The Canadian years, winter in Calgary

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Wednesday 29 October 19:13

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Winter in Calgary

The men beat my father extensively on the back and spoke a very poor sort of  English. They mixed in a lot of English words with the Dutch that they spoke and looked very Canadian, wearing large white Stetsons, the cowboy hat that belonged to Calgary and cowboy boots.’So old boy there you are? Been a long journey, I bet.’’ This is your new home, man.’ My father’s personality forced it down on them. They did not see us. It was just Berkema and his elders and my father that were present on the platform. Like five friends that saw each other again after a long time. My father was a friend of men, they looked up to him for unclear reasons and if he would have been a wolf, without a doubt he would have been the alpha wolf. I do not know why, but he simply radiated it. Everyone always wanted to be with him in good graces and it surprised me to see that these men who had never seen him before, thronged around him. ‘Son of a gun’ said one, slapping him on the back and that was a typical Calgarian expletive that never became quite clear to me, but that you yourself imperceptibly take over after a while., It expresses something of camaraderie and awe.’ Okay old boy’ said Berkema, ‘we will soon freeze solid, standing  out here. ‘This must be your family’ and he nodded at us.

Out of nowhere a few porters appeared and my father pointed, while paying attention to the church brothers, sideways to the suitcases. The white slaves followed us to the station exit. The first steps in freedom, away from a boat on the waves pounding rolling or juggernauting. We arrived in a white wonderland where it was difficult to walk and we headed off on a large parking lot.  Rows of cars, stood waiting, not with the rounded shapes of today, but flat, wide, like elongated battleships with wings on either side of the boot at the end, completed with big brake lights. You got used to it quickly. If there had been only one such car, it would have drawn a lot of attention but all the cars were like it. We, my brother and I were walking along with a man who had been introduced as Jerry, ‘just call me  uncle Jerry, for now.’ ‘Previously, I was Gerard,’ he said laughing out loud. I would have kept that name, if I had been him, he had something rat like, something, it struck me later in my life, you recognize in more elders. Something indefinable skittish, as if you had to look over your shoulder. No, Jerry had been an unfortunate choice of the former Gerard, especially given the immediate association with the cartoon of Tom and Jerry .. I wondered if he realized that during the war, the British, were called Tommies and the enemy, the Germans , Jerries. I assumed not. I would have chosen Jake or have simply made it slightly more dignified; Gerárd.

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‘You speak a little English’, he asked with a heavy Dutch accent in his English, it struck me that he could not pronounce the 'th' properly as he made ​​a sort tzz sound. Not with but witzz.’ Call him Heinz or Claus’, I thought, put him in an American 'b' production war movie, let him say a few times, du lieber and he would be so successful because of his heavily accentuated accent. Especially when a scene would occur where a photo would be brought out and our Jerry would mumble, ’Heimat’ a few times .. He was nice. He could not know that we spoke better English than he would ever learn it. It was our second mother tongue. ‘Yes’, we answered a little indifferent because we felt shame that we spoke better English. ‘I've lived here 25 years’, Jerry continued, ‘and boy you need to integrate hey, that's important. There is a Dutch / Canadian club and I go there every month.’ ‘You know with pea soup and stuff’. I had terrible images there. A club full of upcoming Canadians, who were playing a game of shuffleboard with windmills stuck together, while they listened to ’ tulips from Amsterdam.’ It's what you see in many countries, people stick together and in reality you have to  blend into society. What they accused foreigners, the Dutch guest workers of,  they were guilty of themselves the minute they moved to a ’new’ country.

He walked around the car and we saw how a plug protruding from the grill of the car broke away from a power pole. There was more that stood out as you came closer to the car, the car was on studded tires and all the cars were on studded tires. Not long pointed nails, but they seemed normal rubber tires but with nail heads sticking out. He saw me looking. ‘These are studs, boy, those are studded tires. Without winter tires you come nowhere here’. We got into the car that had  in the front a long bench where you could sit on, with all the three of us. ‘It is different here,than in Europe’, spoke Jerry, who liked to explain our new homeland to us. He was actually pretty nice. ‘You have winter and summer tires here’. ‘Brining makes no sense, here at minus 30 degrees, nothing thaws away and you still need a grip huh? It snows about 7 months a year and there is every night like a foot of snow, which was about 12 inches. Snow blades will come along, to clear the snow but the underlay is already  icy.‘ We listened attentively. ‘You need to change your tires when the  thaw sets in, if not, you’ll break up the asphalt. If you are caught with studded tires on asphalt then you'll immediately get a fine’

‘Uncle Jerry,’ I asked, what was that plug for that you took out the pole’. I had seen that all the cars were plugged in. ‘That said’, uncle Jerry,’ is to prevent that the oil freezes up and keeps the engine block from splitting in half.’ ‘Look today is not so bad,’ he continued, ‘but it is not surprising when it is minus 40 and when the wind blows from off the polar region, then it may just go down to 50 min. That's only a few days, but boy, that is a difference that you notice. If you do not plug your car in, it will never start again. That plug is rising to a coil under the engine and gives off heat, huh? That keeps the oil liquid. That explained why all the cars had been parked so neatly, you just parked at a power pole. You should also never go away in the winter without blankets,’ uncle Jerry laughed, ‘you always have blankets and food along’ because if you get unlucky and get stuck you might freeze to death.’ In Tripoli I had sometimes craved for a bit of cold, but this was extreme. ‘You do not drive here on pure gasoline,’ continued uncle Jerry. ‘There's antifreeze mixed into it, otherwise the gasoline freezes up. The roads were wide and we slipped into the American car and wobbled towards Bowness, where we would be accommodated.

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You didn’t see any small cars, I noticed. ’Don’t these big cars run expensive’, I asked uncle Jerry. ‘Oh yes, he replied, this is a 7 liter engine and running 1 in 3. So 3 kilometers per liter.’ ‘Holy shit,’ I cried out, ‘how big is the fuel tank’?  ’Very big’, uncle Jerry laughed, ‘it runs under the luggage and it fits just as easily 5 bodies in the boot, just like in gangster movies.’’But,’ .. and he paused,’ in this country is oil, the oil is found here, and gasoline is 10 cents per gallon and a gallon is 4.5 liters, yes that does make some difference.’ I nodded, It was not for nothing that these cars would be known in the distant future as "the great gas guzzlers', the huge fuel gluttons, the oil crisis and the burgeoning environmental awareness in the 70s  made these cars disappear. We drove down a street that lay on the outskirts and stopped in front of a wooden house. We are home, said Jerry, home sweet home. 

San Daniel 2014

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