Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas 2007 Road Trip, Transitions and Bernice Norgard

We headed up north to Babbitt for the weekend to be together with some of Tammy's family. We got an early start leaving home at 6:15am Thursday. Rachel and I drove together following Tammy. We stopped along the way in Virginia to pick up her father, Morey, at the retirement home where he's been living for the past 8 months. It was an icy drive and the further north we got the more cars we saw in the ditch.

I enjoy my road trips with Rachel as it gives us time to really catch up with each other. You would think that we'd run out of things to talk about but we don't. We kick around all sorts of things from silly thoughts to the more complex social issues of our world. And there's always plenty to laugh at. We were just south of Hinkley when I spotted a billboard up in the distance with what looked to be a bird on top of it. I knew it was fake but I said "hey...look at the size of the bird on that sign" Her response was something like... " that real?" It wasn't until we got beyond the sign where she could see that it was fake before she had her answer. We managed to laugh about that throughout the day as I took a few opportunities to talk about the big bird we'd seen. Maybe you had to be there.

Here's a video from the drive up. Stay with it till the end as there's some funny footage of Allie.

It's sad to see how much Morey's health has deteriorated in the past year. What led us to have him placed in a nursing home were two falls he'd had at home. The last of those two falls required an ambulance ride to the hospital. Our other concern was that up until life in the nursing home he was still driving and he shouldn't have been. It hasn't been an easy transition for Tammy's family as there are some who feel that he should be allowed to remain at home. There are many issues associated with Morey staying home and it would be ideal if he could but it comes at great worry and stress to his wife, Elaine. The weekend before, he was home for the night and fell twice. It took two adults to get him to his feet each time. Everyone wants what's best but we don't all see it from the same perspective.

Part of Morey's routine when he lived at home was to walk across the street every morning to the senior center located in the old elementary school. He'd get together with the guys and occasional gal for coffee and conversation. I'd guess it was what he looked forward to mostly when he was home. We brought him there Friday morning and the guys were happy to see him. Somebody found his coffee mug and he pulled up a chair. These guys have known each other for I'd imagine 50 years, in some cases going back to their early days in the mines as that is what brought them to Babbitt. Their numbers are slowly dwindling and they know that all to well.

While we were there I was sitting across from a woman who I'd assumed was the wife of one of the men. She was very knowledgeable about life in the mines and the politics associated with environmental concerns as well as labor/management issues and unions.

As I sat talking with her I was thinking about the movie North Country. North Country was the story of a woman, Lois Jensen, who filed a sexual harassment suit against Eveleth Mines in what would be the first ever class action lawsuit of its kind in America. Lois resides in Babbitt today.

After a few minutes of intently listening to her I introduced myself. Her name is Bernice Norgard. I mentioned the movie and asked her if it was an accurate depiction of what happened in the mines not realizing who I was speaking with. It turns out that Bernice is the woman responsible for women being allowed to work in the mines. She filed suit in 1974 to open up the mines to women as they hadn't been up to that point. Her case took six months to come to trial but she prevailed. She went on to say that the movie from her perspective didn't go far enough in conveying the extent of the sexual harassment the women endured.

Bernice had just finished working the all night shift when I met her. I asked her if it would be okay to take her photo and write a bit about her in my blog. She smiled and said that would be fine. We talked some more about her work in particular. She drives a huge, I think 300 ton truck which can carry a similar amount of weight. She said that she'd be happy to give us a tour of the mine next time we're in town. She mentioned that management isn't too keen on cameras in the mine as they not too long ago had somebody take some photos in the mine and used them in such a way as to skew opinion about environmental concerns associated with the mine.

She's a very cool lady and I'm glad to have had some time to talk with her. I look forward to taking her up on the offer of a tour next time we're in town.


John said...

Happy New Year, Kevin. I hope that our own labor/management issues can be resolved early in the year.

I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Kevin said...

Back at you John!