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  • Writer's pictureTerry Groves

B.R.A.T.S. Living on the Economy

We left Winnipeg in 1965 when dad was posted to Clinton, Ontario. We were all excited because it would mean we would be living only an hour away from our relatives in and around London. Visits with them to this point in my life happened only once per year and it was a 14 hour road trip to get to them.

I didn't know much about how housing and such worked for military people, what I did know was, we were going to be living on a farm. Dad was on a waiting list for a PMQ on the base but it was expected to be up to a year before one large enough to accommodate the eight of us would become available.

I was fine with the farm even though I had no idea what it would be like. As it turned out, the farmer had a duplex. He and his family lived in one half, we moved into the other. There were only three bedrooms but there was a large open space above the upstairs staircase where mom set up Tony and Dale's cribs. Mark and Robin shared a room and Paul and I took another.

I liked living on the farm. The farmer, Barry Wilson, and his wife, Trudy, were nice. They had two boys about our age and a younger daughter. Barry, was quite happy to include us kids in chores around the farm and, because it was all new to us, even shoveling the cow dung from the floor gutters in the barn was fun. My younger brother Paul ran into the house after our first time doing this task proclaiming "We shoveled the cows guts."

The farm had about 30 cows and a few calves. There was a sty with pigs. I think there were chickens too. There was an overhead track that ran through the barn and carried a big bucket that we would shovel the cow dung into. When it was full, it was pushed through a door in the back of the barn where it dumped its contents into a big manure pile. I remember climbing in the bucket one day and getting a ride through the barn. It wasn't much fun when it dumped me and I was a stinky mess, but moving along the track like a roller-coaster had been thrilling. Hey, I told you I was a brat.

I was fascinated by the drinking troughs where the cows were tethered when it was milking time. The cows would be kept in their stalls by a metal rack that clamped around their necks. It allowed them to move their heads up and down, so they could eat, but they couldn't back out. The drinking trough was at head height. Whenever the cow took a drink, their nose pushed down on a lever in the drinking cup and that allowed fresh water to flow into the cup, keeping it full all the time. I thought it was ingenious.

When it was time to milk the cows, the farmer would wash their teats and then hook them up with a stainless steel canister and long cups that would fit over the teats. When the milking was done, the canisters had to be dumped into a huge cooler that had a big paddle that kept the milk moving so it wouldn't lump up.

There was a silo at one end of the barn. Sometimes we, my brothers, myself and Barry's boys, would play in the silo. I learned years later just how dangerous that was due to the gasses created by the silage fermenting. They displace the oxygen and are flammable. Good thing I wasn't a smoker in those days.

We would help shovel the silage at feed time, fork hay from the loft above the milking floor, feed the calves, and slop the pigs. If the cows were grazing in the field, we would go and herd them back to the barn if they didn't' come themselves. I was quite fascinated with the operation of the farm and doing chores there didn't feel like work, except in the winter when it was so cold.

There was a corral outside the barn and it had an electric fence running around the top of it. Dad told us that, if we touched the fence when it was raining, we would turn into a puff of smoke. That lie may have kept us away from the fence in the rain, but it didn't stop us from challenging each other to see who could hold onto it the longest when it wasn't raining. We got a bit desensitized to the shock and upped the game by daring each other to put the wire in our mouths. No one did. I also remember my older brothers daring me to pee on the fence. I may have been young but I wasn't that stupid. I didn't want my penis disappearing in a puff of smoke. Then I tried to convince my younger brother Paul to pee on it, just to see the smoke thing. I learned he wasn't stupid either.

We had to take a bus to school and that was a new experience for us. We had always been able to walk to school in Winnipeg. We caught the bus at the end of the driveway.

There were actually two buses, each going to a different school. As I recall, one stopped on the farm side of the highway, it went to a different school and the other stopped on the far side of the highway, or up the road a ways. It went to my school. I would often catch the bus to the other school because I didn't have to walk as far to catch it. I was a lazy brat. I can't remember just how it worked but, there was some issue in catching the wrong bus even though it would let us off near our school, but I don't remember what the issue was. Maybe it was just little kids on a bigger kids bus. Maybe it was inconvenient for the bus to get us close to our school. Whatever the issue, we were never denied a ride.

The bus ride home was quite long, we were near the end of its run. That gave me lots of time to do my homework and to read. It was during those rides that my love for reading grew even more. I could often finish whatever book I had borrowed from the library before I got home. This encouraged me to check out bigger books and I was soon introduced to the Hardy Boys mysteries, graduating from books that were more picture books than story books. I was in grade three at the time. I read my first book that had no pictures in it, a true novel, on that bus. I don't recall the title but it was about a young man and his adventures learning to drive dirt track race cars.

Starting our time in Clinton, living on the Wilson farm and getting a peek at civilian life was a wonderful experience, one I think of often. I have returned on occasion to that farm of my youth, even stopped in and visited with Barry and Martha on one trip, accompanied by my parents. By that time they had taken over the whole house, breaking down the walls that had separated us. They seemed to have enjoyed a good life there and that made me happy. They were good people.

This is the part that I liked the most about the nomadic lifestyle of being a military brat, getting to know so many people. It doesn't matter where I travel now in Canada, and a lot of places outside, there is generally someone I spent time with as I was growing up. Too, whenever I move now, making new friends and adjusting to a new community is just another routine. The brat life is good.

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