Friday, July 12, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day – The Way Life Is by Rick Johnson


Peace and innocence

The peace and solitude of the small prairie town that Patty and I had lived in during the early years of our marriage reflected our life before children – ordered, secure, and repetitive. My job in the provincial government civil service fit right into the mold, also secure, predictable and repetitiv

Neepawa, located in south central Manitoba, just a few miles from Riding Mountain National Park to the north, in the mid 1970s was a town of about 3,000 people, about half of whom were retired farmers.

On any half decent day, most of them were out walking along the perfectly squared-off streets, in front of well-manicured lawns and flower gardens surrounding impeccably-kept little homes, all exactly the same distance apart and the same distance from the street. Throughout the town, those streets were canopied by huge Dutch Elm trees lined up on the boulevards like so many soldiers on parade.

It often amazed me how the fire engine-red hydrants were always particularly shiny clean and bright in Neepawa, as if they were somehow resistant to splashing water from the gutters, and to the dogs in town, which it seemed, must have been trained to avoid them for some other, less conspicuous facility. Perhaps a civil servant, not unlike myself, with scrub brush and Windex in hand, had the job of maintaining clean fire hydrants.

I remember how most days the westerly prairie breeze seemed to come to town with the same predictability as everything else, bringing with it the rich smell of freshly cultivated fields in spring; the sweet odor of wild roses and fresh cut hay in summer and the dusty, dry scent of harvest in the fall. The growling combines in the distance always reminded us it was time to take the annual drive through the park to see the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn, and time to plan the ritual trip to the in-laws for Thanksgiving.

Life was as predictable as the seasons. Each day was a copy of the one previous. I would head to the office at the same time each morning to the backdrop of a blue jay squawking at the neighbour’s cat and then, further down the street, a dozen chattering sparrows would take their turn. In late summer, trees full of blackbirds, tired of the slough and the cattails on the edge of town, would come in to enjoy the vantage point the elms offered them as they screeched at me passing belo

Winters were silent, odorless and colourless for the most part, and after a few years in Neepawa, we began to wonder if that was what our life was becoming. There was comfort and security in it all for certain, but we began to grow weary of predictability, security and comfort.

We decided it was time to start a family, but getting pregnant did not happen the minute Patty quit taking the pill, as we had thought it would. So, for about nine months, a calendar and a thermometer dictated our love-life. Frustrating and disconcerting, to be sure. Fears of infertility, or something being wrong with one of us, were the biggest challenges our relationship had faced in five peaceful years of marriage and two similar ones before the wedding.

We were, in fact, quite distraught about the situation for a time, partly because, although I was just 27 and Patty 25, in those days, going so long into marriage without kids was not nearly as acceptable as it is today, and our respective parents were none too subtle about reminding us that it was time to give them grandchildren.

On one visit to our home, my mother, a quiet personality reluctant to enter any conversation that was not absolutely necessary, which usually meant it had to be about her children, was sitting in the living room knitting something for a child of one of my older, more productive siblings. Patty, unlike her mother-in-law, enjoyed a lot of conversation, so she took the initiative.

“That’s going to be nice. I hope you will knit something like that for our kids somed

To that, mother, who was a healthy 62 at the time, replied without hesitation or the slightest glance from her work, “Well, I hope I still have my eyesight then

For children of the 60s, Patty and I were not very radical in any way. Although Patty was a mild feminist, she never went without a bra, let alone burn one. But she did do all the required reading for her generation of females: The Descent of Women, Mother Was Not a Person, Women’s Fate, some Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem stuff, and a subscription to Ms Magazine when it was in its heyda

We were as influenced by our 1950s early childhood upbringing as we were by the radical 60s, sometimes caught in the middle of changing value systems, one day living with the old and traditional, the next day with the new and radical.

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Genre – Self-Help / Mental Health

Rating – PG

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