COLUMN: Perry Bergson: Dec. 15, 2012

Perry Bergson
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I’ve always considered myself a lucky person.

I enjoyed school. I’ve had good jobs. I’ve got sensational friends and family. I also had the benefit of growing up in a city -- Portage la Prairie, Man. -- that was large enough to provide me with things like rinks, shopping, a big high school and a movie theatre.

For those who don’t know, it’s a city of about 13,000 (close to the size of North Battleford) that is located between Brandon and Winnipeg on the Trans-Canada Highway.

I have very little to complain about growing up. I think I even recognized that at the time.

What took me a little longer was to see the benefit of where I spent portions of every summer.

Here’s where I need to take the story back a generation.

My father grew up on the farm near the small town of Amaranth, one of eight kids. My surname will probably explain why they settled on the bank of Lake Manitoba; Icelanders live near the water so they can fish.

My mother, who was one of five kids, grew up south of Dauphin on a farm near the community of Ochre River.

Both sides ran small mixed farms, with some livestock and also crop to be harvested.

While my folks both eventually moved away from the farm -- and farm life -- I spent a minimum of a week at both farms every summer. As I got older, I would do a lot of bellyaching about it because I didn’t want to be away from my friends.

I recognize now that I would have no memories of the extra time spent with buddies. But I remember a lot about that time spent on the farm.

On the Bergson side, there were several kids and then a gap of a few years before a new group of grandchildren took root.

I was the oldest of that group.

In fact, when I was in Grade 12, my grandma had a grandchild in every grade, including kindergarten. (My paternal grandfather and my maternal grandmother passed when I was younger.)

The biannual family reunions had big crowds.

Later on I learned to drive on the farm. As the “oldest,” I was picked to cut the grass on the riding lawn mower, a duty that I took very seriously. I now realize that they had suckered me into cutting the grass and considering it a privilege. The adults were clearly evil geniuses in that family.

I also remember driving the tractor during haying season and when we were picking rocks, which was a legitimately big deal.

Part of the beauty of that spot was the fact that it was on the lake. Every spring we would watch for the ice to push to shore, forever amazed at how sheets would be pushed on the shore. The scraping of the sheets and the tinkling of little bits chipping off and falling was amazing.

In the summer we could swim at the shallow but rocky shore and invent many an adventure sitting atop Big Rock. (Apparently the Bergson imagination didn’t include the creative naming of significant geographic features.)

We learned early to be aware of whether a neighbour’s bull was in the herd, because that changed where you could walk.

My early love for dogs began on the farm, even if far too many of those poor mutts left us early when they ran in the path of a working vehicle.

I loved the cattle, hated the chickens and was largely indifferent to the pigs, a species I didn’t think had much personality.

Life at my maternal grandfather’s was different. My uncle lived there with him and my aunt and uncle lived a half mile down a quiet dead-end road, which I walked a great many times in my childhood.

As a youngster, I would help my maternal grandfather with chores as best as I could. He would fill a pail with a bit of chop for the cattle, and while I struggled to keep up to him with my tiny load, he would carry two huge pails filled to the brim.

When I close my eyes I can smell the chop and see the wet pink noses of the cattle getting covered with the dust as they gulped it down from the troughs.

The thing that restricted my usefulness on the farm was my hay fever. I couldn’t stay too long in the barn or I would start to wheeze.

I would journey in a bit to visit the cattle in the pens and the cats and their kittens but eventually couldn’t stay long.

So I was an outside farm kid.

I was forever finding old bones in the pasture and trying in vain to smuggle them home to show my friends.

In my teenage years I would gather up fallen trees in the pasture near the barn and pile it high for massive bonfires.

The milk we drank came straight from the cattle to the pail to the fridge; the cream was thick and bubbly.

This might horrify some modern parents but I was there when chickens and pigs were slaughtered. I’ve always appreciated where my food comes from and it surely is a byproduct of that period.

My grandparents are gone now. The two farms remain in the family but neither have animals or land that is harvested.

I still get to my maternal grandparents’ farm every few years but my last visit to the farm on the lake can be measured in decades.

They’ve changed and I’ve changed.

But the lessons learned at both remain exactly the same.

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway

Geographic location: La Prairie, North Battleford, Brandon Winnipeg Amaranth Lake Manitoba Ochre River Big Rock

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