By Bob Jensen as told to Eleanor Deckert
Most people just want happiness. They just don’t know how to get it. They are too busy making money and having fun. They don’t see what’s big. Only “Me” and how to get what they think they want.
I personally think the world is going to go back to the old way. The city looks fragile to me. Everything and everyone is dependant on money. If a disaster happened tomorrow, how would people survive?
I learned to work on the land for what I need and work for cash for the few things you cannot grow, make, repair or salvage. These homestead life skills were passed from my grandparents to my parents to me. My wife, Colleen, and I have tried to pass this way of life on to our daughter, Jeneen, in hopes that she will have something significant to offer the next generation.
These are the five things I love the most:
• Working the land and the smell of the earth.
• Helping people through paid work or volunteering.
• Seeing the potential in scrap, salvage and recycling.
• Avoiding waste.
• Family values and awe of God’s handiwork.
I had good parents.
My Dad, Nels Jensen, brought his farming skills from Norway to Canada after working in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. When he married Alice Kesler, they settled in McMurphy near my mother’s parent’s goat farm.
Dad could fix anything. He figured out how to use the flywheel off an old washing machine to spin a potter’s wheel. He steamed birch slats to make us a sled and skis. Fixing and salvaging, seeing the potential is something I still do, recycling metal, lumber, cars and machinery.
Like many families in our Valley today, Mom stayed home with us kids to work the land and Dad went away to work for cash. He earned $500-$600 per month as a cook. In 1953, the summer when I was about seven years old, he cooked for the Transmountain pipeline crew. The camp was close by so he could walk home.
Mom’s home made brown bread and white butter was good. But I also loved the day-old store bought white bread and yellow butter Dad brought home, so it wasn’t wasted. Even to this day, I take care that nothing is wasted. Not food. Not resources. Not time.
Autumn means back-to-school. My Mom taught us at home. As the eldest, Irene was a second mother. Dave called me “Boy.” I was the curious one. Doris was fun to tease. Frank always tagged along and got into trouble.
Every Friday afternoon the way-freight train delivered supplies for the town, clothing and other items from the catalog, food and mail. We sent away our correspondence school lessons to Victoria and eagerly looked for new books from the Open Shelf library.
Everything had to be carried over the narrow swinging suspension bridge across the North Thompson River.
Besides school lessons, Mom taught us while we worked side by side. By the time we were 10 years old, we could all bake bread, take care of the animals, garden, bring wood and water, help with household and farm tasks. At harvest time the hay, canning, and storing food from the garden to the root cellar kept everyone moving.
In the chilly autumn evenings, she lit the brush pile. We read aloud to each other under the night sky beside the fire’s warmth.
Mom talked while looking at the stars. You just can’t believe it came to be with just some Big Bang. The universe is so vast and so orderly. I don’t see how anybody can believe that this just happened. Even the simplest thing, the cell, or the atom is so complicated, so ordered and so beautiful. We had no school and no church and no library, but Mom opened the way for education and belief.
In school now-a-days they teach evolution. I say, what’s the point of that? “Survival of the fittest” means “I don’t have to care for my neighbour, just take the most I can for myself.” My Mom taught us: Family loyalty. Marriage for life. Tell the truth. Keep your word. Help each other.
We celebrated Christmas and Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. These, to me, are real things. Thanksgiving has always been my favourite holiday. It really stuck with me: we have what we need and so many people don’t.
All the work we had done all year gave us what we needed to make it through the winter. It was a good feeling to know that you had helped do the work together. But the harsh cold was very real.
Wood had to be cut with a two-man cross-cut saw and Dad was away a lot, so we boys had to look for dry wood we could drag home, or gather bark from the stumps left from nearby logging. When I was about 14 years old, my brother and I carried a ton of coal in 50 pound sacks from the train station, across the swinging bridge, up the rise to our place. We didn’t think it was a big thing. It was what had to be done.
By the time spring came, I was so glad to see green, so excited about the baby animals: sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, cows, dogs, cats. The whole world seems to be looking forward to a fresh start. After making it through the winter, I always wanted to do better, to learn, to try new ways. I would say, “Next spring I’m going to…. “ Sometimes the expectations just don’t become reality. But the new start every spring feels just great.
Today, people can still grow their own food to eat. Here, in Avola, I have developed a community garden. You can eat a meal that didn’t take any money.
You never know what is going to happen next. But you always have your skills to solve problems. You always have the sense of wonder and order when you look at nature and the stars. This makes me feel safe, that there is order in my life, too, even when I’m not sure what’s next.
There is a sense of satisfaction in simple things that has a higher value to me than anything you can buy in the city.
One time I climbed to the top of the mountain behind our farm, exploring with my grandfather and brother. We cooked bacon and eggs. That was good day.