Word arrived yesterday: we are moving again. It is early spring and only a skiff of snow remains. There was lots in Grande Prairie in October when Ralph had his first birthday. Then shortly after that we moved here to McLennan.
This is a very interesting town. It is a major railway maintenance centre. The population is close to a fifty/fifty split between French and “Anglos” (the latter covering anyone NOT French). Many of the French people work in the railway shops, or in one way or another for the Catholic Church. A block away from our house is an imposing, very large cathedral. Close to it are clustered several buildings, a Catholic Separate School, and residences for students, teachers, priests, and nuns.
The Anglos make up the merchants, professionals, owners of small businesses and municipal workers. Sometimes it seems to me like two separate towns living very close to one another. The seismic crew and their families are welcomed warmly by both factions. We found our little old rental house in an area mainly French, not surprising as we are so close to the cathedral and the schools. However it is convenient for us, too: our tiny United Church is two blocks away. Sometimes the bells ringing in the cathedral almost down out our singing, but we persist. Thank heavens for the Mission and Service part of the national government of our church. Its subsidy keeps our small church going.
Moving in the winter is a challenge, especially a winter such as we have had. The locals tell us that this winter has broken all the weather records the town has. We were hardly settled here when the snow and the cold hit hard. For a period of a month the temperature never got above minus thirty-five, and one night fell to minus forty-five.
Our old house takes constant attention in these super cold days. I sweep up the snow that blows in under our back door: the floor stays so cold the snow will not melt. My kitchen stove burns cooking oil which comes through a pipe from a barrel outside. On extremely cold days the oil is so thick that it can scarcely flow. Then I have only a very small flame in one burner at a time.
Of course the house is very cool, even though we keep fires going in the two pot-bellied stoves. Sheldon gets up several times during the night to bank the coals in these stoves. My substitute refrigeration is the window sill in Ralph’s bedroom. When the milk there froze the other night we moved his crib into our slightly warmer bedroom.
We are learning a lot about living in the North. Ralph is always bundled up, but runs around happily. He hasn’t had a cold all winter. He loves being pulled on his sleigh when the days are warm enough to go outside.
Sheldon and I are busily packing. We are just keeping ahead of the draymen who come in and out carrying boxes and barrels to their dray. Ralph’s crib is in the middle of the room, and he is happily supervising the movers and us, chattering gibberish to all who respond. The place is getting stripped, not much more left to do. Sheldon looks around and says, “Well, we say goodbye to McLennan, Marjie. What will you remember about this town?”
I continue to pack, and then say, “Lots of things, how courteous the French were, for example. One old man always called me “M’selle”. I think that is sort of like “Miss”, just as if I was young and not married. He always had candies for Ralph too. The French were so likable, weren’t they?”
“I feel the same way, Marjie. It’s too bad we only had casual contact with any of the French. What about the Anglos?”
“Oh Sheldon, there are so many good things to remember. So many people were friendly and concerned. Remember Mrs. Scott?”
“I think so. Was she the one who took you on her curling team?”
“Yes, you remember. She arrived at my door, and said, “I’m Margaret Scott. Do you curl?”
“I’m sorry, no I don’t. The game is very familiar to me. When I was a child I watched it with my Dad, but have never been on the ice myself.”
“You and the other young women whose husbands are on the seismic crew, should curl. In the winter here all there is to do in this town is drink or curl. My friends and I have talked this over. There will be places on established rinks for any of you who want to curl.”
“But I have a little boy …”
“We know there are children involved. We have organized a kindergarten at the rink, with volunteers to run it. The kids will be fine, and you will learn a sport you can enjoy for the rest of your life.”
“I can hardly believe my ears, Mrs. Scott. Don’t know about the others, but I will be there. Thank you so very much.”
“Glad to hear that. Marjorie is your name, isn’t it? You will play lead on my rink for this season. Be at the rink at nine o’clock Friday morning. See you then.” With that she was gone.
“What a great thing that was, Marjie. You’ve had a lot of fun, and made good friends by curling – despite the cold weather. We can’t thank these women enough.”
“I know. When I found out that Margaret was the top lady curler in the whole district, I just about fainted! My curling here is one great memory I will always have about McLennan.”
“And I’ll remember a crew who never once complained about the miserable weather. They just piled on more clothes and went to work. I’ve got a great crew, Marjie.”
We look around. There is nothing left in the house, just Ralph in his crib, and us. A drayman comes in and says, “Sorry, but we have to load the crib now.” We told them when they started to leave the crib to the very last.
Sheldon walks over and lifts Ralph out of the crib and sets him down. Our little guy sees the crib going, and starts to wail. Ralph runs to the nearest parent, Sheldon this time, who picks him up and tries to comfort him.
“The same reaction, isn’t it, Marjie?”
“Poor little guy. That crib is his security, isn’t it? Now one of us will carry him until he has it again. I guess that’s the price he pays for our gypsy life. It does make me feel badly.”
“Don’t fuss. When he get just a little older he will realize that the crib, and toys and even the people he knows will soon turn up again. Just now he’s a baby, so we’re his security blanket.”
We take one more circuit of the empty house, close the door and leave the key in the mailbox as directed. Climbing in the car, we look at one another and chuckle. It is always the same, a mixture of sadness and anticipation as we drive away, heading for the next town and the next assignment.
4 Responses to On the Road Again
“I’m Margaret Scott. Do you curl?”…..
Reminds me of the day we moved to St Albert, Alberta and the lady next door, Vi McKelvie, dropped in and asked exactly the same question. Except with her Scottish accent, we understood her to say “Do you cuddle?”
We wondered what kind of neighbourhood we had moved into.
Jim – To ignore the answer you gave to the question you thought she asked – did you end up curling in St. Albert? It certainly is one good way to meet your neighbors, as I learned in McLennan. If you are then, familiar with curling, you will appreciate that woman’s generosity in taking a raw beginner on her first-rate rink! I did not realize it at the beginning, but saw the light before the winter was over.
I am not at all surprised you met friendly people — you’re friendly and so personable. They were lucky to meet and have YOU in their little town!
Thank you, Barbara. It was a most interesting place to live, even if we hit a bit of brutal weather. As for the lady introducing me to curling – I went on to curl for 49 years before finally bowing out! She gave me quite a gift.