For two weeks last month I changed where I slept, how I ate and changed my language. Being on the other side of the country, in Montreal, forces these changes upon anyone – even the most French of us!
I didn’t sleep so well, first at my mom’s who lives just off the Metropolitan Boulevard. With earplugs and a good foamie I settled into my first few nights as if two-years-between-visits didn’t exist. When my sister Michele arrived we moved to my brother-and-girlfriend’s new home in St. Eustache – a comfy, contemporary house in a subdivision of townhouse-like homes all lined up like gingerbread houses. On night five on the other side, I caught up on my sleep until night six.
Changing how I speak, English to French, French to English or not changing language at all was more fun. When mom and Aunt Lyse picked me up at the airport, French poured out of me. On day two, mom and I conversed comfortably in French and English, and with my dad it was good ole’ English. It’s my family’s fault! They don’t make me speak French.
Changing how I ate was easy because I wasn’t cooking! Our Ethiopian experience was a first for me. Aunts and uncles were doubtful about eating with our fingers and eat with our fingers we did! With pieces of soft flatbread to scoop luscious mouthfuls we ate spicy meats, herbed lentils and tasty vegetables. The young crowd loved it – me the oldest of the young, some thought it was okay and all agreed the experience itself made our celebration fun, if a bit different. Good coffee was harder to find outside of Montreal. Starbuck’s and Second Cup were nowhere near so Michele and I found a family restaurant. She was dying for a good decaf latte and had to settle for a decaf café au lait instead – until the waitress said the whipping machine was down. I said, “The regular coffee’s pretty good” so Michele asked for a decaf coffee. We burst into laughter when the waitress tossed a packet of instant decaffeinated Sanka onto our table with a cup of hot water! If the waitress thought we were difficult I imagine she was completely annoyed at our lack of appreciation.
What didn’t change during my trip was the sharing of love and compassion, with my family and also with strangers during a visit to Côte-des-Neiges Cemetery with my dad, sister and nephew. I remembered those who are gone – grandparents, uncles, cousins – and saw that even strangers can be a comfort in times of grief. My nephew, Philip, wanted to visit the grave of his friend who had died in a canoeing accident. After a roundabout drive through the huge cemetery – stop signs, turns and hills everywhere – we visited our grandparents’ and cousins’ graves, then another cousin, then a pit stop to the washrooms and finally made our way to Philip’s friend’s grave. Philip said there was always a group visiting their young friend’s grave but this day only a young-looking couple was present. After quiet introductions we found out they were the boy’s parents. The mother shared her grief and both shared stories of their beloved son. We stayed about 20 minutes and left, feeling we had shared an important moment with two people who needed to share, even with strangers, their plain grief. My family was aware that if any order of events had been changed – even waiting to go to the washrooms – we may have missed this opportunity to share emotions of sadness, love and compassion.
A change of pace in Montreal offered me the opportunity to see life differently, yet again, and appreciate the diversity of life.
Christine Goyer-Swift finds expression through writing and dance, and inspiration through long walks and solitude. “Writing is a window into my life, recording, witnessing and emerging.”