Marshall Cronkhite (left) and older brother John stroll Vancouver city shortly after the end of World War 2 in this archival 'Foncie' photo.

Marshall Cronkhite: a memorable life

Marshall Cronkhite passed away Nov. 10, 2015 in his 90th year in Aldergrove

My dear friend and neighbour Jennifer Cronkhite just told me that Marshall Cronkhite passed away peacefully in his 90th year Tuesday, Nov. 10 at the family’s pioneer farm in the County Line area of Aldergrove.

Marshall was born here shortly after his parents Abram Marshall and Agnes, brother John and foster sister Gladys (United Empire Loyalist stock from Nova Scotia) settled on the farm in 1925.

Marshall and John served in World War 2 and Marshall received his agrology degree from UBC, established a successful dairy farm, and with Jennifer raised five children. Marshall is also survived by his younger sister Eunice.

Marshall was a gifted raconteur and storyteller with a gentle sense of humour as demonstrated by the following story about Marshall’s early life.

I am pleased to have known Marshall Cronkhite. May he rest in peace.

-Kurt Langmann, Editor, The Aldergrove Star

Marshall Cronkhite, born in 1925 and a longtime farmer in Aldergrove with his wife, Jennifer, recently shared this story with the Aldergrove United Church’s men’s breakfast group.

My lovely Canada geese

By MARSHALL CRONKHITE

I’ve got to tell this story. It has been bottled up inside of me so long I’m afraid of it getting lost. It has to be unique: I believe I was adopted into a small flock of Canada geese.

The story begins early during the War. I have no dates or pictures so can only tell it as I experienced it, as I remember.

Canada Wild Life had a small flock of quite young birds, probably a couple of dozen, that were too small to look after themselves in the wild. The birds, hatched from eggs found in nests in the brush, had been raised in pens until they were “teenagers” — an age when they should have a whole flock of birds looking after them.

Since I had an empty shed close to a slough where I had raised some ducks I had an ideal spot to introduce them to foraging for their food in the wild. I was to shut my birds up for the night and feed them until they adapted to the world around them and could find their own food.

Wild Life provided grain for me to feed them and hopefully these geese would eventually attach themselves to one of the many flocks passing overhead day and night, heading south for the winter.

They were good boarders and came home each night. I would notice my little flock circling the barnyard in ever-widening circles each day. They were always happy to see me and liked to rub their necks down my legs. I was advised not to pet them or they might not want to leave. I did my best in this regard but they obviously had not been told that they should not pet me.

I became very fond of them. One day I sat on a rotten piece of wood lying on the ground and a few perky geese, necks stretched up, pulled on the bottom of my jacket to get me to sit down on my heels. This put us at eye level and they would jabber away in their peculiar gurgling-chatter manner.

As we sat there in a row on the log or a semi-circle they seemed to be telling me their experiences. If I wasn’t paying proper attention I’d get a sharp peck on an ear or chin, telling me to smarten up. Usually too, there was a comedian among them that would grab my flabby nose in its beak and give it a shake. Their voices would go up and down like somebody asking a question. I would turn my head asking for the question to be repeated, only to be met by a pair of large googley eyes about the distance of my nose away. I did try replying in their googley cadence and we had some friendly conversations, even if we didn’t understand each other.

Some geese wanted me to join the flock. I had to show them I couldn’t fly. A few stood on the fence and demonstrated by fluttering their wings and moving over to give me room to fly up beside them. I would have loved to: they kept trying to get me to flutter my arms.

They would peck my fingers, emphasizing what stupid appendages limp fingers were. I would have liked to explain that this was the way Mother Nature made us but I was not familiar enough with their language so that they understood. Of course, they had to give up. I felt guilty that I was not a better goose.

There was a little knoll where I spread the grain. I would see them coming for supper away off on the skyline. Like any teenagers they kept coming later and later for supper, eventually not for several days. I was concerned that they might have got cornered by hunters or suffered some accident among the craggy mountains where they had probably chosen a small lake as a temporary home.

How could anyone help but be smitten by these gorgeous creatures? They seemed so beautiful and so intelligent. Their feathers were rough as would expect but when you stroke them with your hand they felt soft like silk and when the suns shines on them they sparkle like they were padded with jewels.

Over time the flock actually seemed to get larger. Frequently, more mature birds would show up briefly and would fit quietly into my goose family with no fuss. Perhaps they were checking to see if I was bringing up these younger ones right. Perhaps too, some of my flock had found life mates, adding to the numbers. The flock was becoming large enough to look after itself.

Some time around then my recall to the Air Force came through so I had other concerns. My duty in the Air Force was mainly recognizance of the St. Lawrence estuary. From the vantage point of our aircraft, we would look for possible threatening shadows in little coves along the shore, just another fellow and I in a battle-beaten aircraft. The only geese I now got to see were the flocks strung along the horizon, heading south. I wished them well but I missed my friends very much. I was glad my geese were a long way from the Atlantic coast though.

Finally, the War was over and I was back on the farm. I missed my goes family and hoped they were OK.

The one afternoon, late in the fall, there was a terrific ruckus in the corral by the barn. The cattle rushed in all directions to get away. I hurried down to investigate. The corral was full of Canada geese!

I felt intimidated by these large birds, wings extended, barely able to get through the cattle gates, descending on me. Were they about to attack me? What should I do? I shouted, “hey, you guys, what are you doing?” and waved my arms. They immediately settled down and pitter-pattered on their flat feet and pecked my coat. They had remembered me!

I sat down on the old log and got out some grain. The old-timers came over to me, still propelling themselves with their wings, now scraping in the dirt. I reached out and got my arms around as many of those long necks as I could reach. Tears were coursing down my cheeks.

A couple hours later their visit was over. With no apparent signal they leaped off the fence and started to swirl around the corral. I reached out my arms for one last hug. Their exit was sensational; they formed what appeared to be a chimney of living geese, suspended in the air, going higher and higher, rotating faster, as more geese joined and rose into the open sky.

I could tell by their stiff, extended lower jaws that they probably had goose responsibilities to tend to and were not likely to come back, some dispersing no doubt to homes on tiny isolated lakes in the craggy interior of B.C.

After a quick fly-by with muffled honking, they were gone.I have not seen them since. Hopefully, my Canada geese returned to their homes, safe and sound and lived happily ever after.

I appreciated what they had shared with me and can never put them out of my heart.