I have managed to turn a three-week holiday into 4 blogs, and a two-year portion of my life into two blogs, so now I’d like to cram a four-year stay in Inuvik into ONE blog. Just for the hell of it.
When we landed at the airport in Inuvik in the summer of 1977, K. was a beautiful happy one and a half year old, and D., spirited and full of life as always would soon be celebrating birthday number three. We were met by W.’s new supervisor who made a big fuss over D. (because that’s always what she demanded and got) and then he asked us how old our other little girl was. Both of us looked at K. with his angelic smile and long blonde curls and decided he was well past due for that first hair cut.
Our new home was an end unit in government row housing. There must have been a dozen or more four-plexes one after the other, all painted different colors, all in various states of disrepair. Right away we dubbed it rainbow valley. We had been told we’d be moving into the NEW row housing (which was on the other side of town and much more modern), so here already was disappointment number one. These places were old and small and there were doors everywhere. In fact I counted the number of doors that first day – there were 12 – 14 if you count the double doors at the front and back entrances. And that didn’t include closet doors. There was a small entrance way with a storage room to the left, and the kitchen on the right. All the major appliances were jammed into this space, including the washer and dryer and there was a kitchen table and six chairs. We would joke later that I could do 90 percent of my housework standing in one strategic spot in the kitchen. The kitchen cupboards were painted lime green and the floor was checkerboard white and turquoise tiles. The walls were yellow. It made me a little dizzy. The living room had a dark blue carpet, mint green walls, and three pieces of overstuffed furniture covered in a wild orange, rust, green and yellow-flowered pattern. Only two of the pieces matched, although the third one came close. The drapes were gold. There were radiators all over the place, but because of the time of year the heat of course wasn’t on, so the banging and clanging involved in the heating process was something we wouldn’t be aware of for a couple more months. There was a door to a hallway, another door to another hallway to yet another door which led to the outside on the other side of the unit. All green. Then came the stairway (some kind of pukey green carpet on that) leading up to a small landing with doors in every direction – three bedrooms and a linen closet and the bathroom. More freakin’ green everywhere. To this day the sight of anything painted green makes me slightly nauseous. We were promised that all kinds of renovations were scheduled for our unit, and we actually believed that. Man, it took us a long time to clue in to the demented ways of the territorial government housing people. But we did learn, eventually. In a couple of years they did paint the whole place white and we got a rust colored carpet that went with our gross furniture, and I got rid of the lime green cupboards on my own. It was not exactly the accommodations we had been lead to expect, but each child had a bedroom, one of which was large enough to convert half of it into a great play area. I always felt a little claustrophobic on the main floor, but I never once forgot to empty the dryer. And after we removed about six doors and stored them in our crawl space under the house, we seemed to have a whole lot more room.
K. & D. with popsicles on the chesterfield from hell.
Just for fun, here’s a picture of my grandchildren. Can we all say deja vu??
Inuvik itself was an awesome place to live. There were a couple of big grocery stores, a hotel (with a restaurant!) schools, a library, churches, an arena, a pet shop of all things, an actual craft store, a bakery, board walks, a hospital. It was practically civilized! We had roads to drive on! And we bought a little blue Volkswagen that I was thrilled to drive around all over the place. Our utilities were now provided by the utilidor – a network of above ground pipes enclosed in slippery steel. We warned D. to never go up on top of them because it was dangerous and she could fall off. She used to go out onto our back porch and scream at the kids who climbed onto them and over them to get down before they killed themselves. Such a sweet child. W. had dabbled in wildlife photography when we moved north, and here his skills in that department soared. We actually began a small business and sold many of them. Can’t say we made a fortune, but it was a lot of fun. This is also where he decided to be Joe Inuk and create his own dog team. Which to his credit he actually did. He got a bunch of pups and built himself a sled and trained himself and his dogs so well that he actually once took his mother for a dog sled ride.
We made some of the best friends we would ever have during our stay there. At that time there was a Canadian Forces base in Inuvik, and I was asked to join their lady’s baseball team. I had a uniform and everything and they stuck me out in right field where I would cause a minimum of trouble. I was pretty good at bat, but the worst fielder in the league I think. We got our black lab while we lived in Inuvik – Wintoba’s Alaskan Crusader. Good grief. We called him Toban. This is also where I started to draw and paint. After a lot of experimenting I decided acrylics were my favourite medium. It was another self-taught endeavor and my efforts surprised everybody, including myself. I had an artist friend look at my stuff and he told me to just carry on, don’t ever take lessons. If I did, I might lose that natural originality and je ne sais quois. That’s artistic gobbledygook for ‘even though your stuff is totally wrong in every way, there’s something about it I like.’ I did lot’s of arctic scenery and pictures of Inuit people and children and even some of animals, although those always ended up having way too elaborate expressions on their faces to be believable. I painted pictures for everyone in both our families for Christmas gifts. I would never consider now doing such a crazy thing, and burdening poor unsuspecting people with artwork that they might find not even close to their personal taste. My mother and my MIL turned out to be my biggest fans – MIL still has two of my paintings – one of a man driving a dog team and the other of a hunter’s shack – hanging in her living room! I don’t know whether to be flattered or depressed by that fact.
We got two paid-out vacations a year, which were originally supposed to be to your place of hire (which would have been Toronto) but they changed that to mean the closest large city, which in our case turned out to be Edmonton. So twice a year we forked out the extra cash and flew from there to Ontario. We had learned that our trips home helped to keep us all happy and sane. People were able to fly up and visit us a lot more easily here as well. Most memorable visits were from W.’s parents, and my sister and her husband. They both still talk about W. going out on the back porch with a big hunk of frozen caribou to saw off a slab for a roast for supper.
Many people remarked over these four years about how well our two kids got along with each other. I guess we were just blessed in that respect because they really never had any huge disagreements about anything for very long. D. continued to be a live wire who entertained, and K. kind of kept her grounded. He continued to be a loveable happy child, easy to get along with and as deep and focussed as D. was flighty. I guess it’s true that opposites attract. They used to play together for hours. They also had lots of little friends and now got to go to birthday parties and on play dates. We started them in skating in the winter and took them on lots of camping trips up into the MacKenzie delta in the summer. For over a year I babysat two little girls for a friend while she worked at her government job. When D. went off to kindergarten, K. and April went to preschool together, and Lori went down for her nap. I was practically a free woman for a couple of hours every day.
We used to go down the main street on the boardwalks with the kids on their new tricycles, D. with little Lori standing on her back runner, and K. and April taking turns on his bike, either driving or riding and me with the dog on a leash. Our own little parade.
W. still went away on trips, but they were usually short and became few and far between. This part of the NWT was very different from being above the tree line, and for four years he didn’t get lost once. Hallelujah.