Spring had finally arrived at the ranch. Let me describe it to you . . . The snow has melted away. Even the drifts which filled the ditches have finally succumbed to the encroaching sun. Everywhere on the prairie one can see the signs of spring. New green in the prairie grasses and in the occasional and solitary trees. An infrequent blossom. The smells, in the prairie wind, of things growing . Scurrying animals. Birdsong. And knee-deep mud in the barnyard. But I am getting ahead of myself.
It is a wonderful time. A time of anticipation. Of wonder. For a four-year-old who had been cooped up in the house since time immemorial, it is a wondrous opportunity for freedom. And I took it. Anxious to put a new accomplishment (that Mom and I had been labouring over) into practice, I disdained my ugly, black gumboots and stuck my feet into my brand new running shoes and triumphantly tied the laces. I was free! I dashed out of the house and into the spring sunshine. The day was filled with endless possibilities for exploring. There was the ice-house. The riverbank. The blacksmith shop. The feed sheds. Hayloft. Pig sty. Chicken coop. Okay, maybe not the chicken coop. All my usual haunts. But today, my first day of freedom, I chose . . . where else would a horse nut go? . . . the horse barn. Where I would find the . . . ummm . . . horses. It started out all right. I walked down the hard-packed driveway to the grass of the foreman's house. So far, so good. From there, I crossed to the fence. Still fine. I climbed the fence and looked across the barnyard to the tempting building just over there . . . I jumped down. And that is where everything fell apart. I watched my feet disappear into the morass that the barnyard had become. For a stunned moment, I stared down. What had happened? I tried to lift one foot. It didn't move. I tried again. Same result. Panic threatened. Was I going to be stuck here for the rest of my life? I was perilously close to tears. Then I saw my dad. He of the strong arms and wisely gum booted feet. He worked his way over to me. I can still remember the sucking sound of his boots as he pulled them from the mud. Ssss-thook. Ssss-thook. My saviour. He plucked me from the mud and set me back on the fence. Then he frowned and looked at my feet. “Where are your boots?” I, too, looked down. Muddy socks and pants, but no shoes. Huh. Maybe my lace-tying wasn't as good as I thought. I looked at the mud. Dad sighed and felt down into the mud that had so recently held me, and found, first one, then the other shoe. He stood up and held them out. “Are these your new shoes?” I nodded silently. “Where are your boots?” Boots that would have been vastly easier to clean, by the way. I looked towards the house. Dad sighed. “You take these and head to the house. I'm going to come later and give you a spanking.” My eyes got big. I stared at him. A spanking?! I should point out here that I had never had a spanking from my dad. But I could imagine it. Unspeakable pain and torment. I grabbed my shoes, jumped down from the fence and lit out for the house at my best 'four-year-old-I'm-in-trouble' pace. I threw the shoes down in the front entry and headed for the closet in my room. Dad never gave me my spanking. I guess he thought that I'd been punished enough when I spent the entire morning in my closet, hiding from him. And I never again tried to wear anything but my gumboots into the barnyard. I may be a slow learner, but I do learn.
Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .