The Employment Cards

by Norm Perkins from Don Mills, ON
Jun 20, 15

I was born in a small mining town in northern Quebec, and over the years I have often thought about going back. When the subject would come up with my dad, he’d say something like, “that’d be a great trip. Wish I could go.” Or “You’ll have to give me a full report when you get back.” Finally, motivated, partly by my guilt of things left undone and partly by my dads declining health, my wife Jen and I decided to make the trip. We would ride our motorcycles, it would be a road trip in pursuit of my past. 

It was perfect riding weather and the winding roads though the rural north were smooth scenic and free of traffic.

After about two and a half days on the road, we rounded a familiar bend and I could see “the stacks”. Two of them, exactly as I had remembered. Beacons, guiding me “home.” To familiar addresses, grandma and grandpa’s house, the local drug store, a wooden sidewalk, a poisoned lake, the Anglican church where I was Christened and of course the mine.

The mine was always the only significant employer in the region and the centre for social and economic activities. My mom and dad met while working at the mine. My grandpa was an engineer there. 

Jen and I went to the mine office to see about a tour. The receptionist politely excused herself and returned with a lady who worked in the personnel office. She was interested in my historical connection requesting names and dates. She left us for about ten minutes. When she returned she was holding 3 “employment” cards. 3X5 originals; hand written with fountain pens and complete with employment dates; home addresses; supervisor names; positions; rates of pay; raises; name change from maiden to married and employment end dates. I was astounded. This was a solid connection to the past and, for me, more valuable than the gold extracted in the mines smelters. I was anxious to share them with my dad.

When we got home I phoned to tell him about the trip and to let him know I had mailed him a surprise “package”. A couple of days later my brother contacted me to say that dad hadn’t been feeling well and had been taken to the hospital for tests. I decided I should tell him about the trip and the cards, personally, so I hopped on the bike and headed east down the highway. 

In his hospital room my dad and I shared the memories of my trip and the memories of his days long ago. The employment cards stirred up stories of meeting, dating then marrying my mom; of winters so cold if you spat on the ground the glob would bounce; of a boyhood prank where he climbed one of the stacks and of the two huskies that used to pull him and his sled across the lake to school and back. 

Although we had a good relationship, I never felt as close to my dad as I did when he painted those pictures of his life in the “north”. It was a connection for both of us. Father to son; man to man; friend to friend. The memories and stories continued pouring out over the next two days. 

And then Dad’s test results started to coming in. His kidneys were failing fast; his bladder was infected; his lungs were only operating at only 10%. It was clear he wasn’t getting out of the hospital. The rest of the family was called as the doctor reviewed his findings with my dad. Realizing his situation he made a decision not to resuscitate. And he resigned himself to the wait. The next day a week after his 83rd birthday with his family at his side and an Anglican priest guiding his soul, he let go and passed away. The employment cards were sitting on the bedside table.