
We always drove a new Ford car because Cooley Brothers owned the Ford dealership. I can still smell that new car smell and feel the new plush upholstery, as we three boys sat in the back seat on our way back home from Grampa's place. Dad would be driving, and saying "I sure hope we got that rain at home yesterday". It seemed like it rained every second day and nearly every night at Grampa's place.
Grampa's place where the soil was black and the crops were so thick they fell down, smelled different than home. It smelled like trees and rain and stinkweed, and tall grass, none of the smells of Chinook, the place I knew and loved.
To get home from Grampa's, which was twelve miles west of the town of Carstairs, took seven or eight hours of tortuous and slow driving over two hundred miles of dirt and gravel road. To keep three young boys somewhat quiet and happy took all of Mother's skill and agility. She had packed sandwiches, cookies, milk (even though it couldn't be kept cold) and enough water to last us for the whole eight hour trip.
We would pull off the road long enough for a pit stop and lunch and after several more pit stops the final stop would be the supper break when we finished up the last of the sandwiches and food packed before we left Grandma's that morning. There was never a thought of eating at a restaurant. That would just be a waste of good money. It was not just our family that acted this way. Only the travelers that called on businesses in every town along the line stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants. Most families packed lunch both ways when they went somewhere.
Crossing the Morin ferry was a great experience. The Red Deer River was a giant of rushing water for a prairie boy and Mother wanted us all out of the car while Dad maneuvered it onto the ferry, just in case something went wrong and we all drowned.
The ferry man was a very friendly fellow and told us all about the time the cable broke and the ferry took off down the river. The ferry engine, after it was cranked enough to break into a Put-Put sound, would slowly pull us through the swirling water and stop with a jolting grind as we reached the other side.
Now safely on the east side of the big Red Deer River our next challenge was to wind our way out of the Drumheller Badlands. In those days the road was a narrow strip of sand and gravel, punctuated with right angle and hair pin turns. Once on top however, the flat expanse of prairie returned and the world looked right again.
As we made our way east toward Delia and Hanna, the crops got a little shorter and there was no sign of all that rain we were getting while at Grampa's place. By the time we passed Hanna even the weeds along the ditches were starving for rain. The Russian thistle and tumbling weed provided most of any green look there was and Dad would get very quiet. No doubt thinking that the farmers would have no money to spend again this year.
As the land dried the road dust slowly filtered it's way into the car. There was no way to stop it, and if another car met or passed you it was best to pull over, stop, and let the dust settle.
We were all a very tired and bedraggled mess when we finally pulled into our yard, but it was great to be home again on that hot dry windy prairie. It's hard to explain how my heart bounded. This land may be dry and hot and windy, full of insects and pests, but I loved it. It was home.
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