Mennonite Poetry Home | Elmer Wiens



Here Too Long

I’ve been here too long
        on the edge of Majuba Hill looking down on Yarrow
        with my memories of Henry and Carol, John and Edmund.

Like Persephone I come here each spring
        from my California home.

Winters in Los Angeles
        Summers with Henry.

I’ve been here too long
        managing memories of Henry and his hopyards
        sustaining half a century of prohibition-business partners
        chaotic markets, paying out pickers, field and kiln workers
        tracking inventories and supplies, payables from breweries
        haggling with railroads, and dealing with the banks.

And always the lists, lists of things to do.

There was a confluence of events.

American prohibition – breweries shut – no demand for hops.

Henry went North to wide-open Canada
        stumbled onto them building the Vedder Canal
        and cheap reclaimed lake bottom for sale.

Bought a piece of bush on Yale Road for our house.

Like some Cariboo gold rush prospector
        he made a deal with New York and Oregon money
        and created the Canadian Hop Growers company
        with himself as joint owner and manager.

What was his plan?
Grow hops legally and sell to the brewery boys?
During American prohibition.
Hades of the underworld to my Persephone?

I’ve been here too long
        sorting Henry’s affairs
        drinking his collection of mini-liquors
        and getting odd looks from that handsome boy
        taking care of my yard.

Dreading John’s return; he returns; I go back.
Awkward here and there.

Henry was rough and beautiful.
Rough like the Native, Mennonite
        and Kamloops workers he hired
        awkward like an albatross on land.

Too old and not the type to attend USC
        even with my family connections.

I still want him here
        to smooth out his rough, tough edges.

Already, he has been gone too long.

What could he do?
All he knew was hops.

The Sumas Prairie and Kamloops hopyards were ours.
He called them Fuggle Gardens after the English hop variety.

After the harvest, we hunted the fields
        for pheasants, ducks and geese
        with his arsenal of guns.

And always we need more workers.

Henry had a lucky streak.

Thanks to Eckert, the Mennonites arrived in 1930
        hungry for land and work
        willing to pick hops and hoe
        from dawn to dusk.

My Mennonite house keeper told me how desperate they were
        along with the Indians subsisting on nearby reservations.

During the war workers were scarce
        with young Chilliwack and Mennonite men
        enlisting or going off to work camps.

In Kamloops we relied on Indian hop pickers
        paying 3 cents a pound
        providing cabins, fire wood
        straw for bunks, shower baths
        rations of free potatoes
        and free hay for horses.

What else could they do?
What else could we do?

Henry was still micro-managing
        the Kamloops Hop Garden
        when he died.

He would send detailed instructions
        to his man in Kamloops
        about cleaning train cars
        before shipping bales of hops to breweries
        and putting 18 ounces of fertilizer
        on each hill for a total of 28 tons
        on 50 acres of hop fields.

Diversifying to growing potatoes
        tomatoes, and berries
        running cattle on extra land
        and raising bees.

Aristaeus to my Persephone.

What can I do now?

999 Rosalind Road
San Marino, California

© Elmer Wiens




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