Small Beneath The Sky
By Lorna Crozier
Lorna Crozier is a poet, so her book about growing up in Saskatchewan is a literary treat.
First she writes about the open spaces, the light, the dust and the wind. She begins with three monographs on these subjects. These three pull you in and ask that you know that this is Saskatchewan; this is the Prairies.
Here we are on main street Swift Current in the 50’s and coming down the street is the Dominion day parade, with red-coated Mounties, the flatbed truck of old time fiddlers, the hockey player in the shiny car, the fire truck and the Shriners on their motorcycles. The conversation between the townsfolk features crops and hail and the state of the dugouts.
As her story unwinds we hear of her first day at School when students were divided into groups named for the birds. Her group was the Crows, those who couldn’t read anything at all. The Bluebirds and the Meadowlarks knew their status. What Prairie child would not? The family was originally from Wales, lured by tales of good, free land. Grandfather named the immigration people “lying bastards,” and worked as a labourer, finally buying land from an American speculator. A hard man, he treated his daughters and his wife to a rough brand of discipline.
The Prairies may take a front seat, but this story is really a tribute of love to Lorna’s mother, Peg who was “farmed-out” at the age of five, to a neighbour, as a hired girl. She learned to work very hard and was not truly home again until she went to high school. She married a man who desperately wanted to be on the land, but was forced by circumstances to work at menial town jobs. So he drank.
They were always poor, but Peg wanted her kids to have the childhood she had missed, so it was school and playtime for Lorna and her brother. There were trips to grandma and grandpa’s house on Sunday, where the girl cousins could “play house” in an old granary and feed mud pies to younger naive boy cousins, and everyone was highly entertained by the beheading of the chicken they would eat for supper.
We’ve been steeped in family lore by now, so the author hauls us back to the Prairies with three more monographs on rain, snow and sky. The never-enough of rain, the soft touch of snow, the sky, “calm or reckless” with lightening or cloud, that “touches you with loneliness.”
When Peg is stricken with cancer, mother and daughter grow even closer. The old stories are shared, no subject is off limits.
The poet returns in the last chapter, Peg has died, but Lorna feels her presence often and knows the depth of her love for this Prairie woman who was more than equal to the task.
If you are a Prairie person, this one belongs on your shelf.
Peggy Freeman is a local freelance writer living in Red Deer.