Helen Row Toews



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It’s been a bit tricky to come up with fresh ideas for columns during this COVID-19 business. There’s not much to write about when you spend your day hunched over a computer, or crawling through the garden weeding carrots.

With that in mind, perhaps you’ll forgive me when I tell you that this week’s thoughts were triggered by that well-known show, Hoarders, which can be seen on the A&E network. It features a team of experts who have limited time to help people deal with extreme hoarding issues.

One such episode follows a man who took up residence in a garden shed after being evicted from his home by roughly 2,500 rats. Can you believe it?

I haven’t seen the story, but I can picture this unfortunate fellow clutching the only items he was allowed to take: a change of socks and a faded picture of dear old mom, as, against his will, he is borne prostrate from the premises on the shoulders of several hundred vermin and tossed to the curb. Then, I envision the assembled rats dusting themselves off, marching back inside and slamming the door. Sort of like when the family cat threw Fred Flintstone out of his own house and locked it behind him.

While it couldn’t be said that my childhood home was spotless, it was reasonably tidy when my brother and I were kids, so when Mom and Dad decided to clear the attic of everything that had been stored there for the past 40 years, and drag it downstairs to be sorted, things got messy.

Old cream cans, trunks of clothes, and shabby winter boots were deposited in the kitchen. Framed paintings of English relatives, boxes of chipped dishes and a battered tricycle littered the living room.

As more and more junk arrived, Dad began piling it high, being careful to leave a narrow trail open to facilitate movement throughout, especially to important places like the bathroom and refrigerator. Brother Bill and I enjoyed this strange system of trails through the rubbish that had appeared in our otherwise empty living space, and happily played games amongst it—until someone knocked at the door.

We stopped in stricken silence. Who could it be?

Perhaps it was people needing directions, or a salesman that would get no further than the doorstep.

But no.

Our eyes widened with horror as the local Anglican church minister paced majestically (or so it seemed) into our midst and stood gazing about him in open-mouthed amazement. Acting as though nothing were amiss, our parents invited the man to sit down a spell and have a cup of tea.

Thus, the reverend and his sombre black trench coat trailed through the confusing maze, and sat gingerly on a chair my father hastily swept clean of assorted debris. He denied thirst when offered a beverage, and conversation was strained as he peered at us over several dead plants, a stiffened pair of cowhide chaps made in 1897, and an enamel chamber pot that perched precariously on our coffee table.

“There’s just one thing,” I said, as the door closed behind the man and we all breathed a sigh of relief. “Did you guys look at the pamphlet he left behind?” I held it on high for everyone to read the title of next week’s sermon.

“Cleanliness is Next to Godliness” it proclaimed with confidence.

“We’re in trouble,” Bill muttered.

Helen has lived on the family farm near Marshall much of her life. She works as a writer, EA and bus driver for her local school. This, along with her love of the Canadian prairies, travel and all things humorous, is what she draws from to write these tales. To find more of Helen’s stories or to order Prairie Wool books please go to myprairiewool.com or Amazon.ca 

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