The following are my editorial comments for the Spring Issue of Folklore Magazine. To subscribe to the magazine and to become a member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, go here and complete this form. Also follow SHFS on Facebook. Photo source: Adrian Paton Images.
Disaster, hardship, fear, death…these are topics that many of us are uncomfortable approaching in our every day lives and in our memories. Works that focus on such subject matters are often dismissed as depressing and morbid. Yet, it is undeniable that the ‘negative’ aspects of life make as much of an impression on the lives of individuals, and society as a whole, as those aspects of life associated with joy and happiness. It is the ebb and flow of life that provides its colour. The highs and lows are often what stick out in our memories and make history jump from the page.
This issue of Folklore contains several pieces, including the headlining articles “Kamsack Cyclone” and “Death from Above” that grapple with some of these more difficult themes. Garry Radison explores the way in which a natural disaster shaped the collective memory of his hometown. He shows how the after effects of the Kamsack cyclone of 1944 left scars upon the community, both physical and intangible, so powerful as to influence the experience of later generations who had not encountered the event first hand.
Catherine R. Fenwick discusses the effect that Cold War hysteria had on her psyche growing up. Bombarded with unsettling imagery and mentions of “bomb shelters” and “iron curtains” so thick as to almost be visible swirling in the Saskatchewan air, Fenwick describes how it became “not a question of if, but when, we’d be blown to bits.” With such a profound effect on her development as an individual, it is no wonder that the events of 9/11 caused some of these old feelings to bubble to the surface.
Whether it is the fear or concept of death or encountering death in real life, it is often death that first pierces through the protective glaze of childhood innocence. Many times, as Fenwick and Peggy Durant describe, contact with death first comes by way of the death of farm animals and pets. What these articles all emphasize is the impressionability of the child. Looking back on tougher memories from the vantage point of a jaded adult, it is tempting or perhaps unavoidable to dismiss some of the irrational fears that we once had. However, it is impossible to completely shake the feelings that one felt as a child whilst first encountering some of the hardships that life brings.
I chose the cover photo this month because I felt that it, in a way, illustrated this thought. The children, particularly the younger ones, propped up high on the horse, radiate a kind of unbridled innocence. The two older children already give signs of a growing cloud of solemnity infecting their carefree souls. The father, standing to the left, exudes a different kind of energy, one shadowed in experience and seriousness.
In the piece about the life of Willa Dallard, Ebele Mogo provides an inspirational example of how one can use the struggles and hardships in one’s life to positively drive one to further one’s personal journey. Met with racial and gender discrimination, the difficulties of pioneer farming, and the tragic deaths of those closest to her, Dallard attributes these events to the beautiful and complex tapestry that is life. All we can do is meet each day with renewed hope because “today is the day we live.”
Dallard’s story shows that historical events and one’s memories are not black and white, not good or bad, but somewhere in between. Joy and strength can be found in and blossom from the most negative of events. The happiest moments of the past can sometimes elicit the most painful reactions. It is in these complexities that the most powerful stories can be found and the most interesting historical studies are based.