Memoir Monday – Blind Dates


I was twenty years old and sharing a loft apartment in Toronto with my friend Carol. Carol was working for a travel company. I was working for an insurance
company. Carol began dating a fellow named Chris, who was originally from Jamaica. Because I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time Chris felt it his duty to find me a boyfriend, and so began a procession of men of various backgrounds.

The only thing I remember of the first one is that as he approached the car when the three of us went to pick him up at his apartment building I turned to Carol and
said, “My God he’s too old!” He was smartly dressed in a shirt and tie and dress pants, but I couldn’t get past his obvious age difference. Chris said he was Greek. I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember where we went or what we did. It was not a memorable evening.

Then there was Norbert the Norwegian. He was tall and blonde, very good looking. Chris brought him over to our apartment one summer evening. After we all chatted
for a bit Norbert asked me if I’d like to go out with him for a coffee. Being naive, I agreed. The place he chose was a hotel coffee shop and it wasn’t long before the topic of conversation turned to sex and he was suggesting we go upstairs to get a room. I wasn’t that naive! He finally agreed to drive me home, but he said he had to pick up a few groceries along the way and drop them off at his apartment. He thought I should go in with him. I waited in the car. When he came back he told me to close my eyes, then he touched my lips with his finger and I opened my eyes. He took me home.

Next came Simon, a young Chinese fellow. Simon was alright I think. Again I don’t remember much about our double date with Carol and Chris. Chris must have brought him to our apartment, and I guess Simon thought that after that we were dating, because the very next night he showed up at our door expecting to spend the evening with me. Carol was studying for an exam she had to take at work the next day and was not impressed with Simon’s presence in our small space. I finally had to ask him to leave. I never heard from him again.

The next weekend Chris had a friend visiting him from Jamaica and thought he and I would make a good match. We all got dressed up and went out on the town. Bernard was tall and broad shouldered and very black. He grinned a sparkling white smile when he saw me in my rather short dress. Like I said, I was naive. We weren’t in the car for five minutes until he was urging me to sit closer to him. He played with the necklace around my neck and kept trying to feel me up. I spent the whole evening pushing him away. We went to one night club where everyone was black. I was the only very white person in the place, Carol being of Chinese descent with light brown skin. All eyes seemed to be on me and I wasn’t sure what the attitude was about me being there with a black man. It was 1970 and such things were still a rarity. After a couple of dances, we left. Back at our place pictures were taken and Bernard took every opportunity to snuggle up to me. I was so relieved when they finally left.

Not long after that Carol and Chris broke up and I didn’t have to suffer through any more blind dates, for awhile at least.

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Memoir Monday (a day late) – The Emergency Room


By the time I’d put the parking ticket into the car window and followed Jim into the emergency room, he was already seated inside the glass cubicle having his vitals checked. I thought that was a good sign, but I was wrong.

As I approached the waiting area I caught a glimpse of a scraggly looking young man occupying the first chair, a chair that was behind a post making it out of view of the reception desk.

I took a seat near the check-in area and pulled out my book and water and settled in to wait for Jim. When I looked back around he’d disappeared and it was two hours before I would see him again. Other than the boy behind the pillar, I was the only one in the waiting area. The TV was on, but muted. Within ten minutes, however, I was drawn away from my book by the sounds of people gradually filling up the other seats. I heard a small baby crying and sounding croupy. I turned to see a woman sitting in the cubicle where Jim had been, holding and rocking this little red-faced infant. Beside her stood a young girl of perhaps 8 or 9.

A forty-something woman sat down in a chair opposite me and began to cough a loud hacking cough that made me want to run for cover. I was already fighting a cold and had no wish for more.

A young couple that looked to be in their late teens sat in the two chairs beside the TV and snuggled up for a bit, then moved about the room. The boy was tall and thin and wore black baggy clothes including the required jeans that hung half way down his legs. He carried a set of keys in his hand and ventured back and forth to the outside from time to time. The girl was a little chubby and wore her reddish hair pulled up into a very short pony tail. Her clothes were tight and the jeans low below her rolling waist. From their conversation it appeared that they were waiting for someone.

I went back to my book but was soon distracted again by a constant clicking noise across the room. Looking up I saw a man holding a plastic bottle of water in one hand and the lid in the other. Although I couldn’t be certain I thought that the sound was the result of his clicking the lid between his finger and thumb.

Another woman sat down beside me and began rummaging around in her purse. I glanced up occasionally to see her twisting a pen apart and putting it back together. When the teenagers left their seats, she moved over to take one of them.

The clicking man left and the woman with the baby sat down in his place. She and her little girl began to play a game with pen and paper, hangman perhaps. She too seemed to have a terrible cough. I was surprised when I looked at her face. Her weary face made her appear almost old enough to be the grandmother rather than the mother.

Another man strolled past me to take up a seat on the other side of the TV. He was neatly dressed in gray slacks and a beige summer jacket, but he carried a rather beat up duffle bag. Between the handles lay a paint spattered brown leather jacket. His dark hair was cut short and he looked to be maybe in his thirties or forties. He looked worried and got up several times to walk around then returned to his seat. After about an hour he left. When I looked back to the line now forming in front of the cubicle I saw that he was in it. I wondered why he’d waited so long.

The scraggly young man emerged from behind the pillar carrying a duffle bag and a garment on a hanger covered in cream coloured plastic. He wore a dirty looking great
coat over dark coloured jeans and t-shirt. Beneath a like-wise colourless toque his fuzzy dirty-blond hair protruded. He circled past me then headed for the door. A few minutes later he returned empty handed and reclaimed his position behind the pillar.

A middle-aged woman arrived next and took the now empty seat next to the TV. She was carrying an extra jacket and purse. CNN was on the TV and from time to time I’d been looking up to catch some of the news. The news apparently didn’t interest this woman. She picked up the remote and changed the station to something that looked like Degrassi Junior High. She looked around smiling, as if  expecting that someone else might be pleased with her choice. No one responded. When that ended she once again changed channels, this time bringing in the soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” Again she looked around, seemingly wanting to share her knowledge of the program with someone. By now the teenage girl was sitting by herself in the chair opposite me and was soon caught up in the story. The two exchanged their knowledge and opinions.

I was realizing that all of the people sitting there were, like me, waiting on someone who was being treated.

I turned once again to see if Jim was anywhere to be seen. He wasn’t, but I caught sight of two uniformed police officers escorting a battered and bearded man through a door by the cubicle. His wore only jeans and a t-shirt over his thin body and his hands were handcuffed behind his back.

Beyond the line I could hear someone being told that his or her OHIP card was coming up as invalid. Either they were hard of hearing or they didn’t understand because it was repeated several times.

At last I felt Jim’s hands on my shoulders as he leaned down and whispered, “Where have you been?”

Memoir Monday – The Beginning of Online Dating


In three days I’ll be back in British Columbia visiting with friends and family. It won’t be the complicated and exhausting trip that I took last year because I’m not trying to visit everyone in one trip this time. I’ll spend most of it with my daughter and grandchildren. I may or may not have anything new to write about while there, but I will try to do my Memoir Mondays, by sharing some of the memories of the various stages of my life, as I have written them over the years, in no particular order.

At one time I thought I’d write a book about online dating. The following is the first chapter, written more than fifteen years ago. I’d be grateful for your feedback, good or bad.

The Online Dating Trap (One Woman’s Perspective)

A few years ago, with a need to fill a void left by the passing of my life partner, I stepped out of my comfort zone and joined the game of online dating.  I tentatively posted my profile on one of the sites and began reading those of others.

It was a few weeks before I got even a bite, but once things began to move it turned into one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride.

 I soon found it to be an addictive pastime that brought with it the desperate urge to turn on the computer to check e-mail messages the minute I walked through the door, no matter how tired I was or how stressful a day it’d been.  Sometimes this brought relief to the stress; other times it increased it to dangerous levels.

 Chapter 1


Gerard

Gerard was the first one to respond to my posting.  He sounded very excited in his first e-mail, expressing how interesting I sounded and how much we had in common.  We started exchanging a few e-mails, and then tried the chat online, but it wasn’t working very well.  Finally, I just gave him my phone number and he called me.  We chatted for nearly an hour about travel and hiking and outdoor activities, all things that we both enjoyed.  We did indeed sound very compatible, so we arranged to meet for coffee in a couple of days. In the meantime, we exchanged more e-mails.

He revealed that he was retired from a position in Human Resources.  He had moved from the bigger city about four years ago.  He’d been divorced for two years.  He had no children and had no desire to have any at this point in his life.

When the time came for our meeting, I was feeling nervous, but confident.  I believed I had a lot to offer the right person.  I entered the coffee shop and looked around the area, but could see no one that matched Gerard’s description.  Rather than sit at a table, I figured I’d be easier to spot if I were standing, so I got into line to buy an Icedcap.  Then I saw a tall, slim man in faded blue jeans heading in my direction and scanning the crowd.  I stepped out of line and approached him.

“Gerard?”

“Yes. Judy?”  He extended his hand.  “Nice to finally meet you”

I was impressed.  Although he had described himself as “no movie star”, he really was quite attractive despite his thinning grey hair and beard.  He had beautiful blue yes that looked straight into mine.

We picked up our coffee and found a quiet table to begin our attempt to get to know each other.

Another hour passed.  Being rather shy with new people I tend to do more listening and observing.  I let Gerard do most of the talking.  He had lots of questions.

“Do you like to read?” he asked.

“Yes I do,” I replied, “but I haven’t had time to do much for quite awhile except for the motivational books I’ve had to read for my sales job.  I’d like to start reading for pleasure again though.”

Although I was an avid reader, I could think of neither titles nor authors of books I had enjoyed reading before my life had become so hectic. He suggested an author that he enjoyed and I thanked him.  I tried to make a mental note of it.

Do you like wine?” said Gerard.

It amazed me how many people were wine drinkers.  For years I’d sipped at various types that were handed to me, just to be sociable, but unless it was a very sweet brew, (which it usually wasn’t) I didn’t really care much for it.  I decided this time to be honest. “No, I don’t really like it.  I don’t care for beer at all either.  I don’t drink much, but if I do, I prefer a mixed drink”

“Oh.  I make my own wine. I enjoy spending my evening sitting with a good book and sipping a good glass of wine.”

Damn!  “That’s ok.  I don’t mind if other people drink, just as long as you don’t drink too much.  You don’t do you?”  I stammered.  I quickly explained that I’d once dated someone who made his own wine and drank so much of it that I suspected he was an alcoholic, then I gave myself another mental kick.

At times he caught me off guard, unable to give a quick answer, which he seemed to expect, but being a romantic optimist, I wasn’t too concerned. I thought that once we’d gotten past this first awkward meeting, we’d spend more relaxed time together when we’d naturally discover more details about each other.   I was a little disappointed when he suddenly said he had to leave to get back to painting his house. He didn’t suggest another meeting, but said we’d do some more e-mailing. Still, I went home smiling.

But it was a few days before he agreed to meet again, this time for a walk in a park.  Another hour spent chatting.  Again he had more questions.

“I like to go on long hikes.  Have you done much hiking?”

I had already told him during our first phone conversation about my experiences hiking for two days while in Thailand, so I didn’t want to repeat myself.

“Yes, I was a Girl Guide leader for 10 years and led the girls on many nature hikes,” I replied.

“But you didn’t take them on day long hikes, did you?  That’s my kind of hiking,” he countered.

We climbed up a grassy knoll and he suddenly stopped and pointed to the ground.

“What’s that?” he asked.  Before I realized what it was he was pointing to and could recall the name of the wild flower, he’d already answered his own question.  “It’s Chickweed.”

We passed a cultural building and in the window hung a large Dream Catcher. He asked me what it was. I was happy to explain it to him, although I was surprised that he wouldn’t have known. Was that another test?

At the time I didn’t notice it, but in retrospect I saw that he seemed to be testing me and trying to find fault.  He was even a little sarcastic.  The next day he sent me an e-mail saying that he didn’t think we were compatible, that I didn’t share his interests.  When I questioned him about that he complained that I didn’t like wine, I didn’t read much, I didn’t like opera (I’d answered that question by saying I  hadn’t had the opportunity to go to an Opera, but was open to new experiences), I didn’t like to hike or canoe. Except for the wine, none of it was true. It became apparent that he had “interviewed” me the way he would someone applying for a job. He’d expected certain answers to his questions.  When I didn’t answer quickly or fully enough, I lost points!

I was devastated.  It was a real blow to my ego because never before had I been so bluntly rejected. I knew he was wrong about me, but still it took me a few days to start believing it again.  Dating had certainly changed a lot in the past five years and this online dating thing was a whole new ball game.

The Development of the Kaslo River Trail


The Kaslo River was often subjected to severe flooding during the 1800s. In 1895-96, during the rebuilding of the town after one such flood, the first hydro-electric system was included in the construction. It was privately operated by George Alexander. Kaslo Creek (River) was rerouted southwards into the current channel. In 1914 the City of Kaslo purchased Kaslo Power and Light for $27,000. It was upgraded in 1931 to be fully automatic. Another flood occurred in 1948 and in 1962 the power utility was abandoned, putting Kaslo onto the BC Hydro grid.

Hiking trails began to develop along this abandoned land, but they were treacherous. In 2005 the many townspeople who like to use these trails formed the Kaslo Trailblazers Society and began the Kaslo River Trail Project.

Many volunteer hours over the past ten years have resulted in two beautiful, safe hiking trails along both sides of the river, joined by red-stained wooden bridges at each end, both built by the volunteers. Where parts of the trail have become flooded in recent years, new higher links have been created and reinforced with wooden steps. Rope railings to assist with the climb, and wooden or steel benches, dedicated to donors, make the hike more friendly to people of various physical fitness. Animal-proof garbage cans have also been added to help keep the area clean.

And the scenery is fantastic!

Memoir Monday – Remembering My Dad


In the photo album there is a picture of my mom and dad and me standing on a hill in front of the cottage.  I was probably about two years old.  I look at the picture and feel Dad’s hand holding mine, yet I don’t really remember much from when I was that young.

Dad, Mom & Me

I remember going with him on insurance calls.  One recollection was of a boy/man who I think was celebrating his 21st birthday.  He had a very large head and a body so tiny that he lay on a pillow on the kitchen table. Today I’m still not sure if this is true or it was a dream.

I remember sitting on Dad’s knee in the big overstuffed chair in the living room while he read to me from my storybooks or a “comic” book.

When I was a little older Dad would come home from a week of deer hunting sporting a rough unshaven face and playfully give me a whisker rub.  One time that I remember, he brought a deer home and had it hanging in the garage.  I remember scolding him about that.

I remember having lipped him one morning before going to school and receiving a spanking that left me sobbing. Only once.

I remember laughter.

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I remember him driving me to parties and always being available to pick me up after if I needed a ride home.

I remember him giving me my first driving lesson and afterwards suggesting that I take Driver’s Ed at school.  I remember him being proud of me when I passed and the examiner told him I was a “good little driver”.

I remember going fishing with him for rock bass and perch at our cottage on the St. Lawrence River; and waking up to the smell of  fish frying for breakfast, Dad having been out early to catch pike.

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I remember boat trips to Alexandria Bay to buy Tootsie Rolls and Poppycock. I remember him teaching how to drive and dock our boat, and later allowed me to take my friends out myself.

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I remember how he came to my rescue when a friend and I were stranded with a broken down car in Belleville; and when I’d had enough of Toronto and wanted to move back home; and when the wedding rings didn’t fit and he took me to the Consumers Distributors store to exchange them, only to learn it was too late to get them resized in time for the wedding. The next evening he took me to his favourite jewellery store to buy replacements. I wonder what he would have thought when Brian and I broke up.

I remember him always being there for me if I asked, but not interfering if I didn’t.

I remember his confusion, the sadness of moving him into a nursing home; stopping in on my way home from work to see how he was and finding that he didn’t speak but took hold of my hand and walked me through the halls.  I remember his no longer having control over his bodily functions or understanding of social ones.  I remember taking him to the doctor when he broke his finger, and visiting him in the hospital when he broke his hip, and crying at his bedside because I knew from his vacant stare that he didn’t know who I was or why he was there.

And finally I remember getting the call when we were in Vancouver for my niece’s wedding, the call that informed us that the father who had mentally left us five years earlier had now left us physically as well. He was 82.

I don’t go to the cemetery to pay my respects; I don’t put memorials in the newspaper.  But I do remember and miss him.

 

I don’t remember saying “I love you, Dad” nor do I remember him telling me that he loved me, but I knew that he did and I hope he knew that I did.

Memoir Monday – Delivering Newspapers


I wonder how many people get a newspaper delivered to their door these days? I know there are some, but they are usually delivered by car. Are there “paperboys” (or girls) anymore? It’s been a long time since I’ve noticed any.

When I was a kid, every neighbourhood had a paperboy. I don’t think it was something girls did back then, but I remember helping out a couple of times:

I was outside on the verandah of our white clapboard house, wearing my brand-new, brown sandals, when my brother, who was nine years older, picked up his bag of newspapers and asked if I wanted to help him deliver them.

newspaperbag

“Yes!” I cried with delight and ran down the steps.

I didn’t notice that the sky was becoming a little dark, but my mother did.

“Change your shoes, Judy.  It’s going to rain and you’ll get your sandals wet!”

Too late! I was already headed down the street chasing my brother.

Robert handed me a newspaper and told me on which doorstep to place it, while he did the same on the other side of the street.

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It wasn’t a big route and we were finished in about half an hour. But before we made it home, the clouds opened with a burst of rain that was soon pelting down on us and swirling in huge puddles on the street and sidewalks. I splashed home as fast as my little legs would carry me, but much to my mother’s chagrin, my new sandals were now soggy, and I got a tongue lashing. I don’t remember how the sandals fared after they dried out, but I suspect that they stayed together and I wore them until they no longer fit me.

I remember another time when I was walking home from somewhere, older then, when another paper boy stopped to ask me if I could deliver a paper for him on my way by a particular house. Being shy and unquestioning, I took the paper and knocked on the door, but no one answered. I must have been told to deliver it directly because I remember that I didn’t know what to do with it. I vaguely recall taking it home and asked my dad.  He told me that the boy shouldn’t have given it to me, but he made sure it got delivered.

An Albanian Family’s Journey to Freedom


As you might have guessed, one of the things happening that has caused me many tears is the treatment of the immigrant children arriving in the United States. I’m not going to get into the politics of this, but yesterday it made me remember a story that I’d written eight years ago about a local family’s journey as immigrants to Canada. I wrote it for submission to a magazine that had previously published my immigrant stories, but the editor felt this one wasn’t what he wanted. I’ve never found another fit for it, so I thought I’d share it with my readers here. This is a longer version. Let me know what you think.

An Albanian Family’s Journey to Freedom

On a cold Saturday morning in January the little restaurant is full except for a few vacant seats at the lunch bar. We wait just a few minutes while a woman occupying one of the booths prepares to leave, rather like waiting for a parking spot at the bank, watching for signs that one will become open soon.  We are greeted with the warm welcome by Remzi as if we were part of the family.

 “Good morning.  How are you today?’ he asks with his heavy accent.  By the time we’ve sat down he’s out from behind the bar and standing at our table.  “Two coffees to start?” he asks. 

His wife, Fejzie, passes by on her way to serve plates of the house special.  She smiles too. “How are you today?”

 I sip my coffee and listen to the conversations around us.   It’s as if we’re all seated at the table in a big family home.  Conversations are shared with everyone.  Fejzie & Remzi quip with their customers as if with their children. They remember everyone who has been there before. 

“Did you bring me picture of torch?” says Remzi as he places our plates before us.  At first we don’t catch what he’s saying. Then we remember that the last time we’d been in was the day the Olympic torch was leaving town.  We’d taken some pictures and had shown them to him on the camera screen when we’d gone in for breakfast after the event.  “I want to see the real pictures, not on camera.” We promise that we will print some up for him.

Remzi greets a newcomer at the end of the bar.  Did you know that Pete died? He asks her.  “Who’s Pete?”  “The old man who used to come in and sit right there,” he replies.  “He dropped dead on Wednesday.”

The place is small, maybe a dozen full-sized booths along the wall and one small one.  The tables are arborite, the seats fake leather.  A half dozen round stools, chrome with brown vinyl seats line the white arborite lunch bar, behind which is the grill, toaster, sinks, etc., all within view.  A cook works at the grill and Fejzie & Remzi make toast, pour coffee and tell him the orders.  There is a group too large for a booth.  Fejzie brings out a folding chair from the back and they put it at the end of the table.  Orders are taken with personal questions.  No one is offended.

East City Coffee Shop at end of the day

East City Coffee Shop at end of the day

Fejzie and Remzi run the East City Coffee Shop now, although it’s owned by Fejzie and her son Alban. Soup and sandwiches are available, but the specialty is the All Day Breakfast, which begins at 7 am and ends at 3 pm, when the doors are closed. They work hard, but their roots began in a very different world, one much harder. They both grew up in Albania during the Communist era. When asked about their previous lives in Albania, Fejzie dries her hands on her smudged apron and says, “I could write book! People would be surprised.”

Remzi Sina was born in November of 1945. On February 6th, 1950 Fejzie Talo was born. Before communism took control of Albania, both families were wealthy landowners, but under the Communist Party leader, Enver Hoxha, the rich and powerful in the country were considered enemies of the state. They were stripped of their land, bullied and in many cases beaten or thrown into jail. When Remzi was just six months old, his father was imprisoned and his family was moved into a government controlled house.

Fejzie’s fate was more traumatic.

On September 2nd   1950, soon after he’d been beaten nearly to death, her grandpa, with her father (John Talo) and two uncles, fled the country with the intention of joining western forces to return and overthrow the communist government. Three days after their flight, the police arrived at the door of their home. Seven- month- old Fejzie, her mother Fise, and her grandmother were loaded onto the back of a truck and taken to a concentration camp many miles from their home in Korce. They were crowded into what amounted to a bunk house shared with many other detainees.  Pasta, water and occasionally a few beans were rationed to young and old alike. There wasn’t even any milk for the baby. . Often they got no drinking water because the pro-Communists were given as much as they wanted first, and it was often wasted as wash water.

“If there was any left behind, we got it,” said Fejzie.

Meals were prepared at one central cooking area. At night they huddled together in their allotted one and a half metres square wooden bed.

“Three times a day the police have to check me, my mom and my grandma to see if we’re all there,” Fejzie tells me in her broken English. “There were so many people there.”

The government took all of their land, and possessions. They weren’t permitted to go anywhere without a stamp.  Fejzie says she doesn’t remember much before she was about two or three years old so relies on her mother’s stories up to that time.

Fejzie’s earliest memory was when she was a toddler.

“I remember very good. I go a little bit outside the camp and police see me and throw bomb and I escaped bomb, honest to God!”

Each day Fejzie’s mom tramped through fields to get wood for the police. The rest of her time was spent taking care of her young daughter, and nursing her own ill mother with what resources she could find. Grandma survived. Many others died.

They lived in these concentration camp conditions from 1950 to 1955. Fejzie thinks that her younger uncle, who had been sent to jail for seven years, was better off.

“After five years, things got a little bit better. You were allowed to work to make living, but still under police surveillance. Permission was needed to go outside the work area, which was small. You had to tell police ‘I’m going to see doctor, or wherever’.”

In 1957 they were moved into a small house with one bedroom and a kitchen, no longer in a concentration camp, but they still were not free. They still lined up for their rations of some foods and water, but things such as bread could be bought in a store. Government soldiers watched every move of any anti-communists. If they went to buy bread and it was perceived that they looked at it in a strange way, they were questioned as to why. Food was still rationed, and they had to line up for food, milk and water.  They were allowed 10 eggs/week per family, whether a family of 3 or 10 people.

After another ten years they were allowed a little bit more freedom of movement, but restrictions still applied to them. Fejzie loved school but was allowed only to complete grade seven. No one was allowed to go to high school. When boys turned nineteen, they had to spend two years in the army. An exception was made for anti-Communist families; they had to work the land on the government farms, using only a shovel.

In the meantime, when Remzi’s dad was released from jail after many years, his family moved to an area near the capital city of Tiranë. Theirs was not as bad a situation as Fejzie’s family, but high school was still not an option. After public school Remzi worked as a construction labourer. More people were working for the government and people were more educated. However, their movements were still restricted and permission had to be sought days in advance if they wanted to make a trip out of the area. Pro-Communists and anti-Communists were not permitted to associate.

There was no romantic courting for Fejzie and Remzi. They first met on the day they were married, on August 13th, 1972. Typically their marriage was arranged by their families, who’d lived in the same area before Communism separated them.

After they married, Remzi continued to work as a construction labourer. Fejzie was overjoyed to finally be able to return to school at night. She earned a diploma in agriculture.

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Fejzie and Remzi Remembering Their Past

For the next 18 years she worked on a government farm. They lived on government owned land in a ramshackle house that had neither wiring nor indoor plumbing. It was there that their two boys, Alban and Gerti were born.

Her mother and grandmother lived with her younger uncle, after he got out of jail and had a family. Fejzie remembers that when her Grandma died, it was a tradition to have a last dinner, with good meat, for people to say goodbye, but the government would not allow them any meat. Fejzie’s mother went to live with Fejzie and Remzi after her mother died.

The boys went to elementary school, but, being descendants of affluent families, they weren’t permitted to pursue academic education. They could, however, attend trade school. Alban became a tool-and-die machinist and started working at age sixteen.

During these years, the four men who’d escaped Albania had spent five years in a Greek refugee camp before the UN stepped up to help disperse people. Their hopes of returning to Albania were dashed, so they chose to come to Canada. Together they opened a restaurant in Toronto, but eventually bought The Tops Motel/Restaurant in Peterborough. In time, two brothers each opened their own coffee shops, leaving John with Tops until he sold it in 1978.

In 1990, when the grip of Communism was loosening in Albania, the Sina family were able to obtain visas to Hungary. It happened that John Talo (Fejzie’s dad) was in Hungary at the time, to renew his visa, and he somehow learned of his family’s whereabouts. He helped them start the process to bring them to Canada.  It was easy for Fejzie’s mother to get a visa because she and John were still married, but it was harder for Fejzie and her family. While in Hungary they spent five weeks making daily visits to the Canadian Embassy before they were granted visas to Canada. They arrived in Canada with John on September 2, 1990. After 40 years the family was reunited. Once in Canada they could go to Oshawa to apply for permanent visas. They all lived with John in his house. Life was much better; however, new challenges awaited them.

Gerti and Alban were both enrolled in Grade 9 at the local high school, but Alban found it frustrating not knowing the language and being older than his classmates. He quit after just six months and began working as a dishwasher at the Carousel Restaurant. With his hard work and keenness to learn, he was soon doing the cooking.

Because of the language barrier, finding work was more difficult for their parents. Remzi found construction work in the spring. He knew no English.

“I work on scaffold and Foreman said ‘Go down there and take shovel.’  I go, not take shovel, I take pick,” he recalls with a laugh.

In September Fejzie began working as a housekeeper at The Tops Motel, by then under new ownership. Her years as a housekeeper there and later at The Best Western Hotel didn’t help her much with learning English since she had little contact with other people. A decade later she and Remzi got their start in the restaurant business, when they went to work at The Piccadilly Restaurant as dishwashers.

Gerti finished high school and went to work at Jim’s Pizzeria. Both he and Alban dreamed of one day owning their own restaurant. With that in mind, Gerti later enrolled at Fleming College in Business Administration, but when Alban and Fejzie bought the restaurant on Hunter Street in East City, Gerti gave up on college to join the family business.

“My mom, me, Remzi, Alban and Gerti became Canadian Citizens in 1994,” says Fejzie.

In 2001 Remzi, Fejzie and their two sons, Alban and Gerti bought their own house.

The boys ultimately followed their dreams and opened their European-style restaurant, Gerti’s, in 2005. Alban joined him as the cook, and Fejzie took over East City Coffee Shop. Remzi left The Piccadilly to help her. Immersed in the language of their patrons, they were soon conversing well in English.

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Fejzie and Remzi, happy to be Canadians

Despite their occasional grumbling about being still a long way from retirement, there is always a twinkle in their eyes and a smile on their faces. They are thankful that they were able to come to Canada.

“For Albanians who go to other countries like Greece, Italy, anywhere in Europe, it’s hard to make a living because they won’t give citizenship and they can’t travel to other countries with Albanian passport.”

The last time we stopped into East City Coffee Shop, we were disappointed to find that Remzi and Fejzie were no longer working there. We were concerned until Alban told us that they were retired and caring for Fejzie’s mother. We’re happy for them, but the Coffee Shop just isn’t the same without them.