It snowed for the first time this winter yesterday. You know it is going to come eventually, but it always comes way too soon. Unannounced. Unexpected. Unwanted. This dreaded blanket of white, covering up all life that previously had died. That first snowfall ALWAYS takes me back in time.
It was a typical day on the farm on November 17, 1973. It was 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Time to get up and head to the barn for my chore duties. Donning my barn coat, I stepped outside and was greeted by a blanket of pristine white new snow, shimmering under the yard light. The 1st snowfall of the year. I was excited with this new world before me. Who knows, there might even be enough snow to fire up the snowmobile and rip some laps around the yard. 🙂 The 1st part of the chores involved milking cows and feeding livestock along with my dad and my older brother. At 8:00 we’d go back to the farmhouse for a hearty breakfast, which mom would have ready. After breakfast it was back to the barn to clean out stalls and put down fresh straw for bedding.
At breakfast my dad was anxious to get out plowing a field that he had rented, about 2 miles from home. With this fresh snowfall, his window of time to get all his fall field work completed was getting much smaller. I was asked to finish the barn chores, and before dad went out to hook up the plow he adjusted my hockey goalie equipment. I had a big game later that afternoon, and I wanted them just right. After the adjustments, I called out, “They fit great, Thanks Dad! 🙂
With his full day of plowing ahead, my dad would not make my game. But he made arrangements for my sister to drop me off, and he would pick me up after the game.
I was quite surprised when my sister was waiting for me when I exited my team dressing room, after changing out of my goalie equipment. “Where was Dad?” My sister mentioned that Dad got his tractor stuck while plowing, and he walked to the farmhouse of the property he rented to phone her to pick me up after my game. We drove past the field where dad had been plowing on our way home. The lights of 3 tractors were on in the field, which was surprising. But the biggest surprise was the 15-20 cars parked on the side of the road, many with 4 way flashers on. What was going on? I asked my sister, “Should we stop?” She mentioned “No, we’ll probably just be in the way”.
As soon as I got in the door at home, there was a knock on the door. A neighbour lady was there. She seemed uncomfortable, and almost agitated that I answered the door. She mentioned in a flustered voice that my dad had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. She also insisted to speak to my mom in private.
While the neighbour lady went to speak with mom, I quickly changed into my barn clothes. My dad was very strong, and never sick. So what, my dad had a heart attack. I wanted him to be proud of me when he got home later that evening to see the chores all completed. It was only a matter of minutes after I started the chores that farmer neighbours from our close knit community started arriving. “Carl, what can I do to help?”, they all seemed to ask. “Wow, this is great”. Who would have thought, a 15 year old kid, delegating his chore duties to all the other farmers. But they all really wanted to help. I figured it out, probably Dad phoned them from the hospital. The chores were done in no time, and the 30 or 40 neighbours were lingering in small groups, quietly speaking in low voices. It was really strange. I’d go up to a group and ask, “Does anyone know how Dad is, I hear he had a heart attack?”. No one would look me in the eye. Everyone was uncomfortable. Eyes would be shifting, or looking at the floor. From group to group I would go. Yes, I would get answers, “We don’t know, or your dad will be fine.” Or completely trying to change the topic, “How’s your hockey going Carl? I bet you are a great goalie”.
I couldn’t take it anymore, becoming more and more uneasy, I needed to know. Without saying goodbye, or thank you for the help, I got out of that barn as quickly as I could and raced for the house. The entire yard was packed with cars and trucks. My mom must have been waiting for me by the window, because she met me immediately at the door. Trying to catch my breath after a full out sprint between the barn and house, I blurted out, “How’s Dad?” Mom burst into tears as she cried out, “Did NO one tell you?” My mind went spinning, but I knew, “Please NO, it can’t be?”, as I raced back into the night. I could hear mom calling after me, “CARL…. CARL…. CARL”, but I HAD to get away. I ran and ran and ran until I could run no more. The snow that I was so excited to see just hours before was defeating me. It was so very difficult running through, and exhausted I eventually slumped down onto the cold, wet, snowy ground. The floodgates opened and the tears flowed freely.
I needed that place to cry alone so badly. After some time, thinking Mom would be worried for me, I headed back. The house was packed with so many people. Trying to make myself as “invisible” around everyone as possible, I eventually found Mom while in a conversation. Yes, she was concerned, but she knew I needed time alone, she did not send anyone out to go looking for me. She knew when I was ready, I would come back.
The next few days were tough on this 15 year old, who just lost his father. Over 2 days, and 3 visitation times, many, many hundreds of people filed by to pay their respects for my father. The funeral was packed to overflowing, every room filled, and then even people were standing outside in the cold November air. The funeral parlour had never seen such a huge funeral for “just a simple farmer.” This simple farmer, with a grade 7 education was my dad, and I miss him so much. Four days after living on this earth for 47 years, my dad’s lifeless body was laid to rest. In a peaceful, rural cemetery, with winter’s 1st snowfall still on the ground. That 1st snowfall of the winter that covers life that had previously died. That 1st snowfall that always takes me back in time.
(The Rest of the Story) When my dad got his tractor stuck, he phoned a neighbour to pull him out. That is when he also phoned my sister to pick me up after the hockey game. The 2nd tractor got stuck trying to pull the 1st tractor out. When a 3rd tractor got hooked up to try and pull tractor 1 and 2 out, was when my dad had his heart attack. All of this commotion got him worked up too much. The autopsy revealed it was a “massive heart attack”. When dad collapsed on that cold, snowy ground, he probably would have been already dead , when he hit the ground.