January 2012

Christmas comes and Christmas goes and the New Year is now upon us. It happens each and every year without fail. I may be getting a little impatient as I get older, but I’m already looking forward to the spring-like weather when the winter freeze gives way to the January thaw.

That brings to mind memories from way back of my father’s favourite exclamation on each new year’s arrival: “I’ve saw several decades of Januaries and I’ve never thaw a January without a saw yet.”

That’s not a misquote, folks, that’s exactly what he jokingly said each and every year. The fact is, back in those not-likely-returnable times, rural homes were all heated with wood. January being less labour-intensive than most other months of the year, the rural labour force of most families would head to the bush with an axe and a two-man, pulled-by-hand cross-cut saw to weed out sufficient wood to last through the next year’s winter.

The idea behind the wood being cut a year prior to use was it was usually scrub trees misshapen for future logs or too thickly growing trees that were felled. It was necessary to have the green wood cut up in short lengths to dry for a season in the sun, wind, and weather before being used. It was not unusual to have those trees each dragged out of the bush by a sure-footed team of horses, muscled by man onto a horse-drawn sleigh, then hauled up near the buildings where it would be piled to wait for the neighbour-owned portable large circular saw to arrive in each neighbour’s turn.

My dad and my older brother Bill owned one of those contraptions. It was horse-drawn, by Barney and Babe, our team of gray, dappled rump Purcherons from place to place. It contained a huge bladed circular saw that was driven by multiple side-by-side V belts from a powerful Durant gas engine. Wherever it went, neighbours showed up; this was known as a “sawing bee.”

My dad operated the back and forth cutting table and my brother tumbled the cut-off blocks into a pile on the ground nearby. It was the neighbours who ganged together to lug the huge limbs and twisted logs up to the saw table for cutting. If enough of them showed up, the foot length wood was piled in neat cord-style rows along a nearby fence to dry.

Those so-called bees – haying, grain harvest, both stooking and thrashing, as well as turnip pulling in the fall – were exciting events for most, as it brought neighbours together and usually entailed a very long, well-spread table that was set up especially for supper or lunch.

The meal usually was made up of still steaming loaves of homemade bread, potatoes and gravy, huge bowls of carrots, peas and turnips smeared with farm churned butter. That was accompanied by a huge roast of home-grown beef or pork on an over-sized platter. It was an insult to the cook, the “Lady of the house,” if fewer than two pieces of pie, usually apple, chocolate whipped cream, strawberry or all three, were not eaten by each person.

So if you ever hear me casually mention the “good old times,” folks, you’ll know exactly what my taste buds are tantalizingly telling you.

Take care, ’cause we care.





Barrie Hopkins