Yesterday, I called my son in Canada to see how he’s doing, and to discreetly mention my will. Just in case. You know.
His response on hearing my voice was, “Oh, I know I shouldn’t say this; but I’m soooo glad we don’t live in The States!”
No salutation. No “I’m really sorry you don’t have the health security we Canadians do”; no “I wish you lived closer to us”.
Uncharacteristically, I remained silent, largely because he quickly rushed on, cursing the winter storm engulfing Ontario. (Ten hours later it would reach upstate NY.)
“Well”, I calmly replied (about yesterday’s March snow and hail), “When you were young, the ground remained frozen until April and it occasionally even snowed in May– as here, not far south of your border.”
OK—He’s young (as anyone’s son is) and he’s worried about his work which depends on tourism. His favorite daughter lives far away, although there are other children including a testy mother-in-law at home with him. Those may be causing him undue tension.
Unlike him, as an anthropologist and journalist I’ve been in war situations and I’ve too frequently witnessed deprivations and destitution. Unlike him, I also recall WW II rations in Canada, a close U.K. ally. And I can remember how my sister and I as children bore the admonishments of our frugal immigrant parents’ recalling their ravaged homeland.
Being older, having experienced conflicts of all sorts, I understand how disharmony, which normally can be contained or mitigated, explodes; I’ve seen how isolation causes excessive drinking, escalating abuse within a family, alcoholism, assaults.
We and Canadians, and French, Russians, Brazilians, etc., will see more of that very soon. Just as Canadians will, like us, notice the rising frequency of hearses pass en route to cemeteries. Like us, they will have to forfeit a professional haircut, their fortnightly manicure, new trainers, their car repaired, or their immigrant house-cleaning.
We have to expand our compassion at a time like this—we’re all going through a really tough time. Before now, my son has had to endure personal difficulties too. Notwithstanding all that, I was upset and wanted to retort. I bit my tongue, although my dismay must have seeped through our remaining conversation.
Afterwards, I recalled how he and friends fly to Las Vegas for some thrills they can’t find in Toronto, how they escape the Canadian winter by migrating south to enjoy Florida’s beaches where, with abundant time to shop, they report how “everything is sooo much cheaper”, how they drive 300 miles (sorry, 500 kilometers) to and from home to Buffalo or Detroit shopping malls to purchase Trader Joe’s goodies, and clothes and other stuff they just can’t get in Canada, and “Oh, when you visit, bring a case of Budweiser beer”! (I’m told it’s superior to Canadian-bottled Budweiser– certainly better than their Molson’s.) Although not a drinker, a mother can be susceptible to grant those indulgences.
I ended the call with neither a reference to my will nor the waiting plot, one I’d purchased just five months ago in a cemetery overlooking Catskills’ Beaverkill River. (No, I‘m not ill; and, before this month, I did not anticipate a swift relocation to that quiet, picturesque site.)
I’m not seeking sympathy, just sharing a simple example of the tensions we now face, anxieties certain be amplified in coming weeks.
(Finally, I have to admit: It’s a shame Canadians cannot vote for U.S. presidents. If so, we’d all have single-payer health insurance.
They really should be granted their own Trader Joe’s though, and some sand, warm if possible, from our Florida beaches.) END