Morgan turned from his art teacher and lowered his head to escape the piercing winter sunlight that amplified his pounding headache. He hated myself for crying but he couldn’t stop the gushing tears. Even worse were the twenty pairs of young eyes that bored into him when he broke down. His art teacher, Mr. Grant, had been very gentle when telling him that his mother had been rushed to the Victoria General hospital in distant Halifax, but Morgan was inconsolable. He and his siblings had developed a particular dread of any mention of the Victoria General or “VG” as it was also known. The VG was the place where mothers went when really scary things like spinal meningitis happened. Without the timely action of doctor Mathur, that killer disease might well have taken their mother four years previously. After a home visit, Mathur had ordered that Eleanor be rushed up to Halifax and straight to intensive care. That awful day’s details were etched in Morgan’s mind: summer heat, muted sunlight and the pervasive anxiety of a family on tenterhooks. Later, the children learned that a few more hours’ passage would have meant certain death for their mother.
So far as Morgan was concerned, his mother might well have been sent to the moon. He couldn’t fully accept the situation and he felt completely powerless once more. He later reflected that, since kids have little power over their lives, they jealously guard what control they have, not yet realizing the truly precarious nature of existence. He, Marie and Eric dreaded the prospect of life removed from the comfortable certainties of life with their mother, although her family would care for the children like their own.
Rusty’s paws crunched over the packed snow of Grandpa’s firewood trail, pulling the sled along with steady power. Morgan thought Rusty was the strongest dog in the world, especially since collies weren’t very big and the dog showed no signs of fatigue. He was tough, too, although always gentle with kids. Grandpa used to make this funny sound whenever the neighbour’s German Shepherd appeared and Rusty was on him like a devil, giving as good as he got. It seemed cruel but dogs’ ways are their own, not necessarily meant for human understanding.
Grandpa trudged along beside them, his snowshoes scuffing the hard crust as they entered the forest’s shelter, escaping the icy gusts of the open field. The expanse of white was dimpled by the circular craters of abandoned coal pits and resembled a Great War battlefield, silent and heavy with memory. The nearby sea eagerly lent its winter fury to the land whose trees stayed short and bent landward in surrender to the steady winds whispering and hissing among the spruce boughs. These dog-sled rides were Grandpa’s best Christmas gift to children who badly needed a comforting distraction.