I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. I have received news that my almost three year old grandson was super excited to get his first cone from a neighbourhood truck. And here I thought those musical chiming vehicles were a thing of the past. On the other end of the age spectrum my mother-in-law still loves a well scooped ice cream in a waffle cone and she currently can’t get enough of cream-style corn either, something I’ve loved for years.
During my first year of teaching in Timmins, Ontario, I lived next to the Eplett’s Dairy plant. Just half a block away, if the wind was right, we could smell a sweetness in the air when they poured the ice cream into large four litre plastic tubs. We bought all our warehouse priced creamery stuff from there. When my kids were little they used the empty tubs for all sorts of woodsy adventures, carrying supplies, picking blueberries or capturing insects. I still have items in my closet that are wrapped in old fashioned branded plastic milk bags.
Ahh, slipping the bonds of time! My first job summer job was delivering creamery products in glass bottles from a truck, directly to people’s doorstep. My boss drove while I ran back and forth across the suburban streets. I was only nine yet my folks were fine with the arrangement as they were friends with the milkman. I was up by five and we finished our route by 9ish. I could drink all the chocolate milk I could gulp between delivery stops. At the end of each week I was paid cash. If I didn’t break any bottles, I was allowed to take home a carton of strawberry ice cream. When I was 12 I developed a passion for creamsicles. I let my first girlfriend take a bite of mine. As our relationship grew later that summer she invited me to her grandparent’s farm for peaches and cream corn, boiled in a huge pot. We could eat as many as we wanted rolled in large blocks of butter. It was likely no coincidence that I creamed my jeans for the first time that day.
My grandmother enjoyed being told that she looked like Queen Elizabeth II. She said she owed her creamy complexion to the British dampness, even as she complained of another rainy day. She always thought cream was best with her tea and loved clotted cream on her pastries. She once effusively congratulated me for graduating university by telling me I was the cream that had risen to the top of the Thompson clan. I thought of her just the other day as I put my coffee cream in the back of the fridge as per her long forgotten instruction. Her personality was prickly but she had a sentimental heart, much like Jean Brodie, the title character in a book by Muriel Spark, who said of her students; “All my pupils are the creme de la creme.”
Work is forever in a state of flux. In the past three hundred years we’ve gone from farming/market communities, through industrialization, to the technological revolution and now the gig economy with the challenges of AI on the horizon. In the past a boy might only follow in his father’s footsteps, career wise, or he might pursue a calling and enter a religious order. Girls were further restricted in occupational choice. For some a life’s work is one of service with little or no remuneration, other’s may pursue professions that provide financial rewards.
I viewed my work as a teacher as employment that enabled me to have job satisfaction, a wage that afforded me a comfortable living as well as time for my family. This workable arrangement allowed me what is now commonly referred to as Work/Life balance. I rarely thought of my work as a chore, more like a practice that I continually improved upon. I knew some colleagues and friends whom I would call workaholics. Any workplace can have those types who seem to be singularly focussed on pleasing the boss, getting it perfect, climbing the ladder, making money or retiring early. I was never wanting to sacrifice my home time in the name of professional ambition.
Life at home was not without its work component. My partner at the time revelled in being called a homemaker, a position without pay but one of considerable value. It was easy for me to contribute to the home-work since she had managed the job so well. Working from home means something different today, but my jobs back then were helping to raise three boys, being a home handyman, and chipping in on daily household chores. This may sound like Leave It To Beaver, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgtiPOk83Ek . I would say all five of us had a very solid working relationship. As my lads got older, they found their way to contribute to the labour that is necessary within a family environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic is giving the world pause to rethink its cultures of work and play. I was amazed at my ignorance regarding a news bite from Northern Italy where people in a certain village were always without a regular paying job. The reporter referred to this arrangement as ‘informal work’. With the coronavirus lockdown they could no longer go about their town and scrounge for temporary tasks to provide cash, as was their custom. Would we all not feel safer as a society if governments could recognize the value of a guaranteed income? I feel lucky everyday for the pension my career has provided.
With my working life behind me I can play. I sometimes need a guide. My grandchildren wake each day knowing how to play naturally. They step from their beds and explore their world without inhibition. Their bodies move almost continuously. As they absorb their surroundings each touch and sniff brings them awareness and learning. Their young minds work intuitively at building relationships between their inner and outer environment. Work & Play in harmony.
One hundred years ago, in a Canadian city once referred to as ‘the Chicago of the North’, the working class had had enough. A general strike was called in Winnipeg with switchboard operators, called ‘Hello Girls’, being the first to refuse their labour. This work stoppage was the biggest and longest of similar strikes throughout North America. While the original intention was to seek redress for poor working conditions through collective bargaining, this strike soon included non-unionized workers, returning WWI soldiers and thousands of other people who felt disenfranchised. Much like today, those living in 1919 experienced a disgusting disparity between rich and poor: The few had much. The many had very little.
Strike is a word that conjures up decisive action. One of the first movie musicals I enjoyed as a child was ‘Strike Up the Band’ starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney cast as two young folks with enough energy to change the world, perhaps even take it over with their enthusiasm.
Striking can be subtle but still forceful. When someone in the fashion industry strikes a pose they are trying to capture a moment of body posture to maximize drama. In one of Madonna’s masterful music videos, ‘Vogue’ she works her image to maximum effect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuJQSAiODqI
Strikes can be lucky if they connote finding gold, or unfortunate if they come in threes. My mom and dad were two pack a day cigarette smokers (to my knowledge they never indulged in Lucky Strikes). One summer afternoon, my father took me to a baseball game (this was a rare treat for me as my parents were part of the lower class). What I remember most was the abundance of cigarette butts that piled up around his feet. We stood and sang ‘Take me out to the ball game’ at the seventh inning stretch, yelling this line amidst Dad’s coughs, ‘and it’s ONE, TWO, THREE Strikes you’re OUT!’
I grew strong in spirit during my brief time as a Boy Scout. My favourite activity was camping. It was where I first learned to build my own fire. We were taught how to keep our matches dry so we could get the kindling going on the first strike. What I learned in my scout troop I applied with happiness to camping trips with my parents, and later as a young father of three boys. When it came time to strike camp there was always a sadness. Packing up the shelter that was our tent seemed too sudden a thing after we had spent such quality time under its protective embrace.
In the nineteen fifties, I learned about the hazards of a nuclear strike. In the event that missiles were launched in our direction we were taught to hunker under our school desks. What naivety! My nine year old self wanted to trust that my teacher knew how that bit of metal and wood would protect her students. My almost seventy year old self shakes his head when thinking how ignorant people can be.