In my mind’s eye, I can hear the wind whistle through the poorly built bunkhouse. Christian sat all alone on his bed, staring blankly at the rough cut board wall. His mind was far from this farm in Barshaw Alta, Canada, where he was a hired hand.
Sunday was his only time off from work. No one else was around the farm now. And he still had several hours of daylight to kill. He picked up the weathered envelop which had been addressed to him, and reread the letter inside. His son, Oliver, laboring as a missionary, had sent it to him months earlier. Like Christian, Oliver was now living away from family and loved ones in his field of labor.
Christian set the letter down, and pick up his own pen and a blank post card to make his reply. Ever so carefully, to write clearly but small. He has a lot to say in such a small space.
April 28, 1918 – Dear son, I recieved your welcome letter some time ago and should have answered before but something always comes in the way. Hope you will excuse me. Am glad to hear from you and to here you are getting along all right. Can say I am well I am working on a big farm. We have got in over 300 acres wheat all ready but that is only the beginning. I am running a gang plow every day. We are having fine time. I still have to wear cap and overshoes. My bed fellow got sore at the boss and quit last week so now I have to sleep alone again. I see by your letter that you are a stranger in a strange land. Well I have been that many times so I know about how it is. We have to feel our way like I call it for a while. But you have a good home to go to. That is more than I can say. I don’t supose I will have a home till I get a little room under the ground. I intend to try and get along as best I can. I had a letter from Eleanor the other day. They are well but I understand Reuben in not very well. That is too bad. I supose he works too hard. I get a letter from your Aunt Mary once in a while that is about all. Here is a fine lake close to the ranch but I don’t know how long I will stay here. I may stay all summer and I may not. Hope you and companion are getting allong fine and doing some good. I find good and bad people wherever I go and I supose you do the same. I have left my trunk with all my best clothes in Edmonton over 100 miles north of here and I can’t go anywhere on Sunday and it gets kind of lonesome for me sometime. I don’t know of anything particular to write about and am allways a fraid I shal write any thing that would make you feel bad. Hope you will excuse these few lines with best wishes to you and Elder Spencer. I remain your Father…C.J. Haroldsen… Please write a little when you have the time.
This letter, written on a postcard 90 years ago has a haunting tone for me. Some of the phrases whisper from the past to me when I feel those same emotions. “… a stranger in a strange land… it gets kind of lonesome for me sometime… am allways a fraid I shal write any thing that would make you feel bad…”
I watch people. I try to read their thoughts, their feelings. I believe we all have similar feelings at some time or another in our lives.
My work gives me lots of opportunity for lonely introspection. Late at night after the processing crew is gone, my paper work is complete, and the cleaning and maintenance crews are busy doing their thing, I try to write. Often the work on my family history novel is slow and frustrating as I struggle to really understand how my ancestors felt so I can put it into the words of my novel. In this contemplative state, I often give up for the night and go to bed. There, all alone like my Great Grandpa, I lay waiting for another hard day of work to come to once again occupy my mind. The wind howls around the buildings. I can hear a dog bark, or maybe it’s a coyote. The dust kicks up as a storm front moves through the desert waste land I call home at work. And somewhere in the darkness of the night, I can feel Christian’s emotions as he waited for another day to put him back on the gang plow. That’s when I need to get up and write his story. But I’m fearful of having enough strength to make it through the next day on MY OWN gang plow. As I plow through my day, I think of my family, past and present. I watch those I work with. Not everyone sleeps alone in a far away bunkhouse. Most have family and associates around almost all the time. But I am learning that if I see someone who doesn’t suffer from loneliness to some degree, I just don’t know that person well enough to see it. I am learning that it is a rare and precious gift to find someone who understands me. They don’t have to think like me, but someone who truly understands and respects me in spite of my flaws, is the ultimate friend.
To me, the most heart breaking line Christian penned that day was, “I don’t supose I will have a home till I get a little room under the ground.” I don’t believe Christian was really thinking of a physical place as his imagery suggests. In his subconscious, home was a place where he wanted to be, where he was understood, and accepted in spite of his flaws. The more I think about this, the more I want to be that haven, that home… for my family, my loved ones… those who have passed on, as well as those presently around me. And if I can truly feel that way toward those I know, then I will never be all alone either.