If you have ever lived in a postcard destination then you can relate to my experience of this new home. Perhaps it is the sheer geographic size of this most western province but in all my moves so far I had encountered very distinct cultural groups of people and this place was no exception. Actually, in a lot of ways this place was the exception, which actually made it an exceptional place to be. Some of its original inhabitants were from an eastern European country that brought many of their cultural practices to this community. The dress, the architecture, the community events all reflected the heritage of these early settlers. This community knew how to throw a party and had come up with at least one reason each season to do so.
Although by far the largest employer of the town, they were never seen because they lurked far below the surface of this mountainous place exploiting the earth for its natural resources, making quite a reputation for itself around the world. However, it was what was happening up on the surface that would end up saving this community when the largest employer suddenly stopped their operations and pulled out a few years later. Tourism was thriving back then and has become the mainstay of this mountain top destination now, bringing in huge legions of fans throughout the year for seasonally distinct reasons.
The community lived atop a mountain range, nestled within another larger mountain range that separated this most western province from the beginning of the prairie province that bordered it. Within it, this place had its own ‘mountains’ spaced throughout the village. It was called a village, primarily for marketing reasons I suspect for it was large enough to formally be called a city but preferred the use of the word village as its persona. The places I have lived have been funny that way, all struggling with size comparisons to each other. At times it was as bad as being in a boy’s locker room, yet here in this place, small was a good thing, even though we all chuckled because small it was not. The haves need not boast I guess.
There were three mountains that bordered the ‘village’ like a triangle, each one containing a segment of the community. All the space in the middle held the village’s infrastructure, including the platzl, or central party place as the visitors would like to call it. Our family moved to the very top corner of one of these mountains within the village. This was the miner’s mountain where the bulk of the workforce lived and where the high-security entrance was located to their underground city. To get down to the village you drove either up or down a windy s-shaped steep hill, past the hospital, which boasted a very large outdoor garden area, courtesy of the village’s largest employer. If you were a pedestrian you would walk to the top of the windy s-shaped road and veer off to your right where there was a very step, at least hundred-step steel staircase that descended to the village below.
The next mountain was distinctly smaller and you could see it as you stood at the top of that first staircase. It was about half a kilometer across the village and its boast was the very large and state of the art highschool that took up the plateau up top. To access this mountain there were two very steep and narrow roads or another equally intimidating staircase waiting for you at the bottom. The year after I arrived in this new place I entered high school and therefore my daily commute began at the top of the first mountain where I descended, walking down the first staircase, across the village bottom and then walked up the second staircase where I climbed to the top of the second mountain top to access the school. I then reversed my journey, walking up hill both ways to school. Even as I made that daily journey I was already thinking to myself how I would make a point of remembering this one key aspect of my childhood in order to be ‘that guy’ who lamented about having to walk uphill both ways to school. I’ll get to the snow and cold in a moment.
The third and last mountain contained some subdivisions but it was a large looming mountain that seemed to climb up forever. Your journey up this mountain was another very steep and windy road but the trip was worth it as once you arrived as far up as you could go you were greeted with a world famous ski lodge, golf course, and camp area with the majority of this area being protected park lands.
Down in the village you would find the platzl and plenty of lederhose, along with world famous cuckoo clocks, some being much larger than others. Continue and there was the middle school where I first attended, the community center where bier was celebrated on many occasions with one particular time of year being of utmost importance, and the bocce ball grounds that was a very serious sport to many of the villagers. Off to one corner was the grocery store where my dad was now working. It was smaller than the one from the northern village but it wasn’t a promotion that brought him here either. It would appear that he had made a good choice. So many sights and sounds and happy people everywhere. This place was surreal, encompassing the ill-famed “Toys” starring Robin Williams.
I had the luxury of starting school on the first day of school here. My entire year of grade 8 and I only have one memory of being in class in this school and it was my first day. Keeping true to my theme of a new slate, new beginning, new identity in a new place I began my day like any other grade 8 kid. I got dressed, buttoned up my shirt to the very top button, threw on my blazer, grabbed my briefcase, and walked out the door. I entered my new school and to my amazement found that my briefcase did not fit in my school locker. I was horrified. I now needed to lug this stupid thing around with me to each class. I remember walking around the school, meeting new people for the first time, whether it be in class or in the hallways in between classes and the reaction was always the same. My classmates continuously mistook me as their substitute teacher. So much for grand entrances. The next day I chose to keep my briefcase at home.