Richard Sydney ‘Hat’ McInnes hadn’t been this happy since the time he was inducted into the P.E.I. Construction Hall of Fame for being the first person to wear a hard hat on an Island construction site.
Hat was up town shopping when he ran into Louisa and Bobby. They and their kids are home from Alberta for the Christmas holidays. Louie (Louisa was always Louie to Hat and the boys) wants Hat to get the boys together at her mother-in-law’s for a few drinks on Saturday afternoon.
Hat had Mousie MacKay’s phone number, but he didn’t know how to get a hold of Rifle Range Burhoe. He phoned the cab company and asked them to have Swifty Stewart swing by. Swifty was there in about 10 minutes wondering what was up. He hadn’t seen Hat for a couple of months. The gang sort of drifted apart after Louie moved out west.
Hat told him that Louie was home and explained what she wanted, “do you know how to get in touch with Rifle?”
“No problem,” said Swifty, “I just dropped him at the Legion, I’ll go right back and tell him what’s up. See you Saturday.”
Bobby has been working out west for the past two years and this summer, tired of going back and forth, he rented a house and moved Louie and his kids out west and got them all settled before school started.
After an opening round of drinks and a chorus of “Hi, how are ya’s?” and “How are yas gettin’ along?” Louie told the boys things had worked out pretty well.
“It was lonely at first, but, after school started and the kids found some new friends it got better. Then I got a job and that helped settle me down. What about you guys, how’ re you doin?” wondered Louie.
“Well, miss you,” Hat confessed. “Since you left we don’t see that much of each other. But never mind us, tells about the west. What are you doing? Is it really the land of milk and honey?”
“I don’t know about the milk,” said Louie, “but by Jeez there’s plenty of work. And the pay ain’t too shabby. I started as an office temp at a service company getting 15 bucks an hour. It isn’t a very big outfit, but after a couple of months I realize I was doing most of the office work, when I pointed this out to Tim, the owner, he agreed and almost doubled my pay. I’m making really good money.”
“Yeah, but Louie, it must cost a fortune to live out there,” said Mousie MacKay, “from what I’ve heard rents are really high.”
“That’s true, we’re paying close to $3,000 a month for the house we’re renting, so most of what I make goes to the rent and the food,” said Louie. “But, the kids see a lot more of their father, and even though he’s making less because he’s not working as many weekends, we’re still better off than when we were here. And Bobby says we’re going to save a few thousand on our taxes.”
“Well, we miss you being here,” said Rifle, “and you and Bobby must miss your friends and family.”
“Of course we do, but we have made some new friends, and you know just about every time I go for groceries I run into someone from the Island. At the airport when we were heading home a lot guys were asking Bobby about our move. I’d say quite a few of them are thinking about it.”
“And, like yourselves, a lot of them have already moved,” said Swifty. “The paper said recently that 1,100 people left the Island in 2012, and the predictions are more and more are going to leave.”
“Well, who can blame them,” said Mousie. “There was another story recently that said we have the worst school system in the country. Anyone with kids should think twice about staying here.”
“It a problem,” said Hat. “You can’t blame anyone for leaving, but every time someone does, it makes it harder for those who remain. The government hasn’t said anything about it, but when the population drops so do our equalization payments from Ottawa. Fewer people, less federal cash.”
“Come on you dreary lot, it’s Christmas, cheer up,” said Louie. “Have another round on me. I got all this Alberta gold, and I want some help spending it.”
“If you’re buying, I’ll drink to that,” said Rifle, “Merry Christmas everyone.”
- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org