Now and Then: Can you hear what I hear?

This past year at Christmas, our family and friends gathered around the festive table at Anglin Lake, Sask., to share in the joy and abundance of good company and good food. I was thus reminded of my early Flin Flon childhood days – not only around the Christmas and New Year celebration, but pretty well all year ’round.

Flin Flon in the early days was a “visiting place.” People would just drop in unannounced and stay for a visit. The children (and there were lots of children) would play games, read comics or just visit amongst themselves. Informality and hospitality were the order of the day.

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Early Flin Flonners, of course, brought north with them a well-established ethic of helping out learned from their days on the farm. Also, the isolation as well as the newness of Flin Flon helped establish this strong sense of community. That, and the fact that, save for the children born there, everyone (and everything) was “new.”

This camaraderie was evident when someone decided to build a house, dig a garden, fix a car or get a ride to the lake. Word would go out, help would gather and the job would be done.

I recall an example of this phenomenon as 10-year-old in the summer of 1950 when our family friends Adam and Gladys Glover decided to build a house in the new Willowvale subdivision.

On one fine summer Saturday, a crew of men arrived to mix and pour cement for the foundation. There was no ready-mix truck – it was all done with gut labour.

Later that summer, the main floor was put in place and sealed from the weather by more willing hands. (I asked my Dad when they planned to put up the walls and was told the walls would be put up “later,” when there was enough money on hand.

The pay for the labour, as mentioned, was a couple of beers and lunch. Of course there would be “payback” somewhere down the road when someone needed help with their project.

As for the Glovers – even at 10 years of age I had already enjoyed a wealth of wondrous experiences with Adam and Gladys. To my brother and I, though, they were Uncle Adam and Auntie Gladys. Surrogate uncle and auntie, if you like.

It was not an uncommon practice to nominate out-of-the-family adults as aunts and uncles. Anyone who shared a close personal friendship with a child’s parents couldn’t be called Mister or Missus. And it would not be proper to call them by their first names alone – so it was Uncle Adam and Aunt Gladys, along with a few other adults who shared this form of salutation.

Early Flin Flon had any number of characters, and our Uncle Adam was one of them. He was a man of great humour and personal energy who took on any number of both business and personal projects.

Auntie Gladys persevered under this dynamic. Uncle Adam also had a bit of “gypsy in his soul,” as I recall. I was around six years old when we first visited them in their little house in Birchview. He then undertook a series of moves, including a house adjacent to the Manitoba border on South Main Street, then to “Tobacco Road” in South Hudson, followed by a swing over to a newly available lot on Beaver Lake Road, where they built a small house on a lot hacked out of the bush.

In typical Flin Flon fashion, Uncle Adam and Auntie Gladys would host gatherings of monumental proportion. The tiny houses would be jammed with family and friends. Someone brought a fiddle, another brought a guitar and the singing would begin. There was always lots of food brought in.

Uncle Adam was always in the centre of things, regaling us with his stories, jokes and laughter. Auntie Agnes? Well, she just persevered.

After a brief time at their Beaver Lake Road home, the Glovers made their way to take up residence their newly finished “basement home” in Willowvale. Again, we jammed into the basement living accommodation.

In the spirit of sharing, people brought food and beverage. A series of tables and chairs from various sources were cobbled together and a magnificent supper was served.

Auntie Agnes should have received a medal for her ability to “make do” under these circumstances. After the dishes were done, the tables removed, we gathered around an old pump organ that Uncle Adam played with gusto. He’d sing his heart out, laughing all the way.

In time, the Willowvale house walls were built up to two stories. The house stands to this day.

I wonder if the present owners can hear the singing and laughter. I can.

All the best for the New Year!

Vincent Murphy-Dodds is a former Flin Flon resident now living in Regina. His column appears the first Friday of the month. Your comments on his column are welcomed. Contact  vincent.murphy@sasktel.net.

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