Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
September 18, 2000
Poor and isolated, we lived in bliss
It is peculiar that more than half the population in perhaps the richest province in the number one country in the world should feel so unhappy and burnt out according to a recent survey. Is this the price we pay for living on the leading edge of progress?
For some time now we have talked about the "walking wounded," those who have been rejected by society. Now we speak of the "working wounded," those who feel alienated from themselves by trying to cling to their place in society.
It seems you can't win in a dog-eat-dog world.
Maybe there is something to be said for the simpler way of life. It might be pure nostalgia, but I seem to remember that my happiest years were about 50 years ago when I first came to Canada.
I have given it some thought now and then why this seems to be so and what factors contributed to my apparent contentment. It certainly wasn't wealth.
I arrived in Saskatoon with about $30 in my pocket which I spent in the Army and Navy to buy a parka, long underwear, leather mitts and winter boots. The farmer to which I was contracted, and his drinking buddy, picked me up at the station and took me down to Milden.
If you can remember the picture on the old dollar bill, then you have some idea of the geographic location of Milden, a typical Prairie town, three elevators and a Chinese restaurant in the middle of nowhere.
My private space was an army cot in a low-ceilinged basement next to the coal bin and furnace and close to the five-gallon pail which served as a toilet. There was no electricity or running water in the house, no showers or bathtubs, no television or light bulbs.
All these deprivations didn't seem to matter because none of our neighbours or friends had any of the amenities we now believe are bare necessities.
One piece of technology was deemed indispensable though, and that was the crank handle party line telephone, our connection to the world.
After I did hard labour for a month, the farmer broke his two-year contract by refusing to pay me the $50 in wages. I subsequently did some odd jobs for the local drayman, hauling coal to the hotel. I shovelled grain in the town elevator and I was hired out as a gravedigger.
I was then offered the prestigious job of caretaker of the skating rink but was fired after a month when someone stole the money I had collected from tickets to the hockey game.
From my first day in Milden I was welcomed as a member of the church choir. Almost all the other members belonged to the Lachapelle family. They offered me board and room in exchange for helping their two oldest sons with the chores on their hogfarm.
The work was hard and the hours were long. We slept three in a bed. We were poor. Then why were we happy?
Well, poverty is relative. We were rich in many other ways. There was no envy, or unfulfilled expectations. Our needs were few and we shared of what we had. There was a sense of purpose and a sense of community.
We were poor but not destitute. We ate well and had one set of clothes for work and one for Sundays and were not burdened with other possessions.
Besides that I was young and strong and enjoyed the challenge of entering adulthood.
But more than anything, I believe now, my bliss was based in ignorance. Our world was small, no bigger than what we could survey in a 20-mile radius. The information age with its constant barrage of disasters was not upon us yet.
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