For the first two years, I rode to Wilson School with Charlie, probably riding double to start and then more and more riding my own horse. (When I started to write down these memories from the old days I was surprised to discover that I could hardly recall any images of Charlie and I, or Eke and I riding to school together. I was even more surprised to find that they experienced the same difficulty.)
Going to school that first Fall, in grade one, was a big event for me. I was impressed by Corrine Fox, teacher for grades one to nine, asking students who were late to stand up and tell the school, all nine grades, why they were late. So one morning that first Fall, when Charlie was a little slow in getting ready to leave, I convinced myself that we would be late for the bell. The thought of having to stand up in front of all 25 students terrified me. When Charlie was finally ready to leave I said, "I'm not going". I'm not sure what role Mother played in this episode, but a little later Dad stopped by the house and noticed I was still at home. When I confirmed that I wasn't sick he told me to get in the truck. On arriving at the School he informed me that I had the option of going to school or going home and getting a licking. I just sat there knowing that the worst possible scenario would be to feel embarrassed in front of the whole school. Ending up in our barn and getting a licking with a piece of harness really hurt my bum, but it was easier to take than feeling humiliated in front of all my school mates. Years later Corrine, who married Bill Boyden, and I became good friends.
The playground equipment we had at school was minimal; a couple of see saws, a climbing ladder. But we had a fantastic swing made from old telephone poles that must have been nearly 20 feet high, big enough to give us a good thrill. We also played a lot of tag and kick the can. We (the little ones) were also quite creative, as I think now looking back, in building forts and huts out of the tumble weeds that the wind piled up against the fence. It was a little tricky avoiding all those thorns, but we did have our own space.
The hired men that worked for Dad played an important role in my life, particularly those men that were there year after year. Charlie Stephens was with us for many years and was affectionately referred to as Big Charlie to distinguish him from my brother. I often went with him on his trips to haul water with a team of horses (Dutch and Brady) from the canal to fill our cistern at the house. It was on these trips that I started to learn to drive this team of horses. Another important person, was Angus MacDonald, our blacksmith. He fascinated me by what he could do as a blacksmith, and I spent many an hour turning the blower for the forge. After harvest when they didn't work after supper, I would often go over to his bunk house and sit in front of his wood stove while he whittled a super dagger for me. On other occasions he kept me spellbound with his ghost stories. I was almost too scared to cross our yard in the dark. Finally I'd get up my courage and just "fly" across the yard to the back door, thankful that the bogeyman didn't catch me.
When I got to grade three I was still pretty shy. Being in the same room as kids in grade nine didn't help either. One day the Sickle twins, the "bullies" of grade nine, threatened to take my pants down. Even though I wasn't sure what that might involve, it sounded pretty scary at the time. Ten years later I saw the "twins" and chuckled when I realized that I was almost a foot taller than they were! Being in the same room with other grades also had its benefits; if one's assignment became a little boring (which occurred quite often) it was a relief to listen to what was going on in another grade, particularly a higher one. Years later when I became a teacher I often wondered just how those teachers managed to control several grades in one room, let alone teach each of those grades all their subjects. My hat goes off to them for their hard work and courage.
Another time I remember sitting behind Aster (now Ester) Chow and realizing I had to go to the toilet (outside biffies back then). However, the teacher had just chastised someone (maybe it was Louie Skiba) for asking to leave the room when it was already after 3:00. What was I to do but to hang on! But as much as I tried, a puddle appeared under my desk. I tried to hide the accident by staying at my desk, but I could feel my face turning bright red as I heard the giggles from the kids on their way outside.
As we grew older our games changed a little, or we played them with more skill. In the winter, Fox and Geese seemed to be a favorite. When the snowdrifts were high enough around the barn some of the boys would challenge each other to somersault off the barn roof onto the drifts, - but always off the far side so the teacher didn't catch us. In the warm weather, softball was a regular pastime at recess and noon hour. I still remember how impressed I was when Verna Robinson, who was several years older than 1, would play catcher without a glove. I knew enough not to mess with her.
The Christmas concert was one of the highlights of the school year. Mother, who had been a teacher in the Kentucky mountains and loved drama, became one of the key movers in helping insure that the concert was a success. Not only would she help the teachers direct the presentation of the Christmas Message, but was also very effective in mobilizing members of the community to build a stage, hang stage curtains, make costumes, getting a tree for the kids to decorate, and so on. I must have been a big disappointment to my Mother because I was so shy and really didn't want to play a very visible role in the concert. I was even embarrassed by the fact that Mother took such a high profile role. In talking to Evelyn (Poole) Smith, who loved the concerts, she remembers playing the part of Mother Mary in the presentation of the Three Wise Men, and the Christmas tree with (Mr.) Bob Harvey as Santa, giving out candies to all the kids.
The spring highlight was Sports Day. This was usually held at McLean School, which had better track and field facilities. As long as I was in the elementary grades I usually won most of my races as I was much taller than the other boys. In those days, to take a day to visit another school was quite an event.
Riding the 2 1/2 miles to and from school each day really helped me to appreciate and learn (in very subtle ways) about my physical environment; the big sky with its clouds and storms, the cycles of the plant life, the bird life around the ponds and along the road ways. Being able to see the Rocky Mountains in the distance every day was something I took for granted until one day I moved away from home and really missed the mountains and the big sky. There would be( something different about the ride each day. Then there was the social aspects. For the last three quarters of a mile we would frequently meet up with the Robinsons in their buggy or the Bishops on horseback, and at the railroad crossing we often joined the Harveys, Pooles, and Hansons walking up from the Siding for the last quarter of a mile. Once when we were on our way home, I was fooling around as I rode along side the Robinsons, when suddenly the buggy shaft jabbed my horse in the rump. He jumped sideways, dumping me on the road to walk the rest of the way home. In the Winter, storms often came up in the afternoon. On more than one occasion when a blizzard came up, Cy Dawson, who lived across the road from the School, would lead my horse to the crossing and set him loose in Dad's field, telling me to let the horse find its own way home. Invariably we arrived at our barn door, even though there were times I would have sworn that we were going in the wrong direction.
Riding to school and learning to look after my horse, meant that I could be just a little more independent and go visiting on my own. I was probably too shy to visit neighbors, but I knew my cousin Ray fairly well, and he lived just over a mile north east of the Siding. So when I was eight or nine years old, Ray and I would visit each other on horseback. He was a little older but we were about the same size and enjoyed doing some of the same things. Usually we stayed over for a night or two so it would be quite an occasion.
The only incident that I can recall that involved Dad, Charlie, Ike and me, occurred on a cold frosty day when I must have been in grade six, Ike in grade one and Charlie in High School at the LCI, and home for the weekend. Ike and I were exploring the farm machinery grave yard. For some reason I touched my tongue (very, very briefly) to an old iron axle. I was surprised by the tingly feeling that I experienced. Wanting to share this new experience, I said to Ike, "Touch your tongue on this axle and see how it tingles." Eke, who still trusted this older brother, put his tongue on the frozen iron, but for one second too long and suddenly it was stuck solid to the metal. Ike started screaming. I was stunned, I didn't have a clue about what to do. Charlie who was watering the pigs nearby, came running. He tried to pry Ike's tongue off with his fingernail but that only made Ike scream louder. Fortunately Dad, hearing Ike's piercing scream, soon arrived on the scene and immediately sent Charlie running for half a pail of water. I was becoming a little terrified as I saw blood coming from his mouth. On the arrival of the water, Dad doused Eke's face and miraculously his tongue came unstuck what a relief! I don't remember getting a licking this time. However, both Ike and Charlie have assured me that Dad, in fact, did take me to the nearby harness shop to obtain the appropriate necessities to do a superb job of tanning my behind. At some point, as a result of this experience it became much clearer to me as to why, in the winter, we dunked a cold bridle bit in the water trough before putting it in a horse's mouth. An example of learning through experience, but in this case, much more painful than it needed to be. At least, for Ike it was learning the hard way. Fifteen years later, when Eke was wrestling for Queen's University, it wasn't difficult to understand why he, in showing me a fancy wrestling hold, got such glee out of rubbing my face in the snow!
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