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Footprints or Deep Ruts

“Fullerton pack up your books and go home.” I remember those words clearly. 

The paper dart game had been going on for some time in the classroom while the teacher was out of the room. I had not been engaged. But when this airplane-shaped dart landed on my desk, I picked it up, stood, and with a toss returned it to the other side. That’s when the teacher walked back into the room and gave me my walking orders. 

It was a Friday afternoon. My father was home when I arrived at the house. I told my story explaining my early dismissal. There was no reprimand just a “Since you’re home get yourself ready and go with Ernie to haul down a load of pulp wood. 

Ernie and my father were cutting and shipping pulp that winter. Their permit for cutting was several miles south from town up in the hills. 

Ernie drove a war-used army truck—four-wheel drive, cumbersome, without rear dual wheels. The roads were soft from the spring melt and the empty truck left shallow tracks on our way to their camp. “We’ll have to wait until the frost settles this evening before we return,” Ernie said.  

We were hauling eight-foot-long spruce logs, some six and eight inches in diameter. It required all my seventeen-year-old muscles could give to maneuver those logs onto a truck. It was ten o’clock at night when Ernie considered sufficient frost had firmed up the road. 

I learned a lot that afternoon out of school—talking to Ernie, learning how to handle those eight-foot logs efficiently, learning about respecting the road for the use of others. It was much later I learned from my father that he and Ernie’s efforts that winter in cutting, hauling and shipping pulp logs for several weeks, after all the expenses paid, had earned them pittance.

All of us leave a footprint. My father’s footprint was not in business acumen. His footprint, soft but nonetheless significant, has been left in the district where he lived and on the lives of those he met.

Just recently Brian Mulroney, a former Canadian Prime Minister passed away. For days after his death news reports were broadcast of the impact he had on Canada and on individuals. Prominent people lauded the significant and bold measures he took with the USA to eliminate acid rain, working to implement the North American Free Trade Agreement with the USA and Mexico and the kindness he showed to individuals of all political stripes. He left noteworthy footprints in the Canadian fabric.

The afternoon I was temporarily removed from school was March 17. That day we commemorate St. Patrick.  His influence on society is so large that fifteen hundred years later, it turns rivers and beer green, promotes large city parades, prompts individuals to wear green regardless of ethnicity, and has churches and cathedrals named after him all over the world.

 Born in approximately 386 CE, to a middle-class English family with Christian connections, he was not raised with an emphasis on devout Christianity.  Much of what we know of this man with the giant footprint is shrouded in folk lore. Legend has it he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken to western Ireland where he looked after sheep for a Druid priest.  Six years later he escaped and made his way back to his family. While in Ireland, through much prayer, he had become a devote Christian. Upon returning home, he studied to become a priest, was ordained a bishop, and returned to Ireland. 

From the stories recorded, he appears to have been fearless, devoted, and imaginative in his approach to bring Christianity to kings, chiefs, or any wealthy and pagan people. He creatively incorporated pagan and Christian symbolism in his approach to convert. An example being the Celtic cross, a combination of the circle of the Druid-worshipped sun and the Christian cross. He allegedly used the shamrock to illustrate the trinity. Many of the wealthy women he converted formed nunneries. 

On March 17, the supposed day of St. Patrick’s death, 461, he is remembered by people of many ethnic backgrounds, Christian and non-Christian because he made an indelible difference to a nation.

But then, there are those whose footprints leave terrible ruts, marks so deep that generations suffer the rough road left by an abusive parent, a national leader, or a government policy. One only needs to think of the Canadian Residential Schools that have already traumatized three generations; of the Nazi regime that brought a nation to defeat, and an ethic group decimated and stigmatized.

 I had questioned Ernie why he was so concerned about the frost firming the road. 

“When this truck, with those single rear wheels, is loaded heavily, I don’t want to leave deep ruts; they are a real problem for those driving the road the next days.”

Today as a generation we are leaving a carbon footprint. Depending on how we respond to requests to lower carbon emissions, we may well leave deep ruts for future generations. This generation and previous generations have practiced discrimination against people of different ethic and colour backgrounds, women, and those of different sexual orientation. The results have led to murder, marginalization, and economic hardship. These are societal ruts.

Everywhere we go and with everyone we meet we leave behind a footprint of our existence. Whether it will be the soft and kind footprint like my father’s or large and influential like St. Patrick’s, former Prime Ministers or Presidents, the important question is...

Will you leave a footprint to be cherished or a rut with which others must contend?


Fire and Iron

Read more from this Canadian Writer, Norm Fullerton, in his Fire and Iron book. A collection of short stories husband and wife relationship orientated. This Canadian book comes with printable book club discussion questions.

Inspirational Stories of Relationships

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