Prairie Wool

Helen Row Toews

“You know you’re a redneck if your home has wheels and your car doesn’t.”– Jeff Foxworthy

It was as I sat with my Uncle Don and Esther on their deck in Manitoba last summer, that I recalled this famous quote. Why would spending quality time with my beloved family cause such a reference to come to mind, you ask? The answer was as simple as looking up. Flapping smartly in the wayward summer breeze above us, a lovely 16 x 20 blue tarpaulin was slung from the house to a few nearby bushes. This “sunshade,” while lacking a certain esthetic component, did the job, and though it crinkled loudly, inferring with our conversation, it did nothing to dampen our spirits as we quaffed cool drinks from the Mason jars we held. Don, lounging in a wicker rocking chair, fanned himself with a ratty old fly swatter, its fraying edges bound up with duct tape. Here’s the deal – my Uncle’s a redneck.

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Reclining with him in the shade, I glanced toward the many pots of flowers that lined the stairs and path to their garage. Esther’s favorite colour is red and the plants were flourishing, but – what were the tall green spikes that grew among the crimson petals?

“Oh, those are onions,” my Uncle answered with quiet pride. “Want one?” Deftly he leaned forward and plucked a particularly lush specimen, peeled it back and sunk his teeth into the crunchy white flesh.

“No, I don’t wantone,” I replied in disgust. I mean, fine, the man enjoys eating raw onions, but isn’t planting them among the petunias taking things a bit far? Certainty not, I was told, and I watched with a revolted sort of fascination as he crunched his way through to the green tips and settled back in his chair.

“See that tree in the neighbour’s yard?” he pointed behind me with one long green frond. “Couple years ago it needed trimming. Right at the top. Wanna know how I did it?” Hesitantly, I nodded. “Shotgun,” he said shortly, and began to slowly rock.

Apparently other branches had been successfully trimmed by his brother Richard (also a redneck) who shimmied up the truck carrying a sharp saw, but the very top was too dangerous to handle that way. A small crowd gathered to assess the problem (since the yard was situated in the middle of their small town) but no solutions were found until my uncle brought out the ole twelve gauge and blasted the trunk clear through. It toppled heavily to earth amid a round of applause, warm handshakes and a telephone call from the local Credit Union who thought they were about to be robbed.

Laughing, I mentioned that there was no doubt about it – he was a classic redneck.

“So – what? You think you’re exempt?” he questioned with raised eyebrows. The laughter froze on my lips and a cold chill trickled down my spine, despite the warmth of the day. Casting my thoughts inward, I remembered only last week when, in preparation for the arrival of some special visitors from England, I’d hauled out the old Electrolux, stood on a chair, and vacuumed the ceiling. (We have a wood stove). Then later that same day, whilst outside burning a bit of trash, daughter Aliyah appeared at my elbow bearing marshmallows and roasting sticks. “No sense wasting a good fire,” she said, threading a puffy treat onto the wire.

Crud. He’s right. We’ve got the gene, too.


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