Born On the First of July…..
I couldn’t possibly find the words to express my gratitude to my parents for choosing to come to this great country in the mid-50s.
Although a much simpler time then, the challenges that existed were steeper. No language, no religion (everyone was either Anglican or Jewish). ‘Orthodox’ sounded like a type of penicillin.
No support group other than the community center.
In my father’s case, no mother or father to go visit or even call–not without a major expense of a week’s wages. Only one of his five brothers had emigrated at the time, although he took the boat across the Atlantic with two very goods friends.
By the time they docked in Halifax and took the train to Montreal, Dad was fifty dollars in debt. “I had to borrow the goddamned money from my friends to get to Vancouver by plane,” he tells me. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay it back!”
My mother had no sooner arrived but was quickly on her way to university in New York City–on scholarship no less. Both her brothers were students at UBC one in chemistry, the other in electrical engineering.
The world was a much different place.
Dad lived in a tenement house in the West End and ate off a loaf of bread and a small brick of dry cheese for the first week, until a friend introduced him to “apple pie and coffee.” Neither of which he enjoys today, as a result of having gotten sick of both back then. He worked for the late Hy Aisenstat, of Hy’s Steakhouse fame, who Dad still reveres. The Blackstone Hotel’s kitchen provided a young, skinny, bespectacled immigrant boy all the beginning he needed.
“He kept telling me to save my money and buy ‘real estate’….and I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. I thought that was some kind of beer parlour until my Uncle Peter explained it to me. Every time I think of what I’ve done in fifty five years in this country; the restaurants, the buildings, the thousands of people we employed…I think of Hy’s words. He was a great man–a good man, in his heart, sometimes too good. Canada has been so good to us. But I worked my ass off. I’m still working because I feel like I’m gonna let this country down if I don’t.”
My Mom worked as a seamstress. “The boss made me manager very quickly because I was fast and could help the others,” she says with great pride. Everything she brought home, Mom shared with her parents and two brothers. There were no breaks until after dinner, when they’d gather ’round the television, which sometimes had poor reception. They finally purchased a new antennae; this was considered a huge luxury. “$6.00 was what we spent to get the best one, and we could watch any show we wanted,” says Mom.
It was indeed a very different time.
Canada provided opportunity for my family, as it did to the many millions that came with them in the immigrant waves of the those decades.
And I am most grateful.
I am most grateful to those who sacrificed their lives so that we could live ours. And I don’t mean just the immigrants and their families, who worked hard and lived clean lives.
I just gave you a quick view of how my own blessed parents toiled away in this land. But without the giving of so many others–like them, no success would have been possible.
It would have been all for naught.
So, today, when you’re waving our flag during whatever event you attend, think of the life-saving doctors, nurses and paramedics. Our teachers, who give of themselves to educate our children.
Think of every one who contributes so greatly to this magnificent nation.
But more so than any others, I want to you to remember every soldier, fighter and cop who sacrificed for us–remember every one of those heroes, who made the ultimate sacrifice in securing our safety and our freedoms.
Happy Canada Day, indeed.
God bless you and yours.
I’ll be back Tuesday with more ‘Basi-Virk’/BC Rail.