The things that are remembered are usually wrapped up in some kind of emotion. Extend your thoughts back to your earliest memories and you’ll find them wrapped up in some kind of emotion. Sometimes it’s a positive emotion and sometimes it’s not. On this day more than three decades ago I don’t remember what that emotion was. It was likely a mixture of excitement and fear.
My parents told me the news a day earlier. Back in those days Poland was still a communist country. Any kind of travel outside the country was heavily regulated. I wasn’t told any earlier because I could have said something in class and then someone could have told their parents and then their whole plan could have been derailed. I never got a chance to say goodbye to any one of my friends at the time. It must have been weird for them. One day I was there and the next day I wasn’t.
We left early in the morning. December was a cold month that year. There was piles of snow all over the place it was cold and dark. We piled into a small Fiat and drove for hours to the airport. I don’t remember much of that ride. I probably slept through most of it. When we got to the airport and the check in I was one of those little kids that they can’t see over the high ledges that all airports seem to have. As we got through the screening I think we encountered a problem. Some piece of paper was missing and we therefore had a few extra hundred dollars too much with us. I remember carrying a fist full of dollars to my mom who was watching from behind a line. All those eyes watching as I walked across the vast distance between us. I think I saw some tears. I don’t think I had any. I was excited about the adventure I was about to go on.
I had a window seat in the first part. We flew to Germany somewhere and waited for the connecting flight to Montreal. There was a lot of waiting that day. My dad always found someone to chat with. The flight to Montreal was a long one. I don’t remember where we sat for that one. It was overnight and I remember getting off onto a bus that lifted up to the door. It was cold outside.
Memory is a foggy thing and as I think about it now I can’t remember if we landed in Toronto and not in Montreal. I do remember being at the Toronto airport for a long long time as the authorities checked out our paperwork. We must have flown from Montreal to Toronto or straight to Toronto to begin with. Anyways we were getting picked up by a friend of my dads over there. They knew each other through connections that my dad had back in Poland and some that he made when he was in Canada the first time. I think a bond had to be put up in order to allow us to be allowed into the country. Our visa only gave us two weeks from what I remember.
I remember having a terrible ear ache from being in the plane. It would take a few days for it to pass. When we got to the house we were going to be staying at for the next little while we passed out. That was the last time I would be in Europe for a long time. I awoke in a new country and over the next few weeks I would learn on my parents plan to emigrate to Canada and all that would entail.
As I recount this story the present day plight of refugees is hot in the media. I have my own story and experience and those that are fortunate enough to come here will hopefully discover a great land and people much like I have. They will unfortunately also discover the subtle undercurrent of prejudice that exists. It is not solely based on race but unfortunately class and privilege. That prejudice however is worldwide so they will recognize it and adapt.
Their parents much like my own will try to maintain some traditions that are important to the culture from which they originated. These are the local customs and food that they have been used to. The parents will be aghast a bit as their kids over time assimilate into the North American milieux adopting the fashions and tastes of their peer group.
The kids will see wonder around every corner and try to get used to the cold dark winter nights. The first spring and summer will have them falling in love with the lush natural beauty of the landscape. I hope that they get to see it that first year that they’re here. They will learn the language quickly almost without trying and will act as translators and form fillers forevermore for their parents. As they mature into teenagers they will question their identity and forge one as a maturing adult no different than any one else at that age. They will however have those memories of their escape and travel to a new land.