The Legacy of Mary (Sam) Vance, Knitter

The Legacy of Mary (Sam) Vance, Knitter
by Linda C Butler

Traditional skills, such as knitting, connect us to past generations.  I never knew my great grandmother Mary Vance, but she was an expert knitter and I feel that when I knit, I share in her legacy, although we have no direct knitting connection. I recently took knitting lessons, and as I click my needles, I am reminded of her contribution to family and community.

Grandma broke an ankle as a child and she walked with two canes or a crutch.  Many activities were difficult, but knitting became her passion and she knit for six grandchildren and the family adults.

Prairie winters were cold and everyone bundled in woolens to keep warm. Grandma made toques, mittens, scarves, socks, sweaters and even undershirts. She used wooden needles, probably from prairie hardwood.  Sweaters were knit flat and joined with seams but toques and socks were knit in the round with four pointed needles.  Her yarn was probably obtained from a local farmer who raised sheep and after carding and weaving, she dyed it using natural plant dyes.

I recently saw the expression: Knit Fast, Stay Warm and I thought of Grandma sitting for hours with her knitting needles clicking.  In addition to knitting for her family she contributed to church bazaars and to neighbors.

Today there is renewed interest in knitting and I enjoy the variety of yarns in the local wool shop with an endless selection of colors, textures and blends. There are circular needles for round knitting, and nickel-plated brass and bamboo for speed.  A grandchild would have wound balls of yarn from skeins on a chair back for Grandma, but today most yarn is sold in balls and there are ball winders if we need them.

I knit toques, mostly from thrift-store yarn, and I marvel at the combination of patterns and colors that result from partial balls of yarn.  Grandma Vance also made toques and mitts from leftover yarn and I feel the connection to the past as I create my designs.

As knitted garments aged, Grandma darned them to keep them in good repair. Older kids passed their usable garments onto the younger ones.  Finally, when the garments were unusable, they were pieced together for quilt batting.  Quilt tops, made from sewing scraps made a decorative cover for the recycled batting.

Grandma’s creativity with her knitting needles was born of necessity, and today I am glad to carry on her tradition.  In learning to knit, I feel that I am connected to her, and to the prairie women of her generation whose thrift and resourcefulness settled the Canadian Prairies.

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Hand knit Toques, by Linda Butler

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The Urban Hobo Jungle

The Urban Hobo Jungle
by Linda C Butler

Hobo jungles were places for the homeless to gather in the 1930s and they sprang up around most major railway cities.  There was little employment and men rode on freight cars without paying fares, going from city to city, looking for work and congregating in camps or jungles where they cooked and shared food.  Some of the food was purchased or donated and some was stolen.

Chilliwack BC, where I live, had a large hobo jungle throughout the Depression years. My Dad, Charlie Vance, recalled being in this jungle on two occasions when he came to Chilliwack to pick cherries, however, the pay was so low picking fruit that he did not stay.

Times change and there are still homeless people in our community, but today we have soup kitchens, food banks and missions where the homeless can stay, however, it is not uncommon to be approached on the streets by panhandlers, people wanting money.

We recently had Chinese food at one of the local restaurants, and after our meal the waitress boxed up the leftovers which I took.  Before we drove away a woman approached and asked if she could have our leftover food.  I was speechless and she told her story that she was homeless and needed something to eat.  I never give money to panhandlers, but I gave her the leftover Chinese food. The woman took the package and walked toward a group of three or four people sitting on the sidewalk in front of a nearby business where she shared the food with them.

We later laughed about this episode with the people we had dined with and someone suggested that we could go out more often for Chinese food if we followed this group’s example. Instead of ordering a flask of wine, we’d have our bottle in a paper bag and pass it around.

I thought of Dad and wondered what he’d think of this incident.  I do not know whether the people really were homeless or hungry, or just innovative, but our leftovers provided an outdoor picnic for them of good dining of Chinese food.

(c) Linda C Butler 2014

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Victory Gardens

The hoe in the backyard is mighty good backing for the flag on the front porch.1.

vic4Victory Gardens, War Gardens, or Food Gardens for Defence were popular in WW1 and WW2 as a way to combat the food shortages of the times and to free food resources for military operations.  It was patriotic to grow vegetables and to preserve food for winter use.  Home gardens and community gardens in public parks were a source of civic pride as gardeners fed their families and helped the war effort by being self-sufficient.  Home gardening, food preservation, and economic cooking was the patriotic duty of the home front.

Today there is a resurgence in gardening and in eating wholesome fresh foods. Community spaces are once again being converted to garden plots. In Chilliwack BC, where I live, a downtown lot was converted to raised-bed gardens with each plot assigned to a needy family who agree to donate half to a local mission for the hungry.

Vancouver BC has its own Victory Gardens today as people utilize public and private space around them for food production. People are encouraged to be food heros and to grow their own.  Community urban gardens increase food sustainability and can be found on balconies and on boulevards. In some areas lawn size is diminished to create space for planters. Restaurants are experimenting with growing salad crops to serve the freshest food to their patrons.

Vegetable seeds have improved over the years to provide resistance to plant diseases, to mature in a shorter growing season, to yield in containers, and to enhance flavors.

Commercial produce travels a great distance to market, which requires high energy and increased costs.  In Canada with most of our winter produce coming from the US, fluctuation in currency can cause produce prices to spiral.

Victory Gardens were successful in wartime years and have much to offer us today.  They are an opportunity to cut expensive food costs, grow healthier foods, and offer more variety in our food choices.

vic2 vic1 vic3

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A Walk on the Dark Side

When Hugh McKervill was in training to become a minister in the United Church of Canada, he was sent in the summer of 1955 as a student minister to the people of the Smoky Burn-Battle Heights-Papikwan area (at the edge of the farming land, north of Carrot River) in northern Saskatchewan.

When he arrived, he learned that his flock had scrounged together enough money to buy their student minister a sturdy old Model A. This car served him well that summer, chugging over roads that were almost impassible after heavy rains. However, there were times when even the Model A surrendered to the clog-up of its innards.

Min. McKervill writes about one evening in particular when he was endeavoring to get from Point B, where he’d been visiting, to Point A where he boarded. This was after a heavy rain and the road to Point B – which dipped down into the Carrot River Valley and then up the other side – had been passable during the day. However, sometime later a tractor had lumbered down this road after him, slithered down the one hill and then up the other, throwing up huge clumps of mud and carving deep grooves as it fought for traction in the gumbo clay.

Returning home, the student minister started down the slope into the river valley and found he couldn’t keep the wheels of his Model A from sliding into those ruts. To make matters worse, the car wheels churned up more mud so the engine compartment filled with the goo. Then its wheels slid into the deep tractor ruts and he was not only clogged up, but hung up as well.

This area was sparsely settled and it was later in the evening; the chances of another vehicle coming along were slim. He saw no choice but get out and walk home. He wore rubber boots in those days and they clump, clumped down the hillside, across the narrow bridge, and up the other side. With dismay he realized that daylight was almost gone. He reassured himself constantly that there was absolutely nothing to fear in this wilderness.

Granted, he could meet a charging moose…or an angry mother bear…or maybe some timber wolves. There was even the odd chance of a prowling cougar, strayed from its usual range in the wooded hills to the southeast. But other than that, he comforted himself, there was nothing in the descending darkness that would harm him.

As young McKervill trudged on, he entered a forested area where trees crept right up to the road. With every step he reassured himself that there was nothing to fear. At one point he decided that it would be prudent to hurry so as not to be too late arriving home. He dashed off like a gazelle chased by a leopard, though not nearly as graceful with his rubber boots going “Splat! Splat! Splat!” and sliding on the wet road.

At last he reached an area where the trees didn’t close in so menacingly. When he could run no more, he slowed down, stopping to catch his breath now and then. During one of these times he heard a twig snap not far from him. Heart pounding, he listened for telltale sounds. The silence shrieked. So he hurried on.

A few minutes later he heard another sound, then a footstep. He stopped and the noise stopped. He started walking and he heard a rustling sound in the brush beside the road. This time he had to admit it: some creature was following him!

He envisioned the newspaper headlines reporting his demise. Something like :“Minister Mauled to Death in Northern Woods” or “Cougar Crushes Cleric.” He stopped again – and the creature stopped. “Getting ready to pounce,” his mind announced.

In a little more open space he froze when he caught a glimpse of a huge black form. He dug out his pocket knife, realizing how useless the tiny blade would be against such a massive enemy. He walked on a little farther and the creature followed. His heart pounded in his chest.

When a gleam of moonlight outlined the beast’s huge head, its eyes glinting in the light, his heart almost stopped. Suddenly from this black shadow came a bone-chilling wail.

“Mooooooo.”

His heart rate settled down to something near normal again and he plodded on. The cow or steer walked along beside him most of the way to his lodging, then turned aside to join other animals in a pasture. Half a mile further down the road the northern sky burst into a glory of dancing northern lights. He writes that at that moment he felt like dancing, too.

His heart must have been very strong, for he lived to tell write his book almost forty years later. I’ve retold his story in my own words, so you may wish to read the original:

THE SINBUSTER OF SMOKY BURN
The Memories of a Student Minister on the Prairies
© 1993 by Hugh W. McKervill

Published by Whitecap Books Vancouver/Toronto
and simultaneously by Wood Lake Books, Inc. of Winfield, BC

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The Travelling Preacher

The Travelling Preacher
by Linda C Butler
Told by Charlie Vance

In the 1930s I lived at Thicket Portage, a small community on the Hudson Bay Railway in Northern Manitoba.  At the center of town, facing the railway tracks, was a new general store, and beside this store was a tarpaper shack that had been there for a number of years.

It was winter and I was a commercial fisherman, working with eight other fellows, one of whom lived in the tarpaper shack.  Our community was small, and there was no Protestant church, but occasionally a travelling minister would visit.  On this occasion a young student minister came to town to preach the gospel.  We had no community hall or public building, so he approached the storekeeper and asked if he could hold a church service in the store.  The storekeeper agreed and benches and chairs were brought in to accommodate the small congregation.

None of us had attended church for some time, but in those days, all Protestants, of whatever denomination, were expected to attend church when it was held.  We were fishermen who were used to life in the bush, and a church service was foreign to us.

The service commenced and we restlessly listened to the sermon, but we did not know the words to the hymns and none of us could sing. The preacher did his best to encourage us, but he could not carry a tune, so the hymn singing was a failure as most of us remained silent.  Finally the service ended and we shook hands with the minister and departed.

We were embarrassed about our lack of singing and we were glad to leave.  The fellow who lived next door in the tarpaper shack invited us to his place and we went inside and sat down.  He got out a bottle of whiskey and we each took a drink while we discussed the service.

We thought about our lack of participation and one of the fellows remembered that he had sung when he was younger.  Somebody else remembered that he could sing a little and another fellow remembered a few words to a hymn.

After another drink one fellow started to sing while the rest of us hummed along until we remembered the words, and then we joined the singing.  We had another round of whiskey and then we all remembered the hymns and raised our voices.  We continued to drink and the singing became louder.

In the meantime the preacher packed up his papers in the general store and asked the storekeeper where everyone had gone, and was told that we were next door. The preacher went outside, planning to join us, and was surprised to hear us singing hymns.  He walked over to the tarpaper shack and knocked on the door.  The owner answered with the whiskey still in his hand.  The preacher said:  “Why the hell are you fellows singing here when you wouldn’t sing in church?”

We were silent.  We had never heard a preacher swear and we were embarrassed to have left church for a bottle of whiskey.  It seemed like blasphemy to be singing hymns and drinking after a church service.

The fisherman holding the bottle finally said: “I, er, we, Sir, would you care for a drink?”

The preacher responded: “Don’t mind if I do.” and reached for the bottle.

No one had expected the preacher to accept a drink of whiskey and we were surprised by his response.

We found ourselves liking this man and we relaxed and told him about our lives.  He understood the loneliness that we experienced, and before long, he led us in the old familiar hymns which brought back memories of loved ones far away.

When we finally quit singing we were glad that this preacher had come to our community.  Instead of criticizing us, he shared his faith and gave us the gift of fellowship and understanding.  Our lives, which had been bleak, were brighter for his presence.

 

 

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Easter Greetings

We wish all our readers a Joyful Easter.

mums

Enjoy these quotations:

Easter is not a time for groping through dusty, musty tomes or tombs to disprove spontaneous generation or even to prove life eternal.  It is a day to fan the ashes of dead hope, a day to banish doubts and seek the slopes where the sun is rising, to revel in the faith which transports us out of ourselves and the dead past into the vast and inviting unknown.  ~Author unknown, as quoted in the Lewiston Tribune

I have deep faith that the principle of the universe will be beautiful and simple.  – Albert Einstein

On Easter Day the veil between time and eternity thins to gossamer. – Douglas Horton

The resurrection gives my life meaning and direction and the opportunity to start over no matter what my circumstances.  – Robert Flatt

The joyful news that He is risen does not change the contemporary world.  Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice.  But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice.  – Henry Knox Sherrill

Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.  – Clarence W. Hall

He takes men out of time and makes them feel eternity.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.  – Martin Luther

I lied on my Weight Watchers list. I put down that I had 3 eggs… but they were Cadbury chocolate eggs. – Caroline Rhea

We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining-they just shine. – Dwight L. Moody

The symbolic language of the crucifixion is the death of the old paradigm; resurrection is a leap into a whole new way of thinking. – Deepak Chopra

Easter is very important to me, it’s a second chance. – Reba McEntire

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song. – John Paul II

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?  – Jesus Christ – John 11:25, 26

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Reminiscing with Seniors

REMINISCING WITH SENIORS
by Linda C Butler

We had dinner tonight with my mom in the seniors’ complex and sat with the other ladies at her table.

I asked what they remembered about the horse and buggy days.  Mom remembered when her folks got a model T Ford.  Women in those times did not drive but Aunt Lizzie, who was a bit older than mom, wanted to try.  She watched how it was done, and when nobody was around she started the car and attempted to drive around the farmyard.  Her driving was short-lived as she didn’t know how to steer and hit a cow.  Fortunately the cow recovered. After that incident she was forbidden to drive again and only Grandpa drove.

Iris, who is 100 and of English descent, said that during the war her husband wanted to be a fighter pilot, but instead was sent to Canada as a flying instructor.  He taught in Saskatchewan where it is flat with no trees, an ideal place to train pilots, as there were no obstacles for beginning pilots to fly into.  Iris followed her husband to Canada a few years later.  After the war they returned to England and then later emigrated to Canada.

She told this story before there was electricity: She had just moved into her home and needed ice. Ice was delivered by an iceman who drove a horse-drawn wagon. She asked her neighbor to send the iceman to her place when he next came and a day or two later the man arrived and carried the ice into her house and put it into her icebox for her.  After she paid him, she said:  Knock me up next time you come.  She said that was a common English expression, meaning knock on my door.  The iceman looked at her strangely and left without saying anything.  Her husband told her that night that Canadians have a different meaning for the phrase.

May, originally from Scotland, told us one time she sent a get well card to a lady in the hospital and wrote on it: Keep Your Pecker Up, which in Scotland means Keep your spirits up.  She was embarrassed when she learned the Canadian meaning of the phrase, but everyone who saw the card got a chuckle.

They talked about Christmas cakes and puddings and May said that after the traditional fruit cake had aged, it was covered in jam and then a layer of marzipan (almond paste) added, followed by royal icing, a thick white icing.  After that it was decorated with small china ornaments.  Iris said that their family omitted the royal icing and put the china figurines directly on the marzipan.

It was traditional to add small objects to the cake or Christmas pudding. A button in the cake meant that you would be a bachelor, a silver thimble meant thrift and a threepence coin would bring wealth. Stores sold packages of trinkets for this purpose and other objects were a tiny wishbone for luck and an anchor for safe travels.

Iris said that the English called cookies biscuits.  She said that her Canadian grandchildren would correct her when she offered them a biscuit. Iris talked about currant cakes which were often served with afternoon tea. They were rich in butter and eggs, but there was never icing.

May told us about preparing sauces for meat.  Usually both a hot and a cold sauce were served with every meat. Mint sauce was served with lamb, but if mint was not available an onion sauce was used.

It was interesting discussing food preparation from so many years ago and we had an enjoyable dinner.

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The Potato Crop

The Potato Crop
by Linda C Butler

spudsWe have flower beds made with landscape ties by a fence and in front of our house. Potatoes sometimes sprout from the compost in these beds and we have left them to grow, digging the occasional hill in the fall.

I am bothered by cats using these flower beds as a community litter box, so this year I almost decided to cover the flower beds with black landscape cloth and artificial flowers, but then I remembered potatoes. I removed some of the dirt from the beds so the soil is now below the box edges, then dug the ground and mixed dried leaves and compost into the soil. I will plant potatoes, then staple wire to the wood edges, allowing the potatoes to grow through the wire. Since the soil is below the wire, cats will not scratch in the dirt. I selected Norland, an early red variety with high yields for delicious summer potato salads.

Potatoes grow faster if they are sprouted before planting, so I laid them on a tray in a warm place and the sprouts are now about half an inch long. Small potatoes can be planted whole, but larger potatoes should be cut in half or in quarters, with at least one eye in each piece. After cutting, the potatoes can sit for a day to dry the edges of the cut surface. They are planted 6 inches deep.

After the plants have grown, they are hilled to protect the growing tubers from greening and to encourage additional growth at the top of the vine. I will add dirt to the flower bed at that time, and probably cover it with landscape cloth as I cannot hill potatoes in the traditional way. Under good growing conditions, Norland potatoes will mature in 90 days. When the tops have died down, they can be cut away. The mature potatoes can be harvested then, or left in the ground for a couple weeks to allow the skins to properly set for storage.

I grew Norland potatoes last summer in Northern Manitoba. I was given a bag of sprouted seed potatoes and a neighbor rototilled a patch of ground. I planted the potatoes at the beginning of July but they took a long time to sprout as the soil was still cold. This year, I will plant them in raised beds as the soil in beds warms faster than bare ground. Our neighbors harvested a successful crop in September.

My Dad, who trapped in the Thompson MB area in the 1930s, planted his potato patch on a portage. He was gone all summer, but travellers on the river took time to weed and to hill the potatoes for him. His wilderness potato crop was dependant on the generosity of passersby. Once the potatoes reached a certain size, visitors could help themselves to young potatoes for a meal.

I read an editorial in our local paper about climate change and its devastating effect on the world’s ability to produce food. The suggestion is that we should eat local food, locally produced, or grown at home.

One of the most basic foods is the potato. We rely primarily on 10 or 12 types of potatoes but there are some 5,000 potato varieties among the South American Andes mountain slopes where potatoes originated, many with future food potential. The potato yields more nutritious food more quickly on less land and in harsher climates than any other major food crop. It is interesting that my decision to plant potatoes is a good choice for a world facing more severe climate conditions.

Reference: Chilliwack Progress, www.theprogress.com page 12, 4 April 14 “A little food for thought on global climate change”, Margaret Evans.

flowerbed

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My Adventurous Shopping Trip

This is a story told by Georgette Major who had the sawmill with her husband Stan at Wekusko Falls and supplied much of the lumber that was used in the construction of buildings at Snow Lake, including Vance’s Store, that my parents owned.

MY ADVENTUROUS SHOPPING TRIP
By Linda C Butler
Told by Georgette Major

In the 1950s I was a private school teacher for Claire Tribble, the daughter of Wilda and Brock Tribble, who lived at Herb Lake. One time two of my girlfriends from Winnipeg came to visit and when it was time for them to leave, I decided to accompany them on the short flight to Flin Flon to shop for a couple hours until the plane was ready to return to Herb Lake.

The weather was fair when we left Herb Lake but it turned stormy before we reached Flin Flon and the pilot was forced to land on a small lake. There was no dock, but the pilot steered the plane into a little bay and we stopped near the shoreline, where he tied the plane to a tree. We were able to go ashore, but we spent the night in our seats in the plane bouncing in the water. The pilot handed out emergency rations of hardtack for us to eat and we were comfortable.

In the morning the weather cleared and we resumed our flight to Flin Flon and arrived safely. I said my goodbyes to my friends and they departed on their flight to Winnipeg.

The pilot was worried about the weather and he was anxious to fly before the storm developed again as the weather was unsettled. He told me that there was no time to shop and we would depart as soon as the plane was loaded. He had supplies for Herb Lake and for a mining camp at Squall Lake, and once he was ready to fly, we departed. We went to Squall Lake first and by the time we arrived at the camp the weather was closing in. We unloaded the camp cargo and waited in the cookshack for the weather to clear so we could resume our trip. There never was a break and after supper the men brought out the cribbage board and we played cards. I was the only woman and the fellows pitched a tent for me to sleep in.

We expected to fly in the morning but conditions remained stormy for the next couple days. Finally the storm cleared and we flew back to Herb Lake.

It was a relief to finally get home. I had had a five-day adventurous shopping trip and never made a purchase.

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The Coldest Time of My Life

The Coldest Time of My Life
By Linda C Butler
Told by Charlie Vance (1909-1989)

In 1927 I worked for Ross Navigation hauling freight in Northern Manitoba with horses. We arrived on New Year’s Eve at Joe McDougall’s cabin on Elbow Lake. Joe was a watchman for a mining company and there was only a small log cabin with no room for us fellows to sleep inside. Also, there was no barn or stable for the horses, and we cut trees to clear a stall in the bush for each horse. We then put a pole between the trees in each stall for a manger for feed.

The horses had been sweating and we rubbed them down with dry gunny sacks. We had to dry the horses, otherwise the horse blankets would become wet when we put them for the night. We fed them all the hay they could eat, but were careful not to overfeed the oats.

We made a bonfire and sat around for warmth and to prepare supper. McDougall joined us and showed us his thermometer which read 65 below F. After supper, I spread out 4 or 5 bales of hay and put my down-filled bedroll on top of the hay and crawled inside. Just before I went to sleep I pulled the bedroll away from my face and saw the Northern lights dancing overhead.

About five in the morning someone hollered for us to wake up and water and feed the horses. As we got ourselves out of bed the foreman came along and said: “I want you fellows to button up well today as it will probably be the coldest day of your lives.”

“How cold is it?” we asked.

“It is 57 below and you will be facing the wind. If you get cold, signal the fellow behind to change places with you. I don’t want anybody to get frostbite, so keep rotating. You may never see a day as cold.”

I was on the front end as I was with a four-up (2 teams) which pushed the snow plow. There were about five teams of horses on the front end as the horses were alternated, as they tired easily when pushing a plow.

The oats for the horses were bagged in gunny sacks so we had lots of extra sacks and we put them over the horses’ heads with slits cut for their eyes. The fellow on the snow plow also wore a gunny sack on his head with a peep hole to see out.

As we travelled we tried to keep the teams and the sleighs bunched together to break the wind. On New Year’s Day, 1928 we crossed the ice on Elbow Lake in the bitter cold facing the wind. Finally we reached the shore on the other side.

We had a 20 foot square tent with us, which we seldom used, but that night we pitched it, and everyone was there to help. The tent had steamed up the first times we used it and it was heavy, as we have never been able to dry it properly.  It was hard to lift in the air with the poles that went underneath.

We set up a stove with a stovepipe leading outside. The air inside the tent warmed up beside the stove, but it was cold by the outer canvas walls. Everyone opened and spread out their bedding so there was room to sleep. That night, even in a tent, I shivered and could not get warm. When I slept by myself in the open, I rolled in my bedroll and stayed warm, but the tent was uncomfortable with so many men crowded together.

Morning finally came, and someone called: “Time to get up and tend the horses.”

I was glad to prepare to leave this cold place. It was indeed the coldest time I ever remember in my life.

 

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