Turning back time to life in Canada
By Emma Palova
Note: This is the second part of a story series, “If I could turn back time” based on a prompt by the WordPress Daily Post that spurred my imagination.
The first story posted at https://emmapalova.com/2016/01/17/my-story-if-i-could-turn-back-time-2/ delved into an action packed time in my life spent on the ranch in Vizovice, Czech Republic with my grandparents.
As I start my second story, I look back at a transition time in the early 1990s as the family adjusted to life in North America. This time in Canada. It surprises me that I would like to turn back time to a difficult period in a foreign cold country, where initially I didn’t know anyone, I had no relatives there or any other bonds. I didn’t speak the language and I barely knew how to drive.
A lot of this theme “If I could turn back time” is reflected in my memoir about the three generation family immigration saga, “Greenwich Meridian.” ©
Montreal, CAN After immigrating first to the USA in 1989, our family ended up in Montreal the following year. I wanted to join my husband Ludek who got visa to Canada.
It was a long haul, both physically and mentally. The 10-hour drive on 401 through Toronto gave me a lot of time to think.
I haven’t had time to get used to the rural life in US and I was changing the path that would take me to a fully bilingual cosmopolitan city.
At first we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in LaSalle close to the Saint Lawrence River. My husband Ludek and I slept in the living room which was also the dining room separated by a bar top from the kitchen. We had an old green Chevy that my dad Vaclav gave us.
After living with my parents for six months in Big Rapids, MI I was happy I had my kitchen. I didn’t mind the smells coming from the kitchen. I love to cook. I remember the weekly trips to the grocery store. We examined each item twice before it got thrown into the cart. We retrieved some of them later in the next aisle and put them back on the shelf.
And it was chicken and chicken again; once roasted, at other times fried, curried or on paprika with sauce and dumplings. Ludek’s friends from Slovakia did the same.
“I’ve had enough of your chicken,” yelled Willi at his brother Joe. “Can’t you cook something else?”
“I could but it’s expensive,” said Joe puffing on his cigarette while he stirred the chicken on paprika.
We made many friends in Montreal. The province of Quebec welcomed immigrants from all over the world.
Days went by fast. I went to COFI, the French Immersion School sponsored by the Quebec government full-time. It was a six month-long intensive course with six hours of French daily. We didn’t have to pay a dime to learn a foreign language. On the other hand, we got paid to go to the French school.
It was a very social and productive time in life. I met Judith from Slovakia and Emil from Rumania, people from Bulgaria, Africa, Japanese and Russians as well as people from all walks of life.
We nurtured our immigrations dreams together side by side sitting in desks with doctors, surgeons, poets, writers, musicians, healers, programmers, factory workers, teachers and stay-at-home moms.
It was at this course that I learnt how to teach languages immersion style.
We were not allowed to speak any other language than French, which was for the better of it, because we wouldn’t be able to understand each other.
We had to act out little scenes from life. I remember I did not want to act in the doctor’s office scene, because I am afraid of doctors and the Rumanian guy Emil liked me way too much.
Ludek worked at a Czech chemical company called Anachemia. Actually, most Czech and Slovak immigrants worked there. I worked in their branch for a while packing medical supplies. This is where I met Liba from the same Walachia region that I came from in Czechoslovakia. We would have probably never met in our homeland and out of all the places in the world, we ran into each other at a factory in Montreal.
We had no mortgage, so we could go skiing in the Laurentian Mountains or drive to Toronto to see a lifelong acquaintance from Technical University of Brno, Dana Pastorcakova who was also from Walachia.
Only, now 20 years later I realize, that it was an advantage not to have a mortgage, because it is what it means.
“Mortgage is a death pledge,” said real estate instructor and broker for Westdale.
Times would prove him right during the mortgage/economic crisis in the mid to late 2000s. My artist friends lost their home on Long Lake.
We moved to a bigger apartment also in LaSalle close to an island in the St. Lawrence River.
“You’re living here like on a vacation,” said Liba during a visit.
“I can’t live and write any other way,” I said.
To be continued……
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