There was a man standing outside the liquor store with a clipboard in his hand.
He was very tall and slim and looked like Jesus. One of those incredibly healthy-looking young men with a rich head of long curly black hair blowing back from a chiseled brow with intelligent, deep brown eyes and skin like the Caramilk from inside the Caramilk bar. If I were younger, (and not wildly attracted to a swarthy man who wears camo and drives a truck and is at this very moment plucking geese for my dinner) I would have willingly converted to whatever religious experience he might be offering.
But he was holding a clipboard.
And he was blocking the entrance to the liquor store.
“Can I trouble you to do a survey, Ma’am? It’ll only take a few minutes.”
He called me ma’am. Jesus, Jesus… how old do you think I am? I have no time for surveys. I want some beer so I can go home and mow the lawn, and pop a cold one on the porch. He was very pretty, though.
“Can I take you home with me so you can marry one of my daughters and live happily ever after making Caramilk babies for me to rock in my rocking chair whilst my hair turns grey and my teeth slowly fall out?” He was wearing a Dalhousie University shirt. I’ve always wanted an educated son-in-law.
It works every time. Survey takers, telemarketers, religious do-gooders, vacuum salesmen… offer them a daughter, and they run away screaming. Which is weird, because my daughters are lovely.
But he was so delicious. And the sun was shining. And I didn’t think he was going to try to sell me anything. So we surveyed.
WHAT DO YOU VALUE WITHIN YOUR COMMUNITY?
Holy Cow! Once again the universe convinces me that Everything Happens For a Reason!
I had just come from the beach, where I wandered with the weiner (me pondering, he wildly chasing the Beach Chickens in a frenzy of weiner glory) thinking about writing a blog about how Liverpool is coping with the Bowater shut. And here is Jesus, aka Handsome University Survey Man, asking me to talk about exactly what has been troubling me! Kismet!
“What do I value? I just came from a beautiful south shore beach, young man! Where you and one of my daughters could have an idyllic wedding surrounded by white sand and piping plovers…”
He shuffled his clipboard awkwardly and I regrouped. The Caramilk babies depended on my suave control of this situation.
The truth is, my daughters don’t live here. One is in Texas, one is in Halifax, one is trying desperately to flee the ties of home. My son lives in Edmonton. But what do I value in my community? Family. The sense of family that comes from a small town where everyone knows everyone else, where we support each other, where we gossip and judge and get up in each other’s business. Where an illness, a fire, a death, a birth are all shared communally with support and care and hamburger casseroles.
Bowater closed its doors to the majority of it’s staff in June. Men and women, many of whom had worked there for most of their lives, were sent home with little information and even less idea how to proceed with this new reality. Severance packages, pensions, unemployment insurance, vacation pay… money in the form of a band-aid that will be ripped off before the wound has a chance to heal.
So what do they do? They go out west.
Every week, another name joins the growing list of men flying out to Alberta, two weeks on, two weeks off, pursuing the promise of big money, hard work, the ability to pay the bills. In my high school classroom, many of my students are missing Dad, waiting for him to come home and tell them it’s all ok. Already, in the first week of classes, I have had students writing about the new order in their homes. Dad is away. Mom has to hold the family in the palm of her hand, alone. It’s tough.
What is going to be the fallout of this exodus?
It’s too early to tell, really, but already I am hearing murmurs among the sixteen year olds that “out west” is where they see themselves. Their future isn’t here, on the South Shore, where all of their family members for generations have found their careers, but across the country, chasing oil. My Love worked at the mill for twenty-six years. So did his father. So did his grandfather. Around these parts, that’s the norm.
Not any more.
So what can we do? Who is responsible for making the changes we need to keep our families here?
These were the survey questions my young friend asked me, outside the liquor store, his hair a halo of youth and possibility shining in the sun. He smelled like eucalyptus.
Who is responsible? The government? Wait a minute… didn’t they just give $25 million to the mill… and a bunch of land…? Um.
I have read a couple of articles in the past few months, making suggestions as to what will help the people and the economy of our small town.
Community gardens. (To combat depression, apparently. The psychological power of tomatoes.)
Mining beryllium. (Hahahahahaha…hohahahaho… sorry, um, oh my…. I really like that one!)
Agriculture. (Ever tried to put a shovel in this soil? Clang! That’s the sound of solid rock. Two inches under the topsoil.)
Beach parties. (Never say no to a good party!)
Peddlers hawking their wares. (No one loves peddlers. Ask anyone. Do you like it when someone knocks on your door, trying to sell you something?)
A gourmet food wagon…(When I moved here, twenty years ago, my first big chuckle was the last name Whynot. I didn’t mean to be rude, it just struck me funny… Why not? My second chuckle was deep fried pepperoni. And Bubba Subs. And hotdogs in potato salad. A gourmet food wagon? As an answer to the closing of the town’s main industry that employed three hundred people? Why not?)
Forgive me, but me thinks the problem is just a wee bit more serious than can be answered by a beach party. Not that I am against innovation and thinking outside the box, but the oil sands are offering upwards of $100,000 a year. For a gourmet food wagon, that’s a helluva lot of fillet mignon wrapped in foil and delivered door to door, baby!
We have resources in Liverpool that we are not using to full advantage. Our waterfront could be a tourist haven to rival Mahone Bay and Chester. As it is, what do we have on our waterfront? Home Hardware. Not to be dissing the Home Hardware presence, because those guys are super awesome! I take broken bits of mysterious plumbing items cradled wetly in my hands, and I hold them out to Robert, the HH guy, and I murmur, blushing, “I broke it.”
He gives me new ones.
I try to give him a daughter.
He politely declines.
Only in a small town do you get such personal service.
I don’t pretend to have the answers in terms of “what we need.” Do we need more stores? Yes. Do we need more service industry? Yes. Do we need to market the glory of the Bubba Sub to the world and beyond? Yes.
What I think we need is what we already have, we just have to realize we have it.
Work ethic. Determination. Imagination. Perseverence.
A faith in our ability to be resilient and find new resources to pay our bills and feed our families.
When I listen to my high school kids talk about their futures, I worry. They aren’t talking university, they aren’t talking family business. They’re talking about following their father’s footsteps… all the way to Fort McMurray. And, with the brazen innocence of youth, some of them don’t realize that you still need an education to make the big bucks, even in the glow of the Western Pot of Gold.
And work ethic. There is no silver platter, no free lunch. Nova Scotian’s work hard. We always have. We always will.
Fourteen hours a day, fourteen days in a row, without seeing your kids or your wife or your buddies down at the shop. Living in a camp with a thousand other displaced people: sleep, eat, work. I have such admiration for these people. They are hardier than I.
And yet… we have so many wonderful entrepreneurs in our little town… Mitchell at Alimento Catering is an absolute dynamo of entrepreneurial vigor, dishing out meat and salads and opening a restaurant in the spring. Valerie from VJ’s Farm Market sets up shop every day downtown, selling the freshest of everything from plums to purple peppers. Stacy has opened her art store, Conopeum Art, providing supplies to the incredible arts community of the South Shore. Tim of Feswick Productions is nominated for several accolades during Nova Scotia Music Week (which Liverpool is proudly hosting!) Maddie, a young woman who has had a job steadily since she was in Junior High, has a thriving hair business at Madd Hair Addiciton. Aunty Gwen’s Doggy Do’s provides excellent dog grooming services. Memories Café has recently opened and has excellent paninis! And of course there are the established businesses that continue to fight the battle against economic downturn… Lanes Privateer Inn, Reynold’s PharmaChoice, McPherson’s Deli and Gas Bar, Liverpool Pizzeria, The Country Kitchen, The Transcotia.
The liquor store. Where I was heading before my epiphany with Jesus. I wish I had asked his name. It was probably Bob.
The final question on the survey was: Are you familiar with the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve?
I had waxed philosophical for ten minutes about kids and fathers and hope and entrepreneurs and beaches and daughters and now you want to know about the … biosphere? Is that where the turtles are?
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a tourist with a wallet full of cash to be spent in our local area say “I came for the biosphere.” But, ok. We have a biosphere. It’s nice.
“Maybe you could marry one of my daughters on the edge of the salt marsh…”
“Thank you for your time, you’ve been very helpful. Bye.”
He walked away, his height and his mossy aroma leaving me bereft. I didn’t even get to extol the virtues of the Astor Theatre, and Queen’s Place. Or the fact that my daughters all know how to make the best spinach dip this side of… um… some other place famous for spinach dip.
No Caramilk babies.
Sigh. Maybe I shouldn’t have undervalued the turtles.
But it’s probably for the best, because my daughters don’t live here. They are having adventures and finding jobs in other places, meeting their own young men without the aid of their aging mother.
I wish I knew what would bring them back to Liverpool to live.
Maybe a beach party.