By Margaret Lesperance – Portage la Prairie, Man.
I’ve never been as cold as I was during my first year of school. This was the latter half of the Dirty ‘30s, in the middle of the Great Depression. The place was in southwestern Manitoba, about 20 miles from the fringe of the Dust Bowl of Saskatchewan.
As dad and my brother came in from the stable, a cloud of steam formed when the cold air hit the warmth inside the house.
“Sure cold out there, this morning,” said dad, setting the half-filled pail of fresh milk on the table. “Must be at least 40-below, with a strong wind from the northwest, too.”
Although in March the cold spell moderated, the weather turned very cold again around the end of April and the beginning of May, by which time our parents were allowing the fire to die down for the night.
It was during this cold snap we were awakened one night by strange noises, as if something was being rolled over the floor. Our parents got up, lit the lamp, and found a duck egg, frozen solid, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Puzzled about this strange phenomenon, they took a flashlight to bed with them, leaving the egg where they’d found it, and put out the light. They were not able to sleep.
Very soon the egg rolling sounds began again. Our parents’ bed was directly opposite to the opening to the kitchen. Dad pointed the flashlight to the approximate area where the egg was, and turned the switch on. What a lovely sight they saw! In the morning they described it to us.
Apt to not cause trouble
“A beautiful white weasel (ermine) was scratching at the egg, trying to break the shell, probably for food. It was not having much success,” dad told us. “When it heard us it dashed away, leaving the egg.”
“What a lovely pet we have now,” mom chimed in happily. Our understanding was that weasels were clean and neat animals, lovely to look at, and apt to cause no trouble.
When my older brother took that piece of news to our ‘Current Events’ session at school, the teacher decided to have a science lesson on the white ermine. One very significant thing we learned was that it was unsafe to have an animal like that around a home when there is a tiny baby. They have been known to attack a baby’s neck, and hold on and suck their blood, thereby killing the baby.
Of course that story came back home. Since there was a small baby in our family, our parents took steps to eradicate our potential family pet. Later we learned there was a bounty on these animals, because they were so plentiful that year, and their fur was valuable.
The excitement of the weasel in our house seemed to break the cold spell. From then on, the weather steadily warmed up and the snow and frost were soon gone.
As the days became longer, the sun hotter, the cold winter became a memory that has lasted in my mind.