Hanson Acres: Feeling lucky to be on the farm

The new normal isn’t so easy, and there’s uncertainty ahead, but we’re together now

Jeff and Dale Hanson had spent Easter Sunday out in the yard, changing the openers on the air drill. Jeff’s nine-year-old son Connor was more help than they’d expected, until they sent him to the shop for more tools. “Run over and get the 9/16 wrench,” his grandfather asked.

Connor got as far as the shop door when he peeked in, then jumped back. “I can’t, Grandpa,” he hollered.

“Why not?” Dale hollered back, puzzled.

“Mark’s still in there,” Connor hollered back.

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“Oh, right,” Dale shouted back. “Just wait then.”

The fact that they were in the middle of a global pandemic had slipped Dale’s mind while he went about his regular work, getting machinery ready just like any other spring. But Connor had taken social distancing to heart. Even when the rest of the Hansons forgot that their employee Mark Edwards wasn’t technically part of the family, Connor could be trusted to remember to stay at least two metres back and keep everyone else back too.

“How do you know all these rules?” Connor’s mother Elaine had asked the week before.

“I saw it on YouTube,” he said. Then he quickly added, “after I finished doing math.”

After a string of subpar weeks homeschooling her two kids, Elaine wasn’t sure if YouTube and videogames were a blessing or a curse. They did keep the kids occupied while she was keeping up with the farm books or working outside. But were the constant videos about hand washing and staying home going to cause her kids long-term anxiety?

Nobody seemed to know. For now, she supposed, it was good to have someone on the farm laying down the law.

Across the yard, Donna Hanson had pulled her bicycle out of the shed, used the air compressor to blow up the back tire, and was riding up and down the gravel road. She’d had to cancel the summer biking trip through France she’d planned with three other women. “I might as well train anyway,” she said. “Maybe we can re-book in the fall.”

“I think you’re going to find a lot more hills in France than out in front of the yard,” Dale had said, not helpfully at all.

“They have more wine and chocolate in France too,” Donna said. “That’ll make up for the hills. Why don’t you get your bike out too? We can imagine we’re in the Loire Valley.”

But the idea of pretending he was cycling past a castle wasn’t enough to pull Dale away from the air drill. Not this close to seeding.

While Dale and Jeff worked on the drill, Mark was doing some last-minute work on the sprayer. Early on, the Hansons had decided that their two families might as well isolate together, with Jeff and Elaine buying groceries for Jeff’s parents and the kids free to spend time with their grandparents. But not only was Mark not part of the Hanson family, he had a wife at home to protect.

“I know this is going to make things difficult,” Mark had said. “I’ll understand if you want to let me go. I know you’re all being careful, but I just can’t risk taking any germs home. Jody’s got Type 1 diabetes.”

Of course the Hansons weren’t letting Mark go. Instead, they designated him the official sprayer for the 2020 season. He’d stay away from the rest of the equipment, and nobody else would go near the sprayer cab.

“I’ve got it a lot better than my brother,” Mark said. Mark’s brother Blake had been laid off from his engineering job with an oil company since November, and his wife Brenda had been laid off from her job as a retail store manager when the store was ordered closed. “The two of them don’t even have a balcony in that condo. I can still get outside every day, and Jody’s teaching from home, so we’ll be fine.”

By 6:00, Mark had headed home for the day, and Dale, Jeff, Connor and Donna had cleaned themselves up and presented themselves at Jeff and Elaine’s house for Easter dinner. The table had been set for six, and it was crowded with a platter of ham, a bowl of canned corn, a pot of rice and a Jello-salad concoction that Elaine had warned was her mother’s recipe.

“She wants Jenny and me to videochat with her this afternoon so she can show us how to make it,” Elaine had explained to her husband that morning. “She’s pretty stir-crazy, all by herself in that tiny apartment.”

“Are her 14 days of quarantine almost up?” Jeff had asked.

“Three more to go. I think her new boyfriend is getting sick of picking up groceries for her. She’s pretty fussy. And it’s not his fault she wouldn’t come home from Mexico back in early March when I started warning her about this.”

If Elaine making a questionable gelatin salad and broadcasting it from her iPad screen was what it took to keep his mother-in-law from wandering around Saskatoon during a pandemic, Jeff wasn’t going to complain about it. He might even try a bite of the salad.

When seven-year-old Jenny saw that her father had come in, she ran to him, twirling in her pink dance outfit. “I helped with all the cooking!” she announced proudly. “And Mom said I could wear my new dress since I didn’t get to wear it to the dance competition.”

“You look great!” Jeff said. Then he took another look at the table. “We’re having rice for Easter dinner? I thought you and your mom were making cheese-scalloped potatoes?”

“We didn’t have any enough potatoes,” Jenny said. Then she grinned. “Do you want me to tell you what Mom said when she figured that out?”

“You don’t want to know!” Elaine called from the kitchen. “Jenny, let’s try to forget about that. We’ll see if we can get some potatoes on Wednesday when we pick up another grocery order from the Co-op.”

Soon the Hansons were sitting around the table. Elaine brought a box of wine up from the basement. “Sorry,” she said. “I was going to pick up something a little fancier, but then I remembered we had this box, and I didn’t want to go into the liquor store.”

Elaine filled four wine glasses and passed them around while Jeff opened a container of juice so the kids could have a treat too. Then Elaine remembered she hadn’t set out any napkins, so she jumped up to get some.

“Sorry about the Halloween theme,” she said, looking down at the cartoon zombies on the napkins. “It’s all we have on hand.”

“Halloween’s my favourite holiday,” Connor said.

“Today is my favourite holiday,” Dale said. “Let’s have a toast. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. We’ll do our best to stay healthy. We’ll hope we can get all the inputs we need for the crops. We’ll look after each other. But let’s have a toast to how lucky we are right now, to be able to spend time out in our yard and eat our Easter dinner together. We’re some of the luckiest people in the world.”

About the author

Contributor

Leeann Minogue is a former editor of Grainews (2020), a playwright and part of a family grain farm in southeastern Saskatchewan.

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