Hey, the trees are bare naked

I still remember the day I left St Kitts, it was a sweet and sour day, leaving the nest at 19 was quite scary, although I looked forward to going away.  I left the first week of January right after the Carnival season. That December was extra special as my soccer team, Santos had a big celebration after winning the Football championship again.  Of course that season included the game of the century.  I remember that party was held in the MIS building, just behind the government building, I think.  So I am on a bit of a high as the big day approached.

When I received the immigrant documents for Canada, at first I was really excited; the thought of leaving for the big world, new people, new things, a whole new and exciting life.  I had been to a few of the Islands around the region and as you know each island although different is pretty much the same. Green, lots of sun, trusting people.  I had no concept of Toronto; remember in those days there was no television in Trafalgar.  I had seen a couple of Elvis movies which was shot in North American cities and had read some Archie comics but I must admit I was not prepared for Toronto.

During the last weeks in St Kitts I tried to freeze frame everything.  I spent a lot of time sitting by the waterfront just staring off in the distance.  I am not sure why, I just did.  I started distancing myself from the people I grew up with, didn’t want to say good bye, that way they probably won’t miss me too much.  I would walk around the area that I spent so many hours as a child trying to ‘photograph’ the area in my mind.  I wanted to embed my past into my brain.

I memorized what the trees looked like.  I did this by touching them and talking to them.  No, I am not crazy, just freeze framing, I didn’t have a digital camera.  I should have invented that.  I loved that part of my life; the nature, being free, I loved the smell of St Kitts and I had great friends.  

At night I would lay in bed and try to capture the sounds of the village.  I wanted to take the sounds with me.  I slept very little close to the end, didn’t want the days to finish.  I could probably write a book about my last few weeks in St Kitts.  It would  be boring though, would be a book about being afraid to let go, or about a boy who put up a brave face titled, ’man I can’t wait to get out of here’.  10 pages easily.

You can’t freeze time; you have to go when you have to go.

I was recently looking at a show on TV about immigrating to Canada.  This Russian guy came to Canada, had a son who became a multi millionaire.  He remembered the day he set foot in Canada.  He recalled the immigration officer welcoming him to Canada and thanking him for coming to Canada.  Well that was not my experience.

When I got to Immigrations at the Toronto Airport, I recalled being asked a whole bunch of questions.  At that time I thought the Immigrations officer was being unfriendly.  I had a really heavy accent and a little stutter and he kept saying ‘speak up son’.  In hindsight, I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for him.

At one point he shouted, ‘has anyone ever heard of St Kitts?’  I wanted to hide under the table.  He was messing with my head; he told me that he and his wife had recently made a trip there.  It is funny how many people have told me that when I needed a friend.

Toronto was quite a surprise.  My Uncle picked me up at the airport and we drove across the 401 highway at close to 70 mph.  In those days the speed limit was 60 m[h. Wow, I had never been in a vehicle travelling at more than 30 miles per hour.  What an experience and so many lanes in both directions.  I wondered how the cars were able to stay in their lanes and not run into each other.  Don’t laugh; it was like stepping into the future.

In a few short hours I had become a little fish in a very big pond.

I am not sure what I was expecting.  Some of you know me from St Kitts.  We lived in a fairly ‘big’ house. When I stepped outside my play area was a 68sq mile island.  The apartment building three of us lived in was so tiny.  When you step outside, there was a hallway and strangers.  It was very cold, the middle of January.  God what did I do?

If you live in Toronto you may know the area where I lived.  Half way between Dufferin and Keele off Wilson, close to the Yorkdale shopping center.  In time, the shopping center became my oasis from the long grey, dreary, cold winter days.

I arrived on a Sunday; I think back then the plane only flew on Sundays.

Monday morning my sister took me to go get a winter coat.  It’s the middle of winter and I had to go out to get a coat.  I had a sweater that I had brought from St Kitts.  My sister offered me one of her coats to go to the store.  No Comment.

I bundled up; two pairs of cotton underwear, two pairs of pants, two shirts, my sweater and running shoes.  Probably looked like the Pillsbury doughboy. We went to a store at Wilson and Keele.  The temperature was below zero, we missed the bus so we decided to walk. Nothing could have prepared me for this.  I recalled that in St Kitts when the temperature dropped to 75F, we stayed indoors.

I purchase a $48 coat, the best coat I ever had, lasted 10 years.

Now I am all ready to get my life started.  I needed money; I had to go find work.  One of the first things you notice is that every time you leave your house it costs money.  On the way to Toronto I sat next to a couple who was on a cruise ship that had run into trouble so they had to fly home.  We got talking, he told me he loved Caribbean music and he was hoping to buy some records.  I had some 45 rpm records which I purchased as gifts.  I gave him a couple.  He told me that he owned a company and if I ever needed a job to look him up and wrote down his name and number of a napkin for me.  What a miracle you say.

 I lost the napkin.

 My cousin came over that first Monday night and suggested that I go and apply at the post office downtown on Front Street.  I can get a job sorting mail. What the hell, I was expecting a job like……. damn I don’t know what I was expecting.  My thoughts, I ‘wanna’ go home.

I wrote down the directions that he gave me.  Take the ‘X’ bus, get off at ‘Y’, don’t cross the street, take the ‘XX’ bus to the subway, take the south bound train to Front street station get off, you will be at the post office.  If you catch all the busses on time it’s an hour journey.  What an adventure.

Ok so I got off at the first stop.  I am from da Village; my world until 2 days ago was quite small.  I didn’t want to get lost.  I am thinking what would I have done in St Kitts?  When I first started FaceBooking I met this lady online from Haynes Smith Village.  I could not remember her, she had a last name.  When I was growing up folks only had one name or a nickname.  Then she said, I lived by the big Genip tree, well that I remember of course.  So that’s what I’ll do, mark my spot by the trees.  Didn’t take me long to notice.

The trees are bare naked, no leaves, all of them.  All look alike.

 Across the street was a strip mall, I saw a big Kentucky Fried Chicken sign, that’s it, ill stay on the bus on the way back until I see that sign.  I know I will be hungry so it would be a great place to get my first Canadian food.  I found out later that day there was more than one Kentucky Fried Chicken store; it took me 4 hours to get back home.

When you are travelling someplace for the first time getting there takes forever.  In any case I arrived at Front Street train station and exited the subway on the wrong side of the street.  If you know Front Street in Toronto, it is really wide, like two blocks in St Kitts.  Well not quite, but it seemed that way.  

I never learned to walk fast.  That drives Jo nuts when we go for a walk; she takes her cell phone just in case I get lost.  In St Kitts if I wanted to get somewhere in a hurry, I ran.  Two days away from that, I am on Front Street at my first street light.  I looked up, the light was Green.  The street is very wide, my heart raced and I started to cross, slowly of course.  I got halfway across and the light turned to red.  I didn’t run, no need, I had time, after all the cars will stop, that’s what happens in St Kitts.

To this day I have never heard of another person who was ever ticketed for jay walking.  $18, there goes my first KFC meal, I was on a budget.

I did not get to the post office, I was too shaken up and to be honest, I had never looked for a job and I was intimidated.  I had a few jobs in St Kitts but they were always through references.  I started thinking of some stories to tell my sister, she was going to ask.

I had purchased a one way ticket to Toronto, so I had to work if I needed to get back home.

And then my nightmare started.  I could not find my way back.  I should have invented the cell phone. First I got on the wrong train, didn’t realize it until the train started going in the opposite direction.  Later I got off the bus at the first Kentucky Fried Chicken I saw, crossed the street to take the bus home. I found out that the buses did not go past Morningside in Scarborough.  I had to pay again or get off.  The bus driver also took a break.

A very expensive first day on my own and my thoughts ‘will I ever like being here?’

The only Kittitian Couch potato in Calgary.

11 thoughts on “Hey, the trees are bare naked

  1. I truly enjoyed this story, especially as I knew Tony as a child in the Village.

    St.Kitts is so lovely that Canada is a shock to anyone.

    • Hi, thanks for reading, please read the other posts (when you have time, they can get wordy) they are mostly about my youth in St Kitts.

  2. A great story.I was just really cracking up as I read, because there are some similar experiences that I had….that part about making your own map with trees and fast food restaurants…..as markers…a recipe for getting lost……

  3. Tony, this also reminds me of when I arrived in T.O. (Feb 17, 1971). I only had a cardigan which was my father’s and my sister who met me brought me a borrowed wind breaker jacket. Believe it or not I still have the first pair of leather winter boots I bought 39 years ago – it still fits. But the thing I could not get used to was the cold. Anytime anyone wanted to take me out I would ask them to go out and warm up the car and even then I would still shiver and my teeth would chatter. Sounds humourous now when I think about it. Thanks for the memories. Gary

  4. It is so lovely, well said . You left after Christmas and Carnival was over. I left before it start and that was November, `Your story is so refreshing to me thank you.

  5. Uncle,

    I have been telling my mom & dad about how I enjoy your stories. My dad is now going in depth telling me about his life before England & I am loving it. I am going to grannies in a few weeks as I wanna know more about St Kitts life. I wish you were here I’d be picking your brain every day. xxxx

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