Memory’s Mysterious Meanderings

The annual physical is almost finished.  The last test is to determine the mobility of my aged knees.  Hand on ankle, the other holding my foot, up and down he raises and lowers the right leg.  There is only a trace of creaking in the knee.

“Good.  Now for the left knee.”

He reaches gently, takes my foot, and then the left ankle.  He is about to lift my foot when I wince and call out, “Careful.  Watch the hole there.  It’s very sensitive.”

The startled doctor lifts his hand and peers at my left ankle.

“Good Heavens!  What happened here?”   

I think a while before answering.

“It’s a long story, Doctor.  The short summary is that it happened a very long time ago.  I was in the country and far from the help I needed.”

“I bet you remember that incident.  It must have been painful.”

“Well,” I reply, “That’s another story” ….


Christmas is almost here, and the parties are starting.  I’m only five years old, but I can remember last year, and everything was so much fun.  There are three families on our road: the Nygaards, the Dams, and us, the Thompsons.  It is cold and snowy.  Many roads are too snowy for cars.  We are using our horses and the sleigh.  Mrs. Dam will have coffee for our parents, hot chocolate for Doris and me, and coffee cake for all.  I hope Viggo gets there early, so the three of us can play.  I am the youngest, Doris is six, and Viggo is seven and in Grade Two.

Everyone is laughing and talking and drinking coffee.  Mrs. Dam (the grown-ups call her Hansine) just told us kids that if we want to go outside and play, we may.  Dinner will not be ready for over an hour.  The snow is soft, fluffy and piling up.

“Let’s go in the barn,” Viggo says.  ‘‘Uncle Emil has a bunch of wheat bundles piled up, and we can climb up on them and slide down.  I tried it.  It’s fun.”

Viggo is right, it is fun.  He climbs up the back and slides down, then Doris does it, and I am last.  Then we do it again.  I am small and slower climbing up.  Doris and Viggo slide down in turn.  They are starting to come around the third time as I reach the top.  Down I go to the bottom and land with a thump.  There is a sharp noise and a funny feeling.  I can’t move.  The kids call down, “Get out of the way, we want to slide.”

“I can’t.”

“Why can’t you move, Marjie?”

“I don’t know, something is wrong.”

They climb down the back and run around to where I am sitting.

“Your leg looks funny,” my sister says.  “Let’s take your boot off and see what’s wrong.”

Off comes the boot, and with it all three of us see bones sticking out through the flesh, and blood everywhere.  Nothing hurts but I feel very queer, and I lie back on the straw.  Doris and Viggo start to scream and then run for the house.

A bunch of people come running out.  Mommy and Daddy are the first to get there.  My head is swimming.  Daddy picks me up, another man holds my leg and we go towards the house.  Mommy is crying.  One of the women runs for the house.  “I’ll call Dr. Fletcher in Standard,” she calls back over her shoulder.

That is the last clear memory I have of that day.  The story as I now know it was filled in by those who had lived through it with me.  Here is what I learned from them.

All the adults know my break is a serious one.  Dr. Fletcher is the only doctor in our district.  Standard is about eight miles from the Dam’s house.  Some district roads are clear of snow, some not.  Cars can drive to a point three miles from the Dams’ house, but from there horses and sleighs are necessary.  Emil Dam takes off with his sleigh and horse, Dr. Fletcher packs up what he needs and starts out in his car.  They meet, leave his car, and finish the trip by sleigh.

At the Dams’ house that night there is no real sit-down dinner.  People help themselves to what they need, and take turns helping my parents care for me.  I am in a lot of pain.  Finally Emil Dam and Dr. Fletcher arrive.  First he gives me medicine with a needle.  Then he looks at my leg, and compliments the grown-ups on their first-aid work.  He says they have done a very good job, and saved me from losing a lot of blood.  He does a few more things to make the situation better and then says, “I will call the General Hospital in Calgary, and the CPR station in Gleichen.  Marjorie must be taken to the hospital as soon as possible.  The Thompsons will need help.  Marjie’s parents must go with her.  Make your plans while I phone.”

While we were waiting for the doctor to arrive, the big folks had been talking.  They agreed that if Dr. Fletcher couldn’t fix my leg himself, I would have to go to Calgary.  If that happened, Doris would stay with Emil and Hansine.

Now that they know I have to go to Calgary, Chris Dam phones his neighbour.  The neighbour says he will take care of Chris’s house, so Chris can move into ours and take care of the animals and the house.  Then Mommy and Daddy can stay with me.

Dr. Fletcher comes back from the phone and reports that there is a passenger train stopping at Gleichen later tonight.  The General Hospital says an ambulance will meet us at the train and take us to the hospital.

Dr. Fletcher listens to the plans our neighbours have made, and agrees.  He then has the men build a box and pad it.  It fits around my leg to protect the break.  While this is being done the women heat stones and wrap them in old blankets.  These are put on the floor of the sleigh to warm it.  Then we all get into Emil’s big wagon sleigh and travel the three miles to the car.  It starts on the first try, and Dr. Fletcher heads for Gleichen, some fifteen miles away.  The stones lose their heat slowly, and the light is fading by the time we reach the train station in Gleichen.  The station agent is expecting us and has coffee ready.  (I have just one memory of my own from Gleichen.  I am crying because I am hot and thirsty.  Someone brings me a stick with frozen juice around it.  “It is so good,” I say – and then the fog creeps into my mind again.)

Dr. Fletcher stays with us until the train arrives.  He gives me another pain shot and tells Mommy and Daddy how to care for me, and waves good bye as the train leaves.

The next thing I remember is waking up on a very funny, hard bed.  It is the next morning, although I do not know that.  The room doesn’t look like any I have ever seen, and has a bright strange light in the ceiling.  “Where am I?” I wonder.  There is no one in the room.  I am frightened and call, “Mommy, Daddy?”

Some ladies in white dresses and funny little white caps run into the room.  One says, “The anaesthetic has worn off very quickly.”  They come over to me.

“Don’t cry, Marjie.  Everything is all right.  Your leg is fixed.  We will move you and take you to your bedroom.  Your Mommy and Daddy are there, asleep in two chairs.”

I don’t understand where I am or what has happened, but that sounds nice.  The nurse holds my hand and the other one pushes the bed with wheels.  As we come into the room I see my parents and call, “Daddy, Mommy!”  They sit up quickly, and run to me.

I have only one more clear memory from my hospital stay.  One morning I open my eyes and there is Aunt Phemia, in her nurse’s uniform.  She lives in Iowa.  Whenever someone in the family gets sick, she takes care of them.  Now she is here for me.  Such a wonderful warm feeling it gives me.  Now I know I will be better soon.

Soon proves to be optimistic.  The hospital stay drags on.  Aunt Phemia finally takes me to the farm.  My memory remains elusive.  How did we travel?  By car?  By train?  I have no idea.  How long did my recovery take?  I cannot remember, but things gradually return to normal.  Doris is back in Grade One.  I am at home.  Summer comes and I am outside playing, and running slowly.  Fall comes again and we go back to school.  Doris goes to Grade Two, and I start Grade One – again!


Filed under Prairie Childhood

10 Responses to Memory’s Mysterious Meanderings

  1. Wonderfully detailed story full of suspense!

    • Marjorie

      Judith – I went through most of this in a sort of fog, either from shock and/or pain medicine, but I have often wondered about my parents! They knew the risks; for example, perhaps I would die, or less dramatic but a real problem – what if Dr. Fletcher’s car had not started? What sort of result could they have hoped for from surgery? Must say, of a bad lot, I had the best spot!

  2. Anne (Longworth) Marshall

    Marj, since Isabel sent me the link to your blog, I have really enjoyed reading your posts. They totally transport me back in time to a different age. Please keep writing!

    • Marjorie

      Anne – Wonderful to hear from another generation of Longworths. Very glad you are following the blogs. I realize that 1927 does go back to a totally different way of living. Enjoy the trip.

  3. Dave

    Hi Marj, The ability to see oneself in the favored position when facing difficulties is a valuable gift and one to be cultivated! Perhaps some distance from the event helps. As always I love to read your blogs. I hope you are keeping well. Leone

    • Marjorie

      Leone – I suspect that my memory gaps improve (probably in error) my five-year-old image. The effect of shock, and the administration of whatever pain relief was available. plus what seems to me to be my mind refusing to remember pain, make the picture better. Still, after the initial shock of the break and the sight of the gory mess, what I do remember is the comfort, the love, the treats like Popsicles, the nurses holding my hand — and so forth. Only from my present viewpoint am I aware of how difficult it must have been for my family and friends. So good to hear from you.

  4. Yvonne

    Another wonderful story Marjorie. As I sit here in Standard I marvel at how transportation was so very different in 1927. Now, as you know, people run in to Calgary for dinner and return home a few hours later. What a difference! Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Marjorie

      Yvonne – Nice to hear from someone from Standard. You will have a keen appreciation of the difference 85 years makes in every facet of rural living. Somehow I was not left with any serious mobility problem. A gentleman we knew well, who travelled the country in a horse-drawn wagon selling medicines, was very worried about me. He wore a three-inch sole on one shoe to compensate for the disability he was left with after a similar childhood accident. My recovery was a delight to him (as well as to me)!

  5. Doreen

    Marj, I did enjoy the story. Sorry that it had to be such a painful time for you at the age of 5. Keep the stories coming.

    • Marjorie

      Doreen, glad you enjoyed the story. It was a tough time, but the strong support from all around me certainly helped. Guess I was lucky.