The boy and girl were squabbling over a colouring book. The baby was tossing rolled-up work socks out of the basket.
“Mama,” whined the boy, “she coloured on my page.”
“Did not!” retorted the girl.
“Please be quiet,” Mother pleaded, “I have a headache.”
Mother had a bad headache. The lumberjacks had been so noisy the night before as they crowded into the cabin in front of the radio listening to the hockey game with Foster Hewitt, noisy and smelly. She thought they were never going back to the bunkhouse on the hill. Only a makeshift curtain divided the bedroom from the rest of the one room, a poor barrier. She was glad her husband had only taken the job of camp cook for the winter.
Mother had a throbbing headache, but she had to wash the lumberjacks’ work socks, those gray things with the red and white stripes on the tops,all labelled with the wearers’ names, a mountain of them waiting on the floor beside the gas-powered washing machine near the door. She muttered to herself that they meant cash and got on with it.
After pouring in the kettles of water that had heated all night on the woodstove, she shaved soap from a yellow bar, and threw it in with a load of socks. Flicking a switch she set the machine to swishing and rumbling.
Then, Mother sat down in the rocking chair and waited for the baby to toddle over to cuddle in her lap, but that infant had fallen asleep beside the basket on the floor, a rolled-up pair of socks in each chubby fist. The older pre-schoolers had become very quiet, holding crayons but not colouring. Mother thought she would close her eyes just for a few minutes. Maybe her headache would go away.
“Go to bed, if you’re tired,” she told the children, her eyes still closed.”you were up early.” She heard the bed creak as they crawled in. All was quiet except for the rumbling of the washing machine.
Mother’s head began to feel as if it was stuffed with the work socks, but some kind of message was trying to get through her befuddled brain. Just when she was beginning to be happy that at last her headache was receding, it came to her like a lightning flash in a black sky and she leapt from the chair and in seconds had flung open the door.
Still a bit groggy, Mother saw that snow was halfway up the doorway and that the vent was clogged with the white stuff. Father’s dawn footprints were all but filled in with the morning snowfall. She pulled on her boots gasping in the cold air, but so grateful for it and stepped knee-deep to clear the vent with bare fingers. She thought the washing machine gurgled its thanks as it continued swishing and rumbling.
“Mama, it’s cold. Shut the door!”
The girl and the baby were still asleep. Mother crossed the floor in quick steps and was relieved that they were still breathing. She left the door ajar, and added a few more chunks of wood to the stove.
And then she started to shake, but with a nervous laugh she informed her son that her headache was gone.
(Author’s Note: I was that middle child and the year was 1938.)