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Family reunion, Saskatchewan style

The clan comes together under big Prairie skies

By Carolyn Pogue

We’ve just celebrated my father’s 100th birthday. He died in 1999, but 40 of us gathered from around Canada and three other countries in his honour for a sunny week in rural Saskatchewan. I never asked Dad what he considered sacred, but my guess is he would have said land and family.

My sister and brother-in-law, our hosts, planned for months. They’d had outdoor compost toilets built. They drew maps to show where to erect our tents in their spacious yard. They had mapped out the horseshoe pitch, croquet wickets, bollaball court, Crokinole and Scrabble tent. Saskatchewan is called the Land of the Living Skies. Our hosts had even listed times for moon rises and sun sets, and had us out of our sleeping bags to see spectacular Northern Lights at midnight.

Other plans included menus, teams for meal preparation and for a nature-centred scavenger hunt. My team consisted of a four-year-old, a niece just home from three years in Seoul, our Yellowknife nephew and great-nieces from Hong Kong and Mission, B.C. The menus were built on a quintessential 100-mile diet: their own organic garden, with eggs and meat from down the road.

Ed Sullivan would have been impressed with our concert. We sang O Canada in two languages, then the anthems of Korea, Spain and China. Fifteen dazzling performances followed. My brother and a three-year-old told knock-knock jokes. My husband threw caution to the wind and played a harmonica as six-year-olds danced. A Rubik’s Cube was completed in three minutes; the Koreans hilariously danced to the music of Psy. Skits, puppets, songs, whistling, poetry and boxing demonstrations rounded out the show. Fireworks ended the night.

Three cousins at the dugout. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
Three cousins at the dugout. Photo by Carolyn Pogue
One day, we picnicked at nearby Manitou Lake, known for its healing waters. We floated in the mineral waters at the spa, walked the village streets and shopped for provincially made arts and crafts. Saskatchewan, like Newfoundland, gives terrific support to local artists, craftspeople and food producers.

Overlooking Manitou Lake, an old-time dance hall reigns supreme. Danceland is one of the few left in Canada still boasting a springy horsehair floor. After a catered meal, we formally celebrated Dad. We began by singing God Save the Queen, just to give the under-50 crowd a taste of how it was done “back in the day.” We also marked family members’ successes, such as graduating kindergarten, receiving the Queen’s Jubilee medal, passing a driver’s test. When the live band began to play, we put on our dancing shoes and joined the hundred or so locals and tourists on that famous floor. Later, some went to watch their first-ever drive-in movie.

Some events were planned: our daughter’s all-ages water quality workshop with specimen minnows, frogs and water bugs provided by the kids; our nephew’s harmonica lessons, the baseball game. Some events were surprises: my brother proposed marriage to his partner. The week sped by.

My father didn’t have an easy childhood. His parents divorced when he was seven. He lacked a proper winter coat for the long walk to school. He struggled through the Great Depression, too. But these experiences made him strive to be a good father and to contribute to community. His grandchildren knew he always had time to listen. Happy Birthday, Dad. Thanks.
Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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