Nov 22, 2010

Brown Bread and Butter

My maternal grandparents lived on a farm in rural Saskatchewan in a tiny town called Blumenhoff. We would drive across the prairies in December through windswept waves of snow, ice crackling and shimmering in the sun. My little brother and I would write songs to pass the time, or I would re-read the weeding adventures of Mary and Dickon as the merciless wind whipped snow across the frozen highway.

We would stop at the general store-cum-gas station-cum-post office to announce our arrival, and I would pop the cap off of an icy glass bottle of Coca Cola using the metal opener attached to the side of the freezer. My brother and I would buy a dime's worth each of mojos, getting bits of pastel taffy stuck deliciously in our molars to be picked out and savoured later.

Another mile down the road, my father would turn right, into the driveway set between two rows of single trees that tried unsuccessfully to break the prairie wind, and we would be there, finally. Time passes slowly when the horizon does not end.

The neighbour's black and white dog, Snoopy, would bark and come to greet us as we pulled up in front of my grandparents' old farmhouse, a small one-story building nestled into a copse of trees in the middle of nowhere. My cousins built a treehouse in the tallest of the trees, with a bucket attached to a pulley. Summers, we would climb the wooden rungs nailed into the treetrunk and take turns pulling things up, apples or comic books or kittens.

My grandfather would be there, thin and grey and wiry, standing in the twilight on the tiny concrete stoop in his stiff grey winter coat and the hat with the earflaps, a worn red plaid scarf, workboots with the laces undone. And we would pile out of the car and I would run to meet him and he would swing me up and kiss me, his stubble rough against my cheek. Behind him in the coatroom stood my grandmother in her housedress and nylon stockings, dull grey hair in pink rollers, skin soft and sagging, her bosom enormous and pillowy. "I love ya little, I love ya big, I love ya like a little pig," she would say in her German accent, and chuckle, and I would flush in embarrassment.

We remove our jackets, stamp the snow off our boots, and are welcomed into the kitchen, warm with the scent of cinnamon and bay leaves and anise. Plastic fruit magnets adorn the refrigerator, a tall bucket of well-water sits on a stool beside the counter, the ladle hangs on its hook next to the window. We slide in socked feet across the faded linoleum and sit at the formica table while my grandfather fills red tupperware cups with cold water and my grandmother fills melamine bowls with chicken soup. My grandfather sits beside me and carefully butters thick slices of brown bread, cutting the cold butter into small pieces so the bread does not tear.

Isaac and Agnes Ens are both dead, buried together in the unforgiving prairie ground, but to this day there is nothing, NOTHING, in the world like sitting beside my grandfather on a cold December evening in Blumenhoff, Saskatchewan, slurping my grandmother's homemade noodles and chicken broth and eating brown bread and butter.