Sheri Monk, Columnist, Pincher Creek Voice
My full-time gig is working as a reporter for Alberta Farmer, the largest agricultural publication in the province. When I accepted the position, I was given until September 1 to relocate to Alberta. At the time, we were living in Winnipeg – we moved back “home” after the paper I owned in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan was, sadly, forced out of business. I was given the option of moving anywhere in the southern half of the province.
It wasn’t easy to choose. I wanted to move somewhere fairly close to the rattlesnakes (the hobby that brought me out west years ago) and yet, somewhere small enough that I could still join a volunteer fire department. Also, I needed to be within a reasonable distance from Calgary, as that’s where all the big-hat cattle meetings tend to be held. And rattlesnakes are only active half of the year at best, and I love ALL wildlife, especially large predators. Pincher Creek fast became the front runner in our selection process.
I have two sons, a large dog and about 25 tarantulas. After having lost my newspaper (and everything along with it) we certainly weren’t in a position to buy again. For the first time in my life, I was going to have to rent. If you think that finding affordable housing with three bedrooms is tough in Alberta, try finding affordable housing with three bedrooms where the landlords will also accept a large dog and 25 tarantulas.
After searching for a couple of months, I began to panic in earnest. I had my heart set on Pincher Creek (even though we had never actually been here before) and I had sold my boys on the idea too. But there were very few homes for rent and of those that were on the market, having a dog was worse than having the plague. And cholera. At the same time. I didn’t even mention the spiders.
We ended up renting a trailer. Pulling up with the U-haul that first time, I was more than a little trepidatious. From the outside, it sure wasn’t much to look at, but the inside was newly renovated, clean and modern. It was smaller than the two-storey homes we were accustomed to, and having a furnace in the kitchen was certainly an unexpected development, but it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Best of all, I didn’t have to hide the dog in the bathtub because I had decided long ago that we simply wouldn’t move unless we could bring him with us.
So, we moved on in, without incident. The neighbours were very nice. There were deer wandering through our yard. There was very little traffic going through the trailer park.
And yet, I found I was ashamed. When we tried to find the place for the first time, I needed help and because I am female, I asked for directions. In spite of myself, I had an awful time telling the person where I needed to go because I was ashamed of where we were going to live! And it didn’t end there. I neglected to tell most of my friends that we were moving into a trailer. My face turned red in embarrassment when I was buying insurance. I have posted absolutely zero photos of our new place on Facebook for the same reason. When I registered the kids for school, I felt I needed to explain how we came to be living in a trailer.
Finally, last week, I decided I’d had enough of shame. And the best cure for an embarrassment or a secret is to hang all that dirty laundry out in the public realm for comment, or judgment. Because then, it’s no longer MY thing – it’s yours to do with as you wish.
We’ve been here for the better part of the summer and so far, I haven’t taken to running around in my nightgown, with curlers in my hair. My boys are still the polite children they’ve always been and I haven’t had any furtive desire to plant pink flamingos all over the front lawn.
Since our move here, I have done a lot of thinking – not just about trailer parks, but about judgment in general. For years, I have judged the people that live in trailers and now I feel pretty terrible about it. I do try and keep an open mind and an open heart about people, places and things, but I failed epically when it came to this issue. And I just can’t help but wonder how many other unwarranted stereotypes I’m harbouring.
One thing is clear though, whatever misconceptions I subscribe to, they have the capacity to hurt. And perhaps fittingly, this one hurt me most of all.
Sheri Monk is an award-winning journalist and moved to Pincher Creek in June of 2011. A mother of two fantastic boys and one terrific dog, she's also a tarantula hobbyist and rattlesnake enthusiast. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org