According to Wanda Lambeth, for girls from the Prairies, food and friendship rank high on the list of what’s most important in life.
Just what is that special thing about farm girls who are born and raised on the prairies? It’s as if we were programmed at conception for the purpose of being molded into human conveyor belts to the masses, forking in massive quantities of food and insisting on homemade take-out plates as our waddling dinner guests squeeze their departure with expanded bellies through the front door.
Yes, another family and friends dinner artfully created and ingested, where gravy is treated as a beverage and stuffing becomes a question of “who can eat more than two helpings?” Dinner is a success when you glance around the table and observe the conflicting facial expressions of content and discomfort as your guests try to discreetly pop open the top button of their pants under the disguise of the overhanging tablecloth.
But it isn’t just about the food — although the first question to guests as they come into our homes is “Have you eaten yet?” But once that subject has been dealt with, then comes the other most important part of being a girl from the prairies — it’s about being genuine and a true friend.
Susan and I have been friends since we met in the military, me right out of high school and her with a year of army life already under her belt. We immediately hit it off as we had the common connection of being farm girls from Saskatchewan, but we also had a common passion for being trouble makers. Being military girls seemed, at the time, a little easier for us as we already had the tough physical conditioning from pitching hay bales, and we needed that edge.
In those days, we trained alongside the infantry boys and needed to be able to fend for ourselves. Today’s protectors of the fair treatment campaign would have had a heyday with what we were subjected to – unending and brutal push-ups in our dress uniforms which consisted of tight fitting jackets and skirts, constant name-calling with uncomplimentary gender references, being verbally and physically driven just that little bit harder to try and break us. It was tough at times but we proved we were tougher and once we graduated from basic training, we were accepted, respected and placed on our very own pedestals for having survived. Those were the best days of our lives.
Thirty-three years later, four children later and we won’t disclose how many husbands later, here I was — duke-ing it out with my best friend Susan over the kitchen counter about who was going to be a grandmother first. She always seemed to beat me or one-up me on the major life events, but we were neck and neck on being partners in cheating at crib, cheating at badminton and having each other’s backs when someone tried to rock the boat of happiness in which either one of us was rowing at the time. And this was the first time in 30 years that we had been able to sit down over a home-cooked meal with both our families and laugh about the old times, plan for the new, and genuinely enjoy sharing the duty of over-stuffing our husbands and grown-up kids with food and hilarious stories.We shared the kitchen alone for a few minutes after dinner and I glanced over at Susan attacking the dirty dishes while I was attempting to find enough containers to put the massive quantities of leftovers in the fridge. We were both groaning and complaining about eating too much as usual when I recalled what her son had said at the dinner table about his mom and me being prairie girls. Did he mean that because of the truckloads of food putting a “wow” in the middle of the table or was he picking up on the personalities of the people sitting there?
Susan and I have amazing families. Our husbands are without a doubt the greatest — who else could so good-naturedly put up with our colourful history, crazy stories and the shrill, ear-piercing shrieks of our crow-inspired caws of laughter? And our kids, now all in their 20s and 30s, are a delightful mix of artistic, funny, down-to-earth and hardworking societal contributors. We are the first to admit, as their mothers, we were a bit wild when we were younger and maybe not all that responsible at times, but we still took the best from our own parents and somehow managed to pass it on to our own offspring.
As we grow older and kid each other about not being much wiser, Susan and I can be proud of what we have achieved. For girls who seemed to have constantly tripped on our faces through life, we have come this far still hanging on to our prairie roots and not too jaded by life. What negative experiences we have had, we usually brought on ourselves. And we have learned to laugh about those as well.
We can still successfully cheat at cards with no guilt, argue over whose right and whose wrong, grieve together over the loss of a loved one, high-five each other on career achievements and maintain that prairie connection of being true, genuine friends—not just to each other but to all around us. We will envelope you in our arms, offer support and guidance with the experience we gained through our lives of occasional hard knocks, give comfort in times of grief or sadness, care deeply about you and we can also royally kick your ass when you need that as well.
So what makes a prairie girl special? Genuineness, someone you can trust, someone who can make you laugh and make you cry all in the same conversation, but most of all, someone who will invite you into her home, fill you full of gravy and goodness and still make you think you need to take some leftovers home in case a snowstorm leaves you stranded in your car for awhile. And then you can’t wait to come back for more. By the way, have you eaten yet?
“Prairie Girls/Aprons” Debra McClinton Photographs. www.countryliving.com
“Vintage Prairie Woman Cooking” Illustration by Ryan McCondach, commissioned by Wanda Lambeth