Our Pony Ex­press

The Compass - - COMMUNITY BOARD -

As a re­tired teacher, I ha­bit­u­ally lis­ten to the school re­port ev­ery week­day morn­ing on our lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion. When the snow is fly­ing and the wind is whistling, I smile and think of teach­ers and stu­dents lis­ten­ing to other ra­dios. I can al­most hear a re­sound­ing “YES ! ” when the an­nouncer lists the school clo­sures.

Re­cently, on just such a blus­tery day, I lay back in the warmth of my bed and com­pared stormy school days of yes­ter­day and to­day. By yes­ter­day, I am re­fer­ring to the 1950s and 1960s.

From grade one to grade eleven, I spent all my school days in St. Thomas Aquinas School on the Lower Road in Branch. The school was lo­cated a fair dis­tance from most of the livy­ers. We did not get many breaks from school be­cause of stormy weather. I am 100% sure that school never closed be­cause of im­pend­ing bad weather. No mat­ter what the fore­cast pre­dicted, we got up in the morn­ing, went to school, walked home to lunch and re­turned for the af­ter­noon ses­sion.

What hap­pened when a bliz­zard de­vel­oped dur­ing school hours? We did not go home early, that’s for sure. We sat in our wooden desks, warm and dry, be­cause in Branch we were ahead of our time. Our school had a wood and coal fur­nace that spewed out steam heat. I can still hear the hiss of the large ra­di­a­tors and see the clouds of va­por ris­ing from wet mit­tens and caps.

Yes, we sat there and we read from our read­ers “John Grum­lie swore by the light of the moon.” We strug­gled to solve prob­lems from our Cari­bou Arith­metic books. We stud­ied what Bunga did in Malaya and how Erik and Inger lived in Nor­way. We knew that a storm was rag­ing out­side, but we never wor­ried about get­ting home. You see, we had our own ver­sion of the Pony Ex­press.

About fif­teen or twenty min­utes be­fore dis­missal time, we would hear them com­ing. Ev­ery dif­fer­ent jin­gle­jan­gle of the horse bells would sig­nify that another fa­ther, un­cle or older brother had ar­rived with horse and wood slide to de­liver safe trans­porta­tion home.

Our school had a dif­fer­ent kind of park­ing lot than we are ac­cus­tomed to to­day. Horses, slides and driv­ers lined up in the school yard or along the Lower Road wait­ing for their valu­able cargo. If, for some rea­son, some man could not make it, a neigh­bour had been re­quested to drive his chil­dren home. Acts of neigh­bourly as­sis­tance were com­mon in out­port New­found­land.

Some con­veyances were much bet­ter equipped to trans­port young­sters than oth­ers. My fa­ther, whose forte was not car­pen­try, did not pro­vide the smoothest ride. Some of my sib­lings re­mem­ber hang­ing onto the horn of the slide for dear life on a rough piece of plank placed over the beams. I al­ways glanced jeal­ously at other slides which pro­vided back and side supports, like benches, so there was no dan­ger of slip­ping off.

The snow and ice whipped our faces as the yells of “Gid­dup Prince!” or “Whoa there, Bess!” min­gled with the shouts and laugh­ter of the chil­dren. With the horse’s hooves pre­car­i­ously close, while we clutched the con­tents of our home­made school bags, hang­ing on was no easy task.

My love for horses must have been partly cul­ti­vated by those de­light­ful rides in win­ter storms. Our spir­ited horse, Prince, with a toss of his shiny brown head and with his nos­trils steam­ing, could run with the best of them. In my ten-year-old mind, he was akin to the winged horse Pe­ga­sus.

Any­way, that is how I re­mem­ber it. There are peers of mine who might ar­gue with my boast­ing, for in our com­mu­nity a good horse was a valu­able pos­ses­sion and there were many fine steeds. Whether my mem­ory is be­ing se­lec­tive or not is now im­ma­te­rial.

Nev­er­the­less, I dearly loved those win­try ex­pe­ri­ences! The more bod­ies that crowded onto a slide, the more fun it was. I can only re­call feel­ings of sheer ex­hil­a­ra­tion and ad­ven­ture. I never felt ner­vous and I can­not re­count one mishap. Pretty good sta­tis­tics, I would say, for pre-mod­ern trans­porta­tion times.

—Ma­rina Power Gam­bin was born and raised in her beloved com­mu­nity of Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She is a re­tired teacher who lives in Pla­cen­tia where she taught for al­most three decades. She can be reached at mari­nagam­bin@per­sona.ca

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