Tag Archives: work

Stompin’ Tom Revisited

Thank you CBC Radio!  Just when I think I’ll never hear anything that I haven’t heard at least once already in any given day or week, you give me a wonderful treat.

Stompin’ Tom Connors – his songs and his conversation in radio interviews and call-in stompin tom album cover My Stompin' Groundsshows from the CBC archives.  Last Sunday on Radio One on Inside the Music (listen here).  If you know him and love his music, you will truly enjoy this.  If you know him and think ho hum, take a listen to him talking about his life and where the songs came from.  If you have no idea who he is, listen so that you may learn about someone central to Canadian music and Canadian pride.

My mother was a fan of Stompin’ Tom so I grew up with his music.  I don’t know if ‘Tillsonburg’ was the first song of his she heard, but it was her favourite.  She’s from Aug 1986 priming tobacco West Lorne Fodor farm from elgin.caTillsonburg and she worked in tobacco – one season.  She understood, and connected with, every word.  That’s what Stompin’ Tom songs do for Canadians and Canada.  He is the quintessential Canadian; born in New Brunswick, raised in PEI and has worked out west, in Ontario and pretty much every part of the country.

In the doc, he talks about meeting people who had recently returned from visiting Germany.  The Germans they were with one evening sang their country’s folksongs then asked to hear some songs about Canada.  They couldn’t think of one except for Oh Canada.  So Tom, over the Stompin' Tom accepts 1973 Junoyears, set about writing those songs.  He created the folk songs about our country.

There are strong regional music traditions in Canada.  Certainly Newfoundland, the Maritimes and Quebec are rich in traditional songs that tell the history of their places, events and people.  The west is the homeland of country and western.  But songs about Canada as a whole or regional songs known outside those regions?  Like Woody Guthrie, Stompin’ Tom both created and popularized the music of a land.

‘Stompin’ from St. John’s to Tillsonburg

me with Stompin' Tom in St. John'sThe first time I saw Stompin’ Tom perform was in St. John’s at the old Memorial arena.  He was on a small dais and the audience was seated in front, all of us on the covered ice surface.  It was close and personal.  He didn’t mind you getting out in the aisle taking his picture and he stayed after the performance for a long time signing autographs and talking to fans.

Years later I saw him in Tillsonburg.  The sound system was atrocious.  It was almost impossible to make out his words when he was singing or talking.  But it was worth every cent and more when he started Tillsonburg (My back still aches).  The place went up!  You couldn’t hear him over everyone singing along.  (You can listen to him singing it in Hamilton by clicking the title, also below for Sudbury Saturday Night.)

In his songs, Stompin’ Tom gets at the heart of the people and landscape of every one of stompin tom autograph on cigarette packour regions.  And by focusing on the particular, he speaks to the whole of this large and sometimes fragmented nation.  Thank you, CBC, for the chance to hear him talk about how and why he made the music and to tap my foot and sing along with Sudbury Saturday Night.  You don’t have to have ever been in Sudbury to ‘get it’.

Ocean Ranger 30

Ocean Ranger view from airThirty years ago the Ocean Ranger drill rig sank off the coast of Newfoundland.  The entire crew, 84 men, drowned.  During the early hours of February 15th, in a bad winter storm, the rig began listing.  Emergency personnel got there but there was nothing and no one left to save.

Cedric and kittens in box Feb 16 1982That night I was awake.  My new cat had put her week-old kittens in bed with me.  One by one, she picked them up in her mouth, jumped up on the bed and deposited them beside me.  She then went as far away on the bed as she could get, gave me a look that clearly said “they’re yours” and went to sleep.  Needless to say, I couldn’t, not with five tiny bodies beside me.  So I listened to CBC Radio until it went off the air, then thought about stuff and drifted off for a few minutes at a time.  When CBC came back on the air at 5:30 a.m., it was all about the Ocean Ranger.

No one knew what was going on.  Announcers gave details as they got them then corrected themselves.  Reporters were with officials map of hibernia showing Ocean Ranger positionand emergency responders from Mobil, Odeco and whoever else was available on land and at sea.  Boats and helicopters searched for survivors.  But the rig had sunk and no survivors.  I knew many of the oil industry voices on the radio.  I worked as an office temp, and drilling and oil companies, including Mobil, were my regular clients.

And, like pretty much everyone in Newfoundland, I knew people who Worker on deck of Ocean Ranger 1980worked on the rigs.  A fellow student and friend worked on the Ocean Ranger.  Was he on or off that week?  I couldn’t remember.  He was off, thank God.   So was a friend of his, also someone I knew.  But the husband of another fellow student was on the rig.  She was widowed and their infant son left fatherless.

Newfoundland was shattered.  The offshore oil industry was new and had so far delivered only jobs and good times for all.  Then, just like that, 84 men dead – the biggest single sea disaster in many years.  It took the shine off the paradise that Hibernia had promised.  “And have not shall be no more”, in the ringing words of Premier Brian Peckford who got a good deal for the province in oil revenues.

Ocean RangerInvestigations into the disaster showed slipshod safety practices and rig design that really could not withstand the worst that the Grand Banks could give an unmoving platform.  The workers’ nickname for the rig became widely known:  The Ocean Danger.

Ocean Ranger memorial in St. John'sI’ve never forgotten that night – the joy of a cat trusting me with her babies, all of us warmly tucked up while the storm lashed my windows, then listening to early morning radio to hear panic and confusion happening right here, right now.  So that’s why I never will have faith that any technology is fail-safe against nature’s powers.

The names of the men lost on the Ocean Ranger are:

Robert Arsenault, George Augot, Nicholas Baldwin, Kenneth Blackmore, Thomas Blevins, David Boutcher, Wade Brinston, Joseph Burry, Paul Bursey, Greg Caines, Kenneth Chafe, David Chalmers, Gerald Clarke, Daniel Conway, Gary Crawford, Arthur Dagg, Norman Dawe, Jim Dodd, Thomas Donlon, Wayne Drake, Leon Droddy, William Dugas, Terrance Dwyer, Domenic Dyke, Derek Escott, Andrew Evoy, Robert Fenez, Randell Ferguson, Peter Fogg, Ronald Foley, Melvin Freid, Carl Fry, George Gandy, Guy Gerbeau, Reginald Gorum, Cyril Greene, Norman Halliday, Fred Harnum, Tom Hatfield, Capt. Clarence Hauss, Ron Heffernan, Gregory Hickey, Robert Hicks, Derek Holden, Albert Howell, Robert Howell, Robert Howland, Jack Jacobson, Cliff Kuhl, Harold LeDrew, Robert LeDrew, Robert Madden, Michael Maurice, Ralph Melendy, Wayne Miller, Gord Mitchell, Perry Morrison, Randy Noseworthy, Ken O’Brien, Paschal Joseph O’Neill, George Palmer, Clyde Parsons, Donald Pieroway, John Pinhorn, Willie Powell, Gerald Power, Douglas Putt, Donald Rathburn, Darryl Reid, Dennis Ryan, Rick Sheppard, Frank Smit, William Smith, William David Smith, Ted Stapleton, Benjamin Kent Thompson, Greg Tiller, Craig Tilley, Gerald Vaughn, Woodrow Warford, Michael Watkin, Robert Wilson, Robert Winsor, Stephen Winsor.

from memorialsonline.com/ranger.asp and Gonzaga High School Annual Prayer Service Feb. 13/15 (in photos on Friends and Family of the Ocean Ranger FB page )

The Waitress Club

My very first job was waitressing.   It was a street corner restaurant with booths and tables, bigger than a diner restaurant coffee potsbut not fancy.  I had just arrived in a city new to me.

There were four or five waitresses working the day I started.  They were all older than I, ranging from their 30s to 50s.  I was 17.  I tried but I was pretty useless.  They were career waitresses, very good at their job.  Most of them helped me, but a couple looked at me with cynical eyes, as if to say “wonder how long you’ll last”.

Second day, not too bad.  One bowl of soup spilled almost in a customer’s lap.  But I knew where the mop and bucket were.  When my shift was nearly over, the manager came out of his office at the back.  “Take this to my brother” he said and handed me a fat envelope with a nearby address written on it.  I noticed the waitresses and kitchen help all watched me leaving.  Some had little smirks, all looked interested.

The restaurant was owned by the man I went to see.  Aside from the waitresses, the staff consisted of his brothers.  Cooks, dishwasher, manager, even the busboy who was the youngest brother.  All of them watching me.

“I like to help girls”

waitressing uniform, from backAt the apartment, the owner said, “Come in, sit down.”  I said my shift wasn’t over so I’d best be going.  “I’m the boss, it’s ok.”  I stood.   He asked where I was from, how old I was, was I going to school.  Coming close, he said he could help me if I wanted to go to university, you know, help out with expenses.  “I like to help young girls, you know.”  I said I really had to go, they’d be wondering.  “Think about it” he said, “here, you’ve got something on your uniform,” and brushed my backside with his hand.

When I returned to the restaurant, the waitresses stopped what they were doing and the brothers came out from the back.  “How did it go?” asked manager brother with a definite look of curiosity.  “Fine, I gave it to him, sorry it look longer, he wanted to talk a bit.”  “What did he talk about?” he asked.  I could see the waitresses all craning their necks to catch every word.  Brothers stood in and behind doorways, also listening. “Oh, just chatting.” Busboy brother snickered.

“You’re not going back”

I left after my shift, with waitresses saying “see you tomorrow?”   Their smiles were sly.  Back where I staying, I told my mother and her friend.  They said “you’re not going back.”  Mom’s friend phoned a friend who worked at a Community College and got an appointment for me.  I did go back to the restaurant the next day, on time, to tell them I was quitting effective immediately.  The waitresses just smiled.

I don’t know what would have happened if I’d not had someone to tell.  Mom was there just to get me settled.  I didn’t know what to think about the experience.  I’d never worked before; maybe this was normal.  But my mother and her friend certainly knew it wasn’t.  So owner brother did help with my post-secondary education.  I started it the next week.

Waitressing rite of passage?

waitresses, from the movie WaitressYou know who I most dislike for this?  The waitresses.  The rest of the staff were men and brothers.  But the waitresses were neither. It seemed to me, even as it happened, that ‘taking the envelope to the boss’ had happened before.  So this was some weird rite of passage that gave entertainment to the staff, both family and non-family.  Were bets laid?  What if I’d accepted boss brother’s offer?  Had other waitresses?  Had some of these?  I don’t know.  But those women – some of whom had daughters – never gave me a bit of warning or advice.

Amazon link for Counter Culture
Click for Amazon link

When looking for images for this, I came across a book called Counter Culture:The American coffee shop waitress by Candacy A. Taylor.  It looks wonderful, and her waitresses don’t seem to be like those in this story.  I later waitressed at a small diner and it was indeed a very good experience. The coffee pot photo came from Ms. Taylor’s blog and the photo of the three waitresses is from the 2007 movie Waitress.