Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Being the Answer

A true story.

1981.
Carol’s big suburban slid into the parking lot of the Native Friendship Centre in Slave Lake.
Her boss met her in the foyer. “Can’t do it this year,” he said sadly.
Carol stared at him. “What?”
“The basket delivery to Trout Lake? Can’t do it. There’s a storm and our pilot says there’s no way he can land on the strip.”
Carol’s heart sank. There were people in Trout Lake who needed those hampers of food very much. Families who counted on them.
“I’m sorry,” her boss went on, starting to turn away.
“I’ll drive up there.”
He turned back. “What?”
“I’ll drive.”
“Carol, it’s three hours in good weather! And there’s a storm so bad we can’t land in it. Who knows what the roads will be like?”
“There’s someone who wants that food,” Carol said quietly. “I know it. I can feel it! Someone desperately needs their basket.”
He stared at her for a moment. “Well . . .”
“How many baskets have you got?”
“Twenty-nine.”
“Let’s load them in my truck. And I need one of your staff to come along. I don’t speak Cree.”
Soon, over her boss’ continued protests, the boxes of food were carefully loaded and she and young Theresa Cardinal seated in front.
They were off.
The trip went surprisingly well despite the near-white-out conditions in the blowing snow and the continuing cold. The only difficulty was one point when the two of them slid into a ‘T’ intersection with no idea of which way to turn.
Carol looked at her co-pilot. “Which way?”
Theresa shrugged. “We don’t use roads.”
Carol laughed. “I’m turning left.”
Her instincts were right. Four hours after they left the Centre in Slave Lake, they were pulling into the small hamlet of Trout Lake, Alberta.
On a usual year, there would be people and the horse-pulled school wagon available to help with deliveries.
This year, in the frigid temperatures and blowing snow, there was only Carol, Theresa, and Carol’s big suburban.
Still pressed by that sense of urgency, they started going from home to home where their offerings of food and gifts were received with smiles of gratitude.
Finally, they pulled up before a tiny, log cabin and Carol slid out of the truck.
The wind was blowing quite strongly, whistling around the little structure. For a community deep in the protection of the bush she knew that the storm around them must have grown mighty indeed.
Her long, fur-lined Cree coat kept out the worst of it and, grabbing the large box of food, she walked to the door.
Something was odd. The door, ice built up all along the edge, wasn't closed. Couldn't close.
And someone, in an effort to keep out the howling winds had stuffed an old quilt in the space.
Carol knocked. A soft voice inside, barely discernible over the sound of the wind, called out in Cree.
The two women entered.
The cabin consisted of one room. There was a tiny, elderly woman standing in the kitchen area to the left, looking unsure and frightened.
Across the room, seated on an old bus seat, were several children of various ages. They, too were staring at the two snow-covered, frost nipped women standing in the doorway.
Carol had a vague impression of a bed in the corner to her right and of someone in that bed.
Theresa began to talk to the woman as they deposited their burden on the table.
The woman stared at the box, then back at them.
“How many children live here?” Carol asked.
Her companion translated.
The woman held up six fingers.
Carol went back out to the truck to grab six brightly-wrapped packages.
When she got back, the woman was in conversation with Theresa.
Unable to understand them, Carol turned her attention to fixing the door. Picking up a hatchet, she began to carve away the icy build-up on the door until it could, once more, close.
As she was testing the door, the woman came over to her and tearfully thanked her. In Cree: "God will always remember you."
Carol and Theresa left the cabin and continued with their deliveries, but the dreadful sense of urgency that had been so much a part of their journey had melted away.
And that was when the story came out.
The elderly woman’s husband had been sick for over a week. The sole bread-winner for the household, he had been unable to get outside to find food.
The family, quite literally, had nothing to eat.
Nothing.
The woman had been praying for someone–anyone–to come to their aid.
In the nearly 35 years since that day, Carol can still see that small, Cree woman, huddled in almost complete despair with a sick husband, six hungry children and a door that wouldn't close in a Northern Alberta snowstorm.
And Carol is grateful to have been, for just an instant, the answer to someone’s prayer.

9 comments:

  1. What an inspiring (and I have a feeling, true) story.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Can't type. Too cry-y. Wonderful story. Wonderful label.

    ReplyDelete
  3. With jenny_o. Again. What a good thing I don't wear mascara.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Beautiful story. Just what I need to read as Christmas approaches.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This story brought a shiver to me. I'm so glad Carol listened to her instincts and delivered those baskets, most especially the last one.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Very good story! Sometimes one HAS to pay attention to their instincts.

    ReplyDelete
  7. that was just lovely Di - a nice start to the Christmas week ahead!

    ReplyDelete
  8. What an inspiring story and so much better its true! In the world we live in its nice to hear that there is still good in the world. Merry Christmas dear friend.

    ReplyDelete

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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 . . .

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