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In 1978, our family moved from the Prairie metropolis of Regina to an acreage 50 kilometres north in the Qu’Appelle Valley. The house wasn’t much and life there had its challenges: there was a 90-minute school bus ride, a startling lack of nearby friends (or humans, for that matter) and a singular winter so cold that our water supply froze, limiting each of us to one bath a week and forcing us to use pails of dirty bath water to flush the toilet.

I write this from my home near Philadelphia, where I live with my two sons who refuse to believe these pioneer tales of hardship from my youth. However, there was so much more to living there in the valley, so much life. Horses, cows, chickens, turkeys, cats, so many great dogs, howling coyotes, villainous raccoons, cross-country skiing on the meandering river, endless wandering in the hills, indescribable Northern Lights and summer lightning storms that made you hold your breath until the madness ended. And then you exhaled and wished for more. Well, a little bit more.

Why my parents decided to uproot us remains somewhat of a mystery. As you age, you learn to become more comfortable with the unknowable. The purchase of the acreage was preceded by the sudden death of my brother in 1974 and then, two years later, the acquisition of a quarter horse named Cher. (And yes, Cher did eventually have a pony who my sister and I insisted on dubbing Sonny.)

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At first, Cher resided at a farm north of the city where we would spend most weekends so my father could enjoy his new toy. I should clarify that Bob Moffitt is not a cowboy, nor is he a farmer. In fact, he is a retired pharmacist who ran a drugstore in one of the most inhospitable parts of Regina for more than 35 years. And while there were many independent drugstores in the city at the time, Moffitt’s Pharmacy was the only one operated by someone who insisted on wearing cowboy boots every single day, no matter what. As proof, I recently found a blurred Polaroid of my father wearing cowboy boots and a Speedo during a summer trip to Vancouver Island.

When my father needed to find a new place for Cher to live, our lives took a momentous turn. It is at this point that a I believe a shrewd real estate agent heard about my father’s plight and saw an opportunity. Just a few months later, he purchased 40 acres of hills and bush.

Cher was important to my father, but those feelings were not reciprocated. He would say, “She’s just spirited,” and “That’s the way a horse should be,” but everyone knew the truth. This horse was too much horse for him or just too much horse period. After the original purchase, it took five hours to get her loaded into a trailer. Neither the horse nor my father wanted to go through that again, so it was decided that he would ride the 30 km to our new home.

No one knows what happened on that ride; my father treated it the same way some veterans refuse to talk about the war. Whatever you do, don’t mention “the ride.” For her part, Cher let her hooves do the talking by refusing to be saddled from that point moving forward. My 12-year-old self may not have understood the nuances of this irony, but certainly comprehended the ridiculousness of having to upend our entire lives – in the middle of the school year, no less – for a horse who was no longer willing to be ridden.

However, our new home quickly came to life for me. While we only had access to three TV channels (one of which was French and the other was pretty fuzzy), the property more than made up for it with its wildlife and the unpredictability that comes with it. Every kid loves their dog, but that love is tested and made stronger when your dog returns home injured in a fight, smelling like a skunk or covered in porcupine quills. And then there was a calf who became a pet and then became a full-grown steer who still appreciated the touch of a human hand and then, without any warning from those responsible, became dinner.

After I moved away – first to Vancouver and next Philadelphia – trips back to Regina were as much to see the acreage as they were to see my parents. Those visits weren’t always easy because things tend to change when you are not around: the death of a dog or the addition of a new farmhouse just over the hill meant that home wasn’t quite home any more.

But for my parents, it was home for as long as it could be. My mother, Violet, proudly claimed the only way she would we leave the farm was in a box and in 2018, at the age of 79, she came within two weeks of doing just that. My father fended for himself – with a great deal of support from some caring neighbors – for one last winter before moving into the city a few months ago.

So, one early morning this summer, I found myself leaving my childhood home for the final time. The death of my mother a year ago was hard but I knew it was coming and could prepare for it. Leaving the farm was different. Places don’t die, but this was the physical end of my family’s past. Leaving was like losing a loved one, an act I never expected and never imagined.

When my American friends ask me if I miss “Canada,” the word doesn’t conjure images of the maple leaf, small-town hockey rinks or fields of wheat. No, Canada to me is the farm where I grew up. And that realization is what made this final departure so devastating.

As I was driving away, I had to stop the car so I could walk down the driveway one last time. It was so perfect and so perfectly quiet, you could have heard a heart break.

Kevin Moffitt lives in Philadelphia.

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