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.
12 Responses to Our First Home
Marg – I can’t wait for the next installment! I’m finding all of this fascinating!
Carol – So nice to hear from you, and glad that you are interested in my “tales of yesteryear”. Funny how clearly it comes back from whatever crevices these memories are parked in, when you start down that road. Do you think your daughter would believe that anyone did, would, or could live in such basic conditions? There has been so much change in world and social situations that what existed only 60 or 70 years ago is unbelievable to our young people today! On the side, I am having a ball writing these bits, and it is just a bonus when someone enjoys it too. Marjorie
Oh my, brings back so many memories…. Our story was not identical, but my wife Joan would agree with your comments about the stove. We had a wood-burning stove converted to oil, which worked relatively well as long as the air blower pushed lots of air in for the oil to burn. But we had so little money, we turned the blower off most of the time, which meant the stove filled up with soot, which occasionally caught fire itself….
And then we tried vacuuming the soot out, except there was a spark in it, and the vacuum cleaner caught fire…
Jim – I am glad to hear you enjoyed this piece, and more than a little interested that it caused you to “remember”, and to pull up memories you may not have thought of for years! Our brains are wonderful things – is nothing lost? Could we, if we knew how, have perfect recall? I would not want that I’m thinking. Perhaps selective memory is best. Marjorie
Oh Marjorie , such a story! And I love the photo of the house. And the excitement of your first days together. Eager for the next chapter.
Eveline – I am so pleased you liked this- it was actually exciting for me to recall and write this piece. That is a good picture – it helps people see what I was trying to describe. Marjorie
I always look forward to reading your epistles.
I remember you and Sheldon stopping by our first “home” in the motel in Calgary and Sheldon chuckling about the tiny roast I had bought.
I too, look back fondly on our early years but love all the conveniences I have now. Even in the beginning , times were good. I thought roughing it was having to do the laundry at the laundromat!
Hello Leone – I remember that visit to your motel too! And Sheldon and I considered ourselves “old married people” by then! In the oil business we had many a home – but the one described in this blog really was our very first home to call our own – and in Davidson at that time, we were lucky to get it, despite its quirks!
Gram, I just love this story! Can’t wait for the next chapter.
Kathleen! You win the prize for the furthest-away blog responder! One never knows what one’s grandparents were up to all those long years ago! I’ve often wondered if our wee house is still there, but doubt it could have survived this long: it really was a shack but looked pretty good to us. Next episode pretty soon. Gram
Marj – I’m always slow to get around to reading your blog.. but I look forward to it… and wait till I have time to read and appreciate it. As I’ve mentioned, we too lived in small towns early in our marriage, and I often thing that it was our “young love” that made some pretty funny places seem wonderful at the time. We now are trying hard to “simplify” our lives.. perhaps we should have/could have? stayed with the simplicity of where we started! Take care! Love reading your memories.. they always generate many of my own.
Alison – No question about it – being young, in love, and just launching out into adult life does tend to put a rosy glow on everything – well, not quite on everything! That coal-oil stove for one never had a rosy look to it! However there was a stage where there was an answer to everything if one looked hard enough and tried hard enough and we had enough youth and energy to make that come true a lot of the time. The simplicity thing was of necessity and life was still good. When we moved from our house of so many years, into a Lodge suite – I told Sheldon those early years were excellent training for making the switch! Enjoyed your comments. Marjorie