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December 18, 2012
PRINCE ALBERT, SK, Dec. 18, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Last year I was getting some medical tests at a private clinic in Alberta and I struck up a conversation with one of the techs. She told me she had a ton of job offers in Saskatchewan after she graduated but went to Alberta because she felt there were too many hicks in Sask.
What was I supposed to say? Nothing. We do have a lot of hicks in Saskatchewan – we are up to over one million and rising. And I had the honor of being mentored by one of the greatest hicks Saskatchewan ever produced.
The problem is that people have the wrong idea of what a Saskatchewan hick really is. I would define a Saskatchewan hick as a unique individual, to be sure, but honest, hardworking, willing to help anyone in need, proud, strong, and resilient.
I returned to Prince Albert to complete my insurance adjuster training under the mentorship of the legendary Earl Keall, the Godfather of all road adjusters: a man who had helped thousands of people rebuild their lives from all types of devastating losses. All my supervisor told me was, ‘Be very careful. Earl is a rather unique individual.’ I walked into the office with my stack of paperwork and presented myself to Earl. ‘Put all that stuff down and watch it doesn’t fall on you or you could be crippled. Then fetch us a coffee, Ronald.’ Until that day only my mother had called me Ronald, but it seemed alright coming from him. I was very nervous and Earl knew this, but after about 20 minutes he had me laughing and, although I didn’t know it then, we had become a team and lifelong friends.
At first every day was the same: read manuals, review them with Earl, and read some more. Then it happened, I heard those famous words, ‘Ronald, fetch us a coffee and get in here.’ So I fetched us a coffee and went in. ‘Want to go on a road trip?’ (Finally!) ‘Yes – you bet!’ ‘OK I like to leave early so meet me here at 6:30 a.m. and bring lunch. The first rule is we can bill up to $20 for a meal with no receipt – so that lunch is worth $19.95 in your pocket.’ This was the first of many tips I was to learn from Earl.
The next day I was at the office at 6 a.m., ready to go with lunch and briefcase in hand. Earl pulled up and we grabbed a batch of hail and wind claims from the office and left for the Leask area. ‘Wanna drive, Ronald?’ (Sure!) Off we went. On the way I learned a lot of very good driving and safety tips from Earl. Just out of Shellbrook he told me to slow down a bit, then he rolled down his window, reached in the backseat, grabbed a .22 rifle, and started shooting gophers from the moving vehicle. ‘Keep your mouth open. It helps with the concussion,’ he said. What do you say or do in a situation like that? ‘A great day to be on the road,’ he said. I just kept driving – scared for my job and for my life.
After settling a few claims, we eventually ended up deep in the country. At our last stop I noted the ram-shackle buildings, an abandoned school bus, and an old house with a TV antenna made out of a long pole with a bicycle tire on top. ‘What a hick!’ I said. ‘Maybe he works for NASA, Ronald, don’t prejudge.’ Earl suggested I handle this one (he had hunting to do). After I got by the standard mean dog, a man came out of the house. (I swear I heard banjo music.) I gave him my card and asked him how bad the damage was. ‘Pretty bad,’ he said, ‘no reception at all and my roof is leaking.’ In we went and I quickly established that he did not work for NASA.
Not really having a clue and being scared to go up on the roof, I did some quick calculations for a new shingle job and tried to place a value on the antenna. ‘Made it myself,’ he said, ‘can probably make another for about $30.’ Done! I paid him out and got in the car. Earl got in, put his rifle in the back, and asked how I made out. ‘Cash settled him,’ I said, ‘And he doesn’t work for NASA, by the way.’ ‘Neither do you, Ronald, neither do you. If you always remember that and not to prejudge, I think you will work out just fine.’
Three weeks ago I attended this great man’s funeral. We had been friends for over 25 years and I had learned more from him than anyone I have ever met. I laughed for the entire two hour drive to the funeral in North Battleford, thinking of all the adventures we had been on together. Maybe the air was dry, or it was allergies, but my eyes seemed to be moist for most of the ride home. The world could use a few more hicks from Saskatchewan.
Troy Media Columnist Ron Norfield was owner/operator of Salvage Divers Inc, an underwater recovery company, a former claims adjuster and a career fire fighter. He lives in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
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