The ruts in the road made it challenging for the model T’s to make it to their destination at the river’s edge, but still, they sputtered, charged and bounced along, determined to make it on time. As to why everyone wanted to meet by the river instead of the church building, I had no idea, but I didn’t mind a bit! I would much rather spend a hot summer Sunday catching frogs and splashing in the water than listening to a boring sermon.
Weeks before this little outing, Mom and I had boarded a train bound for Minot, North Dakota. Making ends meet as a single mom in the late ’20s was no easy task, and employment prospects in Saskatchewan were not looking great. Maybe mom just needed a change, she had endured a lot of sadness in those parts. We had relatives in North Dakota so mom decided on a fresh start there. The train ride started late in the day and soon I drifted off to sleep. The click-i-ty clack of the train wheels lulling me into a deep slumber. By the time we arrived at the border, I was curled up like a cat on my seat and buried under several blankets. Everyone had to get off, file through customs and then re-board the train on the U.S. side of the border. My mom figured the customs thing would only take a few moments. She looked down at me, I was completely covered up, sound asleep, and only five years old. He doesn’t need to check in with the border people, he’ll be fine, she thought to herself. The plan worked until the empty train lurched forward to make its way to the U.S. side of the border. The sudden motion startled me wide awake. I popped my head up.
I was all alone in the dark on a moving train headed who knows where. I cried I screamed, I pounded on the glass window. There was a smashing sound; glass flew in all directions. Now I really cried! My mom and the conductor found me only a short time later, but it seemed like an eternity to me. Mom brushed the broken glass out of my hair and off the seat. She wrapped her arms around me and wiped the tears from my eyes.
“I’m sorry about breaking the glass sir, we’ll pay for it.”
“Not to worry, Ma’am, I’m just glad the boy is ok.”
The train chugged on toward Minot, but it took me a while to fall back asleep. This time I made sure that I drifted off clutching my mom’s hand. I wasn’t going to let her slip away again.
We finally arrived, moved in with our relatives, and soon mom got a job as a cook for a gravel gang building a highway across the state. During this time, I noticed that religion started to play a more predominant role for my mom. I didn’t really know what was going on, only that I had to wear uncomfortable clothes on weekends and that my mom would spit on her hands to try to smooth out my wild hair as we entered a church building. Once inside, I was forced to sit on uncomfortable benches for what seemed like hours at a time while someone talked or shouted to us about things I didn’t understand.
That’s why this church day down at the river was so much better than any church I had ever experienced. I dived into the bull-rushes while the singing was going on. No one even seemed to notice. I had managed to catch three frogs during the sermon. This was great! This was my kind of church!
A giant frog croaked loudly nearby. Silently, I cupped my hands and crouched, readying myself to catch the big one, but just then, I happened to look up. To my shock, I saw my mom being led by the hand into the river. This was strange. My mom wasn’t a swimmer, but yet this man led her out deeper and deeper into the water. The frog jumped. I didn’t even notice. What in the world were they doing to my mother?
There she stood, chest-deep. The man that led her out looked to be talking sternly to her. I didn’t like this one bit; something wasn’t right. I crept closer to the edge of the water to get a better look. Then to my horror, he clasped his hand over over my mom’s mouth and plunged her entirely under the water. He was trying to drown my mom! I screamed and jumped into the water. I felt helpless since I didn’t know how to swim, but I had to somehow help my mom.
The crowd witnessing my mom’s murder reached out to me; they tried to explain that I had nothing to worry about, they kept shushing me. “Baptism,” “Baptism,” they said over and over again. But I had no idea what that word meant. I was inconsolable until my mom was safely out of the water and away from the evil man who was trying to kill her.
Once again, my mom had to wipe the tears from my eyes and wrap her arms around me. She had a lot of explaining to do on the way home from river church that day.