There was nothing like having a good thought as a companion while exploring with my dog. Mom’s explanation about “class” was the finest mulling-over company I’d had since we moved to town. “Come on, Scamp. Let’s go.”
The birch trees presenting a stark white against blue skies, the evergreen spruce and pine confirming the trademark of home, the winds whispering through the leaves, a tiny Lady’s Slipper growing all by herself, and Tiger Lilies bursting in bright orange blossom mixed their essences into the salve that soothed my lonely soul. Whatever my brother and sister were doing to break into their new lifestyle, I knew they would not be crossing my path. I did not want them with me. I had a secret.
I was on the hunt for an old, abandoned house that I had discovered a few days before.
The house had been a grand coup in the eyes of an adventurous country girl. It stood in a small clearing, surrounded by trees, with only one small shed. It was not a farm. Having been sturdily built, it showed no signs of collapse or disrepair. On that day, I had discovered the house when dinnertime was dangerously close. I quickly walked around the building and resolved to return as soon as possible. The boarded windows prevented me from peeking inside, but, the next time I came, I decided, I would find a way to slip inside the house. I wanted to feel the life that had filled its rooms.
As Scamp and I followed the same trail, probably cut through the bush by deer, I was determined to find that house again. I was certain we were nearing the location when I suddenly spotted the clearing. Yes, there was the small house, but something was strange. The August sun was reflecting off one of its windows. Thinking I may have the wrong house, I approached slowly. No, this was the house, but the boards were off the windows.
As I walked closer, I saw movement inside the house. I stopped.
A woman came to the window, studying something in her hand. Then, she put both hands to her face and began sobbing. Something was wrong. I headed for the door. I knocked and shouted, “Hello, my name is Amy. I live in town.”
A few seconds later, the door slowly opened.
The well groomed woman who stood before me showed almost no sign of having been crying. “Hello,” I said.
“Hallo” she answered.
“Have you just come here?” I asked.
This beautiful woman, younger than my mother but older than my oldest sister, stared at me. Then she said slowly and with a heavy accent, “I do not speak English.”
“That’s okay,” I said as if I were the high commissioner of languages and foreign affairs. “What are you doing here?”
She shrugged silently. I boldly stepped inside the house and stood just inside the door.
The house had only bare furnishings – a table, two chairs and a rickety old bed in one corner of a tiny bedroom area. A small bureau appeared to be the only counter space for food and food preparation. There was a wood cookstove that she had obviously been trying to light. There was a bit of paper and a number of burnt matches sitting on top of the stove. There were signs of food having been partially prepared on the bureau, but with very little evidence of equipment or kitchenware. Unopened boxes and a large trunk held a promise of more household goods.
A bucket of water sat on the floor by the stove. I could smell coffee, but saw that the aroma was from grounds that were still in an opened bag.
Having been raised with only a cook stove for heat, building a fire in a stove was no challenge for me. I looked for her wood and kindling. There was none in the house. I went over to the stove, lifted one of the lids and looked inside. She had been trying to start a fire with coal. Still holding the lid, I turned to her and said, “You can’t start a fire in this stove with coal,”
She came to the stove and looked down into the pile of coal. “Nein?” she asked.
“Nein.” I was thrilled. I knew that word. Nancy Drew had nothing on me. This was better than anything Aesop could conjure. Even Hans Christian Anderson would have a tough time topping this predicament.
I put down the lid and ran outside to gather some dry twigs. I would have to find some fallen branches once I got the fire going. When I brought the twigs in, I broke them into small pieces, laid them on top of the coal, on her single piece of crumpled paper and reached for her matches.
Where were they? “Matches?” I asked holding up a used one.
She put out her hands, palms up, and said, “Nein.”
Throughout my efforts, I saw how perfectly her hair had been braided and put in a circle on the top of her head. She had on shoes with higher heels than our women wore – except for serious dress-up events. She had on nylons with no runs. Their black lines ran perfectly up and down the back of her calves. Her clothes were made from a heavier material than my mother’s outfits. They looked like they would never wear out. I had no concept of rich and poor, but I knew that this woman thought about things other than how to live in a prairie home, by herself, in Canada.
I needed help.
“Don’t move. I’m going home to get my mom. Wait here for me.” I pointed to the floor. I nodded with a questioning look, “Okay?”
“Okay,” she said.