The place we grew up in and cherish in our memories is not really gone, it remains with us, it is a part of us and will always be that way. The base line of awareness is the circumstances and environment in which we shaped our lives and which in turn may have actually done the shaping.
This is a farm yard that I remember as a five year old, that's the same small pasture east of the house, the same flower bed and that's the same barn and it looks a lot like it did fifty-seven years ago.
The harsh reality is that what we consider the "good ole' days" may never have existed at all. Let's face this uncomfortable condition of life, when you are five just how much to do you understand about your environment and what is and is not. If you look at this issue in the cold hard light of your present day awareness it is likely that you will discover that what you remember and what you thought things were like was just that, your five year old's concept of things.
As I looked around at the faces of those farmers Monday afternoon at the Tisdale protest meeting I wondered just what is it that they want and why are they not somewhat closer to their goals now then they were fifty years ago.
I did not grow up on a farm, my father was not a farmer, everyone in our family were farmers and every dinner ended with a lengthy discussion of the plight of Saskatchewan agriculture. Some of my uncles were far more articulate than others, while some just struggled along unable to understand why their way of life was less than what they wanted. For my grandfather it was poor land and poor farming practices, for one uncle it was hard work and careful planning, for another it was just as hard work but he was confounded by debt. Bad weather, poor prices for the grain and rising production costs have always been a part of Saskatchewan agriculture.
As I remember those conversations, discussions and debates, nothing seems to have altered the facts. Farming is far more like gambling than it is like any other activity and every gambler knows yet ignores the simple fact that the odds of success are not in the gambler's favour, not ever.
But as I have been exploring my memory both immediate and distant some odd things appear to be common denominators. Let me tell you about those oddities:
- Education and training are not regarded as positive things.
- Unless it involves using one hands and body, or driving some machine that activity is not regarded as work, "real work".
- Unions are bad because they produce benefits for the wage earners who are lessor people.
- Every farmer considers himself a "just about" aristocrat, just having some hard luck, and the bottom of the social ladder, far below the hired man are scum like teachers and government employees.
- Indians are trash because they take government handouts but farmers don't get enough government handouts. Indians are lessor people because they don't pay taxes but farmers don't think they should pay taxes.
- All government regulation is bad and there should be harsh laws to control town people.
- Before the Wheat Board farmers were in danger of becoming extinct because of the pitiful grain prices but now the Wheat Board is preventing farmers from making millions each.
- Socialism and welfare are evil and wrong while huge government subsidies for agriculture are the way things should be.
- Banks are unfair because they expect farmers to pay back the money they borrow.
- Bad farming practices deserve to be rewarded with subsidies.
Of course I have exaggerated or at least simplified the things I have heard, but from those dinner discussions in the 1950s and farmer talk over coffee in 2006 there is a common thread. In the past and in the present the agricultural people have a tough time accepting democracy as we are seeing both federally and provincially. Saskatchewan voters are dramatically split between rural and urban political beliefs and in a country where only a tiny fraction of the population attempt to make their living on the land they can not understand why government policy and action ignores their industry and way of life.
Farmers, here is the secret you need to know. When your production and way of life is vital to the lives of other people in the country you will get the policies and respect you deserve. When agriculturally based energy moves forward and you are economically significant things will change, until then it looks like tough times.