Surprises and Challenges
It was early morning as I walked down the street from the hotel, accompanied by the clerk carrying our two suitcases. As we approached our house I could hear the ring of the blacksmith’s anvil as it hit hot steel. The shop was just a half-block beyond our house, and the smell of the hot coals in the blacksmith’s fire was pungent and unmistakeable. I unlocked the front door. The clerk stepped in, took a curious look around, and departed. His departure marked the end of our nights sleeping above the hotel’s beer parlour.
Shutting the door behind him, I leaned against it and took a deep breath. It was a mess! Where should I begin? I dithered a moment and then started with the obvious. Grabbing up broom and dustpan (some of yesterday’s purchases), I started to sweep up anything that could be swept and tossed it out the back door into the alley. The next tasks followed quickly: locating the gallon can of coal oil and filling the tank on the stove; pumping some water into a basin to wash up some dirty spots on the floor. My spirits started to rise as I made some progress. My thoughts flipped back to the Southern Ladies in the hotel in Saskatoon and I started to laugh. My guess was that they might not even know how to get water from a pump! Being a farm girl had some advantages.
Just then there was a knock on the door. “Who in the world?” I thought, as I opened the door. Outside was the Post Mistress with her arms full. She entered quickly and said, “I’m in a hurry – on my way to work. Here, give me a hand. If you kids are really going to live here, you need some degree of privacy.” She had curtains! And curtain rods, and tiebacks for the sides, as well as an assorted array of other “stuff”, as she said. In a few minutes we were hanging the curtains and I was thrilled. Tears were too close for comfort as I tried to thank her. She waved me off and said, “I go home for lunch. Stop by in the afternoon and I’ll have a few more things, including an old iron pot that will be useful for cooking a one-kettle meal on that antique stove. When you move, bring back what you don’t need and someone else can have it.” And she was gone.
For a few moments I gazed with pleasure at the bright, cheery curtains. Then, filled with renewed enthusiasm and determination, I did what any inveterate list-maker does: I sat down and started a list…
Locate packing boxes with bed linen
Locate barrel with china and dishwares
Make menu for supper
Shop for groceries
To Post Office to get whatever the Post Mistress was offering
…and on it went!
A few minutes later found me in the middle of our room with one barrel and several packing boxes strewn around me. Fortunately, most boxes and barrels had been labelled. I had also located Sheldon’s bag of tools. First I opened the bed linen and blanket box. It contained as well a lovely quilt my new mother-in-law had made for us. She was an excellent seamstress and quilter and I loved that quilt. This would be our first night to use it – the first of many, many nights and many years! (Our middle-aged children will still remember it. In the last years of its life, it graced the guest overflow bed in our basement – still cheery and beautiful, if worn!) Stepping back, I gazed at the sight – the bed looking so nice, tucked in below our one (now curtained!) window. I was delighted.
The morning was advancing, and the “To Do” list called me back into action. A few surprises had surfaced, tucked in among the blankets and sheets. There were a couple of pictures, a sturdy but graceful vase, several aprons (we actually used them routinely in those days!), a fancy cloth for a table, and a few other unanticipated items.
Mother packed this one, I decided. I wondered if she was remembering the time she packed to move from her home in Iowa to the rolling prairies of Canada. This was turning out to be an interesting day! Out came the hammer and nails from Sheldon’s tool bag and I started to pound in nails and hang some pictures.
In the midst of this hammering I heard a knock at the door. Hammer in hand, I opened the door to see a small young woman with dark eyes and hair, an attractive face and a lovely smile. “Hello,” she said, “I’m Mary Hakala. My husband is the surveyor with the seismic crew. When he went to work today, he said the new instrument truck man would be coming to work, and that his wife would be setting up house in the old store. I guess that’s you. Do you want any help? Oh, you have some aprons. May I borrow one?” Well, you can imagine what my answer was! I welcomed her in, gave her an apron, and the two of us pitched in to the tasks at hand. To say we “clicked” is an understatement. Before you could sneeze we were laughing and chattering away like a couple of kids as we worked. We beat around the bush, each one trying to find out how old we each were. Mary looked so very young! She said they had married in May a year ago: I could see she was now pregnant. When Mary finally asked, “How old you think I am, Marjorie?”, I was in a bind. Not wanting to say how young she looked, I said, “Oh, about 22” and was startled at how amazed she looked, as she blurted out, “Do I look that old?” Then came the information that she had been 17 when she married and was now 18. I told her I was 22 when I married (10 days ago), but today was my 23rd birthday. And the laughter rang out again. Then she jumped up and ran outside and returned with a handful of wildflowers from the ditch in the alley. The fancy table cloth went on the little table and the vase with the wildflowers placed in the centre. We admired our artistic efforts and went back to work.
It was a day to remember. I had a new friend whose friendship would last over 50 years. My faith in the goodwill of just ordinary folks had been strengthened by curtains in the window and cooking pots on the stove. Despite the household chaos that still remained, my self-confidence had been greatly strengthened and I knew now that I would be able to handle the work that remained, and perhaps even life as it unfolded.
The light was fading and the crews’ long day was drawing to a close. I heard Sheldon coming up the walk. He stepped in the door and stopped dead. Dirty and tired but still excited by his first day as an assistant instrument operator, he was unprepared for what he saw. His face lit up as he looked around. His nose wrinkled happily as he smelled the good stew. “Welcome home, Sheldon,” I said. “Happy birthday, Marjorie,” was his reply as he pulled me to him for a long kiss! We were off to a good start.
As it turned out, we were also off to what eventually proved to be “The Year We Both Grew Up”. I remember that first home with many vivid memories. Lest you think that years have painted the past with an insufferable rosy glow, let me assure you that the memories are many and varied! There were cold damp days when the only way I kept warm was to stay in bed. There were days when I felt as if I would never be accepted by the wives on the crew who were the “oldtimers”. There was the time Sheldon developed a serious and puzzling illness that scared us both thoroughly, and the times that made us both feel very young and inexperienced. All of these are mixed up with some of the greatest times of our youth. Life may be unpredictable, but it is always fascinating!