traveling back to the ol’ homestead

by jani on January 2, 2013

HB was raised in a tiny berg in southern Alberta. He was born in Taber, but grew up in Barnwell, a hamlet of about 250. Everyone knew everyone – and it was a very tight community.

If you ever want to learn more about your life’s partner, simply visit their old homestead. It brings a much clearer image of what life must have been like. In the case of Barnwell (as bucolic and rustic as it sounds)… well, the land is flat, and very cold in the winter-  pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But, I immediately fell in love with this place… this childhood home of my sweetheart.

The home his father built, in the early forties, is still standing today…  albeit quite different in color! It’s difficult to even imagine that HB was the youngest of ten children and that they did not have plumbing for the first few years of his life. Back in the day, plumbing  just didn’t exist in the middle of nowhere!

The province built a highway straight through, bypassing HB’s Barnwell.  So when we recently visited it, we were saddened to see his favorite country store and soda shop closed… all in the name of development! I remember how lively this place was when we first visited Barnwell in 1990. Now it just looks like a deserted shell!

HB’s grade school and middle school still stands. I was happy to see that! In Canada it’s always called grade one… versus how we refer to it in the States… first grade!

 So until I met HB, I didn’t really know what a coulee was, let alone how to spell it. I’m gonna let him tell you about his memories of coulees.

“The word coulee is enigmatic to many Americans, even those living in the West where such visual delights of nature proliferate. The word may be a bit more understandable if substituted by “hollow”, which for unknown reasons is the term preferred south of the 49th parallel. By definition, a coulee (from a similar French word) is a natural depression caused by water erosion – but very recognizable due to its undulating nature. Typically there will be a river or small tributary running through the coulee.
Being raised in southern Alberta, where the prairie lands are extremely flat, coulees create a distinctive break in the landscape, existing in stark contrast to the level countryside. In many locations coulees provide shelter for deer and other wildlife, and are often replete with deciduous cover and several kinds of edible berries.
As a boy, I trekked many miles through the coulees that run a short distance from the  rural community where I was raised. There was a tantalizing assortment of elements that served as diversions to a boy… among them firepits and artifacts such as arrowheads from uncounted generations of Native Americans that had pitched their campsites there. A boy could take his .22 rifle to the coulees and, with no humans for miles, plink cans at the garbage dump site, or the ubiquitous gophers popping up out of their holes.
It’s funny now when my wife asks me, ‘Honey, who went with you on these hikes of yours?’ – and my answer is simply, ‘I went by myself!’ Back in those halcyon days of my youth, it simply seemed like the most natural thing to pack a sack with a PB&J sandwich or two, and head for the coulees. Never mind that there were rattlesnakes and other critters that would give a mother unspeakable dread had she known what was really ‘out there’. But like so many things that were just taken for granted in the laid-back world of growing up on the Canadian prairie, it just wasn’t worried about – and amazingly, most of us have survived!”

Oldman River (pronounced “old man”)… that’s honestly the name of it.  HB gave a low chuckle as he first laid eyes upon this favorite childhood memory. He always told me about “Oldman River” – but it was quite another experience to actually step on its bank and watch in wonder as deer grazed just around the bend – a quiet, serene and perfect place to be together.

This was quite a reflective trip for my husband. It gave me a greater appreciation and understanding of him. Funny, after all these almost thirty years together, I still find new insights to the man I love.

I would recommend a trip like this to anyone in a relationship that they would like to nurture. HB and I can’t go back to my childhood home because it’s now a bustling strip mall. When I grew up, there was nothing but fields to graze our horses in and wide open spaces for wonderful imaginative games to while away our afternoons.

Have you ever visited your partner’s hometown and walked where he or she walked as a child? Be prepared to ask lots of questions. It will spark memories… some good, some not so good. But in either case it can become very cathartic and beneficial to you both!