Histories of a small town in Ontario
We were a town before there was a country, homesteads clustering,
Grown from blood and dirt and starvation.
Ships came over from Ireland. Don’t ask, we don’t remember,
There are no records. No memory.
There was one story, about cabbages in a field, people hiding. Dogs.
Cabbage heads. They must have been hungry. We didn’t listen after that.
Over here we managed.
Too many children, not enough cows, some died. The cows we ate.
Gossip stitched us together,
and the churches, one for Methodists, one Catholic.
On opposite sides of the road. We didn’t mix but once or twice a year.
At harvest, the fowl supper we called it, turkey and chicken and goose,
Breaking bread together.
No, that one black family didn’t come, or the ethnics. Yes, Germans.
They don’t count. They’re not in this history.
When the party line came in tales flew faster, good entertainment, listening in.
That’s what neighbours do. We keep an eye on each other.
Body found in that house dead six days at least. No, not murder.
Don’t be morbid. Nobody knows. Not official-record-knows.
Electricity came late so winter smelled of kerosene.
After the harvest there wasn’t much to do. A bit of fun down at the pool parlour,
Boys will be rough. The women were always busy enough.
We like these stories: taffy on the snow, quilting, how mothers could make
A feast from nothing.
Half a feast. There was never a second helping.
Nobody drank. Well, medicinal only. Winters were long.
And that one farmhand who married the daughter, guess they found things to do,
That winter. And them holding up their heads in church!
After road was paved outsiders started pressing in. Some of the children left.
We built a war memorial, but that’s just names, not memory.
Tragic, how that girl went wrong. They closed the casket, buried
Her quickly, no funeral potatoes, no wake. Family’s shame. Not ours.
We don’t know anything.
These days you can hardly tell one side of the road
from the other. Anyone will marry anyone, and those two girls
Live openly. Not like their great-aunts. But it was different then.
They were companions.
History is a coat too full of holes to mend. We wear it anyway, stitched with the stories
We’ll admit, the ones that gloss. Wind blows through.
Someday, even the patches will be gone.