I know that many of my parents’ generation walked to school through waist-deep snow, uphill both ways, blah, blah, blah, but we didn’t. We got to ride on a school bus. But before we got on the warm bus, we had to walk out our long lane and stand waiting while the north wind whistled across open fields and turned us into people popsicles.
One fall, my Granddad took pity on us and built a shelter. It looked like the one in the picture above, but with no front door. We were really happy to have it, even though it looked a lot like a grey-painted outhouse — or a “Lady Jones” — as our family used to call them. It was just big enough for the four of us to stand in, and no one appreciated this funny-looking shelter more than me. Not only does this story take place in the Ice Age, it was also the age of no jeans allowed at school and skirts as short as your mother would let you wear them. Pre-shelter, my legs were often numb with cold by the time we boarded the warm bus.
In the nicer weather, we didn’t need to use the shelter unless it was raining, but we did find another use for it. Our long lane was lined with huge old maples whose lofty green crowns towered above us. I was a tree climber back in the day, but the lowest branches of these beauties were too tall to reach, so climbing them was out of the question — until the day our bus shelter was built under the tree closest to the road.
One beautiful afternoon in the early spring, we girls were outdoors, and Mom was outside with us too. We ended up walking to the end of the lane, and when we got there, we talked her into climbing the tree with us. We showed her how to climb from the ground to the supports that Granddad had used to fasten the shelter to the tree. From the supports, we went to the roof of the shelter and then into the lowest branches of the tree. Before long, Mom had joined the four of us, and we were as close to the top of the tree as possible.
Because the leaves weren’t fully formed, we were on view to anyone passing by, which was hardly anyone on our country road, this being the only reason Mom had agreed to climb the tree in the first place. We were having a great time until the friendly toot of a horn interrupted us. It was one of our neighbours, one of the only neighbours who actually commuted to work instead of working on the family farm, and he was returning home at the end of the day.
Well! You would have thought someone lit a rocket under my mother, except that it worked in reverse. She shot down that tree, and the whole time she wondered aloud, “Do you think he saw me? He didn’t know it was me up there, right?”
We hurried back to the house together, and Mom kept reassuring herself that there was no way Bill could have counted how many people were in the tree as he drove by. Surely he thought it was just us kids. I don’t know the answer to that, but Bill’s daughter and her husband are good friends of ours. The next time I see them, I’ll get them to ask.
UPDATE: Bill has no recollection of that day, let alone the fact that my mother was in the tree. But he’s a tease, so I’ll bet she would have never heard the end of it, had he known.