Houston Memories

 


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During my childhood, my family moved quite often due to my father's mining career. This nomad life led to many unique experiences and fond memories.

In the late summer of 1970, we moved to Houston - a small town in northern British Columbia. Here is where I find a treasure chest of childhood memories.

I was a belligerent child and it often got me into trouble. While living in a subdivision, I was playing in the schoolyard with a few neighborhood kids. I said something rude to a next-door neighbor's son, which angered him. He responded by kicking out my front tooth.

Even at the tender age of six, I knew what had happened had been partially my fault. So when I got home - with a bloody mouth - I told my mother a swing had hit me in the mouth. It was a plausible story and my mother believed me.

However, unknown to me, my assailant had gone home and was waiting in fear for the telephone call from my mother, informing his parents of the damage he had done. After a few hours, his conscience either took hold or the agony of waiting overcame him and he confessed the incident to his mother.

She called my mother to apologize and my fallacy was revealed. He was punished - which he blamed me for - and I did my best to avoid him.

Not only was I a surly child, but also I was uncoordinated. While visiting friends of my parents, their son and I went downstairs to play ping-pong. I was frustrated with my inability to hit the small ball and the one time my paddle did connect, I whacked it with all my might. I watched the white orb sail across to the other side of table and hit my opponent between the eyes.

Needless to say the game ended there.

But the majority of my recollections come from when we left the subdivision and moved to a farm on the other side of the Bulkley River, that place was a child's paradise.

I had a log playhouse - identical to the main house - that was furnished with odds and ends my parents donated.

It was there I held my tea parties for my toys and occasionally my mother. One day I spent hours tidying up my little home, preparing the tea (in reality, Kool-Aid) and creating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches worthy of royalty. I even went so far as to cut off the crusts.

Proudly, I escorted my mother inside. She perched regally on the chair, but the look of apprehension that crossed her face warned me that I had done something wrong. Yet, she valiantly nibbled on a sandwich and sipped her ‘tea’. Later I learned it was not the done thing to paint flowers on bread with food coloring.

I was the only daughter in my family, with a natural brother years older.

When I was seven, my parents adopted a boy three years younger than myself. It could have been a lonely time for me, but the farm next to us was owned by a Dutch couple with about ten children. Two girls were near my age and they became my playmates. They introduced me to the mysterious and exciting world of children on a farm.

Summer we walked around sucking on pieces of cows’ salt licks; we paddled in the river on inner tubes, then bravely removed the leeches from our legs when we left the river, we searched the bushes for edible berries.

Sometimes, a roly-poly white pony - ironically named Slim - with one blue eye and one brown eye would be our gallant steed for these adventures. The three of us would pile on and urge him to whisk us away.

Slim would like to wait until we were riding down a hill before tiring of us. Calmly, he would stop; lower his head then wait patiently as the three of us slid gracelessly to the ground. Slim was too fat and too lazy to dislodge us any other way, but the glint in his eye as he watched us pick ourselves up, spoke of an equine amusement.

These were times when Slim wanted nothing to do with us from the moment we came near him. We would be chasing him until either he or we gave up. On one such time, when Slim was in a somewhat cantankerous mood, he kicked back with his hind legs. A hoof brushed my jaw - not hard enough to do any severe damage, but with enough pressure to cause swelling and bruising.

I was certain my mother would forbid me to play with Slim after she saw my face, so, as I walked home, I came up with a story. I told my mother one of the geese had bit me and she believed me.

My mother's acceptance of this story is understandable though since this gaggle of geese were a particularly malicious group. To this day, a part of me still believes those geese used to lie in wait for an unsuspecting person to ambush. Too many times my casual stroll would be transformed into a screaming dash for shelter as the birds squawked and flapped their wings behind me. Even when I was alert, watching intently for my tormentors, they still managed to surprise me. I suspected they materialized out of thin air.

One of my idols in those days was my big brother Mike. Six years older than I, he always seemed to know and do everything. One of the activities I envied the most was how he was allowed to walk across the frozen river to town. I desperately wanted to walk across that icy surface.

On evening my wish was granted. My parents had gone away for the week, leaving Mike in charge and Mike had to go to hockey practice. Mike made certain I was well dressed for the cold -the toque was crammed onto my head, the jacket hood tied tightly under my chin, a scarf wrapped around my face, my wool covered feet shoved into warm winter boots and my hands covered with thick mittens. With my favorite doll tucked in one arm and my free hand holding Mike's tightly, we set out for town.

Crossing the frozen river seemed every bit as exciting to my eight-year-old heart as I had thought it would be. Even though I gripped Mike's hand tightly, I felt daring. Especially when Mike told me not to tell Mom and Dad what we had done!

At the opposite riverbank, my adventure was still continuing - we still had to cross the railroad tracks. I tightened my hold on my doll as Mike helped me pick my way over the rails. I was proud as I walked beside my big brother. I had done what he does. Then I looked down at my doll and screamed.

"What?" Mike asked, annoyed.

"Her head!" I sobbed, pointing to the plastic neck. “It's gone!"

Mike sighed. “You stay here. I'll go back and find it. It can't be far. "

I nodded and watched him jog back over our footprints in the snow. When he reached the tracks, I saw him stop and bend over. I smiled happily when I saw Mike hold the missing head aloft. I knew he would find it.

In the distance, I heard a whistle blow and felt a cold fear envelope me.

My older brother, my hero, was going to be hit by a train!

I screamed again and started to run towards town.

Soon I heard footsteps behind me and felt Mike grab my arm.

"What are you doing?" He asked as he took the body of my doll.

"I thought you were going to be hit by the train. "

"Cripe, " Mike muttered as he secured the head of the doll on the body. Handing it back to me, he continued.

"Well I didn't so let's go. " I replaced my hand firmly back in his and continued on to town.

What this area lacked in sophistication, it made up for with the beauty of nature.

Winters were long and cold -the piles snow covered by a thin layer of ice. Icicles hung from the pine trees and the wind could chill the most warmly dressed person. But then the wind would die down, the sun would come out and the farm would be transformed into a glittering playground. The desire to get out of the house-to romp in that fairy tale setting -would overwhelm me.

My mother, probably relieved to get me out of the house for a while, would dress me in my snowsuit and the necessary accessories. Once the last zipper was zipped, the last string tied, the last fastener closed, I almost always had to go to the washroom. My mother would sigh and mutter -what she said I can only imagine -then undo everything while I shifted from leg to leg.

Winter brought red noses, rosy cheeks and hot chocolate with marshmallows. We would traipse up the hills, hauling our sleds behind us so we could experience the thrill of racing to the bottom. Then we would do it all over again. My younger brother and I would bicker and giggle - having snowball fights, building snow people and attempting to build snow forts. Then, chilled and soaking wet, we would go inside to be warmed and fed.

Spring would creep in - the snow melting and the new plant life poking their way to the surface. The river would flood but that was merely a hazard of spring.

Mud - thick, gooey, fragrant mud - another symbol of spring. We made gourmet meals of mud, getting it over everything and ourselves. It was glorious fun, but now I can sympathize with my mother. She was constantly trying to keep us and our environment free of muck.

Spring time was also when the wild life reappeared. One bright sunny day, my mother decided to hang the laundry out on the line. She backed out the door, turned and saw a moose watching her. Excited, she ran in the house and called us kids. By the time we neared the back door, the moose was standing there looking in - as curious about us as we were about it.

It was spring when my father and I visited a nearby farm with goats. My father was talking with the farmer while I stood quietly by. A goat approached my father, fascinated by the fringe on his jacket. Having always been taught not to interrupt, I silently watched as the goat began to eat the dangling pieces of suede. A sharp tug alerted my father to what was happening and he managed to escape without his jacket being too badly damaged.

Spring was the time of anticipation. The sometimes oppressing winter was gone for now and new life surrounded us.

Summer brought an interesting array of events. School was finished, so we were basically free to do what we wished. The crops had a firm hold on life, some vegetables ready to be eaten immediately.

Barbecues and picnics; mosquitoes and dragon flies; horseback riding and swimming - that's what summer in Northern B. C. was to me.

Autumn always seemed to come fast. Too fast most years. But Mother Nature seemed to explode in a colorful defiance of approaching winter. Everything was red, yellow and orange before turning dull and drab. The air was crisp, containing an edge that warned of the future frigid temperatures.

Leaves covered the browning expanse by our log house. Leaves to be rolled in and thrown at each other. The rest of the garden would now come in and each night we would eat our own produce.

School would start - the anticipation of a new teacher and new classes quickly replaced by the drudgery of having to adhere to a new schedule. The glorious memories of summer faded and hopes and plans for the next year were born. Rapidly we would move into winter.

Although living in that region over thirty years ago presented its own perils, it also offered unique opportunities. Seeing a moose or deer running wild and free in his or her own habitat is an uplifting sight that can't be matched by observing the same animal in the zoo or on a screen. At that time, people did not control the land - nature allowed us to be there and would sometimes demonstrate its strength with natural disasters.

It's different there now. Technology and advancement have changed things. Kids have more to do and rely less on nature and their imaginations. What I experienced isn't what children have to now.

I now live in Vancouver and experience all the luxuries and privileges associated with living in a large city. Yet every once in a while I'll look to the north and my heart will do some traveling. I know that where ever my future takes me, there will always be a small part of me chasing ponies and running from geese in that little town in Northern B. C.

Karen Magill Author of Let Us Play, A Rock ‘n Roll Love Story and The Bond, A Paranormal Love Story http://www.karenmagill.com http://www.lulu.com/karenmagill http://www.myspace.com/thebondbykarenmagill

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