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  • Vermilion Voice

Prairie Wool

Real riches

Is it just me, or do you notice an increase in wealth management commercials? Wait. It’s probably me. I didn’t notice them before since I own nothing to speak of and have no discernable wealth to manage. Considering the last advert I saw, announcing that they cater to clients ranging from extremely affluent to ultra-high net worth (otherwise known as stinkin’ rich), it’s no wonder I didn’t pay attention. Now, if advertising was designed to reach folks labelled as impoverished, dirt poor, or penniless, I’d be apt to listen. 

Money’s always been an issue for me. Going on a holiday was almost impossible when I was a mother of young children. The best we could do was visit family in Manitoba, but gas was expensive. To finance this trip, we’d spend evenings and weekends picking bottles out of ditches for the necessary cash. It wasn’t so bad. With a ball cap pulled low over my eyes and sporting an old discarded jacket of Dad’s, I’d slop through ditches in a pair of rubber boots; my identity hidden. 

However, my kids were not as enthusiastic. They often suffered the profound embarrassment that can only be felt by teens. Who wants to be defined as a family that pilfers through the refuse of society for cast-off five-cent pop bottles? 

One day, as we skulked through the overgrown grass of a ditch near their school, my eldest son Chris, who’d been lagging behind, stared at an approaching car, stiffened to attention, and then threw himself prostrate into the weeds.

“Get down, you fools,” he hollered. “That’s the principal’s car! HIDE!” 

But it was too late. The sleek gray Buick slowed as it neared our position and crunched to a halt in the gravel. Rolling down a window, the man leaned across his console and addressed me with concern. I stood in a patch of thistles holding a grimy box of Pilsner beer.

“Excuse me,” the kindly man said. “I’m wondering if your son Chris is alright. He’s lying in the grass about fifty feet back, clutching an empty bottle of vodka.” 

“Hahaha, yes, he’s fine,” I hastened to assure the man. A sudden image of me cowering before the court on charges of child endangerment crept through my mind. Making matters worse, I caught sight of eleven-year-old Rebecca gripping a crushed can of Labatt’s Blue. 

“He’s just tired,” I assured the man once more. “No cause for alarm.”

He smiled, clearly unconvinced. Reluctantly he motored off, watching us closely in his rear-view mirror. 

Another time, a carload of older teenagers roared past me on the road. I could hear one yell, “Here, lady,” as they screeched to a stop, lowered the window, and tossed an empty to the curb.

Nothing says bag lady quite as well as the sight of a woman eagerly scuttling across the road to pick up a ten-cent pop can and shove it in her plastic grocery sack.


Yes, I’m no stranger to money troubles, but consider all the fabulous things I have:

Beloved family and friends.

The scent of sheets having blown dry in a prairie breeze on my bed.

The joy of unearthing the first spring crocuses beneath the prairie wool near my home. 

I’m rich, after all. What about you?

Find Helen’s latest book, a sweet, holiday romance and much more at

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