The lonesome frigid walk home that day was anything but ordinary. It was the winter of 1960 and I was nine years old.
My military family had arrived in Camp Shilo, Manitoba the previous fall. We had driven from El Paso, Texas where Dad had served as an instructor for two years with the American army. The winters in El Paso were like early spring in Canada. It never snowed and the temperature rarely dropped below freezing. I longed to be back there with palm trees, all-year-round flowering bushes, and green grass in February.
I was a ‘military brat’, the name given to a child from a military family. We moved often and I didn’t like it. It was hard being the new kid time and time again. Mum tried hard to create a new home for us with each move. But at Camp Shilo, it had been hard at school and in my neighbourhood. It was a small military base, so on our street there were the officers’ families and the families of the enlisted men. The families didn’t always mix well. As the daughter of an officer, the enlisted kids often played mean tricks on me. I felt lonely.
On that particular day, I was walking home through the deserted field from my friend’s house and my snow boots crunched loudly, one after the other. That plaintive sound echoed my feelings of isolation, loneliness, and displacement. The cold assaulted me. My breathing was labored and my breath froze in mid-air. It must have been -20 degrees Fahrenheit. I walked stiffly and pushed through the cold, encased in a snowsuit meant to keep me warm. As my arms and legs moved, I listened to my snowsuit swish and realized there were no other sounds … just my crunching and swishing. No birds, no animals, no people; they had all taken refuge. I listened for cars in the distance and couldn’t hear them. I was in frigid, cold vacuum.
I kept my head down to protect my face from the bitter wind whipping across the barren field and heard for the first time its howl. Looking up, I saw that the sun was low in the metal-grey sky and I hurried along as best I could. I wondered if I would ever get home where it would be warm, where Mum would greet me and help me out of my outer clothing.
Finally I arrived, and there was Mum was at the door. She had been watching for me. “Karen” she whispered, “you look frozen to the bone. You could have waited for Dad to pick you up when he finished work. Look at your red cheeks and nose.”
I was home, and I was safe, and I was warm. Most importantly, I had left my loneliness outside in the cold.