The Voyage, 1955, woodcut
When we were living in Minneapolis on 14th Avenue, she once carried home two monstrously heavy bags of groceries—awkward paper bags—from a cheap store on East Hennepin, a distance of well over a mile. In the winter. When I asked her why she hadn’t taken the bus, which would have cost only ten cents probably, she shrugged it off. I suspect she enjoyed the challenge.
She did not mention at the time the ferocious migraine that attacked her in San Antonio during our last trip south after she had eaten ribs and sausages at a barbecue pit in the tiny Texas hamlet of Waelder. (It had been described lyrically in the first edition of the Stern’s book Roadfood.)
In general, she did not make a to-do about her migraines, and carried on as if nothing were amiss. I am sure that she had more than I realized.
When we were returning from our first sabbatical, she developed a painful abscess in one of her armpits. When we reached Wayland, where her sister Milly lived, a doctor friend of the Engbergs lanced and cleaned it out for her. As I recall, either she couldn’t be given an anaesthetic or the local anaesthetic that was used was ineffective. Apparently she sat there uncomplainingly.
In a book of reminiscences in the early 1900’s, some Englishman recalled how as a poor boy he had had a cataract removed without anaesthetic. The operation, he said, took half an hour. “If it had taken any longer,” he added, “I don’t know how I could have stood it”. I think that C. would have displayed the same kind of courage.
As a kid, she cracked her shoulder-blade while doing something reckless and forbidden. She did not tell anyone about it. On another occasion she cracked her coccyx and again, I think, did not tell her parents about it.
So when she did admit to pain or bodily weakness, it was serious. I remember when her asthma was so bad that she shuffled the two blocks up to the Dalhousie Art Centre like a very old woman. “Don’t hurry me,” she said. “Just don’t make me hurry.”
Northern Night, 1982, w.c.