Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dad Remembers, Part 2... by Barbara (Ruth)

Winter has always been a celebrated season in my family. We Hendersons are fond of shovelling and carving perfectly smooth snowbanks, making forts, skating, skiing, and hiking. We get this from a long line of hardy Scotch, Irish, and English descendants, used to cold winters and "making the best of it". My Mum and Dad grew up in Ottawa and Moncton, respectively, and both of those cities are known for fantastic snow and serious winters.
Me, outside our home in Hawkesbury, ON. c1967
Grampy (Dad's Dad) with my three sisters, most likely in Hawkesbury, ON. c 1960
Elizabeth, skier extraordinaire. c 1967
My sisters and I skate on the pond in Monroe, NY. Check out my ankles - to this day I can't skate!
Oh, and Janet is the one posing. c. 1972
My sisters making a fort in Monroe, NY. c 1970
Elizabeth looking wintry cute in Hawkesbury, ON. c. 1960

A few months ago I posted (here) a story my Dad wrote about Remembrance Day. Today I'd like to share with you his recollection of the joy of the first snowfall when he was a boy.  From this recollection, you'll understand the love of winter that my sisters and I inherited.

Written in 1994, this story takes place when Dad was 8 or 10 years old (1936 or 1938). Before the ravages of dementia robbed my Dad of his skills with the spoken and written word, I think he was almost poetic in his style. If you've ever read (or better yet, heard) Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales", you'll see similarities in descriptive style. (Thomas' famous short story is one of my Dad's and my favourites - you'll find it here.)

I hope you enjoy this memory on this wintry February day.

In Toronto, or perhaps more accurately here in Mississauga, winter usually comes shyly, advancing and retreating, and when it does come, the snow raises havoc and tempers. It is not often a respectable snow that swirls at your feet, that can be shaken off your coat or stamped off your boots and shaken out of your hair. Rather, it lies heavy and sodden on the road and sidewalks, often quickly becoming either a sloppy sodden mess accumulating in the gutters, or at the corners of the street where passing cars can be sure to splash it up and drench the people waiting to cross the street or board a bus.

By contrast, I remember in November or December, how winter always seemed to come when I was a boy in New Brunswick. There was nothing timid about THAT snow - no sir! Sometimes it came in great storms, blanketing the frozen ground with heaps and mounds of beautiful shapes that kids could explore and create all kinds of possible structures - forts, and caves and slides, or traps carefully constructed to capture your dog.

Chum, my dog, was always there watching you and he always seemed to be able to avoid, or if he didn't, to unpack the carefully packed dungeon as he tumbled down the slide and then ran over and licked your face, often so hard I generally fell over and ruined the whole affair.

We never did catch the truant officer.

My friend Art and I never found out why the truant officer - a big tall, thin, severe looking gentleman - always on the lookout for misbehaving school boys - was never seen walking out in the field where the snow was deep, and where our trap lay, and never seemed to be after us anyway. Well, we were ready for him.

The first snow was more apt to be less boisterous, but not timid. I remember clearly my first recollection of winter coming. It was on a dark gray afternoon. It must have been cold, but I was not. I had gone on an errand down to our corner grocery store for Aunt Jean who lived in the flat upstairs in our house. I walked home across St. George street, up through the girls' playground of the King George School. The snow began. It was getting dark, and the single light bulb, with its flat green reflector over the door of the school, cast a light which seemed to make the tiny flakes into swirling sparks, silently and swiftly covering the sidewalk and me. 

It seemed that in only a few seconds, the bare, drab street was covered with sparkling white, and my footprints were the first! I passed the school through the lane-way behind Mr. Leblanc's shed, and emerged into the boys' playground. It was smaller than the girls'. I could look up and see my cousin Muriel getting supper in their kitchen, then on to Mountain Road, around the corner a couple of hundred feet, and I was home. 

"Mother, it's snowing fast and soon we won't be able to see the sidewalk." I don't remember what she said. Parents weren't generally excited by snow, as I remember. Anyway, Dad wasn't home just yet, so the supper wouldn't be ready until later. I delivered the parcel of groceries to Aunt Jean and hurried downstairs into the snow.

Some time earlier, Dad had made me a snowplow. It was a marvellous affair - two pieces of rough-sawn board, nailed together in a V with a cross brace on the top and a stout cord nailed on so you could plow the deepest snow. I took it off the veranda, put it on the walk, and began to clear the sidewalk of snow, now over 1/2 inch deep. I traveled back with the plow almost to Robichaud's Grocery, clearing a nice path as I went. 

On my way back, I found the sidewalk totally covered again with the new snow coming down faster than ever. It was illuminated by the streetlights making cones of yellow light agains the black sky. The plow worked well - but I could see that it couldn't make much of a difference in this snow. When I got home I left the plow on the our narrow completely snow-covered lawn, and went inside. I guess we may have had nearly a foot of snow by morning, and we cleaned the walk with shovels the rest of the winter. 

I never did find my plow again until spring.


  1. Okay, I just love that, and the photos. Wonderfully evocative writing... Thanks!

  2. What a great story! It's true; I'm sure we used to get much more snow than we do now. I love the photo of the four of you skating!