by John Hall

Shortly after our 1929 Plymouth became mobile, Dad decided to drive to Toronto to visit Aunt Laura and show her his car. He was confident 'Mabel', as he affectionately called her, would have no trouble making what was then, a long trip. I know it was late in the fall or in early winter because I soon discovered Mabel hadn't been equipped with a heater. I sat in the back seat and had a blanket wrapped around me to keep me warm. The return trip however, was, as it turned out, a very different story. 

Now, Danforth Avenue at Woodbine was like wonderland to a small boy from a small town. There were all kinds of stores we didn't have at home and there was a big theatre there showing the latest movies. Dad spent most of his time in the tool departments of Woolworth's and Kresge's and I wandered from the book department where they sold the latest in Big-Little Books, to the tropical fish tanks where you could pick out the fish you wanted and the lady scooped him out using a long stick with a little net on the end. The small fish cost ten cents and with my last dime I bought the littlest fish in the tank and called him 'Petey'. The sales lady assured me he was one of the best of all the kinds in the tank and said, "Why, in no time, Petey will grow and be bigger than any of them." That did it, Petey was mine, scooped from the tank and put in a little cardboard container with water in it. The lady told me to make sure Petey had fresh water twice a day and handed me my carton.

My Dad thought I'd made a good purchase and told me he'd fix up a real tank for Petey when we got home. Petey had the place of honour when we were at Aunt Laura's and my mother thought Petey was something special. On the day we were to return home we woke up to find the temperature had really dropped during the night and the temperature was about 20 below zero, Fahrenheit, and that's cold. Dad got the car started after much cranking and a lot of swearing and added some anti-freeze my uncle Norm had just bought to keep the radiator from freezing. While my Dad couldn't afford the anti-freeze, my Uncle insisted he take it as he knew the car would freeze up without it. I think anti-freeze was new then and cost about ten dollars a gallon and that was when a dollar could buy about five to ten times what it does now. It worked though, and the car worked fine all the way home.

As we traveled along I became colder and colder and put the blanket over me to make a little tent. Even then, I was getting colder by the minute and when I opened the box to see how Petey was doing I saw the water in the container was starting to freeze. I said, "Dad, Dad, we've got to find some place where it's warm, Petey's water is freezing and he'll die." Dad stopped the car, took off his overcoat and said, "I'm going to wrap you up in my coat until I can find a place where we can stop and get warm. Don't worry, we won't let anything happen to Petey." I went back inside my tent and Dad put his coat over us and we started on. I didn't think about it at the time, but my Dad must have been awfully cold, yet he gave up his coat to keep me and my fish warm, just something fathers do and kids take for granted.

In time we came to a roadside restaurant and a frantic search was made to see if we had enough money to buy two cups of coffee. We went in and Dad ordered a cup of tea for my mother and a root beer for me. I wasn't really interested in the root beer and spent my time with Petey. The lady who served us took a great interest in Petey and told us to stay there until we were sure he was OK. I think she knew we didn't have any money and she quietly slipped my Dad a cup of hot coffee, realizing he had given up his coat to keep Petey and me warm and was shaking from the cold. When he protested, she told him she had made a big pot of coffee and it was going to be thrown out anyhow because nobody was going out in the cold weather and we might as well drink our fill. In time Petey's water thawed and he showed no ill effects from nearly freezing to death. We got home safely and Dad did make a tank for Petey who lived with us for several years. As the lady who sold him to me said, Petey would grow and he did, into the finest carp you ever saw.