Lot of snow coming down today in Hope Ness as you can see. Yes, those are my car tracks in the driveway. I’ve just come back from a wild goose chase to Owen Sound where it wasn’t snowing. If this keeps up Mr. Massey Too and his attached snow-blower will have lots to do tomorrow morning.
Being Canadian, eh, I’ve seen it snow this much, and much more lots of times. Not to get too moody about it, but it does bring back a memory of one morning that year I lived at Rolling Acres when the snow was falling just like this, with little or no wind. I was walking to school on the side-road about a half-mile from the ranch when it started coming down so heavy I could barely see the gloved hand in front of my face. I was lost in a world of white.
I had a notion to “fall like a tree” and just stay there and let the snow cover me. But I didn’t. I kept going and made it to school. In those days I don’t think there was such a thing as “snow days,” when the winter weather was so bad schools might conceivably be closed. That’s become routine in this age of amalgamated central schools in rural areas and school buses. Back then, still in the era of one-room, eight-grade, rural schools, everybody, including the teacher, walked to school. I walked two miles each way. When Mrs. Doris Leith from Dromore came to take over as teacher for the balance of the school year she had to drive because she lived so far away.
Mrs. Leith (I can’t bring myself to refer to her any other way) had retired some years before to raise a family; but the local school board asked her to come out of retirement and try to restore some order at SS No. 12 Egremont because the school had gotten so out of control under the young woman fresh out of teachers’ school – “Normal School,” it used to be called. In those days elementary teachers didn’t have to have university degrees. A Grade 13 high school graduate, with a year of Normal School could easily get a job teaching at a one-room, rural school, for the grand sum of about $1,900 annually, plus room and board with a local farm family. That young woman, whose name, I’m sad to say, I don’t recall, was 19 years old, just a few years older than several of the Grade 7 and 8 farm boys. She lasted about two months, two terrible months for her as the school descended into chaos. The last straw, I think . . .
Wow. The electrical power suddenly went off there for about two hours. A “planned outage” the woman told me on the phone. Didn’t I get a phone call about it? No, not as far as I knew, I said. So now it’s back on, all’s right with my little world here, and I can pick up that “last straw” I was just about to tell you about.
The older boys in the school, myself included, I confess, got into a chestnut fight, of all things, inside and outside the school. There was a chestnut tree in the schoolyard, and it was that time of year when the chestnuts lay on the ground under the tree in abundance. We had filled our pockets and commenced throwing them at each other. The battle moved inside. I poked my head around a door and promptly got hit in the right eye with a chestnut. The impact dropped me to the floor in pain. Within a short time my eye started to turn blood-red. The teacher sent me home. No such thing as 911, and no phone to call someone to take me to the nearest hospital. So I walked.
I told the man of the house what had happened. He looked at my eye, told me to cover the other eye with my hand and tell him what I could see. “Nothing,” I said.
“C’mon, boy, you can see something.”
“No,” I said, I can’t see anything.”
He drove me to the hospital in Owen Sound, close to two hours away. After being seen in Emergency I was admitted. I was told I had to stay lying down. I was there for two weeks. I don’t know what else they did, but the blood in the eye gradually cleared and I could see out of it again.
About 20 years later the vision in my right eye started getting fuzzy. I was admitted to a hospital in Belleville near where I was living at the time, put on a blood thinner, Warfarin, and a steroid, Prednisone, to get the blood flowing again. I was told I had an “occlusion” of a blood vessel in that eye. In recent years I’ve gradually been losing sight in it because the pressure of the fluid in the eye is damaging the nerve. So I put eye drops in both my eyes morning and night to bring the pressure down, and slow the degeneration of the nerve. That chestnut has had a very long trajectory.
Getting back to the fate of the young teacher, I learned something about how stories passed around a community from one person to another inevitably get exaggerated. The chestnut became a bullet from a .22 rifle a boy had brought to school. Not long after that the poor, abused, young woman was transferred to a better school. She may have had a fine, successful teaching career after that. I hope so.
Such was Mrs. Leith’s reputation as a strict disciplinarian she didn’t actually have to walk through the door to work her magic. By the first morning she arrived and set to work we had already transformed ourselves into a roomful of well-behaved, model students. She was a good teacher in other respects, with a natural instinct for the importance of making each of her students feel good about themselves, and their little school community of fellow students.
The next year when I was a Grade 8 student at a suburban Toronto-area school, a big brown envelope came in the mail there for me. It was full of letters from all the students at SS No. 12 that year, including the new boarders at Rolling Acres. There was a nice covering letter from Mrs. Leith too. My Grade 8 teacher thought it was great. He came up with the idea of sharing each of the letters from the kids at the one-room, rural school with the students in his suburban class. Two-thirds of them were Jewish, by the way. In some cases there was quite an age difference, but it didn’t matter. We all became pen pals for the rest of the year.
So, this started with snow falling, and I just let it take me back. Let’s just call it a “snow day.”