I was in the second grade that long-ago February morning in the Alberta foothills when Old Man Winter had such a fierce grip. To walk the quarter-mile uphill from our farmhouse to the main road where we’d catch the school bus, Mom had wrapped me in multiple layers
Only a small slit across my eyes was uncovered so I could see where I was going. I likely resembled an Egyptian mummy.
I was snug, wearing my new winter coat with a bright red hat and scarf that Granny had knitted. She also had made my two pairs of matching woolen mittens that I wore one inside the other. My older brother, Arthur, who was in grade eight, was bundled up, too.
Brrr… It Was Cold
The air was so clear and crisp that our footsteps echoed as if someone was following us. Ice hung on our eyelashes like little icicles. When our warm breath hit the cold air it created little white clouds around our heads. Although the tepid sunshine didn’t temper the frigid temperature, at least it hadn’t snowed overnight and the wind wasn’t blowing.
Arthur always passed me on our long walk to the top gate at the main road because he had longer legs. I was accustomed to that.
Once we arrived at the mailbox, we stood near the mailbox for what seemed like ages listening for the sound of the bus coming around Dead Man’s Curve several miles away. When we didn’t hear it, I began to whine.
“I’m cold,” I whimpered.
“Keep moving, Kid,” Arthur advised, admitting that it was unusual for the bus to run 30 minutes late since there were no blizzard conditions.
Keeping Warm A Chore
We put our metal lunchboxes and Arthur’s homework down at the end of the icy driveway and began stamping our feet.
Minutes later, I was still cold.
“I don’t think the bus is coming. Can we go home?” I begged.
“It’s only 8:30 and you know we can’t go home until 9 a.m.,” Arthur replied.
My parents had a rule. We had to wait until then to be absolutely certain that the bus wasn’t coming. Only then could we turn around and retrace our steps home.
Going to school and getting an education was serious business at the Taylor house.
“But I’m so cold. I can’t feel my feet anymore. Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t want me to be this cold, would they?”
Our family had the dubious distinction of living further from the main gravel road than anyone else on our bus route. Our family’s farmstead was located in a valley, surrounded by heavily wooded hills. Mom and Daddy couldn’t see us and had no way of knowing our school bus hadn’t picked us up.
Since we didn’t have a phone, no one could call and let them know either.
Minutes Trickled By Like Cold Molasses
“Please?” I pleaded pitifully, sniffling a little bit.
I was getting to Arthur, who was a very protective big brother. Perhaps he was beginning to feel the cold, too.
After shoving his mitts in the pockets of his wool coat, Arthur grinned.
“Look what I’ve got!” he said.
Arthur flashed a box of wooden matches at me. He’d used them to burn the trash on the weekend and had forgotten to return them to the match tin keeper in the kitchen.
I was doubtful. A match wasn’t going to last long, although even a little warmth would be very welcome. But I underestimated Arthur.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
My heart leaped with joy when he said, “Let’s start a fire!” He turned around and strode toward the willow trees to pick up some dry sticks.
I followed, hobbling along as fast as I could muster hauling all my layers of clothing.
If Arthur could drag out some bigger dead limbs that he could break across his knee, I could carry the kindling. I did that for Mom all the time.
Next, Arthur needed paper to get the fire started. With another triumphant grin, he grabbed his English textbook, extracted his homework and scrunched up the sheets. It was comical watching him try to light a match with his mitts on, but he did it.
Warmth, Sweet Warmth
In no time, he had a wonderful blaze going and the smoke rose straight up in the sky.
The time was 8:45 a.m.
What a wonderful day! The fire was so welcome. First, I warmed my hands and then I turned around and backed up to the blaze. Arthur did the same.
The sun seemed to shine brighter and I was positive that I had never loved my big brother more.
“Are you warmer?” Arthur asked.
“Yes, thank you,” I said. “But now I’m hungry.”
“Let’s toast our sandwiches,” Arthur suggested. “These little branches are long enough to work for that. Do you want me to toast yours or can you do it?”
Of course, I wanted to toast my own sandwich.
So that’s what we did. Arthur and I unfolded the wax paper from our sandwiches, which were frozen solid, and kept jabbing at them with the sticks until we finally hooked them on the makeshift prongs.
Roasting Our Sandwich
Never has peanut butter and homemade bread tasted as good as it did that morning. We were in high spirits, enjoying an impromptu winter picnic.
By this time, it was well past 9 a.m., so we could turn around and go home without getting into trouble. However, we were having such a good time that we hovered over the fire a while longer.
Then we heard an alarming noise. Oh, dear. We looked at each other wide-eyed as a school bus we didn’t recognize came hurtling down the big hill. It braked to a stop at the mailbox in front of us.
The door opened and Peter, the driver, looked us over. “What are you two doing?” he asked.
He didn’t really expect an explanation.
Our Reputation Preceded Us
“See, I told you,” he said to the other bus driver who was along for the ride. “When my bus wouldn’t start this morning, I knew I needed to get over here and pick up the Taylor kids. I thought they’d stay right here until they were frozen stiff.
“What I didn’t expect is they’d built a bonfire!”
While Arthur hastily kicked snow over the flames to put out our fire, I grabbed our lunch kits and his English textbook.
That day as word of our adventure spread from classroom to classroom, Arthur and I were the talk of the teachers’ room. Never before in the history of Red Deer Lake School had any students kept warm by building a fire when their bus was over an hour late.
Arthur and I likely still hold that record.
My Brother, My Hero
At noon, my teacher gave me half of her sandwich since I had already toasted mine. I’m guessing someone in Arthur’s class shared their lunch with him, too.
Later that day when his teacher called on Arthur to hand in his English homework, he explained that he had sacrificed it to start a fire to keep his little sister warm. She congratulated him on his ingenuity and let him off the hook.
That was probably one of the few days that Arthur left his English class with a smile on his face.
When we finally burst into the kitchen after school that afternoon, the aroma of an early supper met us, and we were in fine moods.
An Explanation Was Necessary
“We saw smoke signals coming from the top gate this morning when we were doing chores, but you didn’t come home at 9 o’clock,” Mom said. “What was going on?”
As we shed our mittens and overshoes, I couldn’t wait to fill Mom and Daddy in on Arthur’s heroism. I was babbling excitedly when I turned around to unbutton my coat.
“Wait a minute,” Mom said, interrupting me. “What’s that on the back of your new coat? Hand it over.”
I reluctantly offered it to her.
“Well for goodness sake!” she said, her voice raised in a tone we dreaded hearing.
“You got too close to the fire and you’ve singed the back of your coat.
“You’ve ruined the beautiful coat that Granny gave you for Christmas. Arthur, how could you let this happen? You’re supposed to watch her.”
‘Oh no! What have I done?‘
A magician with a needle and thread, Mom looked it over carefully, but even her highly developed skills were not a match for this damage. There was no extra material to patch and repair it.
“You’ll have to wear it,” she told me with resignation and regret. “We can’t buy you another.”
I felt bad and Arthur felt even worse. In our effort to stay warm, we’d disappointed Mom, something we never wanted to do. We both apologized profusely and meekly agreed that we wouldn’t build any more fires.
Guilty But Not Embarrassed
But a little singe on the back of my winter coat didn’t bother me a bit. I wore that coat every winter day until I outgrew it two years later.
Whenever someone happened to inquire about the discoloration on my coat, I would secretly swell with pride.
I had a fabulous story to tell them.
Read more about our traditions:
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I enjoyed the story so much! Thankful that we have survived this arctic storm.
Thanks, Gayle. I don’t know about you guys but we think we’ve lived through enough record-making events in the last year!
Oh Elaine, such a great story………….loved it
Thanks so much for saying so, Cathie!
What a fun story to read! I loved it Elaine. I think with my water being out all week and having to collect snow/freezing rain just to flush the toilet and have water for the dogs, I am OK with giving up my pioneer woman status for a nice warm bath!
I hear you, Denise, and hope there’s a hot bath in your near future. Did you know that washing your hair in melted snow makes it luxuriously soft? LOL, another hack from my Canadian childhood. (At one point this week, I thought I was going to have to resort to that old practice…) Thanks for writing!
When I was a kid and older, Mom and I would catch rain water to use for shampoos. Yes, it did leave your hair “luxuriously” soft.
It sure is more convenient to turn on the tap though! Thanks Barbara for confirming my memory!
Yes, much easier, and we can buy products that work better too!
You’re welcome, Elaine.
What a Kodak moment read, where I could envision all of that happening out in Red Deer Lake!
How far we have come with technology and now have bus apps that provide up to date late times or cancelations for all routes.
We too have just endured 2 weeks of utterly bitter AB cold weather in the minus 30 & 40 temps (schools do not close in Rocky View until -40) so we only had 1 day off during that spell. It was a challenge for sure, but we love our kids and continued to go out and do our jobs to get kids safely to and from school.🚍
I can remember Dad telling me they use to light coal fires under the old school busses to start them when he was going to school in Springbank.
A very heartfelt story shared between you and your brother. Stay safe & well TX, hope you are into much warmer seasonal weather very soon.
Thanks so much for your kind words, Deb! I admire your ability to handle a big bus and your commitment to the kids entrusted to your care. You are like our old-time bus drivers. They weren’t just doing a job. They looked out for the youngsters who rode their busses.
I think that bitterly cold weather you had in Alberta is what dipped down here to Texas and has been running us nuts! By this time tomorrow, we should be out of the deep freeze. Then comes clean-up, so one day at a time.
P.S. I remember your dad saying the coldest he had ever been was when visiting Galveston, Texas, in the winter. He said it would take sub-zero Alberta temps any day because at least the bitter cold was dry!
Great story, Elaine! Thanks for sharing it. And the illustrations fit the narrative very nicely. Good to bring a smile in the midst of COVID, cold, power and water outages and general societal dysfunction.
Good morning, Dave. Thanks for your positive words. Rabbit and I had fun putting our heads together on the illustrations. When I wrote the story, I wasn’t sure my Texas friends would understand what bitter cold feels like. Little did I know… Hope you and yours are faring OK. That sunshine this morning is a harbinger of better days ahead!
Love all the illustrations. Good job, Rabbit.
Loved your childhood story, Elaine and especially your vivid storytelling!!
It has been quite a week! Brrrrrr 🥶
Today is beautiful, cold and clear sunny skies!!☀️ Temps above freezing!!! Yay!
Enjoyed our afternoon snowfall yesterday, too!❄️
The rolling blackouts, power outages, water issues not so much, but we have so much to be thankful for.
Praying for all those affected.🙏
I appreciate your comments, Rhonda! The snow is melting and the ice is getting soft. We are headed toward normal late February conditions in Fayette County, Texas, and not a moment too soon. We do indeed have much to be thankful for including electricity that provides internet access. Take care!
Such a descriptive story and one that I can relate to having grown up in the “country” and riding the school bus. Thank you!
Glad you enjoyed this story back in the days when we were both riding school buses. Some of my best memories of those years are the hours I spent with my friends on the bus. I distinctly remember having song sheets and singing carols at Christmas. Thanks for your comments, Cliff!
Gosh, how ingenious! I wish my brother and I had thought of that while we were freezing to death waiting for the bus at the end of our driveway! Thankfully, our parents could see us from the house a quarter mile away and my Dad came to our rescue on the tractor if the bus didn’t show up.
Yes, indeed, Arthur is still one ingenious guy. It has served him well as an Alberta farmer because he can always come up with a Plan B just like he did that morning long ago. Thanks for writing, Elinor!
What a lovely story! Thanks for sharing, really enjoyed this one.
Thanks, Alli! Take care and stay warm. At least this is good reading weather.
Loved this story, Elaine! It played like a movie in my mind. Had a good laugh about the homework being used for starting the fire. So glad our current experience with Canadian weather is almost over! All’s well here. Stay warm!
I am glad to provide several moments of entertainment, Loraine. English was not Arthur’s favorite subject so sacrificing his homework for the sake of starting the fire was a no-brainer as far as he was concerned. I’m sure he had to go back and redo it though but at least that day he had the satisfaction of seeing it go up in smoke!
I know I keep saying it, but this is BY FAR your best work–probably because it is so personal. It gives me even more insight into the early life of my talented writer friend. You are so good at writing books about others–WHEN will you write your OWN life story?? Put me down for the first copy!
Thanks so much, Brenda! I’m following your directions and slowly but surely getting some of my stories on paper. I am thrilled to be working with talented illustrator Rabbit Janecka to help bring the memories to life. One of these days…
Your wonderful story gave me goosebumps, Elaine! Stay warm in Texas!
Oh, my, goosebumps are good aren’t they? I hope so, Anne! Thanks for the WARM wishes. The sun is out and the snow is melting like mad. As my neighbor quipped, “Whoever thought 36F would feel so warm?” One more night and Texas will be out of its deep freeze.
What a beautiful story! Thanks for lightening our loads with your wonderful stories!
Angela, glad to offer a distraction to all the anxiety the epic Texas storm has created for us. Thanks for your kind words!
Elaine, After reading your coat story, I was reminded of my green coat story. My mom made all the clothes that I wore including a green gabardine coat with a green flannel lining. It was the warmest coat I had ever had and I loved it. I loved to play basketball, but I was so short, I had to play on the “B” team, plus I wasn’t too good at basketball. I became the manager of the team my junior and senior year at Ganado High School. As manager, I kept the record of all the scores in a certain book for our coach. One out -town-game on a chilly night I wore that green coat. After the game, we had gone to the restroom before we all got on the school bus to go home. I didn’t realize that I had left that beloved coat in the restroom!
Mom told me to write a letter to the school and maybe they could send the green coat back to me. I wrote a letter that described the coat with all the details that I explained above. Sure enough, the precious green coat came back practically in the return mail. I was so happy and wore the coat at least two years and it never got singed in the back!
Isn’t it amazing that the rival school would send back your coat? I think back then no one had too many clothes so we learned to take great care of them. I am trying to recall what kind of fabric gabardine is and can’t place it. With a green flannel lining, I bet it was warm though. Thanks for sharing this precious memory with us, Barbara!
Gabardine, gabardine! (Sounds like a song, doesn’t it?) It was a smooth, crisp, dressy fabric. I don’t know what fiber was used back then because it didn’t wrinkle, even being mailed in a small package. I will research it and get back with you. Barb
Thanks, Barbara. I would probably recognize it if I saw a sample because my mom made so many old clothes over into new ones when I was a kid. I guess gabardine went out of fashion?
Actually, I found out that gabardine is made from cotton!! I should have known. My 1958 Dictionary said that gabardine is: 1 A firm,twilled,worsted fabric having a diagonal raised weave on the right side: used for coats, suits, etc. 2 A similar, softer fabric of mercerized cotton. 3 Gaberdine.
My younger cousin probably inherited the coat after I outgrew it.
Thank you for the lesson in vintage fabrics! It’s very interesting, Barbara.
Yes, Rabbit is an amazing local artist! She is making Easter yard art right now! I’ll make sure she sees your kudos.
Gabardine, gabardine, Sounds like a song, doesn’t it? It was a smooth, heavyweight fabric that even had a shine to it. It didn’t wrinkle easily, even when shipped by mail in a package! I will research it and see if I can find out what gabardine comes from. Thanks.
Wonderful story with such special illustrations! Brought back memories of me waiting on the bus…except for me it was never “waiting because the bus was late”. Seems like more times than not, when I found myself waaaaaiting on the bus, it was because I was late getting down to the road! Not fun! Momma was not happy! Bet I wouldn’t have been late had I a brother like Arthur!
Peggy thanks for sharing your own schoolbus experience! It’s priceless. Yes, I certainly am fortunate to have an older brother like Arthur, as well as another older brother, Bob, whom I’ll introduce you to in another story down the road.
Your ‘School Bus – Bonfire’ story has warmed so many hearts. A spark of encouragement for everyone. A big warm hug for you and courageous Arthur.
Thanks for that hug, Jeanie! I’ll pass along your kind words to Arthur!
Actually, I feel rather guilty right now. During all this nasty winter storm (the first ever forecast for Texas, by the way!) Royce and I never lost power, had only one night without one of our 2 hot water heaters, feasted from that freezer full of food that I have been vowing to clean out, and burned many fireplaces stocked with wood generously toted to our door by our amazing friends–in other words, we were much more comfortable than we deserve to be! La Grange came through with lots of gold stars for planning ahead for all of us enjoying their services, unlike several of our neighboring towns. Kudos to those who set up the LG services!
Hello Elva! So glad to hear that you two are well and safe with minimal disruption to your lives by the EPIC TEXAS WINTER STORM of 2021. It is a good feeling to have friends who are there for you and, no doubt, you have paid forward that neighborliness. By the way, now cleaning the freezer won’t be such a big job. Take care. Thank you for writing.
Another nice story that stirred up my childhood memories Elaine.
We also had many adventures walking a long side road to catch the school bus in all kinds of weather. We lived in the Laurentians, Quebec, Canada
I really appreciate your feedback, Mady. While Alberta is a long way from the Laurentians, winter is winter isn’t it? Br….
Elaine, I enjoy your stories so much but with temps here in Iowa the last 10 days between 0 and 20 below, this story especially hit home of so many memories of my younger days here in Iowa. Hope this finds you and Emil well and that you’ve weathered the cold down there. We are built for it but I know that’s not the case there. It pains me to see all the news reports of people suffering through the cold there without electricity and water. Take care and stay in touch.
Hello to you in Iowa, Rick! You are having some bitter winter weather, too. Yes, this storm is causing as much distress as the aftermath of a hurricane. Very sad. I’m so glad you could relate to my school bus story. Those were the days! Thanks for writing.
Sorry I caused you to singe your coat. Wasn’t all my fault.
Rabbit Janecka is a great illustrator.
Now Peter, if your bus had started that long ago morning I would have no story to share! As it was, you played a major role in this story by borrowing a bus to come and get us. Now that’s what I call concern about the kids that were entrusted to your care. A long overdue thanks for doing that!
By the way, Granny used all but the singed portion in a rag rug she made for me after I had outgrown it.
And yes, I would agree with you: Rabbit did a wonderful job on the illustrations.
Oh boy, Elaine this is another winner for sure…it is a story that warms the heart even if about some very cold conditions. Rabbit did an outstanding job on the illustrations…you two make a great team. I really enjoyed reading it.
Deanna, so glad to hear you enjoyed this story and Rabbit’s artwork. We do make a great team! Thanks for giving me positive feedback.
Great story Elaine and I loved seeing my friend, Rabbit’s illustrations as well! I too had an older brother, Alan, that I waited for the bus with. I recall a time when he was bored and since we were on a wooded corner waiting for the bus, he decided to carve his name in one of the big trees. He came down with the worse case of poison ivy that we will never forget! Lots of memories waiting for those yellow school busses back in the day. I really enjoyed your story very much!
Connie, I can’t wait to share your poison ivy story with my brother! We didn’t have any of that nasty, nasty stuff on our farm in Alberta or we probably would have gotten into it. Yes, riding the schoolbuses back then was lots of fun. Thanks so much for writing!