I had intended on posting something completely different.
But then the phone rang.
Ma and Ba (my parents) called to wish me a happy anniversary. Anniversary? It’s April 17th—wait a minute—It’s April 17th!
This is the day that we landed in Canada from Greece a long time ago. I was just a little one. Walking and talking. Feeding myself. Out of diapers but not even close to school age. And my parents were 23 and 26.
They saved every drachma to get their butts and mine to Canada. There was no Google back then for them to actually know where they were going, what the landscape looked like or even the city they were moving to. They didn’t know the language or the community. My mom talks about how she left everything in bloom in Greece and came to a snow storm in April and questioned her choices.
I can only image the courage and fear in them but also the desperation for a better life, knowing that their homeland couldn’t provide what they dreamed of. If it could they would never have left. I think that’s something that we need to consider as newcomers make their way to this country.
As newcomers the deal was they had to learn English. My mom wasn’t working yet and couldn’t afford child care so she took me to class. We were going to learn together. I sat at her desk, feet dangling. I’m sure she gave me all the prompts on how to behave and what school was. As she tells it, the teacher walked in, greeted the class and then opened her book. “Turn to page 54.” She instructed a quiet class of immigrants. As clearly as I could from my mother’s lap I repeated “turn to page 54” with a junior Greek accent. The class giggled. The teacher smiled and I had my first lesson and my first English words.
Making it Official
At seven it was time to swear an oath in front of a judge with my dad and other immigrants to become Canadian citizens. I was so nervous. I stood beside my dad soldier straight. I wanted to be as official as my little body allowed me. My hands were pressed into the sides of my thighs. I remember the judge’s voice giving instructions and although I didn’t understand exactly what he said I remember the phrase repeat after me. Each person followed the sentence “I (fill in your name) do solemnly swear.”
One at a time each brave new Canadian followed instructions plopping in their name. Finally it was my dad’s turn. He began “I Peter Counios do solemnly swear—” Then it was my turn. Repeat. Repeat. My little mouth opened up and I began “I Peter Counios do solemnly swear—” Oh no! I mixed up my line. I’m not Peter. I’m Evangelia! Oh no! Oh no! What if I failed? Would they send me back? I felt a lump in my throat. My face flushed. Tears formed. This tiny moment took forever. The judge chuckled, followed by a room of soft and kind giggles. The tension broke. I swallowed. The tears never came. I’m still here.
I remember the fear and nerves. I remember my dress as yellow and I remember my first Rice Crispy Square at the reception after.
I have an incredible empathy for all those hopeful newcomers who make the difficult choice to leave their land and come here and work tirelessly without complaint to do something more and contribute to the world in a greater way.
Years ago as something to cross off my bucket list I got my astrological chart done. Some of you may be judging me—that’s okay. In any case during this session the woman said “April 17th 1970? Hm. April 17th?” She repeats. “It’s about career change. Odd. You were so young. I’m not sure how that makes sense.” I exhaled quietly. I know how. And there isn’t a greater career change than an opportunity that is taken. The date was strangely specific and it spoke to me.
There were bigger plans.
I have appreciation for all that Canada has offered me.
Happy anniversary to me and kudos to my parents for doing something so brave and bringing this toddler along.