Friday, January 26, 2007

Warm, dry and comfortable

It's was a bitterly cold day yesterday, here in London, Ontario. As I drove to my office, I remembered a similarly cold day, back in 1966 or so. I was driving my battered 1957 Volkswagen that day, on my way to work on a construction site. The car heater and defroster didn't work properly, and I was already frozen stiff. It was still dark outside, about 6:30 in the morning, and I was about to start a shift working on something called a pondage dock for the Welland Canal in St. Catharines , Ontario. My job entailed grunt work: carrying materials, using a pick to smooth out the stone surfaces onto which we were about to pour concrete, etc. The job was horrible.

Most of the time on the job I wore hip-waders, because everything was always wet. We worked about 35 feet below ground level, in an area that would later be filled with water when construction was complete. I'm not really clear about the function of a pondage dock, but I imagine it might be where canal water would flow when the locks were opened or closed.

The best part of my job was when I got to direct cement trucks, as they backed down a long ramp to deposit their load. At the bottom, I would stand knee-deep in the warmed cement, giving hand signals to the drivers as truck after truck deposited cement for the floor of the dock. The warmed cement would in turn warm my body, and I would be momentarily comfortable.

I think of those days, and others not much better, on occasion. I do that to remind myself to be grateful every day. Many people, around the world, live truly dreadful lives, work at backbreaking and debilitating jobs, and have little hope of ever improving their situation. At least here, we are well rewarded for our efforts. I worked on that particular construction job because I was being paid about twice what I might have earned in another, less demanding job.

Many people in developing countries don't have the luxury of choice. It is work or die, or at least work or go hungry and have no place to live. And they often have no hope of bettering their position. Here, at least if we are prepared to work hard and be responsible with the money we earn, we can accomplish pretty much anything we might wish to do.

When I got to my office, sat down in my comfortable chair, turned on my computer, and sipped my morning coffee, I was aware, once again, that the journey, even with all the bumps and ruts along the way, had been worthwhile.

Here's to being warm, dry, and comfortable.


  1. Everytime I feel like complaining I think about what you've expressed here: so many have it so badly, how dare I? I remember seeing a program on television a few years ago about Russians lining up for blocks to get a loaf of bread. Often when they got to the front of the line the bread was gone. I vowed never to complain about grocery shopping again.

  2. Bellezza: When I was in the former West Berlin, Germany, in 1992, my cousin told me about a visit of another relative from East Berlin right after the wall came down.

    They went to a specialty grocery store where there were hundreds of types of bread, cheeses, etc., and the woman was so overcome she had to leave the building. For decades in East Berlin, they had stood in lines, and something as simple as an orange was a special treat to be enjoyed perhaps once per year, and here, just across a wall in West Berlin, anything could be had.

    I encountenered something similar when I spoke to a bunch of workers in a German town called Graal Muritz. They asked what I was doing there, and when they found out I was from Canada, they peppered me with questions about how we live and then compared that to their own state.

    We never know how good we have things until we compare our lives with others who are less fortunate.

  3. And, "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone..."

    I remember the plight of the East Germans, as I lived in Germany, on the West side, when the wall was still up. The grandfather of our landlord was visiting friends right before the wall went up and was never allowed to return to his home. He died without seeing any of his family of origin again. It still sears my heart.

  4. Will never forget how it felt to take a day trip to East Berlin in 1980 when the wall was very much up.Guards on every deserted corner.Such a contrast to West Berlin.

    Then there was the camping trip at La junta in northern NM,where I experienced the coldest night of my life.

  5. It would have been fascinating to visit East Berlin before the wall came down, if only for the contrast it provided with what existed on the other side. My cousin had an apartment in Berlin, literally yards from where the exodus from the east took place, and he has hundreds of pictures he took as people streamed out, on foot and in cars, on bicycles, etc. There were tears, there were celebrations, there was a lot of emotion.