Being part of things

by Laureen on December 16, 2011

Centre Street, Val Marie

Val Marie, Saskatchewan, gateway to and headquarters of the beautiful and wild Grasslands National Park, population about 135. For just over two years now, home of my Grasslands Gallery, home of me. I make art, and operate the gallery, and show up for a few other jobs and some volunteer commitments. Just like everyone else in a very small town.

Tuesday’s job was at the Whitemud Grocery, our community share corporation store. It isn’t a co-op; it’s a regular business, with owners and a board and a manager and some staff and customers both resident and visitor. I work a regular day each week and one Saturday each month. My regular day is on one of the two truck days. Truck day is when the groceries get here. A semi pulls into the alley behind the store, we open the big door in the wall, the truck driver lays down a rolling ramp to the door, and we start the process of bringing in stock.

The driver unpacks each pallet. Boxes and bags slide down the ramp. Inside the store the staff offload onto shelves. The driver drives on. Staff offload from shelves to a dolly and from dolly to pricing table. Old-fashioned pricing guns are wielded on every item – no barcode readers here – and staff load stuff back onto the dolly or directly out to the shelves. Big plastic trays of bread. Crates of cardboard milk cartons. Boxes of produce and pizza and bottles of detergent and frozen fruit and cheese, flats of cans, bags of water softener salt and potatoes and cat food. It all gets handled. It all gets handled by hand. On my days, it gets handled by Bernice the manager and Stella the full time worker and me. As Bernice gets us ready for the town’s pre-holiday grocery shopping, yesterday’s order grew to 1,500 pounds. There are three of us, but everything gets moved at least three times. So I figure that yesterday each of us did the whole thing.

Think about 1,500 pounds. You go to the gym, you stack the weights and lift. Then you carry the weights 20 feet and lift them again. Then you unstack the weights and lift each of them. Then re-stack them and lift again. Then move them another 20 feet. Walk to the front of the building and ring other people’s weights though the scale and the till. Go back and re-lift. Repeat in combinations for five hours.

By the time the order was in and priced and on the shelves, I was tottering. Bernice and Stella looked fine, though they wouldn’t say if they weren’t. I got home and found out that the library books I’d requested had come in, but I couldn’t walk two blocks to the library to pick them up. The rest of the day passed as in fog. A stiff fog. Today is some better but not all better. Quite a number of parts of me still hurt. By tomorrow I’ll be stronger than I was the day before yesterday.

I love my grocery store job. I’ve run organizations and planned other people’s futures and managed big budgets and negotiated everything, but my grocery store job is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. (Operating Grasslands Gallery does not count as a job. It’s my business and my passion and an extension of the art my life has been built around. I’m talking jobs here.) I get to work with Bernice and Stella, talk to everybody, get stronger. I get to do something that absolutely has to be done. If those goods don’t come off the truck and go onto the shelves, people don’t buy groceries. Worse, they leave Val Marie to buy groceries. A town where people don’t buy groceries very quickly becomes a town where people can’t buy groceries. A town where people don’t buy groceries isn’t a town very long. In tiny Val Marie, a lot of people who want a job work for the Park. There aren’t very many of us available to work once a week lifting 1,500 pounds. Strictly speaking, I wouldn’t have to do this job, not for money anyway. Strictly speaking, how could I give it up?

I don’t have either a saviour or a martyr complex. But I love my tiny town, and I want to live fully in it. Right now that means, among other things, working at the grocery store on 1,500 pound delivery days. It means being part of things and part of what makes things work.

This is a time of year of rushing and being caught up in expectations, and of loving and giving and sometimes of loss. In the middle of all of it, what in your own life means living most fully in it? How are you a part of what makes things work?


Elaine December 20, 2011 at 10:49 am

Yay! Welcome to the blogging neighbourhood!

I think a part of my making things work – outside of my home and business life – is the volunteering with the art and music folks in town. In such a small community, the scene doesn’t make nearly enough money to run on cash and would collapse, or worse, fade away without the sheer labour involved being provided by warm bodies.

Louise in SW Saskatchewan December 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Welcome to the Blogosphere Laureen!

I’ve lived in places in smaller than Val Marie although they were closer to other small places (grin). Being part of the community means pitching in to make it a community. I think it’s great that you all work to keep the store running. I try to make a point of shopping there when I visit Val Marie.

You’ll find you enjoy posting about life and art. I need to get back to doing my posts on a more regular basis.

Laureen December 20, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Thanks, Elaine. Glad to be here where you are!

Laureen December 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Look forward to seeing you out here, Louise, and thanks.

Melissa Dinwiddie December 21, 2011 at 1:50 am

I love this little glimpse into your life in Val Marie, Laureen! And I totally appreciate your relationship with your job at the grocery.

Though I don’t do any heavy lifting, I love my twice-a-week-for-a-half-hour job behind the desk at my yoga studio (for which I’m paid in unlimited classes). I was surprised at how *much* I liked it — I love feeling part of the community; I get to know people *way* better now; I feel like I make a difference.

Plus it ensures that I get to class at least twice a week, which is worth its weight in gold. πŸ˜‰

I look forward to reading more of your stories!

Laureen December 21, 2011 at 8:05 am

I love it that you get it, Melissa. And I love the idea of being a storyteller. Thanks.

Cory Huff December 21, 2011 at 11:23 am

Rock on Laureen! Way to get that first post out there. Nice little slice of life, as they say.

Laureen December 21, 2011 at 11:43 am

Thanks for the support, Cory – much appreciated.

Barbara Campbell January 10, 2012 at 10:36 pm

I so glad that Whitemud Grocery Corporation is thriving, and that truck day is still as special and as physical as it was I was an owner in 2000 – 2006. I loved getting to know all the customers, and feeling that we were doing something really important . We were. The store is the heart of the community, and it gave our daily work great importance. Now, as far as being a part of things, I am secretary to the board of the Good Food Junction, on the west side of Saskatoon. We are putting a grocery store into the core neighbourhoods, which have not had one since l998. The building, Station 20 West, is under construction, and we hope to open the store this summer. So my Whitemud Grocery experience is being transferred to Saskatoon! Best wishes to all.

Barb Campbell

Laureen January 11, 2012 at 8:22 am

Best wishes to you too, Barb, and to your very special project.

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