Trailer Stories: Haida Gwaii

Other than tents and tent-trailers, and multitudinous camping trips in such wonderful accommodations, I have had the pleasure of living in two trailers, both in Masset.

The first trailer I lived in was “out the beach” from Masset. It was very old, single-wide, very musty-smelling, with no electricity or operable indoor-plumbing (although it did have a tub and sink). It was surrounded by muskeg-y bush, and was within a stones-throw of the ocean. Outside the door was an open well, and a bit back from the trailer was the john.

The trailer had at one time had a gas heater, which had been transformed, rather crudely, into a wood-burning heater. It faced into the kitchen-dining-living room area, and as long as it was full of dry wood, it kept that small space warm, if rather smoky. The entire back end of the house (the useless bathroom and the bedrooms) never got warm. This was all very exciting and adventuresome in the summer and early fall, but when the winter storms hit, so did reality. It was an unusually cold and snowy winter, and I soon discovered how cold a truly unheated bedroom could be, even with heaps of blankets.

I also quickly discovered that all my clothes hanging in the closet, and those in the drawers too, were getting covered with little black mildewy spots. Obviously I needed to keep them in a warmer and drier spot, but since I was away at school every day, there was no one to keep the fire going. My husband got an acquaintance of his who was unemployed at the time to come and stay in the trailer for free on the condition that he would keep the fire going throughout the day; and I moved my clothes into the living room area to take advantage of the heat. Well! The first day he did keep the fire going, in a manner of speaking; unfortunately, he was a city boy and had no idea of how to handle woodstoves of any kind, and his efforts produced a great deal of smoke and very little heat; consequently, my clothes now were not only mildewed but smelled like they’d been through a fire. I gritted my teeth, took my clothes to the laundromat to wash them, and gave my helpful boarder a lesson on using woodstoves. The next day when I came home from school, the trailer was pitch dark, and when I walked in the door, I discovered that it was also icy cold. And there was my helpful boarder curled up on the couch under every blanket he could find in the trailer. When I asked him what had happened, he said that he was too cold to make a fire; in fact, he had not moved from the couch all day except to gather the blankets! Needless to say, I gave him a fast ride back to town.

But now I really did have a problem. To top off all my other problems, I discovered I was pregnant, and of course was having my fair share of morning sickness. I quickly decided that my hippy adventure was not as wonderful as I had hoped. Frozen all night, clothes turning to mildewed rags, having to empty the commode into the outdoor john every morning, then taking the axe to break the ice in the well, dragging a bucket of ice-cold water into the house, lighting the kerosene lantern, building a fire in the woodstove, boiling water for a hot drink and porridge, struggling into cold, smelly clothes, driving to the school early to have a hot shower in the girl’s change-room… and then at the end of the day, coming home to start all over again… it was just too much. So I enquired of the school board if they had any available housing. That led us to trailer #2!

The second trailer I lived in was in the “Teacher’s Trailers” trailer park in Masset. The trailer was a single-wide, of, as the French would say, “a certain age,” comfortable in a long-lived-in and well-settled kind of way. Outside, it had pink and white siding. The furniture came with the trailer, and matched its demeanor.

Although I lived in this trailer for nearly an entire year, I really only have a couple – well, make that three – clear memories. The first was related to our dog, Max, a doberman. One day I decided to make bread, which I had never done before. So I got out a recipe book, and carefully followed the instructions. I had been meaning to make bread for a very long time, and consequently had yeast in the cupboard which had been there for a very long time indeed. Also, I was very excited about the whole process, and every five minutes I would lift the towel off the bowl to see how the bread was rising. Unaware that yeast needs to be reasonably fresh, and that frequently removing the towel from the dough is not such a great idea, I was sad to note that it seemed to be taking a great deal longer than the recipe promised. Finally, I got desperate, and turned the oven to about 250 degrees, put the dough in a pot and stuck it in the oven. Gratified to see that it did rise – slightly – after an hour or two, I took it out, shaped it into loaves, and placed it in the oven.

As the bread baked, the house filled with the lovely aroma of fresh baked bread. At the appointed time, I took it from the oven. It looked wonderful! I shook the loaves out of the pan, and let them cool for a few minutes. Then I took the bread knife to cut into my wonderful bread – and started sawing! I sawed and sawed and sawed, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not make more than a scratch. Soon I was in tears. My husband, however, was doubled over, laughing, while Max was standing there the whole time with his tongue hanging out drooling. Finally, I got so upset, I threw the bread on the floor, whereupon Max leaped onto it, picked it up, and trotted into the living room, where he gleefully laid in the middle of the rug and started to chew… and chew… and chew… In fact, he chewed gleefully every day for 3 weeks before that load of bread crumbled into hard little chunks!

My second memory of our trailer was related to the inhabitants of the trailer next to us, a teacher from California, and his two children. Now Richie was definitely a flower-child sort, and had been through 3 wives, all of whom he loved dearly, but found difficult to live with for any extended period of time. So they would all take turns coming to visit for a couple months at a turn.

Not only this, but Richie was into kung-fu in a big way, and often practiced leaps and kicks in the long hall along one side of his trailer. Now the windows of this hall directly faced our living room window, and before long, Richie’s flying kicks had brought down all his curtains. This quickly revealed the fact that Richie preferred to practice kung-fu in the buff, and a glance out our living room window often treated one to the spectacle of various body parts of said Richie flying past, framed neatly in his hall windows.

Finally, Richie’s lovely young daughter obviously missed the opportunity to keep a gorgeous California tan, and so, in the rare moments of bright Masset sunshine, she would zip outside, climb up on their porch roof, whip off her duds, and soak up whatever rays she could. Of course, the porch also faced our living room window, and sloped downward, affording an excellent view of her lovely figure! Naturally, this made our living room the entertainment center of Masset for a great number of local young men, who every sunny day, would turn up at our door with beverages or a pie, hoping we’d invite them in for a “visit.”

My final memory of this trailer took place at the end of my first pregnancy. Naturally, not having been through labor before, I was not sure what to expect. My parents had arrived a few days before, and one morning I started having “cramps,” as I thought. So I went into the washroom and sat on the throne. Now our washroom had two doors, one into the hallway, and the other, a sliding door, into the guest room. Unfortunately, every sound in the washroom could be heard clearly in the guest room, which was rather embarrassing at the best of times.

At this point, my “cramps” were getting stronger and stronger – still I was desperately trying not to make any sounds, but a few must have escaped, because suddenly I heard my mom say, “Norma, what are you doing?” “Using the washroom,” I replied, innocently. “Oh no, you’re not! Get off that toilet now! You’re having the baby!” she hollered! Next thing I knew she whipped into the bathroom, yanked up my pants, and my mom, my dad, and my hubby hustled me out the door and into the car for a quick ride over to the hospital.

Sure enough, she was right… it wasn’t long before my first beautiful baby popped into the world! Three days later, we brought her home – for one night in the trailer, as it was July 31 and we had to be out on August 1st! Thankfully, my parents had helped my hubby pack up while I was in hospital. In the hospital, they had kept the baby in the nursery at night, so this was my first experience with a newborn at night. Since everything was packed, including the baby things, she spent her first – and only – night in that trailer in the drawer (yes, it was open) of the built-in cupboard next to the bed. And I must have gotten up at least a dozen times to poke her and make sure she was alive, because her breathing was so soft I couldn’t hear it! Poor baby!

Oh my goodness! I was just going to say that for some reason, I have never lived in a trailer since. But then I remembered those 4 years in Keremeos with, at one point, 9 of us living very cosily in a slightly-added-to single-wide trailer. Another story for another day, perhaps!

Posted: 23 August 2008

 

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