On Sunday evening, we had the pleasure of hearing Diego El Cigala fill the Chan Centre with Spanish flamenco, from slow beautiful ballads to salsa that had everyone in the building on their feet, stamping and clapping. His band was sensational. He was sensational, with a rich voice and an extraordinary energy. Before the concert, we attended a discussion, “Opre Roma: Rise up Roma”, between Gina Csanyi-Robah of the Canadian Romani Alliance and Dr. Shayna Plaut of the Global Reporting Centre on contemporary Roma resistance and empowerment. It was interesting to see video clips of Roma children in Europe, in places we’ve traveled (and that I wrote about in Patrin), overcoming the systemic discrimination that has marginalized them for centuries, and then to hear Diego demonstrate, with passion and elegance, that rising.
And now I’m back to work on the collection of essays tentatively scheduled for publication in September, 2017. In our discussions about the essays, the publisher suggested some specific areas needing work. This kind of clear editorial attention almost always sends me directly out into the field of the material at hand and I begin to see how to reframe the work. I spent most of Saturday revising one essay and what I loved was discovering that a fragment in my “Current Work” file actually fills the gap the publisher had identified. The fragment was a series of questions asked of applications for homesteads, circa 1910, and I found myself answering those questions from my particular point in history.
11. What is the size of your house, of what material, and what is its present value?
In the list of structures on the SE quarter of Section 10 Township 29 Range 20 Meridian 4, Joseph Yopek has a shack 20 x25, partly on the street between blocks 51 and 52. It is valued at $150. Other houses described? Holes in the ground with sod for roofs. A dugout in the riverbank (my grandmother’s brother). I try to imagine these dwellings, how 11 people could sleep in such a small house. How they could study their school lessons (of which English would have been an important one), how laundry was done (several children in diapers at any one time), clothing sewed and mended and how much light there was during the long cold winters. In a town history of Drumheller, I find a description of a house that sounds almost like it could have been theirs, though the woman remembering is called Bond.
World War 1 started in August, 1914, and on October 2 my second baby was born. We called him Tom. He was only a few weeks old when my husband was laid off, so we had to leave our home because it was a Company house. My husband got lumber and built a small place on the School Section nearer the town, similar to those being built by a number of other people. The houses were longer one way than the other, and could be converted into two rooms. They had a caravan roof, had tar-paper on the outside walls and roof and, as at the Sterling, had no water or toilet inside. Those homes with children had bunk beds put along the back wall. As soon as our house was livable we moved in. Gumbo was very bad on the roads here when it rained and we always struck across the field to the railroad track during wet weather, otherwise you could lose your footwear in the gumbo.
Meanwhile, there is concern that a local man can’t get grazing rights to the land and a mayor complaining that the squatters paid no taxes for services.
I am excited about this work and the prospect of making the essays better. This photograph is one of the anchors I keep at hand because it’s central to one of the pieces I’ll be revising this week. (I know the metaphor is a little unruly. Can a bridge be an anchor? I hope so.)