Oddly enough, I don’t remember leaving Portugal. Nor do I remember my first plane ride—the one that would take my brother Rui, my mom and me to my dad, the man I barely knew, and a new life for our family.
That was in October 1975. I was nine years old and my brother was 14.
But our story didn’t begin here in Canada, it began in Oeiras, Portugal, the place where many of my fondest memories da; it were began in made.
Looking back I realize a how little we had in the way of luxuries. We lived on a very small property where my grandmother farmed and raised small livestock. We were a stone’s throw from beautiful coastal beaches, a short walk to the village and a 20 minute train ride to the capital city. Life was simple and I don’t ever remember missing anything at all.
My dad immigrated to Canada, in January of 1970, I would have been 3½ years old, and so the memory of a father figure in my life is non¬existent. I had a grandmother who was a powerhouse; farming, raising and selling livestock, running a fruit and vegetable stand at the village market, and selling drinks on the beach. My mother was a tireless and intelligent seamstress working for affluent families in their homes during the day and then continuing that work when she got home. In the evenings we should gather around our black and white television set in the living room/bedroom and my morn would read the Portuguese subtitles to us from whatever English show happened to be on that evening. Life was good!
Flash forward to 1975, my brother, my morn and I arrive in Canada. My dad had rented a portion of a house on Wilkinson Avenue for us to live in. In my memory this was a mansion—I had my own room, and so did my brother and parents! A a living room with a real couch, a kitchen big enough to fit a table for four, and a basement (dirt floor, albeit!). Life was great—we were rich!
After having worked various construction jobs, my dad, the man I was beginning to get to know, had landed a job at Fittings. My mom, who had worked on a mushroom farm, was one of the lucky ones who got hired at Sklar-Peppler. Rui and I attended Holy Cross School, where English as a Second Language (ESL) class was offered to all of the recently arrived immigrant kids. Mrs. Jacobs was the greatest teacher in the world and soon brother and I were fluent in English. This was so important, because from that time forward, we would take on the responsibility for any documents, appointments, etc. that required interpretation for our parents.
My dad had developed friendships with other Portuguese families while he lived alone in Canada for the first five years. We would often gather at each other’s homes to eat, drink and dance in living rooms and basements. In the summer we packed picnics, Portuguese style, of course, and headed to Balsam Lake or Outlet Beach for the day. This was our extended family. We filled the emptiness that we each carried for our own families left behind and for a country we would always hold close to our hearts.
The creation of the Oshawa Portuguese Club further extended our small group to create a larger Portuguese Community and to continue with our traditions and language. There were dances every month it seemed, and friendships flourished.
The years passed, my dad was now employed at GM and we had purchased our first home in Canada. My brother and I obtained university degrees. My parents had accomplished what they had set out to do—to give us a chance at a successful future.
The thing about memories is that there are good ones and there are bad ones. Yes, there were hardships, the memories of my parents working two jobs at a time—cleaning offices or picking worms at night, to earn enough to give us the opportunities they never had. And there were great losses leaving our homeland and loved ones behind, seeing the deep sadness (“saudades”) my parents carried for their parents and siblings, and for us, the loss of our beloved mother in 1989. But, within each of those memories, good or bad, we grew and became who we are today; proud to be Luso-Canadians and live in the best country in the world.
So, _even though I can’t recall that first airplane ride that brought my family together, and to Canada, this immigrant girl has many other fond memories of people, places and moments that will always hold a special place in her heart. Life is grand!