“I sometimes think that ours may be the last generation still connected to the people who once told our family stories,” said William (Bill) Byers, author of a collection of charming, funny, insightful stories about his family, For Everything There is a Season…Tales from Fenham Farm.
“Gathering together as a family, telling stories, seems to be dying out. I hoped that in telling my stories, others might also be motivated to tell their stories too, and share them with the next generations.”
For many years, Bill Byers was the Anglican priest for the South Dundas charge of Morrisburg – Iroquois – Riverside Heights. He was born and raised in a big old farmhouse at Fenham, a family home and a working farm for 133 years.
How he found himself inspired to write this book is a story in itself of an amazing discovery his family made a few years ago.
Byers and his sister, Mary, were charged in 1976, with clearing out the loft over their father’s workshop. Amongst cast off furniture, they came across a heavy box. When they opened it, they uncovered a treasure trove – over 1,500 family letters and nearly 200 documents, wills, land deeds, birth and death notices, which dated back as far as 1720.
Hand written, filled with stories of coming to the new world, of the struggles and rewards of carving out a home, of raising children, of sometimes burying them, of the triumphs and laughter and everyday joys of family life over five generations, the letters were an inspiration.
“No one writes letters anymore,” Bill said. “I myself have nothing to pass on. I shred and delete just like every one else, but these letters have been kept and preserved. The stories they tell are like a glimpse into time. The characters reveal their own stories as they relate their lives and their experiences”
From the words of Master Mariner William Byers and his wife, Mary Dudderidge Byers, who made the heart-wrenching decision to leave the Old World behind nearly 250 years ago, to descriptions of family life on the Fenham farm, with grandparents, parents and neighbours all around, the stories entertain, enlighten and amuse.
There’s the tale of Herman, the rather too “laid back” Holstein bull. Herman seemed far more cheerfully content to saunter, (staggering just a little bit) about the fields, dragging some green plants with him, very unlike a typical bull.
And then the RCMP descended on local farms, Fenham included, informing startled farmers that they had better get rid of those hemp plants that every area farmer had been growing for a hundred years on their property, and do it quickly. Who knew what marijuana was?
Apparently Herman the Bull did.
These are fascinating stories of farming, and the gradual change from horse power to newfangled tractors. The family coped with sink holes and a rowdy, attack rooster, even a blind horse who nonetheless found her place among the other farm animals.
There are touching tales of neighbours helping neighbours in times of trouble, as rural people so often do, without a single word being necessary.
There are memories shared of the joys of Christmas on the farm, of groaning dinner tables, where stories were told and retold well into the night.
Does one have to have been raised on a farm in Ontario to enjoy Bill Byers’ stories of rural life?
No. These stories have a universality about them: the people in them speak to us, each in their own way, and we can all enjoy the tales they tell.
I asked Bill how writing this book may have changed him.
“I grew up in the home of these people, surrounded by their possessions, listening to the stories about them. Writing the book has helped me understand how blessed I was to grow up in that environment, an environment of both family and community. Together, they formed the values that remain important to me to this day.”
To learn more about For Everything There is a Season…Tales from Fenham Farm, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org