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The China Adventures Of Arielle Gabriel

Montreal: Another World Away

Instead of remembering the past through a veil of nostalgia, I should clarify my focus.  Maybe that's not needed, though.
Our fathers all went out to work, there were no exceptions. When I went downtown to Eaton's and Simpson's and Morgan's and Ogilvie's department store with my mother, all I ever saw were women!
That's because the dads were tucked away in offices and factories, working Monday to Friday. I held my mother's hand and saw sometimes children also with their mothers.  I saw Roman Catholic nuns scurrying in their long black robes through the squares of downtown Montreal.  I saw women so stylish that their hats and their belts and their gloves and their purses and their shoes all co-ordinated with one another.
That was our city. We liked it, though we complained about our cars not starting in the winter, and all the snow that needed to be shovelled before you could even get the car out of the driveway. We enjoyed complaining as well about the corruption of local politicians, and comparing our situation to squeaky clean Toronto.
Our mothers too stayed at home.  All of them.  They did not complain about that, because after World War 11, everyone was happy to be alive, to have a man out working, and a woman home to take care of things.  The mood was good for most people.
The third surprising difference was that we all lived in houses, not rented ones, ones our fathers bought in the post war years with easy financing and the lifelong promise of steady employment.
On LaPalme Street, there was a Jewish refugee from Europe, Mr. Abraham, who had a locksmithing business. No university degree there, yet he owned a pleasant house just like ours.  A few doors lived a school bus driver, Mr. Moran, no academic degree either to buy his family house.
Our mothers did not even work part time.  There was only woman in the entire neighbourhood who rebelled against our way of life.  She was spoken of in hushed tones, yet I was a sensitive child.  There was no envy in the neighbours' voices, a slight bafflement perhaps.
What she did was truly shocking in those days.  She ran off with another man, leaving her husband and four children behind in St. Laurent. My mother did not know her at all. The story was repeated as though a green alien had landed down on the parking lot of the nearest supermarket.
The supermarket was Steinberg's and featured tiny shopping carts for little girls to traily behind their mothers wirh.  I grabbed chocolate animal cracker cookies with a cellophane window to simulate a zoo, marshmallow candies shaped like ice cream cones, and always a Little Golden Book as we reached out the check-out till.
My mother gently removed some of the candies, and allowed me to have a new book every time we went shopping for food.
Books, books, books. My West Vancouver grandmother mailed me heavy parcels at birthday and Christmas time of British children's books, with little boys in short pants, and an odd usage of language, such as sweets for candies, and cocoa for chocolate.
My dad started me on Classic Comic Books, so I began with David Copperfield and Oliver Twist reduced to a size a five year could handle. My parents later suscribed me a children's book club, that sent me books monthly.
I had mainstream tastes and loved Little Lulu, Little Audrey, and my favourite, Little Dot.  Dot rebelled against adult authority by painting the entire world with dots, she painted lawns, schools, cakes, dresses, furniture with perfect round dots.
I think now of the part of the world I live in, where children of four compete viciously in competitions, and for places in kindergartens, day cares, nursery schools.  This is Hong Kong, China.
Be your best, my parents and teachers instructed me, in those more leisurely days in Montreal.  What is our life without an inner world?  Our dreams, and hopes and fantasies. 
As a child,  to find an inner self, you must stand very still, not looking over your shoulder to see what is coming up behind you, not to fear you will lose if you do not move fast enough, when your legs have only begun to take shape.

Lamma Island * Lantau Island * Cheung Chau Island
Hong Kong * Mui Wo * Peng Chau Island
Tung Chung * Shenzhen * Nanning * Hunan Province
Bobcaygeon * Pointe Claire * Montreal
Peterborough * Lake Sturgeon * Ontario
Vancouver * Richmond * British Columbia

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The China Adventures Of Arielle Gabriel

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