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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Working hard or hardly working?

BY Sonny Orr Oct 9, 2020

I’ve been very busy working hard for the past month or so, something I’ve been used to for a long time now. 

The first job I had when I was 12 was with Bell digging trenches and carrying a very heavy ladder. The following summer was about the same except more wiring down from poles as the old in-ground system was being phased out. It was the new age of a triple-digit phone number as more than a hundred phone lines were installed. 

In those days every wire was colour coded. Synching everything meant memorizing all the numbers associated with that card and making a connection from the main board, which had at least 10 five-foot high clusters of wires. On the other end at your home terminal where three or four wires were neatly clipped and connected. The whole operation was powered by a long line of batteries to keep it running at all times, which was handy if you didn’t have electricity at your home. Try doing that today.

The next summer I joined an elite group of older guys in their late teens and early 20s. We had the job of cleaning up the town and taking all that refuse to the dump, where we incinerated it with homemade Molotov cocktails. Making homemade explosives was the best part of the job. 

The other cool part was driving the dump truck, which no one knew how to operate on the first day. After several hours of trying, we made it to first gear, the rest will always be remembered as having driven the truck with the strongest set of gears ever made, after grinding them down in shuddering starts and gear changing. Yeah, that was fun.

The following summer was all about painting. Painting done all by hand. We got so good at it that all those weird dreams caused by the fumes from the paint and kerosene to clean the brushes became part of the work routine. We started at sunrise and finished late after supper. Again, it was a fun job and we only got paid at the end of the contract. 

My buddy nearly had a heart attack when he saw the final amount of the cheque and refused to accept it. Finally, after a lot of urging from his family he took the pay and I think they bought an outboard motor with it. Anyways, after a long hard summer of work, school was a nice break.

In the following years I somehow got involved in the airline business with Austin Airways. It was an entirely different type of business – lots of labour work, crazy weather and endless stories of the past from my boss, who seemed to know everything about the weather and the airline business. The heavy lifting of baggage and cargo became easier after time and improved my overall health. I did this for several years and after a while, handling heavy things was easy.

Later in life, hard physical work gave way to a desk job. But the hours were standard and sometimes very stressed as I learned the values of hard work also applied to office work. After a while, thinking hard and sweating bullets to meet deadlines became my new norm. Hard work, in any form, is hard work.

So, as I get on in years, I amaze myself with having worked for 49 years. I guess it’s time to take on softer work, which will be very hard for me to do.

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.