“I worked like crazy to make a dollar, starting at four in the morning as a baker in a bread factory, my job was to put dough in the bread pans, 800 in twenty minutes. They were coming at me like crazy from a forming machine, and all I had to do was put them in the pans, with the seems at the bottom. I'd sweat like a horse, there was a water fountain right beside me but I had no time to drink from it. It took me two weeks to catch the rhythm, after that I could play with it. In the afternoon I drove a gravel truck from one to four in the afternoon”
“After that I worked for the City installing concrete sewer pipes, starting at $1,40/hour, which was 40cts more than I got baking and roofing, but I kept always eyes and ears open for a job that paid better.
It was tricky work, and dangerous, very dangerous, but for me work was all the same where or what it was, and here I was made foreman.
It was my responsibility to make sure that the pipes were laid level, which I checked with a hand level at the bottom of a more than 25 foot deep trench, sometimes deeper. I stood than six feet in front of the last pipe directing the backhoe operator where to place the next pipe, which dangled forty feet above me, and had to be fitted to the previous one, by me.”
“At that time no supports were used on the sides of the trenches to secure the earth from caving in.
I always watched the sides of the trench for sand trickling down, because that was a sign that the side of the trench would cave in, when I saw that I knew it was time and immediately dove into the pipe.
The earth gives you no time at all, it just slides in and covers you and in most cases kills you. Lying in the pipe felt like being in a grave and you had to wait until they dug you out.”
“We had no compensation or insurance but it was easy to replace the unfortunate one who got killed as immigrants were easy to find for that money. It gave me 10cts more/hour as foreman, I never made so much money yet in Canada, $1.50/hour.”
“Cave-ins happened regularly but every time I was just ahead of the grim reaper.”
Even though Lolke had been member of the Old dutch reformed church in Fryslân, he attended the Christian reformed church in Calgary which was mainly attended by the New church people, the Grifformeerden. Differences between the two denominations in Holland did not apply in Canada at that time.
There was also a sizable young people group, with girls and boys meeting together every Saturday night, which was made to measure for socializing.
It didn't take Lolke long to get interested in Agnes, a young woman who smiled at him once in church and after a young people meeting, where he noticed her good command of English, when she introduced a biblical topic.
Probably a teacher flashed through his head and teachers were not his cup of tea, but in spite of that she appealed to him. After the meeting he coughed up enough nerve to invite her in his old Austin to take her home and – she accepted.
He opened the passenger's door for her like a gentleman and took the driver's seat, started the motor he asked “Left or right?”
“Left,” she flashed a smile at him. 'Oh la la, she must like me.' Clearing his throat he said
“Well, here we go than,” as he nudged the old Austin out of the parking lot to swing her left onto the road, then pushed the gas peddle, speeding her up for the second gear, but before he could put it in third, she stopped him.
“Here it is,” she said.
“Here is what?”
“This is where I live. You can park on the side of the road.”
“You mean, I thought that you lived, … this was only a minute...”
“That's why I walk as a rule, but thanks for the ride anyways Lolke, this is where I live with my parents. My dad runs a barber shop here and I work part time for him.” She took his arm.
“Let's go in for a cop of coffee.”
Disappointed by the short drive and almost intimidated by her directness he followed her as a hog to the butchery. Seated in a soft armchair, likely the barber's, the drubbing continued, she just kept playing a cruel game on him. What was she up to?
“What do you want first Lolke, neck or coffee?” she asked.
Lolke felt humiliated and angry. What did he do that made her act so rude at him? Better get out of here. He stood up, heading for the door. “Guess it was a mistake... I'm sorry.” However, Agnes was faster than him, blocking him and – locking the door.
“Lolke sit down,” she said, “I am angry at you, I am very angry at you, you know why?
No idea at all why I am furious at you? I tell you why. I seen you in church of and on, and thought what a nice young man. I even was glad that you weren't after the girls that much.
Why than did you screw that poor girl in your hometown and than acted as if nothing happened. Just disappeared. Big man. What will your little daughter think of a father like that? The great Canadian stud?”
Lolke - “My legs felt as if they were filled with concrete, I could barely breath. I heard her voice as if from a far distance and a thought ran trough my mind, that woman is crazy, but then she switched into her normal voice saying that Helen had become pregnant shortly after I had left for Canada. Of course I remembered our time in the hay field, but I never heard from Helen, while I thought she had my address.
Agnes informed me that the address on the postcard Gert had written and posted was an address in Manitoba. How could it have been from Calgary, as we were only on the way to that city. Agnes cried 'Why didn't you write her after you were settled then, dumb-head?'
She was the first one I told that I wasn't able to write and could barely read.”
Agnes - “He was white in his face when I told him that he had a darling little daughter and then he cried 'God, I worked so hard for her.' meaning Helen, I think, and after a quiet spell he asked what name Helen had given his daughter and when I told him that her name was Johanna, he really cried, and then I felt a little sorry for him.
Did you really not know? I asked.
'Nobody told me,' he said. The coffee had perked long enough I thought, and poured.”
“I said that he owed Helen an explanatory letter and that I was willing to write it for him, and since we did not know her address Lolke suggested to send it to his parents.
I informed Helen in that letter that Lolke was alive and well and that he had a girlfriend in Calgary whom he intended to marry.
We had not decided on anything but I had, and trusted my Lolke would have no objection about our decision, and as 'his eyes were tired' he did not read the letter.”
Lolke's parents, after reading the letter decided to burn it, since they didn't want anything to do with a harlot from the Grifformeerde church, not her parents nor her offspring.
More next time.