Work at the fertilizer plant was ten-hours a day, six-days a week with about an hour drive from our daughter, Becky’s house in Edmonton to the plant. A week after I started, our son-in-law Nick pulled a slip from the hall as a Steamfitter and began work. Our schedules were off-set by half an hour, but we car-pooled anyway with one of us travelling earlier than needed and the other staying later. It saved on gas and gave him somebody to talk to. A partner and I settled into a mini-project on four high speed ammonia pumps, upgrading the vibration monitoring equipment and wiring and moving the instruments out of the way for an increase in the size of the lube oil tanks on two of the four pumps. The “job-owner” for this project was my foreman from twelve years before. He retired last year and was back under contract for this particular job.
Meanwhile, Back at Life (and Death)
With Becky on bedrest for her pregnancy, Juanita was helping with the kids. She found it a bit challenging to deal with four young children at the age of 72. I don’t think I could have handled it at 32. Not unless shock collars were an option, which they are not and me thinking they should be probably rules me out of candidacy for such an assignment. I probably should stick to industrial instrumentation. If you need a shock collar adjusted I could probably do that.
With Sundays off we still managed to do a few things.
We attended church and watched Ezekial receive an award for memory verses. We celebrated Nick’s birthday.
One evening while Juanita was away to Meadow Lake for some errand I attended a Filipino Fiesta in an Edmonton city park. There were a few booths, but the man event seemed to be food. There were a couple of generic standard fare food trucks with long lines at each. There were half a dozen booths with Philippine food. Four of them had really long lines. Maybe up to an hour wait. Two of them had no lines. I looked at their menus and food. It seemed they were all serving the same stuff at similar prices. What do those people know that I don’t know? I asked myself being unable to figure it out I gave up and drove to the Sawmill at Capilano and ordered prime rib. It was delicious.
The last weekend of the month Debbie and family came to Edmonton and joined with Becky’s family to celebrate the completion of Ezekial’s leukemia treatment. Nick took the Saturday off from work to partake in the paintball celebration portion of the event. I didn’t. I have been paintballing a few times and no longer feel the joy in being hit by hard little objects, just the pain and subsequent bruises. I don’t lie down out in hail storms either. The festivities continued into the evening with family and Ezekial’s friends. That I showed up for.
The next day was Sunday. After church Juanita and I went for Dim Sum at the Dynasty Century Palace Restaurant and in the evening went to the End of the World now called Keillor Point. They have done a lot of work to restore things after the viewpoint tried to slide off the cliff.
During the month we received news of a couple of deaths back in my home town. Louis was a friend and co-worker who I went through apprenticeship school with two months a year, for five years. We studied together before attending first year. Lab marks were worth half the overall mark and exam marks made up the rest. The mid-term exam was worth forty percent and the final exam was worth sixty percent of your exam marks. In years two through five the “mid-term” exam was held on the first day of class. We were quite incentivized to study toward the incoming exam and kept to a rigorous study schedule at each others’ houses as each school term approached. He was about fifteen years older than me and had worked for years as a papermaker. Papermakers earned the most of any union employees in the paper mill with shift premiums adding an additional 20% to their hourly rate. First-year apprentices earn about half as much as the top papermaker and work no shift work. To see if he could afford an apprenticeship after living for years at a much higher income, Louis had the excess income skimmed off and set aside for a year so the only money his family saw was what an apprentice would receive. Good for him. I worked with people more senior than me in the technical department who turned down dayshift promotions to the lab that I took, because they couldn’t “afford it”. Likewise, when applying for an apprenticeship myself there were peers who didn’t apply. I traded the chance to work at my trade anywhere in the world for being stuck on shift for the rest of my working life. Louis and I visited last summer. He had some rare disease that gave him cauliflower ears and caused him all sorts of grief and was predicted to give him about ten more years of life when it was first diagnosed. That last six months were a nightmare of in and out of hospital and agony. He said that the next time he went in he wasn’t coming out. He was right, only lasted a couple of days. Go into eternity well, Louis. It was an honour to know you.
Cliff was another friend and co-worker much older than me. We worked together a fair bit as I transitioned as a fifth-year apprentice into responsibility for my first control system. All the other trades in the mill were three or four-year apprenticeships so the pay for a fifth-year instrument apprentice was journeyman pay. The mill’s attitude was if you’re getting journeyman pay go do journeyman work. It was an excellent mill in which to apprentice. A school mate working at a competitor paper mill was very jumpy after the final exam. I asked what was up and he said all he had been allowed to do for five years was hold ladders. When he got back to work from school they would throw him into the deep end. Glad I didn’t apprentice there. But back to Cliff. The plant was expanding so he was moving onto one of the latest systems and I was moving into the legacy system he had been working on. There were some things I had a hard time understanding and would argue that it couldn’t work that way. We shouted at each other through compiled vs. interpreted systems and source code and assembler code until I figured it out. No malice but lots of volume. About the only time I have advanced my knowledge that way but it worked under the circumstances.
Cliff eventually became a supervisor and often times was my supervisor. We all worked in our own little specialized worlds and it wasn’t uncommon to come to some troubleshooting roadblock. I can’t count the times I was able to go to Cliff’s office and say I was stumped and he, knowing nothing about my specific system, would ask the right questions and draw out of me some ideas for next steps and off I would go back armed to battle the darkness.
Last year we went out for coffee. I picked him up at the home where they were protecting him from himself. He didn’t really quite remember me at first, but it came back to him. At Starbucks he hit on the young ladies in line and they loved this distinguished elderly Brit. I guess he’d grown out of the creepy old man zone. Then we went and visited a mutual friend who was in shocking condition and I took Cliff back to his keepers. The next day I dropped by and he said, “Oh I haven’t seen you in a long time!” I agreed. He said, “How long has it been?”. I said, “Yesterday.” And we both laughed. We miss you Cliff. Go find Lucy.