YORKTON - Yorkton’s Sheila Harris has always been something of a historian.
And was very much involved in farming.
So perhaps it is not a surprise she has written a book of recollections from the farm and her life.
Excerpt from Cow, Sow and Sheila
You’re marrying a farmer!” exclaimed my friends and relatives. “Have you thought what your life will be like living on a farm?”
I had not given it a thought, I was in love and would move to Timbuktu to be with Gordon. No one could imagine me living on a farm. I grew up with a very British Victorian family where good manners, proper etiquette, speaking when spoken to, drinking tea, playing bridge, and finding a proper Anglican husband with a good profession, who I would spend my time looking after, were the norms.
I began learning the daily routine as a helper in the house. The first job was to separate the pails of milk. The cream separator was in the kitchen in the wintertime. There was a small separate building outside the back door about fifteen feet from the house. This was referred to as “the back kitchen.” The separator was moved to the back kitchen in the summer. There was a deep hole dug in the kitchen, which held large blocks of ice dug from the lake. In the summer, the milk and cream cans would be lowered down into the hole by a rope to keep cold.
The milk was poured into the huge bowl, the handle was turned, and the cream came out one spout and skim milk from another. Cream and milk went into jars for use in the house; the remaining cream would go into a cream can to be sold at the creamery once a week. The skim milk was fed to the calves and hogs. The separator was washed and sterilized daily. Once a week all parts were removed, washed and sterilized.
I would venture to the barn at the evening milking time and Gordon was trying to teach me how to milk “bossy.” She would stare at me with those strange brown eyes, knowing I was someone she had not seen before! I was not very successful learning the art of milking. Actually, Beatrice told me not to learn how to milk the cows as Gordon would be curling all winter and expect me to do the chores. It was very good advice. Riding a horse was not my forte. I did ride a few times, but I bounced like a ball. I was up when I should have been down. Gordon was determined I should learn but finally gave up. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the hunters and jumpers horse at the horse shows. The castration of the bull calves in the spring was not something I watched. I did learn that they laid the calf on the ground and used an instrument called a burdizzo. Some farmers cooked the testicles or barbecued them. They were a delicacy called “prairie oysters!” When baby pigs were born, Gordon would cut their teeth so they would not bite the sow when they were nursing. I certainly did not like to help get the herd of cattle from the pasture to the yard. I was to stay at the end of the driveway and make sure the cows coming down the highway turned into the driveway. I picked up a stick and waved my arms to get them to turn!
Harris certainly had material to draw from.
“When I moved to the farm there were boxes of photographs and original papers,” she explained, adding, “(I) also inherited my Dad's collection of photos and papers.
I started sorting the photos to make photo albums of Gordon's life for his 80th birthday and each one of our children. I sorted hundreds of pictures and threw out the duplicates and not so good ones. I have 14 special albums of the original pictures and many scanned to my computer.”
It was the sort of process that rekindles ideas.
“Many years ago I thought about writing my autobiography and chose the title ‘Cow, Sow, and Sheila,’” she said. “I had a very interesting life and thought of writing a story for my children.
“The idea grew and I signed a contract with Friesen Press Company as their editor thought it was worthwhile printing.
“I waited too long - I was 85-86 and the process was difficult as I wasn't very computer literate.
“Writing was not an easy task but I finally decided to go by decades! My editor was very helpful in organizing my thoughts but it took me almost a year to complete the process.
“I had lots of time to write after Gordon (her husband) died.”
Harris noted she has no formal training in writing but added, “I think I inherited my Dad's ability for writing.
“After he retired in 1967, he wrote a two-part series of the History of Power for the Saskatchewan Power "Hi Lines" magazine. It was an excellent history written with facts and humor.”
Harris’ father was employed by the Canadian Utilities Company and was transferred to the Yorkton Power Plant when she was two-years-old. They lived in Yorkton for a couple of years then he was moved to the Grenfell, Saskatchewan Power Plant.
While not formally trained, Harris did have experience in writing to draw on when it came time to write her own story.
“In 1993 I researched and a wrote the history of Holy Trinity Anglican Church to celebrate our 100th Anniversary,” she said. “I was lucky to have a 100 years of minute books to complete my research. “
Three hundred soft cover books were printed and sold to parishioners.
“A few years later I was asked to assist Mick Burrs in writing the history of Yorkton education,” said Harris. “There was so much information it was difficult to choose the important stories of the past.”
Again, 300 books, this time as hardcovers were printed of ‘Remember the Schools that Opened our Minds.’
Excerpt from Cow, Sow and Sheila
The threshing machine was to get straw for cattle bedding in the winter. I had no idea what a threshing machine was, but I soon learned. Gordon needed someone to ride the binder and I was the only one available. I certainly did not know what a binder was. Off I went with Gordon to the field of standing wheat, with instructions to perch on the steel metal seat and pull the lever when a sheaf was tied.
Gordon pulled the binder with a tractor. I proceeded to follow his instructions but did not know I was supposed to drop them in a horizontal row for easy stoking of the sheaves by the men. Gordon looked back and immediately stopped to give me hell, not realizing his instructions did not include that information. We continued for three or four hours – I was exhausted! I had just had a baby six weeks before. The sheaves were “stooked.” A number of sheaves were set upright in the field with their heads together to keep the heads off the ground to dry prior to collection for threshing. They were gathered up by the men and stacked on a hay rack, which would take the sheaves to the threshing machine. The threshing machine was driven by long belts attached to the WD9 tractor’s power take-off. Jim used honey on the belts to keep them from slipping.
With her latest book Harris said she covered a long period of time by telling stories of her family.
“The storytelling is factual and humorous,” she said. “It begins with immigration from England to Canada and then to settle the North West Territories from the 1880's to 2021.”
The project is one Harris said she is happy she finally sat down to complete.
“I am pleased with the published book and have had good comments,” she said, adding that while the story is about her family, she believes it can have a broader audience, including those interested in farming, Saskatchewan, Prairie life, and Canadian history.
The book is available on the Friesen book store, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Ingram Wholesale, Kindle bookstore, Nook Bookstore, and Google Books.