My family by Emanuel Melo
When we arrived at my aunt’s house, there was no place for us to stay but the basement. She, her husband and two children lived on the main floor. Upstairs lived my younger aunt and uncle with their three children and my paternal grandparents. That made a total of 14 people in one house! Yet, we somehow managed to get along very well. I think all our parents were so happy to be together again that they did not mind living in such close quarters.
Within a few days of arriving in Toronto, I was sent to school. Luckily, Charles G. Fraser Public School was just a few steps away from our house on Euclid Avenue. My cousins did their best to teach me some English so that I could get by on my first day. Once I arrived in the classroom and the teacher began to ask me questions, all I could answer in return was, “My name is Emanuel Duarte Cabral de Melo.” He kept asking me over and over again and the children were laughing at me. During recess I asked the other Portuguese children what was so funny and they said, “Well, the teacher was asking where you live, how old are you, where do you come from, and all you kept answering was your name.” I was sent to special English classes for new immigrants so that I could learn to get along in my new country. I had to learn to make the “th” sound and learn about the letters w and y. It was all very confusing but after a while I began to understand English.
When my class went out into the school yard to play baseball, I tried very hard to hit the ball with the baseball bat, but no matter how much I tried and no matter how hard the other kids encouraged me to hit it, I never did. We didn’t play baseball back in São Miguel. I had never seen a baseball bat in my life and, besides, I never cared for sports that much anyway. After that first try at hitting the ball, I didn’t go out to play baseball again.
I will never forget how I learned the meaning of “I Love You.” One night, my cousins and I had watched “Whatever happened to Baby Jane” on TV, where frightening Bette Davis, crazy eyed, shouts up from the bottom of the stairs to her bedridden sister, “I LOVE YOU.” I kept thinking of those mysterious words. The way she said them, I thought, they must have meant something awful, and so the next day I asked my cousins what the words meant. They said that if I wanted to find out, I should go up to my oldest cousin and tell her, “I Love You.” She was sweeping the front yard at the time and when I said it to her, she hit me over the head with the broom and my cousins laughed so hard that they were doubling over with laughter. After that, I could not say “I Love You” for a long time.
I was mesmerised by television as this was the best thing about Canada. I was fascinated by all these little people, buildings and cars that somehow fit inside that little box, all in black and white. Every night, after dinner, we would all sit together and watch shows like The Avengers, The Red Skeleton Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. On Sunday afternoons we watched The Lawrence Welk Show and Tiny Talent Time. Every Saturday night my father, my grandfather and uncles enthusiastically watched Hockey Night in Canada while the women were in the kitchen cleaning up, baking, talking, and sewing. As I spent more time watching television I discovered other shows like Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island and I Love Lucy. These were some of the shows that captured my imagination. The most magical TV moment of all was when we all sat hushed together in awe and watched the first landing on the moon in 1969.
At the end of winter, I liked going outside into the garden to watch the snow start to melt. Snow was still mysterious and wonderful to me and I tried to taste it, surprised by its lightness and blandness. Snow muffled and hushed all outside sounds, creating a silence unknown to me back in São Miguel where street sounds were always loud and alive with the clicking and clacking of animal hoofs and people’s footsteps on the cobblestones. In Canada, all you heard was the muffled swish of cars going up and down the streets through the snow and slush.
Less than two months after our arrival in Canada, my mother received a letter from her brother, who was about to leave São Miguel with his family for a new life in the United States. He wrote how my grandmother was very ill and that my mother should go back to take care of her. My mother was heartbroken. She had spent three years away from her husband and now she was forced to leave him. It was the last day of March, a Saturday, I remember, and my father cried and cried, inconsolably, at the prospect of living without me and my mother again.
I felt stunned, finding myself back at the airport and getting inside an airplane to go back to the Azores without any guarantee that I would ever come back to Canada. This time, the magic of flight was gone.
Word Cloud created by Stephen Dow
Written in 2008 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of my arrival in Canada.