Friday, September 2, 2011

"No Flour in the Barrel"

Beatrice Fines

Homesteaders. Pioneers. The mood of complete discouragement. Here is a paragraph that captures the mood of the immigrants as they arrive in the wilderness:

“We closed the old world behind us like a book, and came to the raw, new country called Manitoba when I was twelve, and I had no idea that either my father or my mother suffered homesickness, or regret, or any fear, until that day when there was finally no flour at all in the barrel. I was a big boy, almost grown, but still young enough that I believed my parents moved along a path already fully known to them, and considered them indomitable.”

The father travels to distant farms to make money from harvesting, leaving the mother and children alone. And then Annie, the baby, wanders away. The search for her is heartbreaking. The following quote captures the mood:  ”It cannot be. We cannot survive it. Every day it rains till nothing remains dry. The roof leaks in a new place every day and there is no straw or hay for thatching. We are so alone, so alone. There is no church, no priest, no school for the children.  There is no meat, and no flour in the barrel. And now what happens? The baby is lost, lost.”

But the baby is found. She has been eating raspberries. They take the raspberries to town, they sell them and success follows: “Everything came about in time: first, flour in the barrel, then Father, home with cash money; before fall a cow and a good thatch for the roof; a lime wash for our mud-chinked walls, and even, as the years passed, a church, a priest and a school. One thing I feel, once we had filled the flour barrel, my mother knew all things would be accomplished.”

Comment: Of course, this story reminds me of Giants in the Earth, the unforgettable novel by Rolvaag that vividly dramatizes the challenges of living on the frontier. RayS.

Note: My summaries can never convey the moods, settings and ideas developed in these short stories. My summaries are pale imitations of the real thing. I don’t know if my readers can find the short story collections in their libraries, but they should at least ask. RayS.

Rating: ***** out of *****.

About the Author: “Cheerful and energetic, Beatrice Fines has been a free lance writer about 20 years with stories and articles in Canadian, American and Scottish magazines and newspapers. She does public relations work for the Health Sciences Centre of Winnipeg and teaches creative writing in continuation classes.”

Short Story International #30. Ed. Sylvia Tankel. February 1982. Pp.17-24. 

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