It was a cold winter’s day; no snow on the ground, but frigid nonetheless. Conrad warmed his house with a fire, but he was out of wood. He wrapped himself up as warmly as he could, got into his old truck, and set off in search of any twigs that might have fallen near the side of the road. The only trouble – and this perhaps explains why he hadn’t recently collected firewood – was that the truck had got a puncture and although he replaced it with the spare tyre, he couldn’t afford to get the punctured tyre fixed. Let’s hope he doesn’t get another puncture!
He drove about ten miles down the road and found bits of fallen branches. Potential warmth!
As he grew older – now in his mid-seventies – Ernest had a preoccupation each summer: to chop up enough firewood for the following two winters so that if he were to pass on then Polly his wife would have enough firewood to keep warm for at least two winters. It wasn’t a silly idea. He dreaded the thought that his dear widow should suffer from cold. Finances would be stretched. If the worst came to the worst she could cook on the log-burner as well as heat the house. The firewood was an insurance of sorts.
Ernest knew the likelihood that he would go first. Polly was fit as a fiddle. He suffered from breathlessness and a mild diabetes. Husbands often (usually) predeceased their spouses. Chopping wood for winter was thoughtful and practical. The wood shed was full to overflowing as autumn closed its curtains.
These thoughts occupied Ernest each day as he went out to get enough firewood for the evening. He appreciated his foresight. He just wished he didn’t have to do it alone.
After scurrying up and down New Zealand for four months or so looking for work, with every possession on earth packed into the car, we at last landed a job in Auckland, New Zealand. The new job put us up at a very nice hotel for two weeks. That gave us plenty of time to find a house to rent.
We did find a house in one of the suburbs. It seemed quite nice, and would be available on the very Friday that we had to leave the hotel. We turned up at the rental agency to pick up the key.
“Oh, sorry, but we rented that out to someone yesterday. We have nothing else available.”
Needless to say, it was pretty devastating. We went straight to another rental agency and told our plight. The woman said she had two houses available. Have a look at both of them and say which one you want. One was in the suburbs and a bit run down. The other was in a little village called Tuakau some way out of Auckland. We chose the one in the little village. That night we unloaded the car of all our possessions in the world. No chair! No bed! No table! But we had a computer! We sat and ate and slept on the floor!
The next day we purchased a dining table and some chairs.
My mother had died several months earlier. One of my brothers packed up some of Mum’s furniture and freighted it to Tuakau, including a clothes dryer. With it he had included money to buy a washing machine!
The neighbour had eleven dogs and seven cats. The palm tree outside our back door had a large family of rats living in its branches. (In case you didn’t know, rats love living in palm trees). There were snails in the wilderness around the house in the thousands.
The house was a bungalow – as the majority of New Zealand houses are. It had recently been painted inside. There was no heating; no wood burner, no heat pump. We bought a heater. We might as well have tried to heat the Antarctic. It was useless. It was freezing. I’ve never been so cold in my life. It was damp. When it rained the entire water from the street ran down the driveway and under the house. Quickly mould formed on the newly painted walls.
One of the neighbour’s kittens, clearly tired of living with eleven dogs and six other cats, decided to take up residence with us. She was the only warm thing in the house all winter! The neighbours had called her Bali because she had been born six months earlier while they were on vacation in Bali in Indonesia. We didn’t think much of the name, so for the last sixteen years we have called her Pussy Cat.
I would manage the Village Bookshop when Penny the owner went away. It was a good way to “meet the locals”.
Our house used to be surrounded by a cottage garden. It was now all brambles and weeds. I decided to clear it. In fact I dug over the entire quarter acre by hand and planted a pretty cottage garden all around. It was delightful. In fact it was so delightful that the owner decided the time was ripe to sell – “While it’s looking so pretty”.
At the final rental inspection the agency declared that “The window in the garage is more broken than it was.” More broken? I said. I simply cleaned it. “It is more broken and you will not get your bond back.”
We left with pleasure and with Pussy Cat. Over the next four months the house was sold four times – each time fifty or so thousand more than the previous sale. As far as I know the “more broken window” never got fixed.
What can be said about the house at 594 Rang Sainte-Catherine? It was a fairly new building, but constructed using plans of an early Quebec settler’s house. Of course it had every modern facility. It was set on seventeen acres of woods and lawns, with tracks through the forest. The trees were mainly maples, firs, and pine. Outside the sitting room window was a large lake with trout. Near the lake was a maple syrup building where maple syrup could be processed once extracted from the trees.
We dug a large vegetable garden. What a productive garden it was! With the freezer full there was no need to buy vegetables over winter.
From the fallen pines Eric chopped up firewood for winter.
We bought a ride-on mower and mowed the substantial lawns and the tracks through the woods.
The wild life was fantastic. Herds of deer would pass through. An elk came to sniff the firewood. Radio warnings would be given of bears on the loose. The trout in the lake would crowd to the edge for food. How comfy it was to snuggle up in bed at night and hear packs of wolves out on a mission. It’s not the howling of wolves that causes the spine to tingle; it’s the wolves chattering. What are they talking about? Where are they going? What things are planned?
Doggie was getting old and more comfortable in his ways. We though he could do with a companion. We went to the animal rescue place and fell in love with the only dog that wasn’t barking at us, but was standing on his hind legs as if pleading to be taken. He had been the most abused dog that Animal Rescue had seen in years. Of course we took him. He was a big dog, and we called him Rusty. Doggie understood English; Rusty understood French. The two got on well. They both had free-range of the large property. Later, it was the deer hunting season and one evening Rusty didn’t return. We never saw him again. We think he may have been shot by hunters.
On weekends we would often go for a drive around the countryside. On this particular day we went to Thetford Mines. And there it was! A little puppy in the pet shop window!
We brought her home and called her Sedona. Doggie’s days were filled with teaching Sedona the tricks of being a dog. He would take her out in the snow way beyond the house, at a huge distance, and send her home on her own. It was fascinating to watch. The next day he would take her to the other side and do the same. He taught her to bark at squirrels up trees, and toss a ball, and even to eat the wild raspberries that grew in the woods. He taught her to lie in the snow with only the eyes showing.
The summers weren’t overly long, but were delightful. Winter would come with a vengeance. Usually there were at least three weeks at minus 40 Celsius. If you’re going to have a winter you might as well have one! Getting up at 4.30 am to snow-blow the driveway to get to work was a common activity. Once, a big storm came and the snow was piled higher that the garage door. It was far too much snow for our snow blower. Eric stopped the snow plough on the road as it passed. Do you reckon you could do our driveway? If the driver hadn’t been kind we’d still be there with shovels.
All things must end. I developed chronic heart disease. We would have to go to New Zealand for treatment. Eric resigned from work. We found homes each for Doggie and Sedona. I can still see the little boy in Saint-Georges with Doggie on the lead taking “the big teddy bear” to show grandpa.
We sold our mower and snow-blower. We sold the furniture. We sold the good car, and kept the old car to take us to the train station in Quebec. The train would take us to Montreal where we’d catch a plane to Los Angeles. As it turned out we decided, once we were on our road, to drive to Montreal ourselves where we sold the car for $100!
The early morning was frozen. Our driveway was a sheet of ice. We slid down the drive in the car to the road like a skier. The last phone call at this delightful place had come in the middle of the night. It was a brother in New Zealand. It had been sudden. My mother had died.
Haralambus (known as Harry) and Hughina (known as May) Pfahlert were well into their retirement years. Harry’s main interest was the garden. With late autumn approaching he had been busy tidying the garden so that at the end of winter all the back-breaking work would be done and it would be less of a hassle come spring.
Well dear, said Harry to May after two weeks of extensive labour in the garden, all is done. Everything is weeded. Everything is fertilized. Leaves are dug in or burnt and the ashes hoed in. Mulch has been spread. Shrubs sensitive to the winter cold have been covered. I might be weary, but I’m well satisfied. The garden has been put to sleep. Let it snow! Let it snow!
It was such a pleasure in winter to view the snowed-in garden through the living room window, with the log fire roaring away and the smell of cinnamon buns cooking in the oven. All done! All done! One could enjoy the order of it all and look forward to the chaos of new life!
It was such a pity that Harry died in his sleep that very night.
“I can’t think of everything at once” was Bella’s way of not only trying to find a reason for what happened, but her way of coping with the situation.
Dale had left Bella quite unexpectedly. One minute they were happily married, or so Bella thought, and the next minute he’d upped and left and was cohabitating with that floosy from the confectionary shop down on the corner of Shelley Street. Bella had no idea what he saw in her. And now Bella was on her own. The dividing of the matrimonial goods hadn’t as yet happened, but Bella was ensconced in the joint house and she wasn’t budging for the time being. Besides, it was winter and the house had a log fire and lots of firewood stack in the shed. She would cope.
On a rather chilly winter’s evening Bella discovered she had let the log fire go out. Dale had always set and lit the fire but she wasn’t entirely impractical. She screwed up some pages of newspaper and wigwammed some kindling over the top of it. That was when she discovered that she couldn’t think of everything at once. Dale had always lit the fire with his cigarette lighter. There were no matches in the house. Matches had not been on her grocery list.
Of course it was a silly idea, but Bella had heard since early childhood that primitive humans started a fire by rubbing two sticks together. She didn’t have a clue how to do it, and suspected very much that it wouldn’t work anyway. For a time she thought she would stay warm by wrapping herself up in blankets. She would buy some matches tomorrow. But then Bella thought of a solution.
She rolled up a sheet of newspaper tightly. She went to the kitchen, turned on the toaster, and from the element of the toaster she lit the rolled up newspaper. On the way to the wood burner with her burning torch she brushed past the lacy curtains in the dining room.
It’s always a shame when nothing is insured.
(Note: Today’s story number of 1888 is out of sync. That’s because a month or so back Story 1888 was missed – so this is a catch-up!)
It was winter – late winter – and Athol went walking. The trees were bare; the ground had mounds of rotting leaves.
Athol kicked the piles of leaves as he walked. It may have still been winter but a mellow breeze blew the loose leaves in swirls. Athol sat on a log and thought. Just before the leaves began to fall his world was a different place. He was secure in his job; secure in his family; secure in his life.
Now all had gone – no job, no family, no life. The world had changed in harmony with the season. There was no hope. He should stop pretending that things would return to normal. Things wouldn’t. He should try to move on – but how and to where?
In front of him was a broken branch. It must have snapped in a winter storm. The snapped branch looked like the head of a crocodile! Ferocious! Fearful!
Athol moved on; he couldn’t sit and mope forever. He kicked another pile of leaves. It exposed a little frog nestling itself from the winter. It was asleep. It was waiting for the warmth of spring. It would die once exposed to fierce winter elements. Athol covered the frog over with protective dead leaves.
Jakob was cold. It had been a frigid winter. Jakob didn’t have much money and was out of firewood. The fireplace lay dead. The freezing outside wind seeped through the cracks in his window frames. He had covered the cracks with tape, but the wind still found a way. He was wrapped in clothes and blankets. He simply could not get warm.
Jakob had stayed up all night. Not even the bed had warmed. Jakob turned on his oven to high and opened the oven door. At least the oven heat should warm things a little. And it did. At least it did until the electric bill arrived and he couldn’t pay it. Then the electric company turned the power off.
It had been a freezing night. Utterly freezing. Jakob knew he would die. He sat in a chair and waited.
Over the years Granny Suzanne had skein after half-used skein of left-over wool. In her younger days she had been a prolific knitter. These days, with rheumatism and fading eyesight, her knitting output wasn’t quite so productive.
Winter was setting in. She knew that her three grandchildren living with their mother “just down the road” would be feeling the cold. She couldn’t afford to pay for their heating, but she could knit, albeit with effort. She would knit warm clothes for her grandchildren and their mother.
Scarves, gloves, socks, and woollen hats were the order of the day! A bit of red, a flash of blue, a stitch or two of green… The job was done, and most of her leftover wool was used.
The grandchildren didn’t tell granny but they hated the items. “It looks like we’re street urchins,” they said to their mother. They threw the woollen items away and went to thank their grandmother. But when they visited their grandmother she was sitting in her armchair, dead.