The Way We Were
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the February 15, 2006 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Living close to the land the way I wanted
by Catherine Joyce
There is an old farm that lies in the western light across from the IGA at Farm Point - a bucolic vista that takes you back to another time when the valley was alive with dairy cows, horses, chickens, barn cats and herding dogs. Once home to Hester and Homer Cross and their six children - five boys, one girl - the farmhouse still stands. But the animals are all gone, with a way of life that is fast fading in the Gatineau Hills.
Mervin Cross was born there in 1936, the youngest of the Cross siblings. He grew up in the Depression when there was no electricity on the farm, no running water, no central heating or phones, and certainly no TV. "You'd get up with the light and find ice skimming the pot on the stove. We all had our chores before school - gathering eggs, filling the woodbox, shovelling snow. I milked my first cow by hand at the age of seven. Her name was Bunny. She was an easy milker. The old cats and dogs used to hang around. I loved squirting milk at them, watching them leap into the air to catch it in their mouths."
As a boy Merv had three special pets of his own - a duck named Quack, a mare called Flossie and a cattle dog, Buddy, shipped by train all the way from Brighton, Ontario as a puppy. "From the day that dog arrived he never left my side. He even followed me into the washroom. On Sundays my special treat was to be allowed to ride Flossie bareback through the fields and woods behind our place. She'd come from Hendrick's farm and she was as gentle as can be."
Merv had no patience for school. All he wanted was to be home working on the farm, driving the horses, milking the cows, cutting pulpwood in the bush. From the earliest age he'd watched calves being born in the spring. His dad was the unofficial local vet before Mark Froimovitch came along, so Merv learned from watching him.
"I remember once a teacher from Wakefield school brought her class down to see a birthing. It was the greatest thing for those kids - the closest to raw Nature they'd ever been. Their eyes were like saucers. They'll never forget it."
Homer Cross, who had driven the school bus for 20 years, took a sudden heart attack in June, 1959. At the age of 23 and with only a temporary driver's permit, Merv had to finish out his father's term. For the next 40 years, with only a few years off to help his father now alone on the farm, Merv would drive mornings and afternoons, often three routes in a day. "If you had lots of patience and no nerves and could pretend you were deaf, you could enjoy the kids. It wasn't a bad job."
Soon the dairy cattle had to be sold as the creamery up in Farrelton closed. Then the farm land was expropriated in the 1970's for the proposed Meech Creek Valley zoo. Merv started from scratch to raise a small herd of beef cattle; by the fall of 2000 he watched the last of them being trucked away. "I don't know where the food is going to come from. Or what kind of world we are going to live in when the last of the farms are gone. But for me it was a great life. I lived close to the land, which is where I wanted to be."
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