On March 15th I started the training for the annual turnaround at the CCRL refinery in Regina and started work the following Monday, March 21. The work was billed as two weeks of regular hours (3 day weekends) followed by up to four weeks of six, ten-hour days. It has been more than that. As of writing this (June 12) my last day is planned to be June 18. There would be work beyond that as there are still two of the modified production units to start up, but other events call us away.
Locked into a work-eat-sleep-repeat cycle there hasn't been much to write about nor the inclination to do so, but my tidiness compulsion demands a few words. There is a bit of sight seeing to report, but mostly I worked and Juanita helped mind Ezekial when he was here and volunteered at the MCC thrift store since he left.
In addition to the regular, regular refinery employees who work there year round and the regular, irregular refinery employees who show up for turnarounds there were a few new faces. One new face was an old face from Powell River. That makes two journeymen from Powell River that I had apprenticed to in the 1970's that were now working the turnaround. In the incestuous world of industrial instrumentation most of the other 'new' faces had some connection to somebody I knew or had worked with elsewhere.
The first Spring turnaround we had attended in Regina we stayed in a hotel. It was the only thing we could find over the Internet from Texas. The RV parks' web sites all quoted opening dates much later in the Spring. Once we were working here and checked out the RV parks first hand we learned that they could accommodate shutdown workers' rigs by carving out a spot in the snow. In subsequent years we phoned ahead and had a site waiting for us. For several weeks we would hike through the snow and ice and darkness to the showers and washrooms and buy a 30 pound bottle of propane a couple of times a week.
This year Nick was working at the refinery on the major modification of an existing unit. Becky and Ezekial had joined him and they had rented a three bedroom unit with us in mind. It was good to be around family and not to have to hike through the snow to the showers. It wasn't without its negatives. The unit below us was rented to some mentally challenged people. Singing the national anthem at the top of their lungs was kind of charming. Less so was their practice of turning on the country and western radio station and doing loud singalongs at 3 AM. Pounding on the floor was not on an option. It was more likely to wake the sleeping two year old in our unit (if he was still sleeping) than to modify the behaviour of the unconscious fraggles below. On the good side it helped me keep up with Professor Horner's ten chapters a day Bible reading schedule.
At the end of May Nick took a lay-off and he and Becky and Zeke left town. We moved to a motel. Getting more sleep, but having a harder time keeping to Professor Horner's schedule.
When we arrived there were four foot snow drifts, by the time we moved out the grass was verdant and the trees were leafing out. Ezekial loves shoveling snow. I told him he was fortunate to live somewhere it can snow eleven months of the year.
Edith Emily Alton 1909 - 2011
My Mom celebrated her hundredth birthday two Octobers ago. She has been living on her own in Powell River, BC and looked like she was going strong to celebrate her 102nd birthday in four months. However, on Friday, June 3 she fell and broke her hip and went quickly downhill. They took her to Campbell River and operated. She came through the operation and amazed them all with how strong she was and transported her back to Powell River. They don't normally see such strength in somebody so old. It looked like she was doing well, but reports coming back from the coast went from "doing well' on Tuesday morning to "failing fast" on Tuesday evening to "she passed" an hour later. She wasn't taking in enough fluids and the medical people were unable to compensate enough with IV's without causing other complications.
One sister and many nieces were with her as were Becky, Nick and Ezekial. My other sister arrived a couple of hours later. There will be a graveside service on June 15th which I hope to get to if Aeroflot Canada employees don't mess the travel schedule up with job action and a memorial service on June 25th which Juanita, Debbie and I plan to attend.
Update to above added below. (added much later - it's been a busy summer and doing the physical stuff has been more than enough without writing, too. Probably now that I write about it in no small part due to some element of grief. Man, having your mother around for 63 years of your life should be enough for anybody. And seeing somebody get 102 years of life and die with only the last couple of days being in pain and confusion should be enough, but logic doesn't trump emotions. One gets used to it, but it takes a surprising amount of time.)
The only airline that had a schedule that, on the face of it, will get one from Regina to Vancouver and back in the same day with room for a return flight to Powell River in the middle was Air Canada. Some people call Air Canada "Aeroflot Canada" perhaps based on Soviet style attitudes toward patrons. I will just call it "AC". I had, at one time, close to two hundred thousand Aeroplan Points which can be used for travel on AC. After we came home for Christmas a couple of years ago on AC I stopped planning on using the points for travel and used them to buy personal electronics. It was with great reluctance that I decided to fly with AC to my mother`s graveside service rather than on more customer-centric West Jet. But, on the face of it, AC had the schedule so the flights were booked. They didn't disappoint. That was the day their ticket agents went on strike so the air line ran, but with supervisors doing work they were not accustomed to doing and the other unionized workers being ever so helpful and making sure that everything was done safely and in order and holding`up flights while they got things checked "just to be safe".
Getting to Vancouver went well. I arrived early at the Regina airport to avoid any problems from the job action, but that was not necessary so had lots of time to sit in waiting area and read while vicariously enjoying the pre-cruise excitement of two couples headed for an Alaskan cruise and re-living our own experiences last year.
It was a gorgeous day in B.C. The sort of day that makes coastal residents forgive the interminable stretches of gray, rainy weather that can seem to dominate. Flying up coast on Pacific Coastal Air was its usual pleasure. And if one is going to spend time at a graveside it's the weather for it. Family and a few close friends were there. I had a few brief minutes alone with my mom in the open casket after everyone had wandered away. I think they were a little grossed out, but it was a special moment for me. The make-up people had done a good job. It was the best she had looked for several years. Last year when we left for the ferry with her waving goodbye from her doorway I had to pull over around the corner because the emotions were too strong that it would be the last time Juanita and I would see mom alive. It was. The graveside service almost a year later was relatively anti-climatic but part of life in a family.
The flight back to Vancouver was without drama except for the dash to the airport that somebody made with the cell phone I had left charging where we had all gathered after the service.
When I arrived in Vancouver people were clustered around TV's in the South Terminal watching the Canucks trying to win the Stanley Cup in the final game of the season. The play-by-play of the game was on the loudspeakers (and I do mean loud) in the shuttle bus to the main terminal. When the goal that pretty much buried the Canucks was announced the energy went out of the bus. As I walked through the main terminal Don Cherry was on the TV's. I considered stopping to listen but scurried toward my flight only, as I got closer to the gate to see the departure time delayed. I could have stopped and watched. Good thing I didn't, though. The flight out had been direct from Regina, but the flight back changed planes in Calgary. I passed a gate where they were loading a plane for Calgary. It had been delayed by the job action. I got in the cluster around the desk and begged my way aboard the plane along with a few others since none of us had checked luggage and all had boarding passes for the next flight. Once on the plane the flight attendants gleefully asked "is it chaos out there?". I know whose side they're on and it ain't the traveler's. Then they let me sit down in my assigned seat while they checked to make "sure" this highly irregular event of letting somebody change planes was really okay. That helped them delay the flight another five minutes. I guess if a handful of supervisors can do the job of those out on strike then the rest of the hive will slow things down any way they can.
Made it to Calgary to discover that my flight to Regina was delayed. Lots of time to sit and watch the riots and visit with somebody on their way back from managing a Tim Horton's in Afghanistan. The plane eventually arrived and disgorged passengers and loaded passengers to Regina before my original flight from Vancouver landed in Calgary. There was a bit of fuss when I presented my boarding pass which had been cancelled when I was a "no show" at the intended flight from Vancouver, but they let me on after a while and then it was in the air to arrive in Regina only several hours late and not the next day if AC's customer-hostile hostage-taking union had their way. Maybe the Stockholm syndrome would kick in eventually and I might start relating to my captors, but that is supposed to require a lot of time with them. That will not willingly happen. When we booked flight to Ireland in August I made a point of booking with Aer Lingus. What a pleasant cabin crew!
Later in the month I finished up work in Regina and Juanita and I drove out to Powell River for the memorial service. That was a well attended event. Saw lots of people I had not seen for years. Would have had a hard time recognizing some of them. Many people participated in the celebration of my mother's life. One of my sisters had written something but didn't feel up to delivering it so one of her granddaughters innocently volunteered to read it. She discovered that reality is a lot more difficult than imagined. I read a bit of a eulogy as well. It wasn't easy for me either.
Ernie was at school in Moose Jaw so Debbie and the kids came down to Regina for a weekend to celebrate Sasha`s birthday at Nick and Becky`s. In addition to checking out some letter boxing drops one of the things we got to do together after church on Sunday was to visit Government House - the restored, original residence for the Lieutenant Governor of the North West Terrotories, the Queen`s representative before Saskatchewan was a province. It is now a museum and art gallery. Most interesting.
For some reason I did not take any pictures. Oh well! Guess you`ll have to Google it.
We got a lot of family time in with Nick, Rebekah & Ezekial - maybe more than they wanted at times.
However our family time with the Meadow Lake crowd: Ernie, Debbie, Sonja, Sasha and Kohen was pretty limited.
My planned trip back to Meadow Lake on March 25th didn't happen due to work schedule changes, so Juanita drove back to Meadow Lake on her own, took the truck in for the ABS work and babysat while Debbie and Ernie went to Saskatoon for the weekend. Beckie and Juanita left Nick and me to fend for ourselves for one weekend in April when they went to Meadow Lake for Sonja's birthday.
I did get to see them when Juanita and I went to Meadow Lake on the last Sunday in May for dental work on the Monday. We got to town in time to attend a piano and violin recital in which Sonja and Sasha both played both instruments. When you only hear them play once in a while the progress from one time to the next is impressive.
I first heard of Tom Sukanen on CBC`s Basic Black program. Arthur Black interviewed Andreas Shroeder about his fictional novel Dustship Glory. This was very loosely based on the real life story of the disturbed Saskatchewan farmer, Tom Sukanen, who constructed a ship in a South Saskatchewan coolie with plans to move it overland to the South Saskatchewan River and sail back home to Finland. Dustship Glory was a disturbing book which may have captured some of the inner turmoil of a disturbed individual who was renowned as a tinkerer and inventor.
He spent time in the provincial mental hospital in the Battlefords. I confess I have not done the research on his life recently (and am not likely to) so will not comment other than to encourage you to check out the museum web site and the museum itself if you find yourself in Moose jaw with a couple of hours to spare.
The Tom Sukanen museum and pioneer village is about ten miles south of Moose Jaw on highway 2. In addition to a full sized replica of Tom Sukanen`s ship there are a number of original prairie buildings that have been moved onto site. There is a one room school house, a church, a barber shop, several homestead houses from the humble to the grand, numerous shops and a grain elevator. There are numerous antique vehicles, fire engines and tractors.
A couple of the homesteads were in deep contrast to what we consider minimum acceptable accommodation these days. The house that Prime Minister Diefenbaker grew up in would fit into most modest motel rooms these days.
The Chevrolet Spectrum we bought new in 1985 is on its last leg. We only use it between Meadow Lake and home because that is only ten miles and if it dies it would be no more than a five mile walk one way to the nearest end of the route.
After much test driving and shopping of mostly used cars we decided that buying a simple new car within our budget might provide better reliability than some more exotic vehicle with 100,000 km on the clock. Probably get better gas mileage, as well.
We bought a 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring. Picture above.
Just have to figure out where to leave it over the winter when we go south.
After we finish here in Regina we plan to head back to Meadow Lake and take care of some business like the long overdue replacement of the crown that broke in February and a few other things.
Then it will be off to Edmonton to take care of some business there and then out to Powell River to Mom`s memorial service and to stay there as long as necessary. Probably not very long. My sisters, especially Judi, have been cursed by proximity and have dealt with a lot of family matters and aging parent and death issues over the years. They probably will have taken care of just about everything by the time we get out there.
Then it will be back to Meadow Lake to work around our property, finalize plans for our trip to Ireland in August and then prepare the rig to head south this winter. I promised to grease the wheel bearings earlier this year so it is not a last minute issue. Then there is the small crack that had started in the frame of the rig and discovered just before we headed north. The temporary fix held up well, but the first order of business is to do something more permanent with that. Then there are the myriad other homestead and building tasks. And maybe squeeze in a couple of weeks work and maybe a trip to the Maritimes and maybe.... always more dreams than time.
Update of June (entered months later):
I finished up work at the Co-op Refinery in Regina on Saturday the 18th and we headed north and had dinner with Weldon and Alice Gray of Wacky Wizard fame and spent the night at their house. Then it was back to Meadow Lake. It was not worth de-winterizing the rig and getting the fridge working and buying perishables, etc. so we spent the night at Debbie and Ernie's before leaving for Edmonton on the Monday to run errands and take care of some business at the union hall.
On Tuesday we drove from Edmonton to Kamloops by way of Jasper. On Wednesday we drove from Kamloops to Powell River. Not much sight seeing on this trip. We arrived with time to prepare for the memorial service on the 25th and stayed a few days afterward. Not much we could contribute to the efforts - everything was pretty much in control by the local family members.
We left the following Wednesday and stopped in Maple Ridge to visit with my cousin Howie with plans to proceed East on the north wide of the Fraser Valley to Hope. Everybody else was doing the same. A mudslide had closed the Trans Canada on the south side of the river between Chilliwack and Hope. It took several hours to get to Hope. We stopped for supper. The west bound semi-trailer that let us into the driveway of McDonald's had not moved by the time we finished eating. So at least we were going the right direction. After supper it took us another ten minutes to get beyond Hope and then it was clear sailing on the Coquihala Highway to Kamloops.
We drove to Fort Saskatchewan on the thirtieth and spent the night with Nick and Becky and Zeke and hung around to celebrate Canada Day - but that has no place in an April - June update!