Bruce and I hadn’t been to Vancouver since the ‘70’s. And then you barely slowed down as you crossed the border. So as I was happily talking to the customs officer at the airport explaining that I had been invited as a guest speaker at a college, it didn’t occur to me that this could be interpreted as an immigration issue…until we spent the next two hours in the immigration line.
Our hosts were waiting outside the airport but I couldn’t contact them to tell them the problem. My phone didn’t work and neither did my email. We were dead in the water. Our merry trip to Canada had been brought to a screeching halt. Bruce gallantly took over the duty of standing in the long unmoving line with the missionaries, the Scandinavian college kids and the families from Beijing and Shanghai. I sat and tried not to cry. My American sense of freedom had been crushed. Then I noticed that nobody else in that long line was upset about having to be there. I’m sure they all had places to go, things to do, people to meet, but they were just standing there not sniffling.
It occurred to me that when my great grandmother, Lina Aellen, came through Ellis Island with $1.50 in her pocket and her five daughters, all chattering away in French, she was probably nervous, maybe annoyed, definitely impatient. Family legend has it that she wasn’t happy with the series of events that had led to her husband closing the butcher shop in a tiny town in Switzerland and moving to America. But she had to be excited at the promise of a new start in this big, beautiful country. Maybe she was fingering that $1.50 and wondering if she would be able to feed the girls on the long train trip to Idaho where Fritz had built a cabin on the St. Joe River. Maybe she was scolding the girls as they fidgeted in line. Maybe she was cursing her luck. Maybe she was wishing she was back home with her friends and family. But she was definitely not sniffling.
Lina raised her girls in that cabin on the St. Joe River and they went off into the world to become nurses, secretaries, wives and mothers. One of the girls died too young. The rest had families. One, my grandmother, raised an actual rocket scientist. Lina didn’t live to know about her grandchild the rocket scientist, or the nurses and engineers that accompanied him into the next generation. I wonder if she’d think it had all turned out quite well? It has turned out well. Science still runs strong in the family. Lina’s spirit is strong in each of us.
And what about my dad’s family? They also came through Ellis Island with a passel of kids and not much money. They had been green grocers in Scotland. They were simple people looking for a good place to raise a passel of children. They ended up in Colorado and bought up quite a bit of land for sheep ranching. Then the land became Colorado Springs and our family became leaders of the town. They were doctors and lawyers and business people. The family name was on buildings downtown. As a child I noticed that people treated me like a princess when we visited but it was decades before I figured out why.
They were all simple people stepping across a boundary to face the unknown. They came to a crossing and lined up to face the future. They must have been wondering if they’d made the right choice and what the future would bring. And for these families it brought happiness and sorrow and hard work and success. It took courage and strength and definitely no sniffling.
We finally got to the front of the immigration line and sucked it up to act cheerful for the customs officer. He asked what we were doing in Canada and I explained. He said, “You’re a Montessori teacher? I went to Montessori school!” And with a thump of the rubber stamp we were on our way. “Welcome to Canada,” he said. Welcome, indeed. Welcome to the future.
Duna Strachan, AMS
Soaring Wings International Montessori School
Park City, Utah USA