Sheldon and I were cuddled up together in our hotel bed, desperately tired and unable to sleep. Our second floor room was right over the doors to the local beer parlour. People had been coming and going, laughing and shouting to one another all evening. “It should be quiet soon,” said Sheldon. “They close at midnight on week days, and this is Monday.” He gave me a hug. “Tomorrow is the 29th, Marjorie, your birthday, and we will be moving into our first home!” We were excited and thrilled. The street noise was fading – and we fell asleep almost mid-sentence. We were young—both 23—strong and healthy, but we had a right to be exhausted. The last two weeks could be called momentous, life changing, or just plain hectic!
It was May 1945. On Wednesday the 16th I had sat with my parents and Sheldon’s mother through the convocation service for Sheldon and the other graduates. Later with our friends, we celebrated far into the night. The next morning both families were heading back to Calgary, for on Saturday the 19th we were to be married. Tight planning you say – and so it was. We had tried for earlier, a year earlier in fact, but had yielded to our respective parents’ strong objections to our launching into marriage before Sheldon graduated. Our cooperation was based on their agreement to a wedding right after his graduation. Little did we or our parents know that we would end up having 11 days in which to graduate, get married, squeeze in a few days in Banff and a few in Lethbridge with his mother and her friends, and get to Saskatoon on May 26th to report for work with one of Imperial Oil’s seismic crews.
We made it to the office in Saskatoon on the 26th. Sheldon went into a meeting with the party chief and I met a few of the wives of the office “brass”. They were Southern gals – pleasant, nice and easy to meet, and as curious about me as I was about them. When I asked when they would be joining other wives at the crew site, they replied, “Not until the crew moves to a bigger place than Davidson!” And so it was. I did not see them again until much later in the year when the crew moved to Wainwright, Alberta, at which time the whole office staff and assorted family members joined us. One of those first two women I met, and her husband, returned to the States before snow fell. The other one became a life-long cherished friend!
On the morning of Sunday the 27th we drove to Davidson in a company car. Our luggage followed in a truck taking other supplies out to the crew. As we drove into Davidson it had a familiar feeling, reminding me of Standard, the village near our family farm. And then the rush began:
– Get a room at the hotel.
– Find the instrument truck operator so he can give Sheldon his orders.
– Wait while the operator shows Sheldon through the truck.
– Wait some more while the operator introduces Sheldon to some crew members who were around the office area.
– Listen to the operator’s suggestion to start scouting around for a place to live.
Following our supper in the Chinese café, we turned our entire attention to the last admonition! This would prove to be quite a job. Small Western villages usually had a hotel, perhaps a rooming house or two, some families who might rent empty bedrooms, and that was about it. Considering that we were late comers to this crew, most of the known available spots were gone. Many of the drillers had small living trailers which they moved with their trucks from one location to the next. There was one other young married couple who had ended up living with a local family – but no one had clues to help us.
We had one more day to get settled, Monday the 28th. We had hit the streets running that morning, talking to local townspeople and businesses as we:
– Set up a bank account at a local bank
– Introduced ourselves to the Postmistress at the Post Office
– Visited the grocery stores and identified Sheldon as a new member of the seismic crew.
FINALLY – someone remembered a small store that had gone out of business. It was on a side street about a block from the hotel. The owner lived in it for a while, but had moved into a little house. They kindly phoned him. Soon we were following the owner down the side street and up to the small building with the typical western store-front.
As we entered he apologized, saying it would be a mess as he had not been back to clean it up yet. Looking around he added, “You are welcome to anything I left here. What I wanted I took.” So it was that we became the proud renters of our first home. For the sum of $15 a month and the cost of the “utilities”, we had one large room with one window, and a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Attached at the back was a shed – a very important shed. It had two doors, one into the main room, and another to the alley outside. The shed had been used as a storage room, but also had a well and pump, AND an indoor privy! This latter facility was vented to the outside, and was serviced by what the locals called “the honey wagon”. The driver of this “honey wagon” truck called regularly. He removed the used pail and replaced it with a new empty one. The cost of this service was one of the “utilities” we had agreed to pay! All of this was good news. What the shed provided would make it possible for us to create a semblance of a “home” in the main room at the front.
So back to the main room – what had we inherited from the departed owner? One bed with a mattress which looked reasonably clean. One coal oil kitchen stove, the size of a two-burner hot plate. A removable oven sat on the floor beside it. One straight back wooden chair – and that was it. The stove astonished me. It was the first and last of its kind I have ever seen – or ever wish to see. The operation of this stove requires more time than this essay allows, but I will address it in the next instalment. Enough now to say it was a challenge to operate and a blessing to have.
It was back to the main street businesses again. They knew us by now. Before the afternoon was over we had begged, borrowed or bought everything else we thought was vital. We carried these items or had them delivered to our house. Our efforts to turn this old store into a home was creating interest, laughter and support from the locals as they cheered us on. Sheldon went to the crew office and had our remaining luggage delivered, and put in our shed. The crew had contributed several cap boxes – an item found in most every seismic crew family’s home. Sturdily built and almost unbreakable, they had multiple uses – as I would soon find out. Sheldon told me that these boxes were in great demand, so to have so many donated to help us was a wedding gift of thoughtfulness and value. I was soon to find out what he meant.
So it was finally, after a late supper at the café, that we crawled into bed at the hotel – dead tired. Sheldon was to report for work at an early hour. Me? I was to check out of the hotel, and go to our house. There I was to start unpacking and try to make a home for him to come back to. My mind was racing. Food – I must make a grocery list and go shopping. That terrible stove – would I be able to make it work? There was so much ahead of me, could I even pretend to act as if I knew what I was doing? I was both excited and scared stiff, but mainly we were both so-o-o tired. “When-will-that-noise-sto—-zzzzzzzzzz!” Mercifully, sleep took over. A memorable day was over, and a new life was about to start.
Join me next time as I navigate my first day in my new home.