Starview, a farm school in the middle of nowhere Saskatchewan, was rightly named. The sky in our area was dominant and unobstructed. I used to lie on a snow covered hill (yes, we did have hills in Saskatchewan) at night and watch the ever changing sights the sky offered. We easily found the big or little dipper and moved on to Orion’s belt and further. But those nights we managed to see the Aurora Borealis were the most awesome and unforgettable. Sometimes they were white and crystal dancing and swaying overhead and often they were a colored wide rainbow moving like the wind. In all my travels I have never seen such expressive skies as I did in Saskatchewan.
Coming out in 1973 with my ex-husband, the sky was hostile. Lightening streaked around the horizon so fast our eyes couldn’t keep up and the amazement of watching ‘fire-balls’ was breath-taking. The power of nature cannot be denied.
My first teacher was Mrs. Gallivan. She told my brother Lambert (Dusty) in grade eight and my sister Nola in Grade two to bring me along on Fridays and she taught me how to read and write in Kindergarten. I think I was the only child at Starview to actually go to Kindergarten.
In Kindergarten, when I was five, my thoughts were centered on the new wondrous sights and myself. I didn’t see some things I should have – like Dusty was a ‘big kid’ and didn’t take anything from anyone. At times he was mean when others annoyed him. I didn’t notice – he protected me. I didn’t realize how much work was involved in going to school. Dusty harnessed, unharnessed and took care of the horse. Dusty was responsible for us getting to school, on time and safely. It took ages, often in the cold to travel three miles and the numbness of being so cold you couldn’t bend your fingers or feel your toes were real and still vivid. At school the joy continued with a great big sandbox table with horses, cows, pigs and barn. There were fences and trees. Since we had no toys like this at home it was a real treat to play with them.
I recall the winter of 1954 but not with any danger that an adult might. There were hard banks of snow that lasted for months. We slid down – not on a toboggan but with the horse and cutter to get into the school yard. There were tunnels everywhere – from the school to the barn – from the school to the teacher’s cottage and at home from the barn, chicken coup or pig barn. I had no idea how those tunnels got so big and complex but it was certainly exciting to travel through them and not get lost. Then as the spring melt began mom and dad bundled us up to watch the ice jam as cold water gushed and rushed, trying to escape in a coulee near us. The sound of the ice cracking was as loud as thunder.
My brother Dusty – who was often cruel to me when I bugged him – was also my protector and would hurt anyone who dared to harm me. Unaware of the complexities of the older school kids – I imagine I was cocky enough with my protector. The next year, I was in grade one, Nola was only in grade three, so we weren’t old enough to take ourselves to school. Dusty continued to take us although he was not in school.
We also had to cross that coulee we enjoyed so much watching. Crossing it was another matter. Once we crossed it in a spring storm. It was dark already by the time we reached the coulee. In the confusion as the cutter rocked and swayed and the horse stopped, Dusty went outside. Standing on the front rail to prevent it from tipping any more, he began whipping the horse. Bond seemed unable to pull us through the slush and had stopped. I cried, not from fear, but because Dusty was whipping my beloved horse. Later I realized Dusty and Bond saved our lives. If we had stopped, the raging waters would have tipped the cutter and it would have sunk.
Then grade two started and my whole life changed. Most times Nola and I went to school on our own. If it was too cold, we didn’t go. We were fortunate enough to have Bond. He took us to school and back by himself. He didn’t, however, go very fast. It took us more than an hour to go to school. He walked all the way – and since Dusty wasn’t taking us – he didn’t have anyone to make him go any faster. That spring – dad once met us. We were no more than a mile from school and it was getting dark. I didn’t know a storm was brewing. All I remember is looking out the cutter window and seeing the dark forms of the wolves following us and the horse sinking up to his belly in the snow. I can’t recall feeling any fear. To this day I find wolves fascinating.
We had a new teacher now. His name was Mr. Tompkins and he was as much fault as those grade eight students who decided it was fun to torture me. He didn’t do anything to stop them. He would go to his little teacher’s cottage and mayhem ruled. These students made me write such ridiculous things on the blackboard – Old Tom, Tom is a horse – a cow – a pig. (I was only in grade two so couldn’t write complex words yet) or draw co-op faces and call them old Tom-Tom. He caught me often – and I can still feel that leather strap on my hand. If I refused to write things on the blackboard – one student in particular was so mean. He made me put my finger in his compass-set then slammed the lid, nearly cutting my finger off. I hope he enjoyed being a bully.
They also enjoyed smothering me and scaring me by threatening to throw me down the toilet. And this was no flush toilet guys. It was deep and dark and very smelly. Thank God, they never dropped me. Nola would sit under the sand table I loved so much – and cry. She was only in grade three and helpless to stop them.
I have never held a grudge against them. I was never a bully and have no respect for people who are. Why do some people want to and feel it necessary to hurt those younger and weaker than they are? It is a complex problem I have never solved.
Then I was in grade three and my problems at school literally disappeared.
Mrs. McFadgen became our teacher and brought along her daughters as playmates for us. Elva had the same interests as I did. Up until then the main person I played with was my little brother Larry. Now Elva and I rode horses, we had overnight sleepovers and everyone played, mainly with very few fights, together. We had our Card Parties; Halloween; Valentine’s and especially elaborate Christmas concerts – a true concert with a Christmas pageant, Christmas carols and especially the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Although Nola remained afraid of horses and animals I was old enough to ride and handle horses. I loved them and spent hours drawing and studying them. Bond became my loyal, faithful friend.
We had a baseball team and played against other farm schools in the area. I played first base – I could jump, I could run and I could catch. My weakness was throwing. I won, in the last two years at Starview, first ribbons and the crest in Track and Field. I set records in High Jump and Hop, Step and Jump in Saskatchewan. My dad was proud and always said ‘he knew I could do it,’ even though mom was surprised – because as she said ‘I was sloppy’. They called me ‘Hex’ (witch in English) and I carried the name with pride. I wasn’t interested in anything labeled ‘girl things’. My whole life revolved around horse-back riding, reading westerns and ranching.
Nola, after finishing grade eight went to a convent in North Battleford. She ‘roomed and boarded’ at our cousin’s places there. I’m positive Nola more than paid her keep in babysitting, cooking and cleaning, although I remember mom and dad bringing them eggs, milk, cream and meats – all those things we had an abundance of and town people didn’t have so much.
Then I started in Grade Nine. Probably no one wanted to keep the Hex – my skills certainly did not lean towards cleaning, babysitting or cooking. So mom and dad decided in the winter, when the school bus wouldn’t come down our roads, to let Nola and I stay with Uncle Bill. He lived in Wilkie and we started going to McLurg High School. The experience was an eye-opener. I discovered boys were fun as boyfriends too. Nola already knew this. Uncle Bill was an alcoholic and we never saw him. When we left for school he was sleeping, when we got home from school he was already gone to the ‘beer parlor’. We were on our own and took full advantage. However, our schooling was not neglected. Although dad was a very happy-go-lucky type there were certain areas he was strict on and we never dared cross that line without consequences.
Then dad died and mom moved into town. Starview closed, probably because our family had the most kids going or because the school district decided to ‘bus’ children into town. Either way we all went to school in Wilkie. I missed the farm and especially horse-back riding. And I especially missed my dad. We still went to church on Sundays and spent time at Aunt Nora’s. She never had daughters and adopted us with unconditional love. She became my mother’s best friend.
I have such admiration for my mother during these times. She never recovered from dad’s death, but as kids, we never knew. She taught me loyalty, tolerance and a strong appreciation for family. I always told my kids – when the rest of the world turns its’ back on you – you can always count on your mom. I will never turn my back on my children, regardless of what they do. I learned this valuable wisdom from my mother.