Monday, July 16, 2018

ERNIE

    When I lived in a far northern arctic settlement we had to have a person who looked after all of the maintenance required for daily living. This person saw that the generators were running for our electricity, that we had water, that sewage and garbage were looked after, that our furnaces always had a supply of oil in the tank and anything else that had to be done. On top of this the guy had to be able to work independently, have good communications skills, get  along with others, plan for a year ahead. So you see this person had to be just about everything. 

     My person was Ernie, a French Canadian, who was born and raised in a fringe area. The family eked out a living by working part time in the bush and producing their own food and many other necessities of life. This background made Ernie  an all round handy man. In these communities they only spoke French.

     Ernie was a bachelor and a very jovial , amicable kind of guy who enjoyed life with very little.

    Ernie joined the army early in the war as it was a place to eat and get some pay. Ernie purposely chose an English unit as he wanted to learn English. On his first day his group was lined up and they asked for someone to volunteer for a job. He stepped out and said yes which was probably the only English word he knew. What he'd volunteered for was to type. He'd never seen a typewriter before . He always laughed about that one.

    Now after the war a high percentage of government employees were veterans. So Ernie came by his job in our settlement. He was well able to live in isolation and was a good cook and housekeeper.

    The only vehicle in the community was a J-5 which was a small tracked vehicle like a pick up truck. This vehicle was used to haul things around the community. Every time it moved it was loaded with kids who wanted a ride. Kids visited him every evening. Ernie liked the kids and they liked him.

    Ernie kept the diesel engines running to produce power. He was creative. They expected him to keep our houses supplied with water, but they didn't give him a water tank. Ernie got some plywood and built a big box to haul the water. He knew that a wooden box would hold water just like a metal tank. He had a pump and pumped water from the lake into the box. He came to our house and used his trusty pump to pump water from the box to a tank in the house. In the winter he oversaw the cutting of ice that was used for water in the winter. Again he built a sledge to haul the ice to our house. 

     So it was a great situation but Ernie had one major flaw in his character. He was an extreme binge drinker. Many men like Ernie would come to an isolated settlement or a "dry" camp where they could limit alcohol consumption. Two or three times a year Ernie brought in some booze. He would drink until the bottle was empty. He became a completely different person. Anger raged. He would turn off the electricity hoping that I would challenge him. I never did and after a few minutes the electricity would come on. I would avoid him at these times as it could be more than unpleasant and completely unproductive.

     When Ernie left for summer holidays he would always say, "I don't know if I'm coming back." For his summer holidays he would go to Montreal and it was one long binge. Three or four weeks later Ernie would show up on a plane and with a big smile would tell us he was happy to be back.

     I've often wondered what demons drove Ernie to the extreme binges.

26 comments:

  1. Do you think we have more Ernies in society today, or do we just see them more today with the Internet and media?

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    1. My Ernie was from the late 1960's. Because we had to be close it was not only noticeable but influenced us as we depended on him.

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  2. I think there might be a lot of Ernies living on the streets of Seattle these days. Some are just down on their luck, but others certainly are entertaining demons.

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    1. You're right that many of the homeless have a multitude of personal issues.

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  3. My great grandfather was a drinker (I don't know if it was rare binges or more constant) He packed up his whole family to go to a dry area of New Zealand, just after my grandfather had been given a highly sought after apprenticeship. My grandfather's opportunities were then limited by the depression and so on so there was a huge sacrifice involved.
    My grandfather decided never to touch a drop of drink and he never did.

    Ernie sounds like a great guy to have around...except when he wasn't

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    1. There are many sad experiences with alcoholism and its damage to families.

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  4. Wow. That is a powerful saga. Very moving.

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    1. Thank you. If you had to live through it you'd remember it.

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  5. He sounds like he was a bit of a tortured soul, but he functioned well in the world most of the time. Thanks for the interesting portrait of Ernie.

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    1. Ernie didn't talk about the war but I think the war may have had an effect.

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  6. Ernies are invaluable people. It's agreat shame about the binge drinking.

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    1. Ernies keep things going especially in a remote area.

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  7. Most of the time he was fine, just when he got on the booze he was a problem.

    I have problems right now with a neighbour soon to be turfed out- a full blown drunk who has psychotic episodes and shows no interest in getting himself sorted out. The landlord over there has had enough of his behaviour and having to talk to the cops repeatedly after he's threatened people, started fights, or destroyed property.

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    1. These people think they are right and the rest of us are wrong.

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  8. Very interesting -- and I was not prepared for the ending. Alcohol really is poison for quite a number of people -- people who are otherwise hard workers, kind, and functional members of society.

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    1. Many of these characters lived in the north. They would work 6 months and go south and drink until the money was gone and then go back to the camp where they knew they had a job.

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  9. What an interesting story. I wonder if he finally succumbed to his alcoholism, which would be sad because it sounds like he was a good man.

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    1. At age 50 he had health problems that weren't being treated as we were a long , long way from a doctor. My guess is that health problems would catch him.

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  10. Hopefully Ernie got things sorted out. It's sad to see that happen to a nice person or any person. There are lots of young people who are troubled by alcohol these days and binge drink.

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    1. My prediction would be that Ernie wouldn't clean up his act. I'm alarmed at the amount of alcohol consumed by the younger generations.

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  11. I often wonder what the history of these people is. Everyone has a story and I'm sure he did, too.

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  12. Alcoholism is a disease. It seems Ernie was able to overcome his alcohol problem but then when he started to drink he could not stop. Sad when alcohol takes over someones life:(

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  13. Well, it's good that he kept coming back. It probably lengthened his life to be in a remote area with a job to do, despite the occasional binges. I wonder how good his typing was by the time he got out of the Army?!

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  14. Ernie didn't have a Micro Manager to rein him in.

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  15. My Dad in his police career came across people like Ernie. He would say the nicest people you could wish to meet until they drank and had a major personality change.

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  16. Sadly it seems so many people have a drinking problem, esp. I find in the north where it can be dark so much of the time except of course in summer.

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