by Maxine Boxall
Joe scraped more ice off the kitchen window and peered out again; still no clouds and just a slight breeze. “Can’t be more than thirty below,” he muttered. His joints were aching; he knew the weather would change. All morning he’d hung around hoping someone with a vehicle would stop by, but now lunch was finished and he couldn’t wait another day to go to the store. Bundling up quickly, he headed out the door and down the road. The old trapper was making good time; he was used to walking as it was his only mode of transportation. After a mile he turned north and was hit by the full force of the icy wind. Even though staying on the road would be easier, Joe decided to cut through the forest and be sheltered by the trees. “Bugger it’s cold,” he griped. “Maybe I’ll be able to catch a ride with Harold on the other side.”
The crust on the snow held for the first five steps, with the sixth Joe was up to his hips in powder. Cursing himself for not bringing his snowshoes, he pulled himself out and crawled to the woods. “God I’d like a chew of tobaccy.”
It was warmer but more dangerous amongst the trees as the wind gusts were snapping branches and pine cones were raining down. The snow was deeper than the old trapper expected and his progress was slowed by a number of newly fallen pines which he had to either climb over or go around. He found a dead branch to use as a walking stick; still he caught his toe on a snow covered twig and almost fell down. Puffing from the exertion he reached for his canteen only to discover he hadn’t brought it. Joe couldn’t believe he’d left home so unprepared, he wondered if he was getting senile.
The sky wasn’t as bright, clouds were rolling in. Joe knew he had to get out of the woods as winter nights come early in northern Alberta. Joe checked his bearings and adjusted his course, thankful that the road wasn’t too far off as the wind was really picking up. He heard a crack and then felt the whip of a branch on his back as it knocked him to the ground. Spitting snow from his mouth, he realized how lucky he was not to be trapped or have anything broken. He stood up, stretched and continued his trek. It had started to snow.
Fifteen minutes later Joe emerged exhausted from the forest. He’d never felt so old and tired. A log protected by a small spruce tree enticed the old man to sit down and catch his breath. From this perch he could see down the road in both directions, so he’d have time to cross the ditch when he saw the mail truck coming. Looking north, Joe thought he could see the smoke from the store chimney. He really hoped he hadn’t missed Harold; that warm fire was still a good half-mile away and a ride would be wonderful. He’d wait and rest a little while.
Dennis was doing his father’s mail route that day as Harold was home sick. He was way behind schedule as he had stopped at the school to pick up his son, Greg. A blizzard was blowing and Dennis hadn’t wanted the boy walking home in it, as last year a young man had frozen to death during a similar storm. Now his plan was to just drop the mail at the store and get home to make sure the cattle were okay. The snow was making it very difficult to see, by concentrating on an old track Dennis could just distinguish the road from the ditch. He wasn’t sure why his dad delivered mail, there wasn’t much money in it; perhaps it was for the gossip he gathered.
“Look Dad, a snowman. Someone’s built a snowman by that tree,” Greg said.
Glancing over his shoulder, Dennis saw something that looked like a red scarf around a bunch of snow. “Yeah, that’s funny.”
A quarter of a mile down the road, Dennis slowed the truck, he’d been thinking about the snowman.
“What’s the matter, Dad?”
“We’re going back. Why would someone build a snowman there? Doesn’t seem right, we’d better check it out,” Dennis said as he did a U-turn at the crossroad.
They both strained to see through the falling snow as they retraced their route. “Greg, keep a look out for that red scarf, we must be getting close now.”
“There, Dad, there,” said Greg pointing at the spruce.
Dennis stopped, “You stay in the truck. I’ll call if I need you.”
The snow was deep in the ditch and Dennis’s boots were full after the first step, but he continued on, as the snowman was looking more real the closer he got.
“God, it’s old Joe!” Grabbing and shaking him by the shoulder Dennis shouted, “Joe, Joe, wakeup, you’re freezing to death.”
“Ahhh,” was the only reply.
At least he’s alive, Dennis thought, at the same time wondering how to get the old man to the truck.
The answer came from Greg, “Dad, my toboggan’s in the back!”
“Great, bring it over.”
Together they managed to roll Joe onto the sled and pulled him to the pickup.
“Let’s put Joe in the box, I don’t think we can get him in the cab. We’ll put those old blankets over him and stack the mail around. It’s not far to the store.”
Leaving Joe on the toboggan, Dennis managed to lift one end onto the tailgate while Greg kept him from falling off. Pushing and pulling they got him into the back. With their cargo protected as much as possible, Dennis carefully turned the truck around and drove toward the store.
“He sure was heavy, Dad. Is that what you call a ‘dead weight’? Is Joe going to die?”
“I’m not sure; he’s a tough old man,” Dennis replied.
He pulled the truck up close to the store, jumped out and ran in, almost colliding with the owner in the doorway. “Sorry, Mrs. Campbell, but old Joe’s almost frozen to death in the back of my truck. I need help.”
“Oh my, I’ll get Jack,” she said and quickly went to find her husband.
Dennis had Joe positioned on the tailgate by the time Mr. Campbell appeared. Each grabbing an end of the toboggan, they managed to carry Joe into the store and placed him on the floor by the pot-bellied stove.
“Don’t put him too close, he has to warm up slowly. Get Joe out of those wet clothes, while I get some blankets,” Mrs. Campbell commanded. “Silly old fool needs his head examined, out on a day like today, probably out of chewing tobacco,” she said heading for the house.
The four rescuers stood watch and slowly the colour returned to Joe’s face. Mrs. Campbell bent over and placed a hand on his forehead. Joe opened his eyes and spotting her, said, “Ah, just the angel I was looking for. Be a good lass and get me a pouch of tobaccy!”