Father Bill and I were sharing a tent but he was having a meeting with some of the organizers to plan for tomorrow.  So I slipped quietly into our tent to get ready for “bed.”  It was quite dark but I found the red sleeping bag and unzipped it.  It was very cold by this time so I decided to keep on all my clothes, except my shoes until heart was generated by what Dan described as my “body heart.”

I got my feet in and then the rest of me and tried to zip myself up.  The zip was on the outside and my hands were on the inside but I got it up as far as my neck and decided to settle for that until Father Bill would arrive and complete the interment.  I lay on my back counting the bones in my spine and feeling like a cross between a sardine and an Egyptian mummy.

I must have dropped off to sleep immediately from sheer fatigue.  But at some hour of the night I wakened.  I had no idea what time it was as the darkness was nothing less than “Stygian.”  I didn’t have a luminous watch and I had no flashlight.  But that was not the worst.  I was simply freezing.  Either nature had forgotten to turn on my “body heat” system or Dan’s marvelous sleeping bag was lined with the wrong stuff.

Father Bill was “sawing wood” for all he was worth and somebody in an adjoining tent was replying in kind.  I was still lying on my back and I decided to turn.  But it was something like attempting to turn a large trailer in Yonge Street during lunch hour.  It was just impossible.  I was convinced that I had a least triple pneumonia and I did not expect to last till morning.

I hadn’t the heart to waken Father Bill who, I knew, had walked for the past two days and must have worn out.  So I decided to depend on whatever credit was left on my “Spiritual Master Card” and die quietly without the ministrations of a priest.

Dawn

I must have dropped off to sleep again for I wakened to see some light stealing through the flap of the tent and was astonished to find that I was still alive – and well!  The cold was still there but the freeze had gone.  I struggled out of the bag and crept out on hands and knees.  My car was about a hundred yards away so I got in to read my breviary.  It was cold so I started the engine and let it turn over quietly as the camp was still asleep.

Very soon I began to snooze but suddenly remembered that people can die in running cars if they leave the windows closed – which I had done.  I don’t know how long it takes to die in these circumstances, but it was a good half-hour before anybody appeared in the camp.  This was my second close brush with death in 24 hours.

The Poles

We celebrated Mass at about 7 a.m.  Then breakfast and on the road again.  This day was pretty much like the one before – walking, praying, singing, and laughing.  But the evening was very different.  A Polish Pilgrimage had left Toronto a few days before we did and by arrangement we were to meet at a certain spot – a lovely farm graciously loaned by the farmer and his wife.  We got there first, around 6 in the evening.  Then we heard singing from far away.  Soon it got nearer and we saw the Poles – over one hundred of them – marching in step and looking much fresher than we did.  We welcomed them with open arms and it was a really emotional moment.  Then fires were lighted and the aroma of the very varied menus floated on the breeze.

I did the “stray dog” trick again and devoured everything from English ham to Polish sausage.  After dinner a huge campfire was lighted and we sat around it and sang.  The Polish contingent entertained us with their beautiful songs full of pathos.  It reminded me of what G.K. Chesterton said about the Irish.  “Their wars are always merry; their songs are always sad.”

At 10 sharp, Father Bill clapped his hands and we said evening prayer and everybody went to their tents.  I didn’t even take off my shoes and I can’t remember anything else, or even whether Dan’s bag worked or not.  I just lay down and slept till the sun rose on another day.

Farewell

I had to part from them that morning.  I had a wedding rehearsal in the afternoon.  I got somebody to drive my car the few miles to the cross roads where I would turn off and walked with the crowd.  When we got to where the road turned for Barrie and Toronto, we stopped and had a farewell celebration.

I was feted as if I had led the army instead of skulking along behind snatching illegal bouts of slumber and eating everybody else’s food.  The laity really spoil us priests!  After I had given them my blessing they cheered as if I had just scored the winning goal in the Stanley Cup.  As I slowly moved away I had some difficulty in driving for my eyes were filled with tears.

People are wonderful!