We had landed in Canada on a hot summer evening and were astounded at the changes in the landscape we witnessed with the changing seasons.
Hot, sultry days gave way to cool, crisp air and the golds, reds and yellows of fall – something we had, until then, only seen in paintings! Then the bare trees signalled the advent of colder weather and sure enough, soon it was colder than I had ever imagined it could get. People tell you it goes down to -25, but when the coldest you’ve ever experienced is 3 or 4 on a visit to Delhi in winter, it’s hard to comprehend how cold is cold in Canada!
But the family revelled in the snow, signing up enthusiastically for tobogganing at the park with the local Scouts group, going for guided winter hikes and yes, attempting to build a snowman. I felt we had stepped into a Christmas card – huge drifts of snow, snow on the roofs, snow weighing heavy on branches, snow shining like a million crushed crystals in the sun. All that was missing was Santa’s sleigh!
We were really looking forward to our first Christmas in Canada. My cousin who came to Canada a few years before us had told me to get small gifts ready for the neighbours. I picked out little artefacts from my bag of goodies that I had bought in India for just such occasions and carefully wrapped them in gift paper. I baked some biscuits (this was before I learned to call them cookies!) and a day or two before Christmas, sent our children off to the immediate neighbours with these and a Christmas card.
I watched from the window as they walked up the driveway of the first neighbour. They spoke for a while and then came scampering back, cheeks red with the cold and eyes bright with excitement.
“Look, she gave us ten dollars each!” they said.
I was horrified. The lady next door gave my kids money? Did she think we were poor? I wondered how to handle this. Should I return it and risk offending her or keep it and risk letting her think we were poor? I waited for my husband to come home and we debated the issue. We decided it was better to set the record straight – we were new, we were cash-strapped, but we weren’t looking for financial help.
I took a deep breath, pulled on my coat and walked up to her door, the two 10 dollar bills in my pocket.
My neighbour welcomed me with a warm hug and insisted I come in for a few minutes. Over a cup of coffee, I pulled out the money and told her we couldn’t accept it. That it was very sweet of her, but we didn’t need it, that there were surely more deserving candidates for her generosity.
I’ll never forget the look of baffled hurt that crossed her face.
In broken English she explained that older Italians give money for gifts to younger people at Christmas.
“Your children are like my grandchildren, no?” she asked.
I gave her a hug and apologized.
What she had given my children was like the Eidi my nani gave us when we were kids!
– AASREEN KHAN