Math on a Shoe String

Who Needs a Ruler?

Wilbert Esau, one of our Villa residents, told us a story about when he was a lad growing up in the Peace River Country in northern Alberta seventy-some years ago.  There were times when he and his siblings needed new footwear, so their mother would send them out to the garden to pull up rhubarb stalks and winter onions.  (This would be in May & June, when rhubarb is ready for use.)

Two, three, maybe four children would go along–whoever needed shoes.  They’d fill their arms with the produce and carry it all to the First Nations camp, about a kilometre away.  The native woman would come out of her tent and they’d show her their garden stuff, which was barter for new moccasins for each of them.  (She would have spoken Cree and known very little English.)

She’d go back in and come out with a thin leather string.  She’ d measure each child’s foot and tie a knot on this string; this told her how big to make each one’s moccasins.  Then she’d bring an alarm clock out of her tent and point to a number when they should come back.  They’d troop home again, then come back at the specified hour–and their moccasins were ready.

Sometimes the moccasins were plain, sometimes decorated with bead-work.  Her workmanship was top-notch.  He said that in the winter when it was very cold, they’d give up on boots and wear moccasins to school because they were warmer than the rubber boots they had back then.