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First Year

So, back to the first year at the Graham River Farm...

We had thought there was a possibility that all of us would freeze, that first winter - so, we had only two windows in each about "cabin fever"! But, we didn't spend much time in our cabins, mostly just to sleep. We had a porch, where the washtubs and wringer were stored, and a supply of wood (also more wood behind the cabin, just under the roof overhang). We had put the stove we brought from Massachusetts out in the backyard, near the woodpile and the worked out good for heating water in the summer...we didn't have to heat up the cabin.

There was another door that went into the cabin. On the right hand side (front wall), there was the big water barrel (up on a stand, to keep the spigot where we could use it). Beneath the stand was a "fire bucket" - every cabin was to have one; it was in case there was a fire, you could reach inside the door and grab the bucket (one day we found a drowned mouse in ours).

Still on the front wall, next to the water things, Joe had built a countertop. We had a washbasin there, with a towel hanging just below it. At the end of the counter there was a insulated water dispenser (it, too, was on a small stand, so we could put our tumbler just below it, to use it). On the wall itself, there were spikes and cups hung on them. There were two shelves built up over the big water barrel.

Across the entire length of the cabin, on the front wall, was a shelf for storage. Now, next there was a double window that opened on one side - I put the treadle sewing machine my Mom sent to us, just under the window. Then, there was our Ashley wood heat stove; the pipe went straight up and through the roof. Beyond the stove, was another window, higher up - beneath it, Joe built a couch that opened up for was hard, being all wood, but it was almost comfortable - he built a back on it. This front wall faced West and the Tabernacle.

On the South wall, there were no windows the first winter. In the corner - South/East - there was the boys' bedroom. On one side of the room there was a double bunk for Joey and Mike. On the other side was a triple bunk for Peter, David and Andrew. There was just a small area where they could change their clothes, one at the time, of course.

The middle bedroom was the girls' bedroom. There was a triple bunk there - Lisa was on the bottom bunk because she was the youngest and might fall out of bed (she was 6 1/2 years old). Rose was in the middle bunk because she had a hip problem and we didn't want her to have too much trouble getting in and out of bed. Mary was on the top bunk. Now, the bottom bunk was apt to have hoarfrost in it...the top bunk was where all the heat went and it was too hot...and, I'll have to just guess, but the middle bunk was probably okay. There were no windows in those small, dark "closets" until the following Spring. At the end of the bunks was a pole, hung from the ceiling - clothes went on the pole, on hangers - and, Joe had built shelves for the clothes that got folded.

Our bedroom was on the North/East corner; we had a double bed in the very corner, a pole for clothes that we hung and a few shelves built for other clothes; all our shoes went under the bed, where they proceeded to get moldy.

Here we were, all snug as bugs in a rug. Most of our wood for heat was green, but we did get the occasional dry log to keep it going. Our cabin was so very hot that we had to leave the door onto the porch open a lot of nights. We vowed to cut holes for more windows, that very next Spring!

We were all trying hard to be "spiritual", to live without any goodies. One of the elders thought he had the problem of "goodies" under control; then someone came to visit him, saw he had no "goodies" in his cabin, and proceeded to give him a few grocery bags was humbling, I'm sure.

By the second winter, we had all gotten over the "goodie" thing, and we began to make things in our cabins. There was something new for all of us to try...snow ice cream. Surely this was something the pioneers had; somebody had found a recipe for it. Hopefully, the snow way out there in the bush is cleaner than the snow we now have in the city...I wouldn't eat snow ice cream now that I know about pollution, acid rain, etc. But, back then, in 1972, maybe it was safer...anyhow, it tasted wonderful.

We didn't have much milk on the farm, and all the cream went into making butter - so, we began buying cans of evaporated milk in town. We borrowed a large bowl from the Tabernacle kitchen, got a volunteer to scoop up some snow, scattered some vanilla or some cocoa mix on it, and began to pour the canned milk and stir - until it was that delightful thing called ice cream, in the city...we called it "almost heaven". Of course, that was something we could only enjoy in the winter, when it was cold; but that was also a challenge that we would meet sooner or later.

We got another recipe, this was for no-bake cookies. We had gone out of "Egypt" (the city), but we didn't have "Egypt" out of us! I still have that recipe, although I haven't made it since we moved to town. I also, still have a recipe for cocoa mix: 3 parts powdered milk, 2 parts sugar, and 1 part cocoa. You stir it well and then store in covered is excellent, by just adding hot water to it.

A friend from where Joe used to work, had given us a nickel-coated Revere (antique) tea kettle, it had a wooden handle on it; we kept it on top our Ashley stove, just in front of the boiler. We used that kettle until it couldn't be repaired any longer.

We had a Coleman lantern that we had bought in town; this hung on a nail from the roof, or sometimes we had it on the countertop. We also had a Coleman stove that we set up on the treadle sewing machine (when we had it closed up).

One time I didn't want to go to the Tabernacle for supper, so I stayed home and cooked up a batch of I was, right in front of the double window (right in clear view of the Tabernacle), and the Coleman stove decided to act flared all over the place, so badly that I had to carry it outside. Apparently the flare was seen in the Tabernacle, because people began to run for our cabin - one even, very politely, knocked on the door and asked if everything was alright. It was embarrassing!

Many people came to visit the farm, from all parts of the States. One woman was convinced we would all freeze and promised to send us some warm clothes, when she got back to California. She did send up a huge box full of homemade, flannel slips; some of them were to wear under long skirts. They were passed around the farm, but we didn't get any of them, even though there were four girls in our family.

Through our first winter there were many "firsts" for us to experience. We were woken up many times by the loud "cracking" noise the logs in our cabin made, as they froze on the outside and were overheated on the inside. I wanted to know what it was like to walk around outside in 40 below zero weather, so we donned our heaviest "wilderness" clothes, and off we went...straight into a winter wonderland. The trees and buck brush was coated with hoar frost; the rays of the new day sun hit the frost, sending forth a spray of shimmering was beautiful. It was also hard on the lungs, hard to breath such cold into your lungs; we quickly put a mittened hand over our nose...then we ran into the crisp, "freezer-like" was grand, surely not scary...not as long as you had a warm cabin to go back to.

One night, in the middle of the night, I had thrown off the blankets (the stove was overheating, again). I rolled onto my stomach, thrashing around a bit, to get comfortable. My legs were uncovered, to try to cool down...and, I felt a lot of ever-so-tiny, cold feet run up my leg. I held very still - trying to figure out what going on. I reasoned that it must be a mouse, there couldn't be anything else alive and running around, in that extreme cold. It didn't frighten me, in the least and I could tolerate sat its cold little "bottom" down on the back of my leg! That was enough - I jiggled my leg until it went scurrying off; I turned over and went back to sleep.

Quite often we were really blessed with an exceptional show of Northern Lights - they would just "bounce" across the entire sky; they moved in an up and down direction, like giant angels marching; there seemed to be an accompanying sound that went with it - kind of a squeaking noise (like chalk on a board). One night they were especially beautiful - we had just come out of the Tabernacle, after a late meeting. The word had been especially good that night and the "marching angels" just confirmed to all our hearts that we were, indeed, on "Holy ground". The lights lit up the entire valley, radiating off the snow, lighting up our paths as we made our way to our cabins - I don't think anyone wanted to go in that night, it was such an awesome sight.

We were in for a surprise - here it was the middle of the winter, and we were expecting the usual 7-8 months of it...but, a warm wind began to blow and all the snow melted. We thought, perhaps we were having an early Spring - we enjoyed the warmth for a couple of days, didn't even complain about all the deep puddles that accumulated on our paths and we had to wade through. Then we learned what Chinook meant - it was a warm breeze that came up from the South - more snow came and the winter was, ON...full-force. We always looked forward to the Chinooks, when they came, however - it was a reminder that Spring would come, some day...sooner or later.

We had been asking around town if there was anyone who knew how to tan hides and how to make moccasins...we figured, if we could learn, we would be able to live off the land even more. Eventually, we got in touch with people from the nearest Indian Reserve (they lived on the road we took back and forth to town).

Emma and her husband were willing to come out to the farm, to show us how tanning was done. When they arrived the first time, it was during one of our meetings; the praising (singing) that we did, bothered them and they wouldn't go near the Tabernacle. The next time they came, they brought some of their things and stayed for a while. They showed some of the men how to strip the flesh from the hides, how to soak them, and some of the solution they mixed up to tan the hide. (They also said it was woman's work.) They said that every moose had just enough "brains" to tan its own hide - that was a "rule of thumb", for just about any critter. (Their brains were part of the mixture that was applied to the hide.)

After a while the Indians asked us to preach in their church (it was a Catholic Church); they only had a Sunday service and wanted more. I went to the Reserve meeting, one time; some of the people were genuinely interested, some were bored and wanted something new to do. Some asked to come to the Graham River Farm for meetings, and quite often we sent the van out to get them...they could pile about 24 Indians into the van. They seemed to enjoy the praise service and joined right in with the singing and hand-clapping. One even asked for prayer and later said he was healed. They came many times, but after a couple of years they stopped coming.

Some of the men learned how to cut the hides into fine strips and to weave them into wooden frames, making snowshoes. Our son Joey was especially skilled in this...did many beautiful pairs. They were also learning how to hunt and trap...some of the young boys, in school, also learned.

One of the men was quite the hunter and he taught all the men how to shoot the bow and arrow. This wasn't new to Joe, as he had won a few trophies, back in the States, for archery. The men lined-up in the far corner of the Tabernacle, to shoot at targets against the wall; it was too cold to do it outside. The holes still remain in the logs; we were privileged to tell how they got there, the last summer when we visited the farm (1990).

A few times there were overnight camping trips, not too far from the farm, at the Beaver Pond. I went on one of the camping excursions. We didn't leave until after things were all finished in the kitchen, which meant it was quite dark out. We trooped through the high snow, straight for the Beaver Pond...cleared away some of the snow under the tall spruce trees, built a campfire and set up our sleeping bags. It was pretty very dark and cold...and the coyotes were close by. I knew our sleeping bags were good for 10 degrees below zero, and it must have gone down that far, because my feet froze all night. In the morning we were more than ready for the trip back to the Tabernacle, for breakfast. Once was plenty for me; its something everybody should do, at least get it out of your system!

Our snow began to melt and the days rapidly got longer...everything had to happen "fast" in the North, or it didn't happen at all...there were very few months for things to grow. I was outside every day, working with the goats, and still Spring really crept up on fast that I couldn't believe it.

One day there was snow everywhere, and the next day there was none at all - just water waist-high. Joe built many plank walkways, all over the get from HERE to THERE; he also dammed up water and made ditches where it could escape. Now, we saw just why people wore gumboots most of the time.

Of course, when the water level went down, we REALLY saw why the need for would slip around in that "gumbo", slip and slide. It wasn't much fun driving around in it; no traction at all...the direction you were heading in when you got into it, determined where you would end a cliff, into the river, into ruts that were next to impossible to get out of. There were plenty of opportunities to grow in "faith".

Occasionally "going farther into the bush" was mentioned at meetings; some people talked about it, some started to buy down-filled sleeping bags, coats, hats, socks...everything down-filled. I was concerned because we didn't have anything down-filled. When I spoke with Joe about it, all he would say was, "Did the Lord speak to you that we needed those things?" I had to admit that He had not...that was the end of the conversation.

We had our first wedding at Graham River Farm. There was a young couple from one of the other Christian farms in the area; the farm wasn't established enough, as yet, for a wedding - so, they had asked if they could have it at our farm. There were a lot of young people of the other farm, who had come from Montreal. The bride wore the customary white; the bridegroom was different and wore bib-overalls (new ones). We were at the stage where we didn't want to do what the "world" did, per se...we were still trying to "hear by the Spirit"; it was nice to have a real wedding, with one of our elders marrying them; but they did have to have it done at the City Hall, also - this was back before any of our elders had a minister's license.

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Pen Name: Aimee Love



Digging for the farm's well; before winter sets in.