The Merciful Band
Written by Hulda Franklin
Edited by Reg Quist
Most early Alberta schools had Christmas programs, summer picnics, spilled inkwells, squeaky slate pencils and mice that sometimes lived in teacher’s desks. Our school had them all, and something else that few schools boasted: A Merciful Band.
One day our youthful teacher from Prince Edward Island saw her pupils drowning out hapless gophers denned up in our domain. Forming a bucket brigade with our lunch pails, we each threw in our contribution until gasping for breath, the poor little creature came up and into the clutches of our popular gopher catcher, a boy about 12 years old.
This young woman, who also taught Sunday School, dealt with our inhumane sport by presenting each of us one morning at Sunday school with a beautiful blue card printed by the American Baptist Publications Society, In one corner was the picture of a Saint Bernard dog, a barrel of mercy strapped to its neck.
As we each examined our card, she read what was written on it: “I hereby pledge that I will be kind to all God’s creatures.”
There was a lot more too, written in small print. She read it all, then asked us to take the cards home to our parents. If they agreed and we wished to join the Merciful Band, we were to sign on the bottom line.
The cards all came back Monday morning duly signed, and our names were posted as Merciful Banders. No more drowning out gophers, throwing stones at birds or chasing grey squirrels. No longer did the boys transfer ants from one hill to the other to watch the ensuing battle. The Merciful Banders honored their pledges.
By September, friendly grey squirrels were sharing our lunches.
Shy little birds came around to pick up the crumbs, and doubtless the ant colonies were sure they had defeated all their enemies.
One morning two of the older youngsters reported that a newborn calf was lying on the hillside close to the school, unable to get up and take nourishment from its mother. The Merciful Banders decided to do something about it.
Had the teacher known what we farm kids knew about range cows and their protective instincts towards their calves, she might have warned us to stay inside the school fence. As it was, at noon hour, headed by our courageous leader, kids, big and small, began rounding up the twenty-five or so cattle and driving them toward the helpless calf. The mother of the calf ran up and stood beside it.
Undaunted by bawling cows and calves, some of the older boys grabbed the old cow by her crooked horns. Then the Merciful Banders swarmed in.
While the boys were busy holding, pushing and shoving to keep the source of nourishment in position, two of the older girls lifted the calf while one held its mouth open with her fingers.
Our teacher got down on her knees and did the squirting. She had the least knowhow but did have the biggest hands. I was smaller than most of them but not to be outdone, I held firmly to the cow’s tail. Just how much milk we managed to get into that weakling I can’t say, but our will to do good was great.
I know now, after much experience with range cows, that either the cow had at one time been a milk cow, or God’s hand was heavy on the teacher’s head.
The teacher gave one boy who had a pony, permission to take the afternoon off to look for the owner of the roaming cattle. And whether we had part in it or not, the calf lived and thrived.