Day 672: Zero Hero

As Laetitia walked toward the Emerald Victorian, the rhythm of the rain on her umbrella conjured a childhood memory of walking in the rain with her grandmother. She was too small to carry an umbrella herself, so they both huddled under the large black one her grandmother brought. They arrived at a large Victorian house and climbed the front porch steps. Sheltered by the porch roof, her grandmother shook out and put down the umbrella and then picked Laetitia up so she could reach the brass knocker.

They were greeted by an elderly woman, who led them into the parlor where a small table was set with tea and shortbread. A small teacup and saucer, each decorated with the image of a Scottish terrier, was set for Laetitia. Laetitia sipped her tea, mostly milk and sugar, as she listened to the ladies drone on about those dull things that adults usually talk about. The lady of the house spoke in an unfamiliar accent that Laetitia would now have recognized as Scottish, and when she noticed Laetitia looked bored, she asked if they would like some music by John McCormack. Laetitia had no idea who he was, but her grandmother nodded enthusiastically and said she loved Irish tenors. The woman walked over to a brown box with a horn sticking out of the top, wound a crank on the side, put a black disc on it, flipped a switch, and moved an arm to the outside edge of the disc. What emerged from the horn was the tinny-sounding voice of a man singing a maudlin love song. Each verse ended with, “And for bonnie Annie Laurie I’d lay me doun and dee.”

That memory was still on Laetitia’s mind when she emerged from the Emerald Victorian’s kitchen with a steaming cup of Sumatran dark roast and rummaged through a stack of CDs in the library. A disc called Scotland the Bravelisted Annie Laure among its contents. She started it playing and looked the song up online. As is often true of things written centuries ago, the origin of Annie Laurie is somewhat uncertain. The original poem is often attributed to William Douglas (1672–1748), a soldier in the Royal Scots Regiment who was romantically inclined toward Anna Laurie, a young lass from Maxwelton, near Dumfries. According to one legend, her father opposed their marriage because Douglas was a Jacobite (advocate of restoration of the Stuart monarchy). Later, both William Douglas and Anna Laurie married others. Laetitia had a passing thought that many of the most popular love poems and songs are about thwarted romances where the passionate enthusiasm of courtship is frozen in time and hasn’t yet become dulled by the realities of daily married life in the workaday world.

Enough of that. Laetitia had a trip to plan. Serendipity was such a common occurrence at the Emerald Victorian that Laetitia had come to expect it. So it was no surprise when Preeceville, the next town west of Sturgis, was located next to Annie Laurie Lake.

Laetitia and her group headed northwest from Sturgis, making a brief stop near Preeceville to view Chechow Church, a picturesque building representative of western Canada’s Ukrainian Eastern Orthodox heritage. A bit further on, they went hiking and wildlife watching. The group speculated that like Annie Laurie Lake was likely named by homesick immigrant Scots.

Late that afternoon they arrived at Kelvington, their evening’s destination. The town was named after Lord Kelvin, a Belfast native who distinguished himself as a scientist at the University of Glasgow. Among other accomplishments, he is credited with the formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics and for the establishment of the Kelvin temperature scale, which begins at absolute zero. It seemed to Laetitia somehow appropriate that Kelvin would be the namesake of a town whose average January temperature was 0° F (-18° C; 273° K). That thought provided the limerick of the day.

If you think that it simply sounds mean
That temperature, minus eighteen
Be like Kelvin, our hero
Count from absolute zero
A plus number seems less obscene.

Day 671: Mud Dud

Sturgis, Saskatchewan might not be as well-known as well known as Sturgis, South Dakota—at least not in motorcycle circles. Its first Euro-Canadian settler, a rancher named Jack Shewfelt who arrive in 1895, was followed by homesteaders from elsewhere in North America, Sweden, Poland, and Ukraine. There is a rumor that the community was once called Stanhope, but no official records have been found with the town so named. Some think the rumor arose from a joke said to be popular among the pioneers, “We can just stand and hope the railway comes.”

There are lots of lakes near Sturgis, the largest being Mud Lake and May Lake. By unanimous consent, the group decided to go walleye fishing, and Laetitia made arrangements with a local guide to take them out on May Lake. Afterward they did a walkabout in the town, which is distinguished by its red water tower. While doing so, Laetitia overheard a conversation among several farmers that included the term “purchase” several times. It soon became obvious that they weren’t talking about shopping. Then Laetitia remembered several youthful visits to her great grandfather’s farm, when she heard the term used to describe a foothold for climbing or a lever position for moving an object. She turned their gossip into the limerick of the day.

When a young local farmer named Judd
Enticed Meg to make love in the mud
In Mud Lake near Sturgis
He could get no purchase
And found the whole business a dud.

Day 670: Good Spirit Country

Canora got its name from the first two letters of the words Canadian Northern Railway (CNR). Laetitia and her group began the day by visiting the CNR Station House Museum. Built in 1904, it is the oldest operating Class 2 station in Saskatchewan. VIA (Canadian Passenger Rail) still provides train service from the station to Churchill, Manitoba. Canora calls itself the “Heart of the Good Spirit” country. It is surrounded by lakes and is close to several parks. After brief stops at the Toy and Autograph Museum and the Ukrainian Heritage Museum, the group went to Spirit Lake for canoeing and wildlife watching. Some gossip Laetitia overheard from some teenagers during a late afternoon walkabout back in Canora provided the limerick of the day.

The teen boys who used to ignore a
Flat-chested teenager named Flora
‘Til she finally filled out
And is now a knockout
Now mope round her house in Canora.

Day 669: Doukhobor Home Cooking

Although it was now nearly twenty-two months since Laetitia began coming to the Emerald Victorian, she never ceased to find surprises. As she sat scanning maps and guidebooks in a comfortable chair in the library, she saw a picture she hadn’t noticed before on the wall. It depicted a gray frame house. On the penultimate porch step stood a woman, wearing only a bonnet and high heels. On the step below was a cat in a classic sphinx pose. Flames and smoke emerged from the open door behind them.

The print was entitled Doukobor Home Cooking. The title is a pun derived from the occasional practice of this pacifist religious Doukobors to burn their belongings in protest. Intrigued, Laetitia returned to her guidebook and found that the National Doukhobor Heritage Village was located in Verigin, a few miles west of Kamsack. She and her group drove to the heritage village and spent the middle part of the day there viewing the prayer homes, grain elevators, brick ovens, bath houses, barns, and a blacksmith shop.

The Doukhobars were a Protestant Christian group formed in the late seventeenth century in Russia. The name translates loosely in Russian as “spirit wrestlers.” An archbishop used the term mockingly to imply the group was fighting against the Holy Spirit, but they adopted it, claiming they were actually fighting along with the Spirit. The Russian Orthodox Church persecuted them because they rejected its priests, rituals, and its view that it was the gatekeeper for access to God. The Tsars persecuted them because they rejected the state religion, refused to sign loyalty oaths they viewed as conflicting with their oaths to God, and refused military service. When the Russian government’s lack of success in enforcing conscription laws became an embarrassment, it allowed the Doukhobors to leave in 1897. Aided by Leo Tolstoy, the Quakers and others sympathetic, many Doukhobors moved to Canada. They were generally hard workers and excellent farmers who had simple lifestyles and dressed modestly, although their protests sometimes included mass nudity.

As her group gathered for the drive to Canora for their evening’s sojourn, Laetitia’s mind drifted back to the Emerald Victorian and Doukobor Home Cooking. Laetitia saw many pictures of Doukhobor women on display at the Heritage Village, but none wore high heels. She didn’t need a happy hour trip tonight. She already had a limerick.

Doukobor Home Cooking is one
Of those paintings whose title’s a pun
And the Doukobor lass
Sporting heels, showing class
Was a scene Freedman likely found fun.