“Someone’s living in the bush, Mom! She needs help!” My seven year old lungs worked hard after the rigorous run home. Scamp, my border collie, had beat me to the house, greeting his water dish with showering urgency.
“Is someone hurt?”
“No, Mom, but she needs help! Come with me!” Hearing the magic word, Scamp headed for the door immediately.
Who would have guessed that a move to town could be so exciting?
Our move to the small prairie town from our country home meant leaving fascinating friends. My territory encompassed approximately a dozen enormous farms. The people who laboured over them were my world. With no particular routine, Scamp, and I visited all of them regularly. These hard working souls were of assorted age, religion and culture. All the families farmed except for the Pentecostal preacher. After he tried to ‘savingly’ pluck my soul from my Anglican roots, mother decided I could concentrate on visiting farm friends.
My father was home for a short time every few weeks. He built roads into the booming oil fields in Alberta during the 1950s . My mother, a city raised and educated woman, taught school. With both parents working and being the youngest of five, I had immense freedom to explore the countryside from sun-up until dinnertime. I lunched, snacked, dined and wallowed in a microcosmic reconstruction of Europe. A cosmopolitan education sat waiting behind every farm door.
The women seemed to appreciate this ‘teacher’s kid’. I asked more questions between cultural treats than the Canadian Government after an application for citizenship. Images exploded and danced through my imagination as these courageous people described lives in foreign lands. Recalled through laughter and tears, their childhood and family stories filled me with wondrous images and an insatiable appetite for more. These living storybooks provided me with an early version of the internet long before a decent library was at my disposal.
If anyone needed to know anything about anyone in the countryside, they could have asked me. Not that they ever did.
Mother announced that she had secured a teaching job in town. We would be moving into Winfield, Alberta. The only reason I did not put up a fuss about moving was because I eavesdropped during arguments lodged by my older siblings. I learned there may be some benefits to living in town: Running water. Inside toilets that flushed. A whole crop of kids my age. More teachers than just my mother. A general store that sold six different selections of candy including jawbreakers.
With a promise that I could visit my country friends at any time, I took up my new life in town. During the summer, I explored the town with a somber heart. There was no creek where I could swim with my dog. A small, slimy pond sat stagnating on the other side of the railway trestle.
Town people were different. They would say hello, but were in a hurry. It was inappropriate to knock on one of their doors expecting a story. There were new rules all of a sudden. I was told that I was not to stand on the back porch and holler for my brother to come home for dinner. In town, that was unacceptable.
One day in the post office, I overheard the Postmistress discussing Christine, a neighbour of ours, with another town person. Of course, it would have been inappropriate to say she was gossiping. However, it was stuff that Thumper would not have approved. One comment that stuck like a berry seed in between my teeth was the Postmistress saying, “Christine has no class.”
Christine was a welcoming, friendly neighbour. I knew she was not a teacher. What was this business about “class”? I liked Christine. She had a television set that offered the incredible Ed Sullivan show every Sunday night. The miracle of such a device partially made up for the loss of my country life.
“Mom, why would someone say Christine has no class? She’s not a teacher.”
“Who said that?”
I knew this was one of those trick questions that mothers ask, “I don’t know her name.” That was the truth.
“Well, darling, that was not a kind thing to say about Christine. Its meaning has nothing to do with teaching.”
“What did it mean then?”
“Someone with class would be as comfortable dining with a queen as with a hobo. And the person could put both of them at ease. That would mean the person has class.”
“Christine puts me at ease whenever I go there. I like her. But I’ve never eaten with her.”
Mom gave one of her mother smiles that seemed to say, ‘I know something that you cannot possibly understand yet’ and returned to her book.