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  • Writer's pictureHu Eliot Young


The summer of my fourteenth year, I had the dubious distinction of spending a month in the service- read "indentured servitude" - at the farm of my uncle Henry and aunt Shirley.

As "minion of the month" or "personal plebe", it was my responsibility to complete such tasks as the good lord of the manor, my dear uncle might have for me. Appreciate that the farm was where my dear mom had grown up, fifteen minutes' drive north of the heart and soul of Ukrainian country - Vegreville. Strangely, the name of the closest town, Willingdon, faintly alluded to a certain English nobility... Anything to ensure a rail line through the epicentre of the community, I suppose.

I remember in graphic detail the tasks of a certain week. It started with my cleaning out the dairy cow barn. We're talking about a dozen milking cows, all quite skilled in making thin crusted pies. I was proficient enough with the heavy scoop shovel and wheelbarrow, moving what must have been a month's worth of cow pies, that the next day I was elevated to the task of cleaning out the pigsty.

Now, pig crap and cow crap, have little in common. Hold your noses all ye of faint heart. the distinctions are not limited to texture, consistency or colour. Pigs, remember, like to clean themselves by rolling around in their excrement. Piglets, some of the cutest little animals, believe me, can make you forget time and place, while you stand in your rubber boots, bogged down a foot deep in the quagmire. But clean it I did, successfully enough to have Uncle Henry elevate me on day three, to the chicken coop.

Here with a pitch fork, I had to break up the caked and matted straw, compressed down to perhaps three inches thick and the ammonia smell was enough to suffocate. What kept me motivated was knowing that uncle Henry did not keep goats or sheep and the horses were kept in outside stables in the summer. The "end", so to speak, was in sight.

The fourth day arrived. Optimistically believing I had graduated to some task, less full of it, I awaited the Lord of the manor's command. Surely, I wagered to myself, something more indicative of my considerable talents, was in store.

And, it was. We got in the pickup truck and drove a few hundred yards down the gravel road to the next farm, where my uncle Marshall and aunt Pat lived. Did I tell you they had a milking barn for their dairy cows?

So, while others of my vintage were hanging out at a farm in upstate New York known as Woodstock, I was in Willingdon, learning how to deal with crap.

And so we leave the 60s; here come the 70s, (with respect to Syrinx). And if you require a footnote, you didn't live thru them.

The summer before I started law school, I worked a plant shutdown in Carsland, just east of Calgary. I spent fifteen minute shifts in an ammonia gas tank, the size of a small silo, wearing a gas mask, wielding a jack hammer, cutting up the slabs of crystallized ammonia into smaller blocks. The 15 minute prescribed shifts were mandated for safety purposes and wearing a gas mask in a confined space like a gas tank was doubly claustrophobic. The shutdown was one of those seven day a week, twelve hour a day jobs that lasted for two weeks. I learned, again, how to deal with crap.

I have been blessed with three sons, Spencer, born in 1978, Aaron in 1981 and Hugo in 1998. It is accurate to say that I changed the diapers of my children over a period spanning three different decades. Add to that my two grandsons, Eliot and Peter, born in 2009 and 2011, respectively, and it is also accurate to say I have changed diapers over a period of five decades or, half a century. I have changed cloth diapers, Pampers and Goodnites. I have changed brown diapers, of every possible shade and consistency. And yellow ones, green ones, even black and, ones. I can distinguish between Gerber's spinach and garden peas. Between applesauce and blueberries.

Why am I telling you this? So that when I tell you that I can recognize crap when I see it and that I know how to deal with crap, you might give me the benefit of the doubt and accept the proposition that I know whereof I speak. And when I suggest to you, dear client, that your version of events may come across as so much bs, I have a track record that enables me to recognize it. So, cut the bull, man and give me the facts.


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