By William Thomas – St. Albert, Alta.
In the spring of 1954, I was teaching a school in west-central Alberta. As one old-timer put it, the community was “natural and primitive”.
The parents made their living from lumbering and subsistence farming. This was where I grew up. When I was in high school, I spent my summers working in a lumber camp to save money for university. Much of the meat eaten the year-round was ‘wild meat,’ with mule deer supplying the bulk of the fare.
One of the families had a dad who was renowned for his hunting skills. The family had three children: a girl in Grade 5, a boy in Grade 3, and the youngest boy in Grade 1.
One spring morning the boy in Grade 3 said: “Look what I have.”
He then showed me a spent 12-gauge shotgun shell with a spent 16-gauge shotgun shell inside of it. He pulled them apart and the smaller shell was filled with porcupine quills.
He proudly said, “Dad took these out of the dog last night. The dog got too close to a porcupine and he hit the dog with his tail. It was awful.”
The day proceeded without incident until quarter past three, 15 minutes from dismissal time.
I was with the junior high students when the little Grade 1 boy let out a screeching howl and came running up to me holding his rear end where a quill was firmly embedded.
Knowing a little about quills, I got scissors and cut off the end. Porcupine quills are full of air and if the end is cut off it deflates and is easier to pull out. Since then I’ve felt sorry for the dog because this hadn’t been done.
Apparently the Grade 3 boy had become bored. His little brother sat immediately in front of him and spied his brother’s posterior through the crack of his brother’s desk and stuck him with the quill.
Many of the readers will remember the old desks where the writing part of one desk was the back of the seat in front of them. I got a firm grip on the quill and pulled hard. That produced the second screeching howl.
The quill was so firmly embedded that it slipped through my fingers. I then knew that I really had to grasp it hard. This I did and the quill came out accompanied with a third howl.
By this time it was half past three and I dismissed the class. I asked the Grade 3 boy to remain behind and I said, “Take your quills home and leave them there.”
What else could I do?