Now and Then: Springing into a Flin Flon spring

“Spring has sprung, the grass is riz. I wonder where the bluebirds is.”

Not grammatically correct poetry, but that was the popular way of greeting the spring season back in my childhood days in Flin Flon.

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The spring melt was a slow-going process as the brutal winter weather was reluctant to loosen its grip. Despite the dreadful days of this past February, I would say that the winters of the 1940s and 1950s were colder – especially on those dark, January mornings when minus-45 would greet you as you shuffled your way to school.

The arrival of the March equinox gave us hope that the long, northern summer days were just around the corner. Phantom Lake, here we come.

Spring in Flin Flon was announced, as it were, by the running of water along the sidewalk curbs. This phenomenon was not wasted on the rubber-booted boys and girls who would slosh along the sidewalk following their imaginary boats as their wooden matchsticks raced towards the curb drain. Great competitions ensued and shouts of “No fair, you can’t touch your boat if it gets stuck!” were part of the racing excitement.

Winter boots were put away and the rubber boots were brought out as a somewhat futile effort by Mother to avoid soggy socks. This was, in fact, an act of futility as any Flin Flon kid worth his or her salt would just have to walk into a pond and see how far they could go without having the water go over the top of the boots.

Of course, there was also the soft pond ice that one kid would challenge another to walk on. “Dare you!” “Double dare you!” “Yeah, well I triple dare you!”

Made it all the way across without going through the ice. Neat!

A boot full of ice water while on a hike was remedied thusly: pull off the boot, wring out the sock, grab a handful of dead grass, shove it in your boot, put your sock on and carry on.

Kids’ feet grew over the winter season, so last year’s boots wouldn’t fit. Not a lot of parents had a lot of money and rubber boots were handed down from brother to sister to brother, or from neighbour to neighbour. You were subject to either admiration, envy or scorn if you were fortunate enough to have new boots. A life lesson.

I haven’t seen kids today racing matchsticks, but there is one thing that hasn’t changed – a child’s inherent compulsion to stamp their rubber-booted feet in a puddle of water. What is it? Is it in the DNA? Did our most ancient ancestors take up this practice many millennia ago? Tell the truth, my friends. Don’t you still have that desire to stand in a puddle of water and stamp your booted feet?

Recent advances in sports gear have introduced boards wherein one attempts to stand on a highly priced slab of Styrofoam and paddle one’s way over the waves. Ever-inventive Flin Flon boys created their own boards from a pile of junk lumber (courtesy of HBM&S) and with a six-foot, 12-by-four-inch plank, a 60-pound kid (do your own metric conversions) could easily float and pole around in a foot or so of spring melt water - and probably fall off.

Hey, part of the fun, eh!

Aside from kid’s play adventures, there are a few other Flin Flon spring things that come to mind.

Back in the day, most families had a dog, which were allowed to roam free. The spring melt became the “Big North of 54 Doggy-Doo Reveal”.

Men with cars took the tire chains out of the trunk and hung them up in the garage.

Who remembers the lottery wherein people would guess when an old car that was left on Ross Lake would go through the ice? Are those cars still rusting away on the lake bottom? Who knows?

One more spring thing. At our little Church Street house-on-the-side-of-a-rock, the snow would accumulate in the backyard. The shade of the garage slowed the melt on the north side to the point that there was still a ridge of ice in mid-June. Bring out the pick axe.

And to answer the bluebird question – and complete our poetical incorrectness: “The bird is on the wing.”

That’s interesting. I always thought the wing was on the bird.

Happy spring!

Got any comments or reflections on this column? Contact Vincent at vincent.murphy@sasktel.net.

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