Earlier this month, I was in Saskatoon, where I spent $75 in 20 minutes at McNally Robinson. That book store is really dangerous.
I also visited the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. I hadn’t been there since I was a middle-schooler, and I decided to stop in before it moved to the Remy.
The Mendel had a few interesting exhibits going on. I spent a lot of time in the miniature portraits exhibit (picture tiny portraits of loved ones people used to wear around their necks, or display on their mantles).
Some of the lockets had the subject’s hair plaited on the back. It reminded me of a couple hair wreaths my great-grandmother had. My ancestors’ hairs were woven into intricate patterns. I wonder what it is about hair that inspires people to weave it, wear it around their necks, or mail it to rock stars.
But it was one piece in the “Home” exhibit that burrowed into my brain. I haven’t stopped thinking of it since.
Wreck of a farmhouse
Graeme Patterson’s abandoned farmhouse stood in the middle of the floor. The wood was grey with age, the glass windows shattered. A coyote, owl, and several mice all made themselves at home inside. An antenna leaned on one side of the roof, while a surprisingly modern satellite dish hung on to the other.
The museum staffer I talked to said a lot of people gravitated to the house. Anyone who’s grown up on the Prairies probably understands why. These old houses are a prominent of our landscape.
For me, the house also brought back memories of high school shenanigans.
Before I go any further, I would like to say two things:
- Although I skipped a lot of school, I don’t recommend it. There were a few things going on in my life at that time, one being that I hated living in a rural community as a teenager. Perhaps I would have hated being a teenager in the city, too. Who knows. At any rate, I did act out a little, and cutting class was one way of showing the world how bad I was.
- Although my friend and I frequently trespassed in abandoned farmhouses, we never stole or vandalized anything. We were just curious and bored. However, I know this kind of thing pisses off rural landowners, and so I would like to apologize to the farmers whose land I trespassed on and say that I have not done this since I was a rotten teenager. Don’t trespass!
My friend, who we shall call “Xavier,” started me down the road of skipping school to explore old houses. He knew all the good local spots. One house in his part of the country was in such good shape that a person could have moved right in. Each window was in one piece, the wallpaper was still bright, and the floors just needed a good sweep and wash.
The neatest thing about this house was the fire extinguishers. Red glass balls in every room, apparently filled with flame retardant. They were all intact. I didn’t dare even pick one up.
And after finding this blog post, I’m glad I didn’t touch them.
Most houses were closer to the wreck in the Mendel Art Gallery. One house, which I believe was near St. Walburg, had bats in an upstairs closet. When we discovered the bats, Xavier practically body checked me in his panic to get in front of me and away from the critters.
I think we got caught by the farmer about five minutes after finding the bats. He saw Xavier’s vehicle parked in the field and came over to tell us to get off his land. He was a lot more reasonable than I might have been.
Eventually I moved to the city for university, and Xavier ended up on the West Coast. I went to Medicine Hat, then Edmonton just in time to watch the Twin Towers fall on TV. Edmonton became my home for many years, and I loved it.
I approached the city with the over-confident swagger of a young woman who’s never known real violence, who’s thirsty for the activity and energy that only comes from a mass of people. I embraced the industrial grunge, the writing community and arts scene, the craziness of Whyte Ave, the emerging hipness of 124th Ave. Some of my closest friends are people I met in Edmonchuk.
But slowly something changed for me. I missed the stars, the northern lights. I missed my horse (boarding him near the city wasn’t feasible). I missed my family and the people I knew at home. Even though I like magpies, I got sick of them in Edmonton. They were really cocky. And the noise and traffic and constant reports of crime wore me down.
Leaving Edmonton meant leaving behind a lot of people I cared about. But Edmonton wasn’t home for me anymore.
Four years ago, my husband and I moved to Livelong. My home. We bought the house one of my best friend’s grew up in. And though we miss our friends (and don’t visit them enough), we’re glad we made the move.
The House by Graeme Patterson