Excerpted, with permission, from Unworthy Creature by Aruna Papp with Barbara Kay, Freedom Press
One January day there was a very heavy snowfall after Papa left for work. We sat by the window, anxiously watching the blizzard of fat flakes settling upon each other and pillowing up in our front yard. We worried about Papa. He had never driven a car in India. Since arriving in Canada, he had had many minor car accidents. I went out to clear the driveway, but the snow fell so thickly it wasn’t long before I had to clear it again.
I considered the difficulty Papa always had in squeezing his car into our small garage, even in good weather. The three interior walls of the garage already bore evidence of Papa’s difficulties in calculating distances from behind the wheel. Time wore on, and I could see that the driveway needed a third cleaning. I was tired by this time, but nobody wanted to help me. Paul and Heather had gone skating with friends, and the others weren’t interested.
I noticed the garden hose looped over a hook at the side of the house. It occurred to me that I could easily disperse all the snow from the sloped drive merely by washing it away with hot water. I imagined how pleased Papa would be to see a clean driveway on his return from a hard day’s work. So I connected the hose to the kitchen tap and, walking backward from the sidewalk, sprayed hot water over the short, car-length driveway. Sure enough, the heat of the water melted the snow away.
Within minutes the driveway was a sheet of ice. On both sides of our driveway, the neighbours had created a white wall of snow cleared from their own driveways. This gave ours a tunnel effect. When he came home, Papa was greatly puzzled to find his wheels spinning impotently at the entrance to the driveway. Finally he parked at the curb and started to walk to the house. He immediately slipped and fell headlong, smacking his face on the mirror-like surface I had created. We all looked on in horror as he got up and, bellowing with frustration, fell again and again.
My mother rushed out to help him. I was the only one who knew why he kept falling, but I was not about to admit to a thing. I ran upstairs and pulled all the sheets off our beds and tied them into a rope. At one end I attached a leather boot and threw it to Papa. By this means we pulled him slowly up the driveway and onto the steps of the house. With bated breath we waited for him to vent his fury, wondering who would take the brunt of it. All he said was, “Could you not find something else to tie the sheets to? What if someone had seen me hanging on to a boot to save my life in my own driveway?” It wasn’t recognized as a comic moment at the time, but in years to come it became a stock narrative of family lore, guaranteed to elicit hoots of laughter from everyone, and eventually even from Papa himself.
One of our German neighbours had witnessed the whole tableau. He arrived at our house bearing a bag of salt, elucidating its properties in connection with ice, and one more piece of our Canadian jigsaw puzzle clicked into place. He also told Papa not to leave his car in the driveway after a snowfall, explaining it prevented the snow removal men from doing their job. Papa asked where we could buy the ice-melting kind of salt, and we were directed to a store called Dutch Boy, a short distance away.
Papa and I went to Dutch Boy while Ma Ji stayed home with the children. Papa asked a cashier where we would find salt, and she told us where to go. We filled our cart with boxes and boxes of Sifto salt. At the checkout counter, the clerk smiled at Papa and asked if he was going to do some pickling. Papa smiled back and explained to her that he needed the salt for his driveway. The clerk suddenly turned her back to us, and in perplexity we watched her shoulders heaving. When she was able to contain her soundless laughter, she picked up the phone and called somebody, and a few minutes later a man brought us two big bags of driveway salt.
Neither of us commented on our mistake on the way home. It was one of many such trial-and-error learning experiences that salted the slippery terrain of our assimilation into Canadian culture. Slowly we gained the upper hand in our annual battle with winter. Its discontents gradually taught us to stand more and more confidently on our own two feet, and all thoughts of going back to India were banished.Posted: May 30, 2012