One of the things I remember best about my hometown of Chatham, Ontario
is the weather. There were real Seasons back then – Spring Summer,
Fall and, of course, Winter. It could get pretty snowy. I can remember,
like “Good King Wenceslas” , walking in the footprints of other people
to avoid the deeper parts of the snow on the way to or back from school.
One of the most beautiful and deadly sights then was an ice storm.
Cold rain would turn to ice about the same time it hit the branches
of the trees. The trees would become a crystal wonderland. It was
wonderful to see but if a wind came along all the little frozen branches,
sheathed in ice, would break, causing some destruction to the parent
I have other memories of cold. I moved up north to Atikameg,
200 miles north of Edmonton and above High Prairie, Alberta . Atikameg
was a Cree Indian Reservation. Now, I was pregnant at the time and
had had the child by Caesarian. I was healing from that, having been
released by the hospital. Things weren’t going well and I didn’t know
what was wrong. I was isolated in a little log cabin up on a hill
(The Teacherage where my husband worked had burned down recently).
We were part of the Anglican Church and teaching facility on the Reservation.
The Catholics were up on another hill were next door, if you call
next door a considerable tramping distance in snow. There were two
Nuns there with some medical training, so I thought I’d better go
and see them.
To get there you had to go down a long road from our hilltop, along
the main road a bit and then up another long road to their hilltop.
I thought I’d take a shortcut from our hilltop to theirs.
Snow, where I’d come from, was a relatively mild affair but up there
it got pretty deep. I found myself trying to plough up that hill in
waist deep snow. I was using bushes and branches to pull myself along.
It’s a wonder I didn’t fall into a snow crevasse and get frozen. Finally,
I made it up there to the Catholic Station. Nothing they could do
for me really except to say that I’d better get into town pretty darn
They gave me, and this was all they could do, an enormous gelatin
vitamin capsule. A lot of it was cod liver oil I found out from subsequent
burps. They weighed me and they gave me this enormous pill. I said,
“Why is it so big?”
They said, “The locals think that if one pill is good, then the whole
bottle is best. They’ll take it all at once to save muss, fuss and
bother. So, we give them the biggest dose that they can take at one
time and send them away. When they come back, we’ll give them another
I took that pill and struggled back down the hill and made arrangements
to come back into town. Turned out a had a Staph infection in my Caesarian
incision. Staphylococcus is no joke and it was rampant in that bush
hospital. I survived the infection but I didn’t eat for about a week,
the illness had stolen my appetite. I think the enormous vitamin pill
the good Sisters gave me saved my life and I’m thankful for that.
Another story involving cold was in New York City. I was using
an ice pick to get the ice out of the refrigerator freezer. There
was a gas in there called Freon. I accidentally punctured the part
of the freezer that held the Freon and gas started coming out. I thought
it was dangerous, so I grabbed up Cathy, my daughter. She wasn’t wearing
any clothes at the time, just little panties. She was so mortified
that I’d dragged her out into the hallway in her skivvies. Turned
out the Freon wasn’t all that dangerous and we repaired it so that
the refrigerator was okay again. My goodness. That was an adventure
with the cold!
My first husband, Bob Bates, may he rest in peace, had a little bit
of trouble keeping jobs. One time he managed to get a relief job in
a place the dealt in frozen foods. This was in August during the summer
holiday time which is why he was doing relief work. It was the best
job he’d had in a while. He’d get occasional free frozen food and
they supplied a snowman suit and the pay was good but all good things
must end. The other fellow was coming back from holidays. Bob was
upset to hear this. I guess he’d been telling himself that he might
keep the job. He was so dismayed that he ran out into the street in
his snowman suit in the hot New York August, and claiming he was going
to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge or some darn thing like that. I think
he ran about four blocks and then the heat got to him. He dragged
himself back to the place, gave them back their snowman suit and got
his final cheque and that was the end of that.
The weather nowadays is chancy. There are some terrible storms out
there. It’s all very well to look back and laugh at winter but winter
can be deadly.