My new job at a remote bush camp kept my wife Pearl and I apart for our first Christmas in 1946. When the spring rolled in, she joined me in the thick bush. I thought the bush was claustrophobic, but it didn’t bother her.
She just said, “It’s as flat as the prairies, it’s just dressed differently.”
When Christmas rolled around again, Pearl and I had an invitation to a party at Tom and Paula Foley’s place.
Tom was a fellow radio operator, and a man to learn from at this wireless air navigation radio station. I had to work the midnight shift, so I said no to the whiskey he offered this greenhorn. Tom suggested sherry and my sweet tooth twisted my arm.
My total booze experience up to that point was a couple of 10 cent beers at a sitting, easily explained by a $30 per month salary in the Air Force, and my current radio operator salary at $100 per month, which kept the wallet empty buying groceries. Tom tempted me with more, telling me how innocent it was and I liked it too much.
I thought sherry and I got along fine, but two hours later I walked through a light snowfall, got a briefing from Doc, the evening-shift man, and off he went to the party while I tried reading the official barometer to begin the weather observation, wondering why in heck it was so blurry tonight. When I’d finished taking the weather reading, it was time to broadcast it to aircraft pilots in our neighbourhood, part of the Northwest Staging Route.
Doc, on arrival at the party had Tom tune in to my broadcast, which I began with the usual, “This is Beatton River radio the time is… ” a long pause, then, “What the hell is the time?”
I recovered and finished, but the damage was done.
Our boss Bill, at the party, joined in the laughter, while I woke up to the fact that sherry was just a little more innocent than whisky. It was an “I might get canned” worrisome night.
Doc told the party, and Boss Bill, “There’s no aircraft around, we’re the only one’s who heard him.” But he’d told me there were three planes in our sky neighbourhood, the son of a gun.
Walking home in the morning my footprints in the fresh snow were straight down the centre of the road until close to the workstation, when I began zigzagging only kept on the road by the snow banks. I knew exactly where Lady Sherry, as the camp scuttlebutt called it, got me.
One saving grace, Lady Sherry’s influence wore off enough for me to keep Wally Collier happy. We often tuned in to San Francisco’s Associated Press Morse code news transmissions to Honolulu and posted the latest news at breakfast. Wally loved teasing his news-junkie Dad in Toronto that he read the news of the day before him.
Practical jokes kept cabin fever at bay, I was told later, and Pearl told me I was the “Star” of this one. Boss Bill offered me a sherry at the next party, saying nary a word otherwise: a management lesson without words.