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Grandma's House: Memories of Elphinstone.

My maternal Grandma died in 1990 and almost 30 years later, her unsmiling, unadorned face hovers over me late at night when I can't sleep or when I consider the good fortune my children enjoy. Unlike my paternal Grandmere, who evokes the scent of perfume, matched earrings and necklace, showy hats and white gloves, Grandma Ogibowski never wore perfume, jewelry, hats or gloves. Instead, humble smells and colours--carbolic soap, sweet peas, chicken soup, wood smoke--help me recall Grandma Mary.

Every summer I would spend a week or two at her little, pink house in Elphinstone, Manitoba. Once upon a time, five general stores flourished, three grain elevators held court, and the beer parlour on the corner hosted live country and western music. Today, there is one small store, no elevators and the hotel disappeared in flame.

Grandma had no running water. In fact, there was no toilet or bathtub, but there was an outhouse, and yes, the Sears catalogue was available, for reading material. To get our drinking water, I would scamper down, what to me in those days was an immense hill, but today, is just a hill, to the town's community water pump. There, I would fill two buckets and then have to lug them back. Sometimes I was trusted to get Grandma's general delivery mail at the post office.

And at least once a week Grandma and I would walk down the hill to Main Street and visit the various stores where she would dicker with an owner over the price of bacon or purchase a few yards of bright fabric, never forgetting to buy her tag-along granddaughter a Neilson's Treasures or Sweet Marie chocolate bar. Without teeth, her favourite was Jersey Milk. We'd also visit one of the grocery stores that was also the liquor outlet where Grandma would buy one of her few indulgences, a bottle of Manischewitz grape wine.

After moving from the farm, where she and Grandpa Nick broke the land with horses, she insisted on having a town garden, not nearly as large as the farm garden, but to my eyes, gigantic. In fact, there were two gardens, which were her major summer preoccupations and where the manure-infused soil produced January's table treasures.

The fun one--raspberries, strawberries, poppies, Sweet Williams--produced unfettered scents and hues overflowing in a heady mix that always manages to resuscitate itself when I think of her yard. The image of that garden is as sharp in my memory as the prickles on the raspberry bushes. The second garden was serious stuff: potatoes, onions, garlic, beets, peas, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots. No designer greens or green thumb experiments. It was utilitarian and rooted in Prairie reality. Make darn sure you grow enough food--and have enough wood too--for the long winter and

the times blizzards could keep you captive.

Grandma had a small TV with rabbit ears that delivered two stations. But instead of screen time, I played solo hopscotch on the cracked sidewalk or unrolled a blanket on the lawn and read Nancy Drew books or True Confession magazines. Sometimes I would use the old push mower to trim the clover-dappled lawn or help Grandma haul out the wringer washer for an outdoor laundry session.

Cacti, a touch of exotica in otherwise common sense surroundings, grew along the south side of the rough-hewn stucco house. And the towering spruce trees that fronted the road on Grandma's property always gave me a scare when a Prairie thunderstorm blew into town. Grandma and I would sit by the window and pray for safety. On her walls was the religious calendar marking each holy day, blessed candles by the window, small statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Francis, all reminding me of my mortality and the never-ending quest for purity, health and good crops.

Cooking on a wood stove, with no kitchen sink, but instead, a basin, Grandma still managed to can jars and jars of berries, make jam, perogies, cabbage rolls, sauerkraut, headcheese and noodles for chicken soup to which I have yet to find an equal.

In the small living room sat two sewing machines, her old manual, foot-pedal Singer that she kept in case the newer one conked out. Yards of fabric, sewing pattern books and bags with buttons, hooks and elastic overflowed in a seamstress's blossoming melange. Wedding gowns, elaborate quilts, simple potholders and her even plainer clothing, Grandma crafted them all. Deep down in her earthen basement, lie the harvests. Sacks of potatoes, onions and carrots, waiting for the call to soup. Garlic hung from rafters. The sultry scent of dirt and tubers almost tranquilized me. At night, I would sleep with Grandma in her double bed. Instead of night cream, it was Listerine she slapped on to the face. The chamber pot sat at the bed's foot.

Sometimes Grandma's friend May Bone would visit. May lived on the nearby reserve and could count on my Grandma to help her when she needed a bit of money or food. May and my Grandma would enjoy a good laugh, gossip and cups of tea, sweetened with raspberry juice. Later I learned my Grandma was one of the very few in the town who helped the local natives.

That was Grandma Mary's life. Widowed when she was 59, she lived to be 88, never learning to read or write. As a child, she was sent to work for wealthy Scottish immigrants and from then on, it was a life of toil leavened with a glass of Manischewitz, watching Tommy Hunter, bartering at the store or taking out a box of sixteen crayons and colouring in a child's book. I remember watching the Apollo moon landing with her and she didn't believe it. Her faith was in the Church, Vicks, brandy, and garlic.

Today, I sit in my house on Vancouver Island, far from Elphinstone, with my running water, electric heat, three toilets, two tubs, washer, dryer, dishwasher, and numerous computers. Yet, I don't know how to sew clothes, slaughter chickens or make headcheese. But I do have icons watching over me, use carbolic soap and I've never underestimated the power of garlic, Vicks, and brandy.

by Shannon Moneo

Sooke, British Columbia

Born at Erickson, Shannon Moneo has lived at Winnipeg, Elphinstone, Fannystelle, and Benito, along with cities and towns in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. A 1990 graduate from the University of Regina's School of journalism, she worked as a journalist for almost two decades. Today she is a media monitor/online editor for the BC provincial government.
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Title Annotation:Pageant; Elphinstone, Manitoba
Author:Moneo, Shannon
Publication:Manitoba History
Geographic Code:1CMAN
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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