Tag Archives: Montreal

Our story 2- If I could turn back time

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.

Life in Quebec, CA
Life in Quebec, CA

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.” ©

The beginnings

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.

Gaspesie, Canada
Gaspesie, Canada

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……

 

Copyright © 2016 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

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26 years in America

Celebrating 26th anniversary of arrival in USA

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI- It’s been 26 years since we’ve landed at JFK on this day, Dec. 22, 1989. The long flight from former Czechoslovakia finally ended. We took the Czechoslovak Airlines flight (CSA). People were still smoking on jets back then.

I was exhausted with two children and from the previous night ride to the Prague airport.

Me and Al Capone in America.
Me and Al Capone in America.

It was a journey into the unknown, although I have lived in the USA in the 70s. My parents were waiting for us at the frozen airport. I only had a Benetton denim jacket on and I was freezing. I was still sporting long hair and jeans from Austria.

We spent the night at a friend’s house in NYC. And then a long trip to Big Rapids, Michigan ensued. Any water tower that we passed, my son Jake wanted to climb on it. Also he insisted on sitting in my lap over and over despite the fact that he had to be buckled up.

“I’ll make you a chock for you to sit on,” said my dad.

The windows of the gray station wagon have frozen up. We were like in an ice cave from the film Elsa. That increased the claustrophobia in me, as well as anxiety.

We finally arrived on Christmas Eve in Big Rapids. We picked up my brother Vas from his trailer with an enormous flood light in Roger’s Heights.

Mom had the festive supper ready ahead of time. The Czech traditional fare for Christmas Eve is mushroom or fish soup, fried fish and potato salad. And of course traditional Czech pastries. The only choice of fish back in Czech homeland was carp.

wpid-wp-1423063976918.jpeg
Czech homeland

We opened presents and all I could think of was if I could go to bed. Dad turns on TV and there’s the Rumanian revolution. I just have escaped one, the Velvet Revolution. I participated in it on frigid town squares including Wenceslas Square in Prague. I shouted along with two million other people:

“Havel na hrad.”

That translates as, “Havel for president or Havel to the castle.”

I finally laid in bed thinking about all of this.

“What’s ahead of me?”

My husband received immigration visa to Montreal, Canada. I had to make decisions again what to do, “Stay or leave?”

We moved to Montreal and we lived in that great cosmopolitan city for three years. In 1993 we returned to Michigan. I took journalism classes at the Grand Rapids Community College.

In 1995, we built a house outside of Lowell in Vergennes Township and that sealed it for us.

Traditional Czech Christmas pastries.
Traditional Czech Christmas pastries.

The details of all of this are in my memoir “Greenwich Meridian” that I have to complete. It is my goal to pick it back up in January 2016 and to finish our story.

I wish happy holidays to all.

 

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