I loved the stories my dad told me about his childhood. It was hard times during the Depression for farmers and his father enlisted in the army at the age of about 42 to provide for their family. He was away for four years and my dad, Ian, had to help out as much as he could.
The wind in the poplars, that’s what it was, just the wind in the poplars. He must keep telling himself that. Morning would come, it always does, and he would see that all that surrounded him were fields of yellow and the large old poplars.
Lower, he laid himself in the old truck, resting his head on his jacket. He closed his eyes to shut off his racing mind. It was a warm night and he would have liked to open the window but he dared not. If there was someone out there, he felt a little more protected with the windows shut and the doors locked. It was a false security but it worked somewhat.
Be a man, he told himself. You’re old enough to work now, past thirteen and getting to fourteen. Old enough to make some real money and help out at home. Lucky to be hired, to have work.
He thought of his father and felt a lump form there in his throat. Dad had been gone for over a year now serving this country. What was the name of the place where he had been sent? Ian tried to focus on his father so far away from the family on the other side of the country.
It was 1943 and the war had changed everything for Ian and his family. They’d had to leave their farm outside the little town of Mervin, where Ian was born, and move to the larger town of Maidstone. Ian’s father, David Tetlock, enlisted in the army. He was considered too old to be sent over seas so he was sent to the East Coast to the military base there where he served as a cook at times or in the warehouse for medical supplies.
Money was scarce, times difficult and Ian wanted to be a help to his mom. He usually knew no fear, which had always gotten him in predicaments in the past, but this predicament was different. For the first time, Ian felt fear.
What are you doing here? The wind seemed to breathe through the leaves. Ian’s heart was about to punch its way out of his chest. The wind whistled as it blew warnings through the leaves of the tall, stern poplars. Be careful, on your guard. Don’t close your eyes or fall asleep.
He couldn’t remember the name. What was the name? They just received a letter from him, a while back. Ian could see his sister’s face smiling as she read the letter out loud. Oh yeah, Halifax, that was the name. His dad was in Halifax.
Ian’s heart returned to a more normal thud, thud. Soon the sun would be up and he could finish the job; the reason he had come to this empty, lonely, creepy place to begin with. He had been honoured when Mr. Beren asked him to come and swath his fields. Mr. Beren was a member of the richest family in Maidstone and he trusted Ian to do the job, so Ian was not going to let him down. He was almost fourteen years old now and had driven himself over here in dad’s old truck. Well really, it was a car that had been made into a truck, but it was faster than bringing the horse.
Ian had proudly told his mother of his job and packed himself some food before venturing over the Beren’s farm, some fifty miles away. First, he had to cross through the large sheep ranch and then the cattle ranch. That in itself had been an experience for the young lad. There were hundreds of cattle on that ranch that were left on their own for the summer. Instead of a fence to keep them where the rancher wanted them, a moat that was five feet deep was dug to surround the perimeter of the ranch. The cattle dared not cross this deep and scary crevice. At certain points there were makeshift bridges that allowed vehicles to cross but these too looked formidable to the leery cattle with big brown eyes.
Ian had crossed the bridges easily, marveling at the simplicity of the moat system. It seemed to work well. There were no fences for the rancher to mend and the cattle seemed safe and happy.
When he arrived at the large, old house, it was late afternoon. The sun was heading on its way down over the west side of the top floor, casting an eerie shadow across the front driveway. The tractor and swather were parked in the field ready and waiting to begin the yearly job of swathing the wheat. It would then be left in nice neat rows to lay and dry while awaiting the combine.
The big two-story house made of poplar logs was supposed to be empty. Ian was positive that he was told that. No one from the family had been over to the house for months. Since the old man died, the house stood there, alone and lonely, crying out for company to fill its rooms once more. Occasionally the sons came and stayed there when they had work to do on the farm, but they all had homes and farms of their own elsewhere.
Ian remembered the old man. He had been quite a formidable person who commanded respect by the way he walked and talked. He was remembered by all in the community for the wealth he had accumulated and the properties he had developed. Even during the hard times of the depression when many people were lining up for food or government assistance, the Berens family was prospering.
The chills on the back of Ian’s neck crept up higher to make the hairs on his head tickle. He sat up in the truck and looked over at the house. He could see no movement.
When he had entered the house earlier, there had been a cup and a plate on the table. Why? Who had left them there? He took a deep intake of breath as he recalled his mother’s concerns a few days before as she related the news she’d heard of an inmate escaping from the nearby penitentiary.
There was a crazy person running around somewhere, desperate, probably hungry. He might be anywhere. Maybe he had hidden there in the Beren’s house, leaving the dirty dishes on the table. Maybe he was still there. Ian’s heart beat wildly in his chest. He lay lower in the old truck. The wind still whispered through the leaves. Look out, look out, it said to him.
Suddenly he sat up straight, his body aching and stiff. He had fallen asleep and been dreaming about a large, bald man holding a large, shiny knife.
He heard voices outside and strained to hear what was being said off in the distance to the left of the clearing where he lay in his dad’s old truck. Was it the crazy escaped murderer and his partner? Were they coming his way? Should he run? Should he drive away? Should he hide? The sound of his heart pounded in his ear drums. He crouched low and closed his eyes and said a prayer.
“Hey Ian, wake up,” the voice of a man called out as someone banged on the window by his head.
He recognized the voice of Judge Beren, the son of the old man Beren. Ian sat up smiling sheepishly and opened the squeaky door. Judge Beren and his brother-in-law, Fred Matheson, stood there with confused looks on their faces.
“What are you doing sleeping out here?”
“I, uh, fell asleep.”
“Well, you could have slept in the house, you know.”
“Yeah, I worked as late as I could swathing and then just zonked out here. It’s okay. Had a good sleep.”
“All right. You ready for another day’s work? We can try to get it finished today.”
“Sure am. Let’s get it done,” Ian said as he hopped out of the truck and joined the two men walking back toward the yard where the tractor was parked.
Ian looked up at the large, log house. Was that his imagination or did he just see a shadow in the window? Ian shook his head and ran to catch up to the two older men. The sooner he could get away from this place, the happier he’d be.
Ian on right, with friend
David and Daisy Tetlock
Ian, Ethel, Cliff