Horses, school, and firecrackers (FGKk-4)

When I was a kid and I heard stories about my mom and her siblings riding their horses to school I was so jealous. It didn’t matter how many times mom clearly explained to me that they rode up hill in -30C blizzards both ways, or that the school house was frozen solid in the morning, all I heard was “horses”. Now that I’m older and a little wiser I have a lot more appreciation for the cold winter mornings when dad drove me to school (although I have my own hardship stories of walking to school in freezing temperatures uphill both ways to share with my kids).

When it was time for mom to start school, Grandma said they were a bit nervous because mom hadn’t been riding much by that point (she was 5) but knowing that she had her older siblings to look out for her, and their wonderful old saddle horse Buck to babysit her she felt relatively secure about sending mom off.

One morning in the summer before mom started school they got her on Old Buck (I never heard him referred to as just “Buck”) so that mom could practice riding around the yard while Grandma sat in the sun porch and did some sewing. Mom was slowly getting more confident and at one point yelled at grandma to look out so she could watch her trot.

She rode right up to the window and was yelling about how she could ride. Somebody must have rode by or the horses walked out in the field by there, that was it. And old Buck, he shook himself and sneezed and then whinnied away. When he shook himself it nearly took Margie to the ground and she was terrified she hung on for dear life. He never moved but he was shaking his head and looking at the other horses and that almost discouraged her from riding. She didn’t get off, she kept on, she wasn’t quite so smart. And so she rode Buck to school when she was old enough to go to school with the other two kids. Right across the creek, up the hill, I forget how many gates they had to go through to get to school. Marshall was at an age where he was into things too.

And then she digresses into a couple of stories about my uncle chasing off magpies and having a nasty fall in the half frozen corral. Gosh I wish I had known them all as kids.

Like a typical sibling relationship, mom wanted to hang out with the older kids and the older kids wanted her to hang out with her own age group. But she made friends with a girl her age who, according to this story, struggled with arithmetic (I completely relate). Their teacher at the time was a man who had been a Sargent in the army and he was rather strict:

He was teaching grade 1 then, arithmetic and Margie got it quite easily and the other little girl could not do it. He had more patience, he just kept going over and over and over. Finally he lost his patience and Margie was sitting behind the little girl, and he finally lost his patience I don’t know what he said but he just threw his arms in the air and swung around to face the blackboard and threw the chalk at the blackboard. And just as he did that, Margie had swiped out of Marshall’s pockets a firecracker and some matches – she was only in grade 1. I didn’t know they had them even. And she lit it and threw it down on the floor just as he shouted that he gave up and he nearly jumped out of his skin. And after preaching about the bombs going off, the rest of the school were just terrified

Dad laughs

Just awful. Oh but Marshall he was so mad at Margie

Dad: wished he’d done it himself

Grandma: well he was mad because she’d swiped his …. they were precious (dad: his firecracker) yeah, and they weren’t supposed to have them. I forget all the details but that was he was mad about, but they were all shook up because at the school that was very loud. He had a hard time surviving after that I think but there was never a dull moment much when she was around.

I’ve heard both the firecracker and chalk throwing story before, but never from Grandma’s perspective. In mom’s story she said the teacher said “I should throw a firecracker under your chair to get you to work” and since she had them…. well… they kind of were put to use. The version of the chalk throwing story I got was that the chalk was aimed towards the class not the chalkboard, but no matter how this story is told it never ceases to make me laugh.

I remember mom telling me that if any one of the three of them did the least little thing “wrong” at school, as soon as the day was over there was a mass rush to bolt out of the classroom and be the first one home to tell grandma what had happened. The fear was that if you didn’t get your story out first, she wouldn’t believe it. But the one “riding to school story” that I’ve always had mad respect for was when my uncle tied his toboggan to his horse and took it to school so they could sled. Part of me has always thought that being on that toboggan would be the ride of a lifetime. And as someone who has been dragged in a a calving sled behind a quad by my uncle I still believe this to be true. Like I said, I sure wish I had known this trio when they were kids.

Then Marshall got a new horse. We went up to Johnson’s and he had some lovely horses, they had show horses and other kinds. And he picked a lovely little horse for Marshall, wasn’t too small. Marshall figured he needed a new horse. One day, I always watched out the window and could see them from the time they emerged from the bush out in the field, and then they followed the road down to the gate -they had a lot of gates. Margie had persuaded Marshall to let her try riding that horse of his and after riding Old Buck she hadn’t practiced handling a horse too much because Buck knew what to do more than she did. I looked out the window thinking it was just about time they were coming out of the bush about a mile away. And this black streak came out of the bush and headed way off over to the corner where the gate was to get through. And I was frightened, I wondered what in the world had happened, wondered if they were dragging a stirrup of something. Margie had persuaded Marshall to let her ride his horse and the horse knew he had somebody pretty green and he just had a real good run after standing tied to a tree all day that was just what he wanted to do. It was horrifying watching it. I could see the whole show from my window. No wonder my hair is getting white.

The kids could tell more stories about that little school there. But it was good training in its own way. You learned a great many things that you wouldn’t learn in the city schools. All through Margie’s life she went through the good things so vigorously. She would be very tired at night.

The story changes now to to the time when things changed out here forever. I’ve really enjoyed the “before polio” stories, I feel like it’s given me a stronger sense of mom’s adventurous side before she got sick. I haven’t listened to any more of the tape, so what happens next will be a surprise to me as well, but I know that we are in the polio stage of things.

I’ve mentioned this before, but as sad and traumatizing these years are that are coming ahead in mom’s story, they also are ones of faith, strength, grace, and courage. It took a lot, not just for mom but for her entire family to decide that she was going to learn to thrive in extremely adverse circumstances. It’s a story of hardship and pain, but it’s also a story of love and faith.


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