CHAPTER 7 - Berens River

The summer and winter following the fire were busy ones - building the new house and getting their lives into order. Rod and Toni had bought a parcel of land in Berens River at the time of the land survey a few years earlier, now they were building their own home on their own property.

With the trading post gone, Rod cast around for other means of supporting himself and his family. The Forestry Branch needed a Fire Ranger for the Berens River area, and Rod was their choice. A job within the settlement made it possible for the family to be together, which pleased them all.

Berens River was the centre for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police services, and when an officer was transferred, the incoming officer needed to check out his new assignment, to learn the dimensions of his region. Of the local men, Rod was the best versed in the geography of the area, and spent a week or more canoeing the Mountie around to meet the residents of his jurisdiction. Each time such a trip took place, the Mountie and Rod came home fast friends.

One summer afternoon Rod came to the house and announced he was leaving with a small crew of local natives to check out a new fire at Flour Point. He wanted Toni to prepare some food for the crew, and to have it ready to go in about an hour. Toni had just filled the oven with loaves of bread to bake - she asked Rod if the departure could be delayed until the bread was fully baked, and if so, could she and Ray accompany the fire fighting party. Rod said they needed that time to gather other supplies from the Hudson's Bay post and to ready the canoes for the trip. Toni and little Ray relished the break in the regular pattern of their lives, and that night the fire fighters had an enormous evening meal of pork and beans, with home-made bread. They consumed all of the six loaves Toni had baked.

The crew remained close to the fire scene until it was well contained, and Toni cooked all their meals. In the quiet times, Rod and Toni spent their time in the lake, teaching Ray to swim.

Toni had dental problems. Treatment of any kind meant a trip to Winnipeg, where the closest dentist practised. Often she sailed in on the Keenora, or one of the other boats that linked the outlying settlements to the provincial capital, and had the necessary work done. Each trip, allowing for sailing time, and time for treatment, consumed ten days to two weeks.

During the times when Rod was away from Berens River, (Picture 7 - 1) Toni and Ray were on their own. Concerned for their safety, Rod asked one of their neighbours to check on them regularly, and to deliver whatever mail arrived for the family. The neighbour was Mr. Innis-Taylor, an unmarried Englishman, who worked in Berens River as a Fire Ranger. A tall, slim, handsome gentleman of English aristocracy, Toni recalls him approaching her tent whistling so as not to surprise her. They became friends, learning he had earlier served with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but now was content with his work with the Manitoba Forestry Branch.

Picture 7-1 Portaging the paddling canoe was a job for one man - not so the freight canoes

Another cabin in close proximity to the Schuetze's was that of the Disbrowe's. Stanley Disbrowe was a former school teacher, of English birth, who was now married to an Indian woman and living full time in Berens River. They had some relatively good gardening area, as they frequently arrived with turnips or other vegetables to share with the Schuetze's. These neighbours and friends, along with the Patterson's at the Hudson's Bay post, were the closest friends Rod and Toni had in Berens River. The Caldwell family had returned to their mission at Poplar River.

When early fall arrived, and Rod's tour of duty with the Forestry Branch was completed for the season, he and Toni, along with Ray, left again for their trapline on Whiskey Jack Lake. Toni was expecting another child, due to be born during the late winter months when they would be in the bush. With Dr. Mitchell's medical book close at hand, they were both sure they could manage the delivery, although each harboured some concern, in light of the loss of their last child.

Trapping was good, and the winter months hurried by. Once again, Toni delivered prematurely - this time twin girls who both died within hours of birth. It was another bitter blow, and Toni wondered if she could no longer carry a child full term; her last three pregnancies had ended in premature births, and only one living child. She and Rod longed for another child - a brother or sister for Ray - perhaps another child with Frankie's liquid, laughing brown eyes.

Spring took the family back to Berens River, and to Rod's summer job as a Fire Ranger. The Keenora (Picture 7 - 2) - one of the ships that sailed weekly from Winnipeg to Norway House, the full length of Lake Winnipeg, called twice at the hamlet, once northbound, and again, usually on Thursday, before returning to the city. Along with supplies and mail, the ship brought tourists, newcomers and some visitors. One such visitor was a vacationing Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer who had served the community more than a decade earlier. He spent an evening at the Schuetze home, trading stories with Rod and reminiscing about old times. The two men had travelled together on several occasions, and each trip had provided memorable events.

Picture 7-2 The Keenora

Sailing information on the service between Winnipeg and the northern settlements

Of particular interest to the officer was a trip with the Treaty Party. The group consisted of the Federal Indian Agent, his clerk, the missionary for the region, the Mountie, Rod and one or two others.

The purpose of the annual Treaty Party visits to the reserve villages was for the Agent to meet with the native Canadians, deliver the treaty payment, and see to the specific needs of each reserve. A missionary accompanied each Treaty Party to perform baptisms and marriages, and to hold church services for as many people as possible. The Treaty Party travelled to each native settlement within the individual Indian Agent's region, and the circuit could take two weeks or more.

Treaty Party trips were no freighting venture. The Treaty Party payments were to be made with some ceremony, and all the materials had to be brought with them. Suitable cups and saucers, tea services, even table cloths, were all packed and portaged as necessary, and kept in suitable condition for meetings in each of the villages on their tour. A complete line of cooking utensils for the party itself, was, of course, also part of the cargo.

On this trip, the Mountie recalled, they had encountered difficult conditions on one river, and the freight canoe, with its outboard motor, wound up on the rocks. No one was hurt, and no damage was done to the canoe, but the propeller on the outboard motor was damaged beyond further use. Nothing in the collection of tools Rod had brought with him had the potential, in his estimation, to provide the materials to produce a replacement for the propeller. Casting about for alternate ideas and suggestions to address their dilemma, Rod talked to the Indian Agent's clerk. Together, they checked through the cargo, and a frying pan caught Rod's eye.

"Could you give me this?" he asked the clerk.

"Take it if you think it will be of any help - we have another one."

After several hours of hammering and shaping, Rod fitted the make-shift propeller on the outboard motor and tried it out. It sure wasn't a factory product, but it did the job!

At the conclusion of the trip in Berens River, the clerk approached Rod and asked him for the "frying-pan-prop" - he wanted it as a souvenir of the trip. Rod laughed and gave it to him, saying he had only planned to borrow the pan anyway. As they reminisced, Rod and the Mountie chuckled, wondering aloud if the clerk still had his souvenir. Toni joined in their good humour at the misadventures they had experienced in bush travel, and once again, marvelled at the skill and inventiveness that flowed from Rod's mind and hands without the benefit of higher or technical education.

Picture 7-3 Rod wearing an Indian deerskin jacket and the otter hat he made for himself

An acquaintance of Rod's asked him to find an Indian deerskin jacket (Picture 7 - 3) - one with the authentic embroidery and beadwork on it. Rod knew all the local Indians, and their skills, and approached one of the better craftswomen of the band to have the jacket made. In due time the completed project was delivered to Rod, who paid for it and stored it awaiting the arrival of the customer to pick it up. Months passed and the man never returned. Finally Rod decided to keep the jacket as his own, since it fitted him well, and he liked the designs on it. He wore his otter skin hat with the jacket, the hat he had made himself from an otter skin that had been so badly damaged that he could not sell it. He salvaged as many pieces as he could, tanned them, and then sewed the pieces of fine, short, dense otter fur into a hat that was both stylish and serviceable.

Another winter, and another season of trapping (Picture 7 - 4). The period was marked by two events that remained fresh in their memories for many years.

The previous winter, their trapping cabin had been over-run with mice. While visiting with Lothar and Gustie earlier in the fall, Rod and Toni had acquired a kitten, and when they left for the trapline, "Peter" was in the bottom of the canoe, playing with Ray. The two 'youngsters' entertained one another for the whole trip, and Toni looked forward to a winter with fewer mice problems. The season before, Rod had taxed his ingenuity to the maximum - constructing numerous and diverse mousetraps - catching many mice - but never getting the upper hand because of the sheer numbers of the rodents.

Picture 7-4 On the trail to the trapline

Peter relished his assignment of routing the mice. It became a winter-long exercise, again due to the numbers. As the Schuetze's came to know more about the kitten, Peter, and his personality, he seemed to take on some human traits. Toni could almost read his mind at times, and delighted in watching his actions, and re-actions to events around him. Peter was fascinated with the great numbers of bush rabbits that inhabited the area around the cabin. Each evening he would ask to be let out of the cabin, and the family would observe him and his response to the activities of the rabbits. In the beginning, he was content to sit and watch the hundreds of rabbits as they bounced and played around the cabin, frolicking and fighting, totally involved in their own games, unconcerned that they were being watched. Later, he began to run and play with them. Toni would laugh, as she watched his actions, almost hearing him think - "Small wonder my mister and misses call this place the 'Bunny Castle' - these rabbits act like they own the place!" (Picture 7 - 5)

Picture 7-5 Rod, Toni and Ray at the 'Bunny Castle' - note the home-made snowshoes and toboggan

Between his mouse-hunting duties and his playtime with the rabbits, Peter did not have much time to get into trouble. He never touched any meat left to thaw in the cabin, but occasionally he came to Toni to beg for a small sample of the meat she happened to be working with at the time.

One afternoon, Toni had set her bread to rise just as Rod planned to leave to check on some muskrat traps. She picked up Ray and the kitten and joined Rod in the canoe. An hour or more later, Rod brought them back to the cabin so Toni could complete her bread baking. Toni, Ray and Peter disembarked and stood on the shore as Rod turned the canoe to return to his trapline. Peter glanced from Toni, nearby, to Rod leaving in the canoe. He was not sure who he wanted to be with - and suddenly jumped into the icy water, paddling furiously after the receding canoe. Both Rod and Toni laughed, and Rod returned long enough to scoop the little cat from the water and deposit him where Toni could catch him. She hurried into the cabin, where she and Ray dried and warmed him.

On another trap-checking tour, Rod found a turtle which he brought home. Ray enjoyed his new pet, but Peter thought the turtle was his to play with. The cat teased the turtle endlessly, with Rod and Toni watching to see he did not over-do it and hurt the turtle. Finally the turtle's patience expired, and one day the proper opportunity arose - the reptile promptly took it. He grabbed a mouthful of fur and held on tightly. The noisy furore lasted only minutes, but in the end, Peter lost both some fur and interest in teasing the turtle!

Mother Nature has an abundance of problems to present to those who live in the bush. Overflow is one of them. Overflow is created when lake or river water breaks through the ice and spreads over the frozen surface. When a thin sheet of ice is formed on this water, and a fresh snowfall provides insulation, the water does not freeze, but the covering ice is not strong enough to bear a man's weight. Rod walked into overflow one day, and Toni recorded the following in her diary:

"February 6, 1932. I did not get down to making an entry yesterday. Rody came in about the middle of the afternoon. His snowshoes and moccasins were frozen together as a result of getting into overflow. By pouring hot water over his feet things thawed enough for the removal of the snowshoes. The moccasins and socks, however, had to be removed together, as they were still frozen. One foot had a touch of frost. Enough to smart and form a blister but the other foot had the big toe, or part of it, to be exact, frozen solid. It took Rody almost an hour to thaw it out. He slept very little last night. Today the whole foot is swollen and the toe covered with blisters and beginning to run. He can't even put a sock on."

For the duration, Rod was confined to the cabin - never one to be idle, Rod chafed under his forced inactivity. He had done some carving in his childhood -perhaps he could try it again. He had no tools. Seeing Toni's knitting needles, he asked if he could use some of them to make carving tools - he would replace them when next they were in Winnipeg. Grateful that Rod might have something to fill his idle hours, Toni turned over her collection of more than a dozen steel knitting needles, and Rod set to work. He took up a block of wood, drew a pattern on it and began to carve. As he worked, Toni would hear him comment - "Now, if I had a tool shaped like this, carving this shape would be easier." As he made the tools, he cut a knitting needle in half - each needle yielded two carving tools. It was a time consuming project - removing the temper from the steel, fashioning the tool he was planning, then restoring the temper to the finished product.

Before the end of the winter, Rod had a set of twelve carving tools, all hand-made from Toni's steel knitting needles.

"February 27, 1932: Rody made the cutest little chest with two drawers for his carving tools. Yesterday he finished carving a lovely little basket. I sewed on Ray's blouse but did not get it finished for it means piecing so much when things are made over."

In later years, when Rod had a hand-operated wood lathe to work with, he turned handles for all the tools, and fitted them into a permanent chest. They have become a family heirloom, to be treasured and handed down from one generation to another. Rod spent hundreds of hours throughout the rest of his life carving. Among those items still within the family are several boxes with carved tops, a variety of carved birds and animals and other small items. Numerous carvings were given away by Rod and Toni as gifts, each signed and dated at the time of its creation. A daughter has a bowl Rod carved from the burl of a tree.

Peter, the kitten, remained at Whiskey Jack Lake when the family returned to Little Grand Rapids to see Lothar, Gustie and their family. He disappeared and never returned.

Berens River was slowly growing over the years, and new business establishments opened. In the summer of 1931, Ma Kemp and her husband George arrived from Winnipeg and hired a crew of men who worked the whole summer building the "Log Cabin Inn", a large two-storied structure of unpeeled pine logs, with a huge red-carpeted dining room and twelve guest cabins. Ma Kemp was an eccentric Englishwoman who had tired of the hustle and rush of Winnipeg and opted for a new beginning in northern Manitoba. During the over thirty years she operated the Log Cabin Inn, her reputation as a hostess and innkeeper grew and extended far beyond the boundaries of the province.

Guests stayed in the cabins, but ate their meals at the Inn, where one evening a week a farewell party was held for those guests who would be departing the next day on the sailing of the Keenora. The whole village was invited to these parties, and usually attended. Rod, who did not dance, joined the crowd and sat visiting with the guests and locals, while Toni and those others who enjoyed dancing filled the dance floor. These weekly events would continue until the early hours, with plans made for 'next week's' gathering (Picture 7 - 6).

Picture 7-6 Rod and Toni at Barens River

In mid-August, the family departed for Whiskey Jack Lake for the trapping season. A baby was due in October - once again Rod and Toni wondered if this time things would be different, and the addition to the family would indeed come to pass. Toni was very cautious about how she moved around and what she did. She had passed the critical seventh month in this pregnancy and her hopes rose with each passing day.

Toni's diary: "October 23, 1932, Sunday: This morning at about a quarter past three a baby girl came to reside with us. Consequently, I'm in bed and Rody is swamped with work, as he is doctor, nurse and maid of all work. Ray was frightened when he first heard her cry. And even now his lip quivers when baby cries. It's been raining a lot."

Eileen was a full-term, albeit small, baby. Her parents were delighted and gave thanks for her safe arrival and for Toni's good health after delivery. But Eileen was not a healthy child; her stomach would not retain milk. Experimenting with the available foodstuffs, Toni found if she boiled oatmeal, strained it through cheesecloth to remove all the particles, she was left with a useful fluid. The thin, watery gruel contained the strength of the oatmeal without any of the harder to digest materials a baby's stomach could not handle. She added a small amount of this to Eileen's milk and through time the baby strengthened and began to gain weight.

"Sunday, January 1, 1933: Another year has passed. I wonder what this year will bring us. The only important thing the old year gave us is a little daughter. She is getting along very poorly, consequently I have the blues, but with the new year comes new hope." ..." Rody has been so very busy yesterday and today carving a statuette of a lady. I think it will look real good when he gets it finished."

"January 15, 1933, Sunday: I've had a very busy day. All the days are so full now. I don't get half the things done that I plan on doing each day but I don't mind that at all as long as Eileen is feeling good. Weighing her today we found she had gained a little more. Last time she just held her own. I feel real good when she is feeling fine and smiles so readily. But it sure hurts to see her feeling bad when she is so pitifully thin already. But the older she gets the more chances she'll have of getting on better. She is such a bright and lively baby."

"January 24, Tuesday: Yesterday Eileen was three months old. We weighed her today and she was eight pounds. Still very much underweight but gaining right along and that means so much. She looks so much better, too, and is just as bright as ever. She spends quite a lot of time looking at her hands. They are puzzles to her."

The weighing of the baby was a matter of using what was at hand. Rod arranged a bush-style balance-beam, and, placing Eileen on one end, piled pounds of butter from their winter's supply on the other, until the butter and the baby balanced.

"February 15, Wednesday: While I was hanging Eileen's clothes up, back of the stove, I heard a crackling noise, as though something was burning, I thought. Looking up I saw between the roof poles, fire burning merrily. I called Rody and he grabbed for the water pail only to find it empty. But as luck would have it the tub was partly filled with the rinsing water and, of course, that served the purpose just as well. It burned a big hole and it can't be fixed until the snow thaws from the roof. Rody filled it up with moss so it will do until then. Just a tiny spark will cause a lot of damage."

As Eileen's health improved, Rod's deteriorated. He was wracked by fever, nauseated and in terrible abdominal pain. Toni did what she could for him, then started reading Dr. Mitchell's medical book, looking for a diagnosis, and some ideas on how to help Rod. At length she found what she had been searching for, and after reading it through twice, sat on the cabin floor and wept. Rod's illness was peritonitis, and the book said few people recovered from it. The book warned about shock and dehydration, and with Rod's retaining very little food or liquid, that became Toni's prime concern. While searching her memory as to what she might be able to prepare for Rod to eat to hold his strength, Rod, in his more lucid moments, focused his attention on instructing Toni on how to get herself and the children back to Berens River, should he die.

Peritonitis is the inflammation of the membrane that lines the wall of the abdomen and covers the abdominal organs, and is usually caused by bacterial infection caused by another abdominal disorder. Most common causes of bacterial infection in this area of the body are ulcers and appendicitis. The medical book said few patients recovered from this condition.

Almost all liquids and foods sent Rod's temperature soaring. Toni had a good portion of their winter's stock of supplies to draw on, but who goes into the bush with a menu planned around an ailment like this?

Through trial and error she found stewed prunes, with the skins removed, were something Rod's stomach found palatable. Also, by removing each individual pea skin, she could make a hearty pea soup Rod could enjoy and retain. Their supply was of whole dried peas rather than the split ones, so each one had to be handled separately. Other foods they found agreed with Rod's condition included prepared jelly powders and a bland broth made from pot barley, which he ate, while observing "it tastes like dishwater!" The night Rod awoke when Toni was feeding Eileen, and he commented to her "I'm hungry!", stands out in Toni's mind as one of the happiest night feedings of her life.

After an illness that lasted more than a month, Rod recovered enough to go spring trapping. He located a small lake nearby where the muskrat population was high, and set his traps. He caught and skinned the 'rats', then took the hides back to the cabin where Toni handled the stretching chores. They did not have enough stretchers to allow Rod to check each hide's state of curing - so Toni learned what to watch for, and when the skin was cured, she removed it from the stretcher and replaced it with a raw hide. Although there were numerous muskrats, and Rod and Toni harvested many of them, the low prices for the furs made the trapping unprofitable.

Returning to Berens River, Rod found the Mountie was being transferred and wanted to sell his windcharger. This device produced electricity that was stored in batteries and used to operate the lights and radio in the house. Rod bought it. The tower for the windcharger came in two sections - it needed to be high to be above the surrounding trees to catch the full velocity of the winds. A rope was tied to the tail of the propeller in order to handle engaging and disengaging the charger from the ground. When the batteries were charged full, a pull on the rope laid the propeller on its side, effectively removing it from further charging. Another pull on the rope lifted the propeller into position and charging resumed. The charger did not work quite right, and Rod rose to the challenge of fixing yet another machine with which he had no experience.

After some study, he determined that the blades of the propeller were not at quite the correct pitch to produce the desired revolutions per minute to generate electricity for storage. With infinite patience, Rod carved and shaped small blocks of wood to correctly balance the blades and produce optimum conditions for electrical generation.

Observing Rod's patience and skill, and the end results of his work, Dan Patterson, a close friend of Rod's, commented: "I wish I had lots of money - I'd build Rod a large shop and stock it with all manner of tools, and see what he came up with. He is able to make things from nothing - it would be interesting to see what he could do when he had something to work with!" (Picture 7 - 7)

Picture 7-7 Tony seated on 'Ivory of Poplar River' in the St. Andrew's Locks, Winnipeg

Rod's health remained good for the summer's work as Fire Ranger, and in the autumn he planned to go trapping alone. One of the Dunphy brothers wished to accompany him, but was dissuaded by other family members. Toni tried to persuade him to take her and the children with him, but the previous winter's narrow escape concerned Rod; his preference was for Toni and the children to remain in Berens River where there were more people around in case of illness or accident. Toni, remembering Rod's sickness last winter, wanted to be with him in case his health again became a problem.

Recently, Rod had suffered occasional attacks of what they thought could be appendicitis; this did nothing to alleviate Toni's concern. Rod prevailed, and set off in the motor powered freight canoe, towing the paddling canoe behind. His plans were to leave the freight canoe with Albert Caldwell at Poplar River and continue on to his trapping grounds with the smaller craft. Meanwhile, Albert Caldwell was in Berens River, gathering supplies for his family for the coming winter. Before leaving for home, he stopped at the Schuetze cabin to visit and check on the family. Over a cup of tea, Toni poured out her problems - Rod's health, his plans, her concerns. Nearing the end of her tale, Ray ran in, shouting, "Daddy's coming back!"

Rod had discovered he could not handle paddling the small canoe, because of pain. At this time, the Forestry Branch was closing down for the winter and the area's Fire Rangers who did not live in the settlement were being flown to Winnipeg. Rod approached the officials to see if he could reach the city with them, but the answer was -"sorry, there's no room for more passengers."

Rod would have to wait for the arrival of the Keenora, making her last voyage of the season from Norway House to Winnipeg. Rod knew he would have to see a doctor, and likely would need surgery. But they had no money - all their cash had been invested in supplies for the winter, and since he was unable to work, where their next cash money would come from was a mystery.

Albert Caldwell became aware of their financial plight and reached for his chequebook. He loaned them all the money he had in the bank, with no security asked for, no plans of how or when it would be repaid. Such is the stuff of true and valued friendship!

Before he left on the ship, Rod and Toni discussed the problem Rod would face when he reached Winnipeg how could he find a suitable doctor? Toni suggested - "Call Dr. Mitchell - he'll know who you should go to."

Dr. Mitchell recommended Dr. MacCharles who examined Rod and advised an appendectomy as soon as possible. The surgery had to be temporarily delayed due to a cold Rod caught on the trip in on the Keenora.

This letter was the first word Toni had of Rod after he arrived in Winnipeg:

Winnipeg, October 16, 1933.
Mrs. Roderick Schuetze,
Berens River, Manitoba.

Dear Mrs. Schuetze:

I am availing myself of the opportunity of sending a letter up by Forestry plane. Your husband had his operation on Saturday morning. The delay was occasioned by his having a cold with rise of temperature. Dr. MacCharles waited until Saturday and on the advice of Dr. Aitkenhead Mr. Schuetze had spinal anaesthesia. The gall bladder and stomach were found to be normal but the appendix was diseased and was removed. He had continued to have some rise of temperature but this is due to his chest condition. There is no cause for alarm and I think he is doing as well as one can expect.

He told me you had a baby since I saw you and that the two children are doing well. Mr. Schuetze sends his love and with best wishes, I am

Yours sincerely,

Ross Mitchell

Toni was relieved to know the surgery had gone well, and that Rod was progressing. Now it was just a matter of time until Rod was able to rejoin his family.

Toni was now expecting another child: the little community pulled together to help their own. With two small children to care for, and another on the way, Dan Patterson took a hand in Toni's daily routine. All the water the family used was drawn from Lake Winnipeg, by hand, and carried into the house. This was no job for an expectant mother, and Dan Patterson sent Cubby Green, his janitorial helper from the trading post to see to this task for Toni. Cubby was a native Indian, well liked by everyone, and interested in people of all ages. He particularly enjoyed Ray's company. He would arrive to carry the water, but first, he played with Ray, then he and Toni would visit and exchange the local news over a cup of tea, only then was it water carrying time.

One water-carrying session broke down in laughter when Cubby stepped on an icy patch he had made a few trips earlier when he had the pails too full. His feet shot out from under him, both buckets flew, with a cascade of water in all directions. Ray was standing at the window, watching, and when Cubby landed, collapsed laughing. Hearing the delighted laughter of the child, Cubby began laughing also, then picked himself up and went back to work.

Back in Winnipeg, Rod was discharged from the hospital. It was time to settle the doctor's bill, but they told Rod: "If you can pay us now, that's fine. If not, pay us when you can." Times were hard for everyone, including doctors.

Upon his discharge, Rod stayed with friends in the city until the doctors gave him permission to return to Berens River. Given a clear bill of health, Rod faced the problem of how to get home. He had come to the city on the final seasonal sailing of the lake-going ships, now the lake was frozen over. His finances were limited, so a flight on the mail plane was not an option. He would have to travel home overland, on foot. For a time he stayed with friends at Fisher River, preparing himself for the journey, and waiting for the river and lake ice to freeze thoroughly enough to carry him.

Rod built a sled to pull behind him, carrying his belongings and the few camping items he would need. There was no trail - he would proceed by dead reckoning about one hundred miles across country to Berens River. Towing his sled over ice, snow and muskegs, Rod arrived home one night after nine o'clock. Several nights later he began to run a temperature, which ebbed and flowed over the next two months. Reluctantly, Rod agreed to return to Winnipeg on the mail plane. The doctor's examination showed he had suffered adhesions from the surgery and his trek home had torn them loose, resulting in internal bleeding. After a few day's observation, Rod was told - "If your temperature is normal, you can go home." He was seated in the hospital corridor, with his coat on, ready to leave. The nurse put a thermometer under his tongue and left to check on another matter. Rod, well acquainted with thermometers by this time, watched it closely as it measured his temperature. It was going too high! Quickly he shook it down to an acceptable level, then listened for the nurses' returning footsteps. He replaced the thermometer seconds before she came in sight. She removed and read the instrument, and told him: "Your temperature is normal. You can go home!!"

Rod needed some time to recover fully from the surgery and adhesions, and the winter passed slowly.

From Toni's diary: "April 11, 1934, Wednesday: Mr. Moar came over this afternoon and brought our mail. It came in yesterday. Mamma wrote telling that Dad died on the 25th of March. Poor Mamma." Toni had not seen her parents since her trip home to Hanna a few months before she and Rod were married. Money and distance constraints precluded her attending the funeral and she faced the loss of her father with Rod's support.

"May 3, 1934, Thursday: Early this morning Mr. Stork put through a long distance call. So we all got up early to receive him but had to wait until 4 in the afternoon before he reached here bringing us a baby girl. Both Ray and Eileen think its the most wonderful thing that could have happened."

Helen's birth was normal, and she looked perfect in every way, but although she was eager to nurse, she would try for a little while, then turn away with a wail. Rod sat with Helen balanced on the length of his arm, looking her over and wondering what the problem was. She opened her mouth to cry and Rod saw that her tongue was attached too close to the front of her mouth. She was tongue-tied and could not suck.

"So that's your problem!" was all that Toni remembered hearing.

Rod located their barber shears - they had bought a good set early in their marriage, and had cut one another's hair over the years. Both he and Toni were well versed in handling them, but this next snip, although a small one, was critical, and would test his courage and steady hand.

First he boiled the shears to sterilize them. After they had cooled, he once again took Helen and laid her on his arm, cupping her head firmly in his left hand. Just as he was beginning to think he may have to pinch her, she opened her mouth and gave him the opportunity he needed. A single, quick, slight snip and the job was done. There was no bleeding, and when he again took the baby to Toni, she fed greedily, like any other hungry new-born.

Rod and Toni were pleased and content. The whole family was well, he had a good job with the Forestry Branch, trapping should be good next winter - life was great! And who could tell what new adventure might be waiting just around the corner!


©1992,2006,2007 E.Woytowich