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05 October 2012

Pitter-Pat Stories - The Coldest Winter Yet

(Where we left off last ...)

Sally Ann's story continues ...

The children, all seven of them, had been herded off to school that morning lunch boxes in hand, the boys in the lead. "Old Dutch", the makeshift housekeeper, had gotten the children up, cooked a breakfast for them of pancakes and gravy, helped Sally Ann, the oldest of the five little girls, pack the lunches and get the children dressed for the mile walk to the schoolhouse. 

Snowdrifts at times forced the children out of the path, or rather from where the path used to be, into the field, into places where the hedges caught the snow. The children always went to school "cross-lots", first following the log road out from the shelter of the windbreak, around the house, and then at the maple tree, cutting across the field and through the swamp to the hedge row that led down over the hill to the school house. The boys always took the lead. They were not much older than the girls -all of them being only a year or so apart by age. During winter, the girls didn't mind this because usually the walking was easier for the girls if the boys went on ahead and "broke the path" through the snow. This morning the boys had been reminded not to run but to take shorter steps as the snow had been getting deeper every day. 

When the children arrived at school, they took off their outer clothing and sat around the stove to dry their stockings and if possible their underwear, which came to the ankles for added protection against the cold. As usual, they moved away from the heater to their desks when their stockings or trouser legs began to get warm and dry. On bad days, such as this, they played indoors during recess and lunch so their clothing would be as dry as possible before returning home again at 4:00. 

The hike back home was always harder than going to school in the morning because nearly half of it was uphill. What made it bearable was that the wind was usually at their backs instead of in their faces as it was in the mornings. 

The girls never liked the boys to get very far ahead of them, especially in the winter time. They were often reminded to stay in sight of the girls which they usually did. This day, like so many others that had passed, the boys were called back to help the littlest girls through the snow banks. Seven-year-old Beverly and eight-year-old "Vangie" were too little to keep from getting stuck and too big for Eleanor and Sally, nine and ten, to carry through the drifts. 

The children were anxious to get home for several reasons. It was unusual that both Dad and the hired man should be there. They knew this was because their mother had been so sick lately. They also knew that Dad was going to have a doctor come again to see her and they hoped he might be there when they got back, or if not, then at least she might be feeling better. They hoped the snow plow had come that day also, but doubted it, for the road from home to the comer below the school house was never kept plowed in winter. Sleigh and cutter, horseback and foot, were the accepted modes of travel in winter. 

When they arrived at the door, they knew instinctively that there had been no change. "No, the doctor had not come yet." "Yes, you still have to be quiet." "Old Dutch" helped them off with their wet clothing and hung their stockings and wet mittens on the bars behind the stove above the wood box, where the snow dripped off onto the wood. Kindling wood was drying in the oven and the children sat in front of that open door to warm their feet. 

Supper smelled good and the children were anxious to eat. There would be no after school snacking tonight because of the early supper and being Friday, school had let out a half-hour early. 

The children were allowed to very quietly peek into the next room to see their mother. The scene was the same: the shades were still drawn; the room was lit only by the table lamp; Dad was asleep in his chair where the reading table usually stood, and the table was moved nearer the stove. It seemed that Mother had not moved from her place in several days. "Old Dutch" drew the children back into the kitchen and cautioned them against making noise to awaken their father, for he had slept almost as little as their mother these last few days. He did not tell them their mother was not really sleeping, but was too tired to acknowledge their presence. 

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