The Canadian years, 29, safeways

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Wednesday 10 December 16:48

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Up North

The river thawed out, slowly but surely. There were loose floes drifting about that slid over each other and there was a tingle in the air. The light changed and occasionally an early bird whistled a surprised tune. In my basement room I listened to CKXL, the radio station that broadcasted pop music. A mug of tea beside me on my desk, slowly evaporating away while I was trying to focus on my physics book. It was our first spring in Canada. I was almost without income, the snow had stopped falling and the sidewalks did not need cleaning. The grass in the gardens were still far from growing. Where the snow shovelling had been a daily activity, one needed to mow someone’s garden, only once a week. Then, too, the mowing was not a necessity. Snow removal was, because if someone broke his leg on a snowy sidewalk, the owner of the curb, in front of the home was responsible. For mowing once a week someone’s garden, you could not ask 5 dollars. My self-earned pocket money would go back to a quarter of my former income. You had to mow cheap if you wanted to keep the snow customers, for later in the year. Something called marketing and customer relations, I would learn in a later study.

My brother was going to work in a garage, he had finally come to realize that washing sheets in a few large wash boilers, could not be his life fulfillment. He went to a garage in Bowness, to work as an apprentice mechanic. The first hard-earned money was spend on a toolbox and every week he filled it with something, vices, or ring spanners and screwdrivers. He had just enough money left to meet the payments on the Mustang and to pay for his keep.’ It's not my fault,’ my father said. ‘that you have now taken a job where you earn less than the night shift at the laundry.’ He did not settle for less than a quarter of my brother's old wage. My brother worked incredibly many hours overtime and learned quickly to recognize all kinds of technical problems and so disadvantages at times become advantages. When my brother had become a proficient mechanic and a few months later chief mechanic, because the former chief mechanic had gone 'Up North', his wages rocketed and he kept paying the quarter of his old salary at the laundry to my father. Movements in jobs in those years was high. You got paid by the hour, you could be discharged per hour but also leave per hour. And journeymen, craftsmen did for a quarter dollar more per hour, they’d leave.

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It seemed as if the workers had no rights, but that was not the way it was, youth wages did not exist, 'do a man's work get a man's wage’, was the principle. A particular type of work was worth an x amount of money, whether you were young or old. The bosses treated you well, because you could leave per hour, to earn elsewhere a few pennies more per hour. There was also a lot of respect for the bosses, because they could send you away per hour. Society was not complicated then. A country building up, needs a lot of working people., There was work in abundance.

‘Up North,’ I had asked my brother,’ what does that mean?’ ‘Working under extreme conditions for large companies,’ my brother explained,’in Arctic temperatures of minus 50 degrees  at times.’ ‘That seems to me very uncomfortable,’ I said. ’I would imagine so,’ said my brother, ‘but you do it a few years and then you can buy a house cash. The areas are semi frost, ' wetlands, 9 months frozen up in the year. Then they bring out great camps of sheds. Mobile drilling rigs, which must be dismantled in the few warmer months, otherwise they’d sink away into the mud. People commit themselves to 10 months a year, working over there, for a minimum contract of 4 years. Everything is paid for, your shelter and food. They fly you in and afterwards out again. My colleague wanted me to go with him, he's going to do maintenance on large trucks and other heavy machinery, heavy duty mechanics. ‘Hmm,’ I said, ‘I can see why they go.’ You will be paid only at the end of the ride with a check’, concluded my brother.

‘Well,’  I said, ‘ what are few years in your life?’ ‘ No women,’ said my brother, ‘no drink, you're isolated.  That justifies a price tag. You can spend nothing, so with all kinds of extras you earn $ 2000 a month then after 10 months of work requirement, you are handed a check for 20 000 dollars and after 4 years you have 80 000 clean in your hands. The drivers of heavy transport drive on compass. There are no roads, they go over frozen lakes with their 20 ton trucks, because the ice is a meter thick.’ Hey,’ I said suddenly, ‘like in Tripoli where professionals were paid ridiculous amounts of money and all was free, simply to work under the enormous heat in an Arab country.’ ‘Right,’ said my brother,’ and here it is just the cold that makes it so extreme.’

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‘They all intend to save money, but as they say here, when they hit town , then they go off. They go with a group to the first bar they see and throw money about. Last week such a group has arrived, you've surely read about it in the newspaper’, asked my brother? ‘One bought a horse and rode it into a bar and caused an incredible amount of damage. As drunk as ever.’ ‘Are they not arrested then,’ I asked?’ If the pub owner files a complaint, yes,’ my brother laughed, ‘but money talks. The damage is compensated and the bar owner has more sales in that night there then he will  have in a few months.'

I decided to go looking for a parttime job in the intervening months. If only I could go up North two months, but I understood that especially in the summer months, there would be no need because of the thaw and I was much too young. Suddenly an opportunity occurred to me, the Safeways, super market, I would go and try my luck. It was a few steps away from my school. I did not want to interrupt the steady growth of my savings. I wanted to have wheels, I was 15 and within half a year 16 and then I wanted to go where I wanted. So the next day I implemented my plan and did not walk home after school, but I hurried straight into Safeways.

 

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