An Inconvenient Birth

In the early 1920s, my parents and my three much older siblings lived on a vegetable farm three miles south of Estevan, Saskatchewan. The town is tucked into the southeastern corner of the province just ten miles from the American border and fifty miles from neighboring Manitoba.

This farm, nestled in a valley, had a stream flowing through it and was framed by low-lying hills to the north and south. It was picturesque for that area, but for my immigrant parents it was also the scene of dawn-to-dusk hard work.

A certain Christmas on that farm stands out in family lore. As darkness fell on a bitterly cold Christmas Eve. in 1925, my mother alerted my father to get ready for a trip to the hospital in town. Labor had begun.

This meant that the family’s Model T Ford had to be pressed into service. My father went to the dark shed where it was kept and began cranking, but Tin Lizzie wouldn’t cooperate. He resorted to the common practice of putting a pan of hot ashes under the engine to warm the oil. This also failed.

His report to me many years later was that finally in exasperation he gave the crank one mighty twirl , saying, “Oh, hang it all,” and the engine sputtered to life. He nursed the coughing, complaining beast by delicately adjusting spark and gas until it settled into a somewhat steady four-cylinder put-put-put-put.

He and my mother started off on the three-mile trip across a wide, shallow valley, Tin Lizzy hesitating repeatedly. “This thing is going to quit on me,” my father said half way to town, to which my mother replied in desperation, “It can’t quit!”

Wind-driven snow filled the ditches along the gravel road. No street lights added cheer to the frigid darkness. No other traffic appeared. They were two lone travellers on a mission while fighting the winter elements on the western Canadian prairies.

When they came to the hill into town, my father knew the drill. He turned Lizzie around and backed her up the hill. This was common practice because the gas from the tank under the driver’s seat was fed by gravity to the motor.

By the grace of God, the flivver made this maneuver successfully. It was then only a short distance to the hospital on Fifth Street where my mother disappeared quickly into the care of a nurse and my father took up his watch in a small waiting room.

He was dressed for the winter cold in a bulky buffalo coat, a fairly common garment at that time. This coat apparently changed his appearance because the head nurse, Mrs. Hogman, well known to the family, didn’t recognize him and thought him a vagrant seeking shelter from the cold. She told him firmly that he couldn’t loaf there; he would have to leave. When she realized her mistake, she quickly cancelled her order — with apologies.

That section of the small hospital was quiet until 4:45 Christmas morning when the hush was broken by the lusty cry of a newborn, and I announced to that sleepy town of 2300 souls that I had arrived.

I became the first of two children of a “second family” since the youngest of my three older siblings was already 10, and my parents were 42. Did they want to keep me? Today that question might have been asked by a professional during the early stages of the pregnancy. It would have pitted my mother’s “right to choose” against my right to live.

But 1925 was a different time. Poverty and hugely greater workloads and inconveniences of that time notwithstanding, even unexpected infants were quickly enfolded into the love of family and community.

My name had been chosen in advance. It was to be Donald. But Mrs. Roach, visiting my mother in hospital, offered, “This is your little Noel – the Christmas baby.” That name was added. And so it was that out of the love and fortitude of my parents, the strenuous efforts of Tin Lizzie, the thoughtful suggestion of a neighbor, and above all, the grace of God, I was then and am now Donald Noel Bastian. And that’s how I got here 85 years ago.

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6 thoughts on “An Inconvenient Birth

  1. What a fun story to read. To know it’s true and to know the person it is about makes it even better. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Hello, Pastor/ Bishop!

    I’ve never mentioned it to you, but have known that my father’s life overlapped your ‘time’ in Estevan, in 1925 and 1926. Our family story includes a move from the Oak Flats area ( suburb of Piccadilly, Greater Godfrey!) to a farm near Estevan in 1925. What I have called “the rock-raisin’ farmland ” in that area, when compared to the more genteel terrain you describe, paled in romantic consideration, I surmise. It was an experiment embarked upon by my grandparents Walker and Great-Uncle Edgar Genge who felt they were making a judicious move during those times. They were there for about a year, for reasons lost in the mists, when Dad would have been about 7 to 8 years old. His job was to get rid of gophers (?) or prairie dogs (?), in which he was intermittently and violently successful. Suffice it to say that they returned to Verona and bought out Tom Craig’s old general store in 1926, the same year that National Grocers began as a supply warehouse. I still have the old oak and glass cheese case, redolent of its’ long-time occupants, right here in my study along with an old sign from the Depression era. It was in our family , variously as Walker and Genge General Merchants and, finally, as Walker’s Red and White Store until 1980. That year, it was sold and this 5th-generation Walker started at Asbury Seminary less than 2 months later.

    Thank you, for various reasons, for sharing your story. I’ve known the basic data regarding your date of birth and location; however, it was delightful to ‘see’ it and to imagine my Dad and family not that far away when it happened.

    I appreciate receiving notice of your blog in my e-mail inbox and read it immediately each time. Chris.

  3. Bishop: It was good to see you at the picnic. Both my wife and I read your account with interest and chuckles. Keep up the good work. Ralph

  4. Uncle Don, loved reading this as I can picture it all. Though I never saw Grandpa in a buffalo coat, I remember others. I had never thought of the fact that the trek into town for your birth was in the night–sometimes daytime drives in a more modern car were bad enough. The old house is no longer there, I discovered on a trip to Estevan about 11 years ago, but Michelle and I drove around our old house. Thanks for writing this–brought back memories of Grandma (her patience and love for people) and Grandpa and the fun he was. Just earlier today I was preparing something for my Bible Study and one question brought to mind my thankfulness to the Lord for the family He place me in. Sherril

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