Tuesday, December 27, 2016
At literally hundreds of rural schools, the blizzard made teachers, most of them young women barely any older than their oldest students, make a life-and-death decision: should they keep their students out of the storm and risk all kinds of things, or should they send them home, if the closest anyone lived was almost a mile away? The time has come for Miss Baarman to make that decision.
By dinnertime, the storm had begun to prove itself massive. The boys were gobbling down their buttered bread, anticipating a game of "dare-goo!" in the snow. She let them out early after telling them they shouldn’t eat their whole lunch—she had started to worry about what might just happen should they have to stay and not go home at all. The older girls took one look at the snow and chose to stay inside and do some tatting.
Heavy snow was not an immediate cause of concern to her or to the kids. Maybe once a week, gusty snow would brush off the windows or accumulate in drifts on the glass around the playground. The wind blew just about everyday. To look out the window and see sideways snow wasn’t at all unusual, so Katharine wasn’t panicked. But she was concerned. Very concerned. This wasn’t just any prairie storm—the morning had opened with a beautiful early spring thaw that had turned on a dime and rode the darkness in like something evil.
"When will school be over, Miss Baarman?" Mary asked. Wood cracked from the roaring fire in the stove, making some of the timid children jump in their seats.
"End of this month probably—when field work starts."
"I for one am not anxious the teeniest bit." Mary looked around for approval, then glanced up at Miss Baarman, who stood at her desk, looking through the east windows.
"Miss Baarman! --"
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I'm just worried about the boys getting so wet and dirty."
That was an unsettled lie.
"Don't worry about them, ma'am,” Mary said. “They'll take care of themselves. I was saying that I'm not anxious for school to get out.”
"Oh, really, why not?" Katharine asked, totally distracted.
"We like school,” another of the girls said. “Besides, I only got to work at home."
"And you’re saying school isn't work, I suppose?" she carried on conversation.
"Ja, this is work, but it just ain't the same."
“Pa says isn’t all the time,” Mary said.
“You don’t look like your pa, you don’t dress like your pa, you don’t sing like your pa, you don’t smoke like your pa,” she told them, wearing an innocent smile. “What is it that makes you think you should talk like him?”
"Just isn't the same." The girls worked on their tatting; some were busy with schoolwork, as the conversation idled on.
"You mean you like schoolwork better than housework, Mary?"
They all chuckled at the ridiculous question.
That’s when Nick Oldersma opened the door and peeked in. The girls turned quickly. It was too early for the boys to come in, and besides they always had to be told.
"Something wrong?" Miss Baarman asked Nick.
Seemed puzzling even to her. On the other hand, Nick wasn’t as old as the other boys. "Is there something we can do for you?" All his layers of clothes made him look like a miniature man.
"Not really, ma'am. It's just that, well, we were wondering if maybe you need some wood from out back."
The bin in the back was full enough for the afternoon.
"I don’t think so, Nick,” she told them. It was big of him—of them—to think of what they might need inside. She looked out again at the storm. It was only getting worse, but she didn’t want to alarm them. “I think we'll get along just fine on what we have."
Nick swung the door shut behind him, happy, it appeared, to be leaving. But he’d been sent. There was no doubt about that. The little guy hadn’t come in because he was the one concerned—someone was out there.
"Nick." She tried to stop him, then, but he was gone.
While the girls continued to work, she walked to the window and watched Nick Oldersma race across the ground that had been slick as ice this morning, watched him run toward the boys who were playing some schoolyard game. They stopped their competition and trooped around him. That Johnny Mulder towered over the rest, Nick related what had happened, and Mulder hunched his shoulders and waved the boys back to their game.
“That Johnny is growing up, I think,” she said to the girls.
Emma Westerbeek blushed.
“I think he’s just a --, just a something-or other,” Mary said, and then as if she simply had lost all control, she blurted out, “I think he’s just a big fat turd.”
Everyone—absolutely everyone shrieked at the naughty word.
“Mary Boersma,” Miss Baarman said. “If I had soap—well, tell you what. You must go outside yourself and grab a whole handful of snow, a big snowball, and put it in your mouth to clean up all everything that naughty word left behind.”
Worse things had happened, Miss Baarman thought. Besides, there were times in the school year when she couldn’t have agreed more.
Mary didn’t look one bit guilty. She put her things down on the desktop, threw her shoulders back like royalty and walked out of the room and through the door without even pulling on her coat.
It was difficult for some of the girls not to giggle, and some did. Katharine tried hard not to break and almost made it, when Mary came back in with a big chunk of snow in her hands, but not her mouth.
“It’s really bad, Miss Baarman,” Mary said, standing at the door. “It’s a blizzard.” And then, “What are we going to do?”
TO BE CONTINUED
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:32 AM