When the winds in the great prairie of the North grow warm, the air temperatures get milder. Once they stay consistently above thirty-two degrees, the snow levels on the ground start to shrink, and the winter runoff of spring begins. Never mind that spring is in late May. Never mind that you’ve not seen a single sign of life from the earth, let alone seen the bare ground for eight months. No, nothing but the banks of snow have been visible. Lots of snow. Three to four feet of it just laying on the ground. Snow. Some, pure and white. Some frozen into a crust on top of powder. Dirty snow—brown, black, and yellow. Snow packed into layers of ice on the roads and sidewalks. Snow on the dead-looking trees, snow on the houses, on the school, in the school yard. The only place it isn’t, is indoors, unless you track it in and Mom yells at you.
But once the temp gets above freezing long enough and the sun comes out, water leaks out of everywhere and great lakes of the stuff gather in the fields. And it was a day like this that I and my friends were out enjoying the warmth, for a change. We came across a field, and in the very middle there was green grass.
Well, I went a little crazy. I ran toward it with all my might. I leaped onto it and landed right on my butt. The ground was not as I had expected it to be. There was grass, to be sure, but it was sparse and growing out of what turned out to be really just a giant patch of mud. I hit and slid about ten feet, my legs and backside totally covered with brown sticky mud.
After my brothers and friends stopped laughing at me, I brushed myself off and we continued our spring gallivanting. My brothers decided it was getting late and wisely headed home. I, however, decided that it was too soon to end the fun and continued to hang out with Trevor Cartwright.
Trevor had been picked on quite a bit by the other kids at school, and by me at times, but I’d decided that it was mean and had befriended him. I wondered if this was a good thing. Considering all the things that were said, and sung, about him. One in particular was:
Let the sun shine on Trevor Cartwright
He doesn’t fart right
Because his bum is airtight.
Bum was used rather than ass, because in Canadia that is the term. Bottom is more polite, and would equate to the word “rear” here in the US. But Ass is reserved for Donkeys and doesn’t necessarily get applied to the buttocks. Bum is king of the butt words. At least when you are nine and living in the Prairie.
The song was the source of much hilarity at the expense of Trevor. But I’d noticed something about Trevor. At the school Christmas party he’d been chastised, by the other kids and even the teacher, for bringing his Secret Santa gift of a fingernail clipper. And, instead of a scarf, he was sent to school with nothing more than a cloth diaper to cover his frozen face from thirty-below weather. These things clued me into the realization that perhaps his family didn’t have too much money, or that his parents didn’t really give a crap about him. I didn’t really know which. But that had changed the way that I acted toward him. And we started to hang out.
The first thing we did was walk all the way out to the bridge. The bridge covered a small stream, and in the prairie that was a pretty cool landmark because most everywhere else was just flat, dirt, or fields of some type of grain. Most of the surrounding area was unremarkable. Of course there was the obligatory granary, which marked every town. We steered clear of the granary because we’d heard the story of the man who’d fallen into it and drowned in the grain. I don’t know if it was true or not, but it scared the hell out of me.
Our town, with the very creative name of Blackie, had a population of a little more than three hundred persons. In the center of the town there was a giant wood tower with a bell on top. One day, my brothers and I were playing in the tent trailer and a big black cloud swooped up. We decided it might rain, so we went in the house. About five minutes later the cloud hit the town, scooped up that tent trailer and threw it across the street, smashing it into the tree in the neighbor’s yard. It also knocked down the town bell-tower which had stood for over a hundred years. So much for that landmark.
The other very interesting place for us to mess around at was the railroad track that led right by the granary. A two man railcar complete with pump handle was chained up there and we often tried to get that thing free from its lock, but never succeeded. Instead, that day we opted to walk along on top of the rails, which required a fair bit of balance and skill. We walked along, singing our old favorite songs: Great Big Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts and The Ants Go Marching Down…into the Earth…Boom…Boom…Boom.
Well that was a lot of fun, and speaking of gopher guts, we actually knew what they looked like because we’d “borrowed” some gopher traps from the old man’s shed next door, without his knowledge, and trapped some. Then we put them on the rails and waited for the train to come. I had a two long scars on my back to prove it, because I’d panicked when the train had come and jumped through the barb wire fence. Mom had tortured me with Mercuricome, which had mercury in it, and well, nobody really knew that stuff was poison; at least no one in Blackie, Alberta, that is. I didn’t know anything about the ill effects of mercury, but I did know that stuff stung like hell on a cut, so it must be doing something.
Anyway, that was a different day, and this day we had made it out to the bridge just as the sun was getting pretty low in the sky. I was feeling a little worried about the time. I was supposed to be home before supper, but Trevor acted like nothing was wrong, like he had all the time in the world and not a care in it. I think now that no one really cared if he ever came home.
We stopped for a bit to look at that rushing water fed by the tons of snowmelt. I ducked behind a rock to take a piss, and took off my mittens. These were the ones that Dad had bought me that time we were ice-fishing and my hands had gotten frostbit. They were the best I’d ever had and they kept my hands dry and warm. But it was a pretty warm day and I left them sitting on the rock, forgotten.
We made our way back along the creek to a pond where the water pooled up. Some other kids had tried to make a raft and it sat there on the edge of a snow bank, half in and half out of the water. Of course we couldn’t pass that up and tried to set sail, paying no heed to danger. It immediately began to sink as soon as we put our weight onto it, and the water flooded over the tops of my rubber boots. We discussed how we might improve the ship. We tried ripping the roof off an old treehouse, but that was a dismal failure as well, and we just gave it up.
I looked at my watch and glanced at the sun that was now below the horizon. The flat horizon that didn’t lie about the time and the amount of daylight left. Yeah I was going to be in trouble, and my clothes were all wet and muddy. I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain it, and again, Trevor seemed unconcerned, like nothing could cause him any problem. If he came home shivering, wet, and covered in mud at midnight, he’d not even have a care in the world of it. But I had a feeling I was in for it. My dad was away at work in the city and he wasn’t going to be home for another week or so. My Mom, well, she was a forgiving sort, so I wasn’t too worried. That was, until I got home.
I walked in the door and looked around. I didn’t see anyone, and I hollered out, but nobody answered. I then looked at the dinning room table and saw six empty plates. That was when I knew I was screwed. “Six plates!”, I kept screaming to myself out loud. Yeah, I was scared because that meant Dad was home. And I could only think of one reason why everyone was gone; they were out looking for me. And when Dad got back, I was going to get it.
We had a rule. You could go anywhere you wanted, you could pretty much do anything. In the summer time, Mom would kick you out of the house first thing after breakfast. And you’d race outside and play hard all day, doing God knew what. You didn’t check in, and nobody knew where you were, but if you didn’t show up for dinner…well, yeah. That’s where the line was. It didn’t really make any sense, but those were the rules. Truth was, I could have been drowned in that creek, or the pond, in broad daylight on a stomach empty of supper. And I’m sure that very thought was in both my parents’ minds. That’s why they were out driving around looking for me. So I had to get my story right, and I tried to come up with an elaborate one that would get me off the hook.
I was almost satisfied with my story, when I heard the car come into the driveway. The door slammed on the car, then the door slammed on the trailer house, then I heard the footsteps and I came out of my room already talkin’, telling my story. It all came to a screeching halt as the belt left the loops of my Dad’s pants with a little slapping sound.
I got the epic punishment of my young life. I did finally get to tell my story, afterward. But it wasn’t the whopper that I’d dreamed up. After I’d got my whippin’, I didn’t feel much like lying anymore, and there wasn’t much point in it. And with my sore bum, I turned in and slept soundly. I’d lost my best mitts. I’d been scared to get whipped. I’d been scared to be late. I’d been terrified by the sight of six plates, but I was home, I was safe, and I had people who cared about me and wanted me.