Peter’s Immersion into the English Language
Heading west our first goal was Ottawa. On a secondary road following the densely populated St. Lawrence valley, we drove quite slowly. The leisurely pace allowed me to take a closer look at the landscape near the river. Hundreds of islands were glowing in the evening sun. Many a romantically inclined individual had built his dream cabin on a treed retreat surrounded by water away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby City of Montreal. The properties on the mainland were generously large, where people had built their homes according to their fancy. Some dwellings were constructed entirely out of wood, others were stone buildings, some were imposing castle-like mansions, but most were simple and of modern design. Adolf must have noticed my admiring glances and remarked that in contrast to the Old Country – he always referred to Germany as the Old Country – hard working people from all walks of life could afford to live in their own house with a bit of help with a mortgage from a financial institution. His remarks swept away any remaining doubts and worries about the plans I had made with Biene earlier this year. Now I was almost certain that barring any unforeseeable adverse circumstances there was no turning back. It was here in Canada where I wanted to put my roots down. Looking at the setting sun that flooded the valley and immersed it into liquid gold, I felt energized, optimistic, and adventurous all at once. I also realized that the obstacles ‘Fate’ would throw into my path would be there to test my resolve to stay. It was almost dark when Adolf pulled up at a roadside motel, where for $6.00 we spent a restful night in comfortable beds somewhere between Montreal and Ottawa.
The next morning at a nearby coffee shop I had my first Canadian breakfast, which consisted of two eggs fried over easy, two strips of crisp bacon, hash browns with plenty of ketchup, four slices of toast, all sorts of jam in tiny plastic cups and the standard not-so-strong coffee. Hunger is the best sauce, as the English proverb asserts. So for me this simple meal was a culinary delight. With Adolf switching to English only conversation, my English immersion program began, when he explained the difference between eggs over easy and eggs sunny side up. Obviously such fine details about the different ways of frying eggs had not been part of our English curriculum at the German high school. But there was much more to learn, especially in the use of idiomatic expressions. The waitress came by our table and asked me whether I wanted her to warm up my coffee. I replied a little taken aback by this seemingly silly question, “No thanks, my coffee is still warm!”
Fortunately, my strong German accent made it clear to her that I had not understood what she offered and that it had not been my intention to insult her. With a shrug she moved on to another table and asked the same question. “You idiot”, Adolf scolded me. “All she wanted was to give you a refill!”
Having received my first English lesson under somewhat embarrassing circumstances, we traveled to Ottawa and then crossed the Royal Alexandra Bridge over the Ottawa River into Hull now better known as Gatineau. There my brother had a friend by the name of Waldemar Klein from Rohrdorf, who immigrated with him to Canada in 1953. His house looked like it was in need of repairs on the outside, downright ugly from a critical perspective. In Germany a residence including its surrounding hedge or fence and even the lawn had to be prim and proper. Much later I found out that some property owners deliberately keep the exterior of the house unfinished with unsightly tar paper nailed to the walls in an attempt to keep the property taxes low. This was obviously the case with Waldemar’s home. However, the inside presented an entirely different view. It seemed to me that every spare dollar was invested into making their home feel more comfortable, cozier and more beautiful. The modern kitchen was equipped with the latest appliances to make life easy for Waldemar and his wife. She spoke mostly French and very little English, which made communication almost impossible. Obviously, she did not like strangers to enter her home. When she had at last comprehended that Adolf was her husband’s old buddy form Germany, she invited us in for coffee and called Waldemar from work. He was making good money as an independent contractor installing windows in the new federal office buildings that were popping up like mushrooms all around the city center. When he showed up shortly after the call, the joy of seeing his friend Adolf was great. Over a case of beer they revived old memories and exchanged the latest information on the Klopp and Klein families. Then it was time to move on.