When danger stalked a frozen land

When I was a kid on the prairie farm, adventure arrived on the ice-clad wings of every winter blizzard. At least once, death stalked the old frame farmhouse, slipped beneath the ill-fitting  door, and stole into Mother’s room. Pulling back a cowl to reveal a yellowed eye with a socket as deep as a grave, he fixed it on the woman in the bed and silently watched. The chill of death reached her; she drew the heavy quilts tighter around her neck, and cried out, “Harry, Harry, please come.”
Drawing silently away, Death muttered, “Life still clings. I’ll return tomorrow,” and like a wisp of smoke, he evaporated.    
“Harry, please come,” she called, fighting a fever-shrouded mind, and confusing her son, Harry Junior, with her long-absent husband.
“Here Mom,” Junior answered.
“Harry, I think I have pneumonia. Send Ray to the neighbours to ask if he’ll take me to the hospital with his team. You’ll have to stay to keep the fires going … and look after your sister … Shirley.”
“But Mom, there’s a raging blizzard outside. And it’s 40 degrees below.”
“Ray can do it. Just tell him to stay on the road between the fences.”
When I was a kid on the farm, adventure arrived without warning. “Mom wants you to do an errand,” Harry said. “She’ll tell you what she wants.”
Mom gasped, “Take this to Mr. Janzen … It asks him to come in his covered rig and … take me to hospital. Horses can get through … nothing else.” 
Layered in clothing, I leaned into the angry wind that cut and roared like a hundred buzz saws. I rehearsed the basic rules, deeply embedded in my 8-year-old mind: stay on the road between the fences, keep snow out of your boots, and no matter what, never stop walking.
With a half mile still to go, a butte-like snow bank barricaded the roadway. I climbed it on hands and knees, its wind-hardened crust carrying my weight. Almost over, I stood up, but the crust broke, dropping me downward. For what seemed minutes, I fought to escape the white grave, broke free, and struggled on with snow melting under my scarf and in my boots.
“He’s half frozen,” cried Mrs. Janzen. She pulled off my boots and rubbed snow on my frozen ears. Mr. Janzen read the note, then headed for the barn.
When I was a kid on the prairie farm, adventure brought fear and danger, but also a sense of duty and responsibility. Within an hour I had pulled on my boots and climbed into Janzen’s covered rig. I scraped frost from the little window, pressed my nose to the icy glass, and watched the horses through gusts of swirling snow.
The great farm animals moved through the drifts with muscles pumping smoothly and powerfully like steam or hydraulic cylinders. Clouds of frozen breath blasted from nostrils ringed with lengthening icicles. Eight huge feet packed down the drift that had tried to trap me, making a safe path for the sleigh runners. “Don’t worry; we’ll get your mom to the hospital soon,” said Mr. Janzen.
He got Mother safely to town and the hospital where the elderly doctor and the Sisters of St. Joseph’s nursed her back to health. Other neighbours and friends looked after me, my brother, and my sister.
When I was a kid on the prairie farm, adventure produced supportive neighbours, rugged men, women, and horses. Yes, and also kids who never realized the danger they and their families had faced until they thought about it a lifetime later.

Ray Wiseman