I grew up appalled at the concept of ‘manifest destiny’ though simultaneously I knew, and was proud of, my ancestors who pioneered homesteads on the great prairies of Saskatchewan at the turn into the 20th century. The Anabaptists always sequestered themselves apart from the state, but they weren’t averse to land exploitation schemes, and my grandparents were delighted to embark on tilling the prairie around Kindersley, Saskatchewan. Not so good for the buffalos then, let alone the indigenous people, the First Nations, who were themselves unwillingly sequestered into reservations with the poorest land.
Nor certainly not neglecting an appreciation of the environmental impact of the exploitation of the fertile prairies, which once tilled, gave up their soil in great dust storms that contributed to the most salient images we have of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Well. Within all that context, how dare I, I wonder, pause to reflect on my family heritage? But no doubt, some decades hence, our children and theirs will ponder how we could have continued to use oil-based central heating plants when we had the land resource to invest in ground-based heat exchange. Not sufficient capital is one reason, but we could be amortising the investment, of course.
So I’m not getting very far, thinking these things during the so-called ‘negotiation days’ of COP26, after the world’s leaders have returned to their own countries. But I wanted to ruminate on family heritage, and with these caveats, perhaps I can.
I used this photograph, at any rate, as a co-stimulus to this month’s VisualVerse.org stimulus (November 2021), a contemporary painting of two young girls looking out of the frame at something, while a cat does its own thing looking the other way beneath the counter. The attire of the young women is very reminiscent of that worn by traditional Anabaptists (Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, Brethren), and so I thought of my forbears who wore these sorts of garments. Because I was so surprised at the reveal of a vibrant young woman astride her horse, out on the desolate prairie, when I’d only ever known her as an ageing, stroke-ridden invalid, I had this image in mind as I contemplated the two young ones. The story that developed spoke of the end of innocence.
I wanted to explore the concept that this end doesn’t necessarily have to involve the sort of besmirching we’ve come to expect. That sense of a rude awakening to the baser desires of human flesh. But an awakening into the demands and responsibilities of adulthood, that might just possibly have been a much beloved rite of passage, slightly frightening, but grasped with good cheer, at a salient, remarkable point in one’s odyssey of growing up. And then I gave my grandmother’s name to the narrator of my little 499 word story, written within an hour as per the guidelines of the VisualVerse.org site.
It was a delight to appreciate the sense of a living grandmother, of her vibrant life, which eventually, by 1929, gave birth to my father, and thereby, on to 1952, to me. I’d like to think that my story of the end of innocence does some justice to her difficult life, as she grew up into adulthood, as the 1890s turned into the new century.