As I navigate the strange, uncertain times we are all experiencing – a pandemic, protests about racism, the crazy and alarming events going on in the States — I’d like to share a little anecdote. Like the pioneers that came before us, we are also being called upon to be brave now, take some extreme safety measures, and are hopefully made stronger by these unpredictable circumstances. In any case, this little story is homage to my country: My deep appreciation that I am Canadian, and what this meant to my parents, as well.
By Margaret V, July/2020
On August 11, 1952, married just four days, my parents left Holland with $28 and a crate of clothes and pails, for a “honeymoon that would never end” (a fact that my dad reminded my mom of frequently, jokingly, during my childhood). Their destination was the country to which they were most grateful after the terrors of WW2: Canada.
They would initially be assigned a placement — jobs as labourers on a farm in rural Ontario. But when my dad got the job he loved (a landscaping job with the School Board), they moved to a larger city, and he stayed with that job until retiring. My parents felt blessed to be able to buy a house and eventually have a yard big enough for their own immaculately tended garden and lawn – a talent the Dutch are so well known for – and raise their three daughters.
The yellowed and grey-toned photos in my mom’s photo album show a soberly dressed young couple, on a boat deck, but with hats perched audaciously. They were waving goodbye to family and friends — all that they knew — with faces so full of pluck and hope. They were brave, so brave. Upon finally docking in a small Eastern township on the Saint Laurence River (after a terrible, rough crossing), they had a tough struggle learning English, but soon obtained their citizenship papers. They were so proud to be Canadian. Always.
The one story of their struggle to adjust to their new country (that became family folklore) is not about learning a new language, or misunderstanding a Canadian custom (like Halloween), or being snubbed by other Canadians (which all happened) – but about the confrontation with a native animal of Canada. This was an animal they’d never seen before in Holland: the common skunk.
When it entered the barn at my dad’s first place of employment in those hard, early days as newly-landed immigrants, dad was thoroughly surprised and amused at the fuss this small, slow, lumbering creature created. Having not quite grasped English yet, he couldn’t understand what the other workers were yelling or why they were running away. Relying on guts and instincts, he did the only thing a man should do when confronted with a strange, and obviously unpopular rodent in a barn full of valuable dairy cows — he went after the skunk with a pitchfork.
Once all the clothes were buried, the tomato baths emptied, and the spoiled milk discarded, he was very grateful to still have a job.
And that’s why I chose this photo of my dad, taken a year before he died. It symbolizes not who my parents were but who they became (I know he stands tall, representing for mom, too).
The photo shows dad’s fierce pride in what was accomplished, what he and his family survived, and what he rightfully claimed: A home in Canada.