Home for the summer holidays again the following year, I strolled along the east bank of my beautiful 'Swift Flowing River'. High atop a hill the nucleus of the new provincial university buildings rose from an encircling collar of budding leaves, glistening whitely in the sunlight.
"Fred will be going there next year," I mused.
I was fifteen now and beginning to be sensitive to change. And I sensed a change in my city too. There was a caution in the air. The city seemed to be waiting. A quietness overhung everything. That was it! The quiet! Where was the throb of building? The infectious fever of excitement which I had come to associate with the city scene?
"It's really quite simple, Patricia," Father explained when I asked him what was responsible for the absence of the bustle of my last visit. "The spectacular growth of this city has been largely due to foreign investors sinking their money into land. Once the land is bought then the hundreds of new settlers need capital goods to turn their land from raw prairie into cultivated farms. We must now concentrate on industries and services to meet the demands of the entire north central section of this province. Once a city becomes established there is little enticement for foreign investors who want a quick return on their money. I think we shall presently see a temporary decline here while conditions level off," he concluded.
This all sounded very reasonable, but was far above my compre hension. The amazing thing was that for the first time I could recall my father had taken the time to try to explain 'business' to me!
I was still very young and could identify only on a very personal basis, so I asked, "Will WE be alright, Father?"
"Of course we shall!" His voice was bombastically confident. "I have taken steps to ensure my interests!" and he picked up his paper and prepared to return to his interrupted reading. With a sudden beetling of his brow he peered around the edge of his opened newspaper. "You have no cause to concern yourself with these matters, my girl. Apply yourself to your studies and rest assured that I shall continue to provide for my family!"
I was glad enough to leave such weighty matters to anyone who would shoulder the responsibility and went upstairs to get dressed to go calling with my mother who wanted my company while she delivered hampers of groceries and baking for the Church to sick and needy families...
I was doing my best to capitalize on my best physical features at this time, and devoted many hours to studying my face and figure in the mirror. Although I could never hope to be as beautiful as Mabel, I felt that I had distinct possibilities.
"Pat, you would be quite a beauty if you had your eye teeth fixed," someone had said. I gazed into the mirror and smiled. Decidedly, my appearance would be infinitely improved if those protruding eye teeth ware out!
The summer holidays ware drawing to a close and the question of my teeth weighed heavily on my mind. Something had to be done, and right away, before I went back to the convent at the end of July.
Without telling anyone I made an appointment with the dentist, and off I went. The session in the dental chair was not too bad, my courage being bolstered tremendously by my vanity, as I envisioned the picture I was about to become!
I was quite elated over the accomplishment as I mopped away at my bleeding gums on the way home. How surprised Mother would be when she saw the even row of teeth!
I knocked at the front door. Mother answered. I gave her a wide smile so she would get the full effect.
"See!" I smiled gummily. "I've had them out!"
Taking one look at my bleeding wounds, she almost fainted...
Then suddenly and unaccountably, we were at war. On August fourth Great Britain had declared a state of war with Germany. Mother wrote that ten days later the first volunteers had left Saskatoon. The 105th Fusiliers (Saskatoon) and the 29th Light Horse entrained for military camp.
None of us at school really understood the kaleidoscope of change in which we were caught. In History class an Irish girl spoke out for isolation. With my brothers enlisting, one after another, I grew so incensed that I jumped to my feet, rushed over, and slapped her face! The incident vas naturally reported and Mother Superior assembled the entire school to deliver an impassioned talk.
"We are all - nuns and students alike - from different national backgrounds," she said. "Here at the convent we have learned to live together amicably. This is 'World Peace in Miniature', and we must all strive to attain this harmony on an international level.
The individual is the one who counts, regardless of background or racial heritage. Some issues in the world are major enough for an entire nation to assemble its men and resources to defend. Such is the present conflict. Because Germany has aggressed, it is right for us to take a stand beside France. But always remember that some of our Sisters come from Germany and we all know how much we love and respect each other here at Sion." This was the type of black and white reasoning we could all understand, and we gained strength and maturity as we listened to her words...
War or no war, I was sick! My head ached unbelievably. With the rising bell I automatically put my feet on the freezing floor. The washing, dressing and Chapel routine stretched inter minably ahead in my mind's eye. I crawled as far as my wash basin - and threw up in it. Even if the Superior herself were to appear now, I knew I could not go through with it. I climbed back into bed while the room revolved around me in weird undulations.
"Are you sick?" the girl from the next bed asked.
I nodded, too ill to speak.
"I'll go and get Sister," she said.
When the tall black figure appeared beside me enquiring what was the m atter, I was seized with a shivering spasm.
A cool hand was placed on my forehead, and a quiet voice said, "Stay in bed while I take the girls to Chapel. I'll be back."
I just wanted to be left alone. I thought I might very well be dying - and I didn't care. Time passed and my head swam. Sister returned eventually with the infirmarian bearing a cup of tea. Someone undid the front of my nightgown bearing my chest.
I thought vaguely, "That's a pretty bold thing to do!" but I really didn't care.
"You must come to the infirmary," someone said.
"I don't want to go to the infirmary. I'm sick right now, but if I just stay here today, I'll be fine tomorrow," I mumbled. If they would only just go away - all of them - and leave me alone!
The same voice would not let me rest. "If you are better tomorrow you may walk right back here to the dormitory. But in the meantime you must be hospitalized."
I was wrapped in a blanket and led down a long corridor. My legs and head belonged to two different people, and I felt my weight grow heavy on the two people supporting me. Up the stairs we climbed. It was like climbing Mount Everest! Along another long draughty corridor we wove. Where was that infirmary? If only I could just climb into bed!
The doctor vas sent for the following morning.
"Scarlet fever," I heard him say as he repacked his black bag.
A sheet was dipped in formaldehyde and hung over the opening to my cubicle. The nursing sister cropped my long hair and then stationed herself en the other side of the sheet to administer to my needs from, time to time. I became delirious as my fever mounted and I raved volubly, particularly during the nights.
From time to time I heard a soft voice calling to me. In my dreamlike state I thought it was Bayswuff, the convent dog. One night when the fever was soaring, I felt compelled to find the dog who kept calling me. I crept out of bed and tottered to the landing. There he was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs! I knew for a certainty that I could just spread my arms wide and, float gently down to him.
"Bayswuff, I'm coming!" I called.
As I raised my arms to sail off into space, two strong arms enfolded me and the infirmarian's voice penetrated by consciousness. "Come back to bed now. There's a good girl!" By the following morning, things were becoming clearer. I heard Sister's voice on the other side of the formaldehyde barrier talking with the doctor.
"She was about to take off from the upper landing last night when Sister Lewis called to me from her cubicle. I had dozed off for a minute and hadn't heard her get out of bed. It was just in the nick of time that I caught her!" That day, one of the other girls was brought into the infirmary. She too had a rash and the doctor pronounced 'Scarlet Fever' in a resigned voice.
I was feeling lucid for longer periods now and began to look around for something to occupy myself.
"Sister, could I have something to read?" I asked.
"No, dear. If you handled a book we would have to burn it afterwards. Germs, you know."
I began to fret aloud. There was nothing else to do. "No reading, Sister says. Do meditation instead. Huh! How can I do meditation if I'm a Protestant?" I demanded aloud. There was laughter from the next cubicle.
"Who's there?" I wanted to know.
"It's Sister Lewis," the twinkling voice replied. "I'm so glad you are better, dear. I've been praying for you. You are a very lucky girl!"
"Lucky!" I snorted. "How am I lucky with nothing to do? No books or anything!"
"Yes, you are lucky. You will soon be well again. So you really are a very lucky girl."
Sister Lewis was the tiny little nun with the smiling face we used to see from the grounds when we looked up at the infirmary windows. None of us had ever seen her at Chapel or in the main part of the building, I suddenly realized. "How long have you been here?" I queried. "And why don't you come to my door and see me?"
"Ten years." The reply was cheerful. "I would come If I could, but you see, I can't get about much any more. I have tuberculosis of the bones."
Ten years! I couldn't believe that anyone could survive in this sterile Infirmary for ten years - and still be cheerful! Here I was complaining after being here for only a few days! Overcome with grief and shame, I began to cry.
"Why are you crying, dear?" came the surprised voice. "Because you have been here for such a long time," I sobbed.
"Well, don't cry!" came the amused voice. "I just offer it up to God who uses it for many other people! Now tell me about your life when you are not here at the convent. I would love to hear about your family."
I launched into tales of our life on the farm In Moon Lake Valley. In turn, Sister Lewis told me about her life in Quebec when she was a girl.
"Many is the laugh you have given me as I looked down on you in the playing field from my window up here," she mused after a companionable pause.
"What do you do with yourself all day?" I wanted to know. "Oh, I do needlework and some mending," she said.
Suddenly I remembered my torn uniform. I had never thought to ask who had done that remarkable mending for me.
"Did you ever happen to reweave someone's uniform?" I asked in a small voice, already knowing the answer.
"Yes, I did," the voice laughed. "I saw you kick the rent in your dress and I was glad that I could do that small thing to repay you for the many amusing times you have given me from my window up here."
As I felt better each day I grew impatient for something to do. The roll of bathroom tissue in the commode beside me gave me an idea. I folded and bent the tissues until I could construct a fairly presentable boat. One boat soon grew into a fleet and I lined them up around me in bed. After an hour or so I was surrounded.
There was a noise at the sheet and I looked up to see a tiny beaming face. The black-habited nun was propped up in the doorway on crutches. Her body was wasted, but I was transfixed by the radiance emanating from the face of Sister Lewis as she laughed into my eyes.
One by one, other girls were admitted to the infirmary until there were ten of us there. We were fed beef tea every hour. The others were too sick to bother with theirs, but by now I was ravenous, and willingly accepted everyone else's as I felt my strength begin to flow back.
The day came when I was to be discharged from the hospital dormitory. I bad to climb out of bed, pass through the sheet barrier, shed my nightgown and climb into a tub filled with water and disinfectant. Once immersed in the tub, Sister appeared and scrubbed me from scalp to sole! Afterwards, I was wrapped in a clean towel and taken into another room where I was given an entire set of freshly laundered clothing. My dormitory Sister came to escort me back to class and I basked in special little attentions for the next two weeks...
The train from Prince Albert pulled into the station in Saskatoon that Christmas. I gathered my belongings together in happy expectation at seeing all the family in a moment, and climbed down onto the platform.
"It's good to have you home again, Miss Patricia." Bill, the coachman, materialized from the waiting crowd, touched his cap with a smile and picked up my suitcase. "Your mother thought I should meet you since you've been sick," he said, handing me up the step and into the victoria. "She is sorry that she couldn't come to meet you herself but she has a meeting of the Soldiers' Wives and Mothers League today, and so she will see you at dinner."
I wasn't quite sure how I felt - neglected because no one in the family had come to meet me, or terribly important because I had been met by our liveried coachman with the victoria! I decided to play the Great Lady, for to be one of twelve children was to receive little in the way of special consideration, and here was a chance to really live it up! I preened like a peahen as we drove through town and over the bridge to Nutana, revelling in the looks of envy which I imagined cast up at me from mere pedestrians!
Entering the silent house on Poplar Crescent I could feel the change. There were some unwashed luncheon dishes in the kitchen, and there was an unaccustomed air of untidiness about the house. About five o'clock my mother bustled in with a whirl of excitement.
"Patty, I'm so sorry that I couldn't meet you myself, but I had an important meeting. You still look a little peeked, dear. You know, one of the families we called on to deliver hampers when you were home in the summer had scarlet fever, as it turned out, but we certainly didn't know it at the time. That must be where you caught it."
While she spoke she laid down a pile of papers and took off her outdoor things.
"What's this Something-Or-Other League you were at?" I wanted to know.
"Well, dear, you know that with so many of our young men going off to war, their wives are dreadfully lonely and some of them have found consolation in the wrong way, so I thought I would organize a constructive outlet for them."
"But what do you DO?"
"We knit, sew and roll bandages at our meetings and share our letters from overseas with each other. I read one of Reg's letters today and everyone seemed interested. Then we raise funds for overseas parcels. I have been in touch with some staff officers and we expect to have some excellent speakers who can really interpret the situation for us. But we never stop working while the meetings are going on. There is just so much to be done!" and she gathered up her papers saying that she had work to do and would visit with me later.
One by one the family gathered that night. As soon as I saw Fred I knew he had something on his mind and my heart contracted suddenly with foreboding. It was not until Boxing Day that he finally broke the news after dinner.
"I've joined the Army," he stated after taking a deep breath.
"We leave for Winnipeg tomorrow." There was silence around the table.
Then Mother, with barely a catch in her voice said, "Before you finish your year at the Collegiate, Fred? You are still only seventeen!"
"I can finish my education later - when the war is over. I still intend to become a doctor." His voice was quiet, his resolve apparent.
I looked across the room at Buzzy, now a strapping six-footer and found myself thinking, "At least Buzzy and Bernard are too young to go. The war won't get them!"
But I was wrong. Before another month had passed, Buzzy had run away from boarding school and enlisted, at fifteen. Our parents were heartbroken, but when he wrote, "If you tell my real age and have me taken out of the Army, I will never forgive you," they kept their silence and their heartbreak.
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