Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Yesterday would have been my mother's 99 birthday. As usual for that time of year it was very, very cold in Winnipeg. I vividly remember trips back for her birthday when I suffered the shock and awe of the brutal Canadian plains winters, wind chill factors being reported every morning along with the minus numbers. Whenever I hear wind howl, I think about lying in my bedroom on Dominion street and wishing I could stay in bed. I'd stand up and look out the gun port type windows we had running along the top of the room and peer through the frost patterns on the glass at the back yard and lane behind. Icicles would be hanging from the roofs and snow would be blowing sideways across the yard and piling up against the garage. In Fallbrook, today, dawn broke in a shimmering red glow bathing the valley with gold. No wind chill factor.

Mom would make us porridge for breakfast and then we'd wrap up in our snow suits, boots, mitts and a big woolen scarf across the forehead and around the neck, trudging off to school carrying an extra 10 pounds of clothing. For me, it was a short walk for elementary school, more miserable once we were in junior high and the longest walk to high school. Nobody drove kids to school that I can remember.

Once in school, we took off all the heavy clothes in the infamous dimly lit cloak room where all sorts of dark and secret things occurred. Notes could be exchanged, teachers would pull you in for a special talk or scolding and some kids even went in there and kissed. It smelled like mothballs, unwashed hair, trapped feet, chalk and floor wax. We each had a hook and a small space underneath where our boots would go. In 1st and 2nd grades the teacher had to help us get all our gear on and fastened properly. I can remember the teacher tugging at my jacket bottom hem to get the zipper up straight.

Almost everyone in first grade got their tongue stuck on the front railing of the school at some time during the winter. There was a small mark left on the rail where I experienced the shame of it all - trapped, in pain, crying as the school nurse came out with a basin of warm water to release me. Every day it happened to some kid. The other inevitable kid thing was chapped lips. Our mothers, teachers, nurse would all tell us not to lick our lips. I had a perpetual scabby ring around my mouth that my mom would force me to look at. "See what you're doing? That's from licking. Stop licking.". I guess we didn't have chap stick. The climate was so dry that on exertion, sledding or skating out in the cold, licking your dry lips was irresistible.

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