This is the second chapter of my autobiography.
I must make the disclaimer that all names have been changed to protect the identities of people involved.
The facts are only as I remember them, and may not be completely accurate.
The events in this chapter occurred between 1964 and 1966.
We arrived in southern Alberta after four days on the train. We spent all those days “sleeping” on the trains seats, but learned from the man who had hired mum that the sleeping car had been included in the price he paid! The rain came down in buckets as we alighted. A short little man wearing cowboy boots, hat and jeans approached us. After introductions were made, and we collected our baggage, we climbed into the blue pickup truck the man drove and we were off. The ranch was a few miles out of town. There was a modest one bedroom house, and a shack and lean to as well as barns and corrals where a herd of horses stood. He led us into the house and showed us the room which would be ours – I was to share the double bed with mum. The rancher explained that he would be sleeping out in the shack. I had time to wonder where he would sleep in winter, but didn’t say anything. I was still very shy.
That day, mum unpacked our things, and then she made supper. It consisted of canned yams, meat and a cherry pie. We would learn that this rancher ate only canned yams and cherry pie – for every supper. Mum would soon grow tired of this fare as would I.
The next day, the rancher showed me his older mare, suitable for riding for a young person with no experience. I was overjoyed. I was able to ride this horse out in the fields and couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have this dream become reality.
Later, I would meet the rancher’s young niece. She rode a pinto horse over from her home, and we would go riding together.
One day, as we cantered across the field, my horse reared up and I fell off. I hurt my shoulder, and it bothered me for some time after.
Sometimes I would read the Western Horsemen magazines to which the rancher subscribed, and there was the popular prairie weekly newspaper, The Western Producer. They had a kids’ page, and I submitted a poem which they published. I was so excited!
This first published work excited me. I was just eleven years old, and about to enter sixth grade. I wondered if perhaps I could be a writer? The thought had never occurred to me before. I’d had thoughts of becoming a teacher like my big sister, but writing was something that could be even better!
My mum contacted her sister, Lena, in Calgary and she and her boyfriend came down to bring us back to Calgary to live. Mum planned to get on welfare, as she had found the everyday work as a housekeeper more than she could handle. The day arrived, and mum hadn’t told the rancher that she was leaving. He was quite angry. We had only lived on the ranch for the summer, and I am sure that he didn’t believe he’d got the money he’d paid for our train tickets back yet.
Nothing would change my mum’s mind though, once she reached a decision. We left that afternoon, crammed into the car. We first went to stay with my mum’s sister. Lena was a bit rowdy. She smoked, drank, gambled on the horses and had a great sense of humor. She wore a lot of makeup and jewellery and she dyed her hair. She was the complete antithesis to my mother.
Mum soon got an apartment, a seedy little place right in the downtown, across a river from the older part of town. The school I would attend was across that river, so everyday I had to cross the bridge to reach the school. I didn’t settle in very well. By this time, I believe the constant changing of places to live and of schools had taken its toll. I don’t remember much about the class, although I do remember this. I walked home one day, to have the boy in the next apartment stop me.
“D-do you want to listen to some records?” he asked.
The poor kid! I bustled away, blurting, “No!” as I ran to my door.
I told my mum and she said that I was way too young to be around a boy. In later years, I pitied that boy and told myself that I had been rude. I was embarrassed whenever I thought about my reaction. The poor kid. I probably scarred him for life. Got up the nerve to ask a girl to listen to records, and she bolted.
From the seedy apartment, which my older sister, Doreen, called a slum, we moved to live next to her, in a bright little second story apartment. She lived just next door and it should have been a cozy ending to our nomadic life. That was not to be. My mum resented Doreen, as Doreen was free with her advice and guidance, which mum called “bossiness.”
I settled in at the new school. For the first time in my life, there was a girl in my class who was taller than me! Freida and I became fast friends. We took turns having our lunch at her place or at mine. She was funny and kind. At recess, I was included in ball games, and I was happy. I belonged, at last. I liked the teacher. He was the first male teacher I’d had, except for a short stint in the small Ontario town, with a military minded teacher who, on dismissal, had us, “Stand, turn, forward,” as though we were soldiers. This teacher was nice.
Mum made plans, and we were then on our way, in a moving truck, to live in central Alberta, in the town where her other sister lived, as well as her dad, my grandfather. True to past behavior, she didn’t tell my sister Doreen that we were moving. Doreen would have come home after school to find us gone. It was a cold winter day with snow on the ground and a sky of pink and grey. I wanted to move and yet I didn’t. I found my sister overbearing at times and yet I was going to miss her. I liked the fact that she had promised me a small allowance, and that I would be responsible for my saving and spending. That was all gone now. The future was unknown. How I would miss my friend Freida.
We arrived in the small town of Sylvan Lake and the mover took our belongings to a cabin which was made up of a large kitchen/living room and two bedrooms. It was bitterly cold. During our winter stay I would always be cold. The cabin was heated by a wood/coal cook stove. I would wake up in the mornings to a warm fire that mum had started in the stove, but the rooms were always chilled.
I started school. The building was huge. It was designed for all grade levels from kindergarten through grade twelve. It was a small town, but all the country kids were bussed there, so there was a huge student population. From the first day, I was intimidated by the sheer size of the school, and the noise in the hallways as the kids bustled about opening and closing their lockers, and retrieving books. The school secretary showed me to a classroom. I remember very little about the events in the school while I attended. I was given special workbooks to take home to work on my mathematics. The students in my class were the first to have been taught the “new” math from the early grades. I was lost, and couldn’t grasp the concepts the teacher tried to show me. I fumbled with the workbooks and it was as though I was learning some new language, but without any reference to English. I began to have stomach aches. I would tell mum that I was too sick to go to school. She let me stay at home.
We moved to a small old house. The landlady lived next door and she often came over to chat or, as mum said, to snoop. The house was cold and mum kept the living room drapes closed to try and keep the heat in.
Mum got a dog, a German shepherd that had obedience training. She soon gave it away, complaining that it cost too much to feed it. Again, I was without a pet.
A welfare worker arrived, and during her little interview with mum, she demanded to know why those curtains were shut. Mum explained, but I had the impression that the woman thought mum had some sort of mental illness. The worker told me that I must attend school. Then she left.
Mum was frightened that I would be taken away by welfare, so she insisted that I go to school, sore stomach or not.
Mum contacted the SDA minister and we began to attend church. The members had decided to start up a small church school, and mum enrolled me as soon as it opened. The other kids who attended from the countryside around the town had parents who drove them to the school, a few miles away. The parents drove in rotation. I was picked up at the end of the street, every day and dropped off at the house after classes.
The school had just a few students, and one teacher. She meant well, but she often lectured me on things like being too sensitive to what the kids said to me, and that sort of thing. There weren’t any kids my age there. I was the oldest. And the tallest yet again.I just didn’t fit in.
I noticed that these kids were no better than those at the “worldly” schools I had attended. I was disillusioned. I had really believed that I would find friends because they were the same religion as me. That was not going to happen.
I had not been to a dentist ever, and had two painful teeth. One day, as I got into the car, to ride to school, one of the kids said, “Oh, your breath, whenever you get into the car!”
I hadn’t realized how my breath smelled.
I believe the teacher contacted my sister Doreen, as the next week, Doreen came up to our place and took me to a dentist. He was an SDA. I had two infected molars, and he pulled them. It hurt so bad! I think he should have given me antibiotics first, to reduce the infection and inflammation, but he did not. I developed a fear of dentists after this ordeal. At least my breath didn’t smell bad any longer!