On a bright Friday afternoon in April, probably right after lunch, my mother waited for me to come home from Kindergarten at Palmyra School.
To pass the time and to reach out to those she left in Québec, Thérèse sat down and wrote this letter in the backyard of 340 Olive Street, a house built in 1923, which still stands in the City of Orange, California. She sat writing in the sun while Céline Corriveau, her sister, ironed clothes.
I was five about to turn six; Marc, my brother, had just turned two in January. My father was turning 40 in December. We had all just driven from Montréal Èst to Orange on Route 66.
Thérèse passed away earlier this year just a few miles from where we first settled, from the backyard where she wrote this letter.
Thérèse’s handwriting is precise, almost technical, Tektonish. She was naturally left-handed, and like so many others, was forced to be right-handed by nuns. This probably explains her professional-grade manual dexterity, a must for pediatric nursing. She was resourceful, quick on her feet, and had the amazing ability to keep her head while all around were losing theirs.
As a Registered Nurse, she was the one brought in for the difficult cases, starting IVs on suffering, crying, and (usually) thrashing children. She was not a creative seamstress, but she was technical enough to thread IVs into an infant’s vein.
On Olive Street in Orange, we lived eight in a one-bedroom coach house, but none of us cared, we had made it to California. Blue was my favorite color, and the sky that April was bluer than I had ever seen a sky. It was as if we could finally see color in the world, after living in black and white forever. There was neither cold nor snow.
As Thérèse writes, a day or so our arrival in California, I was enrolled in “Kyddy Garden” the day after we arrived. She did not dawdle nor play around when it came to education. I did not complain. I was likely too stunned, and anything was better than the backseat of the 1963 Rambler American monitoring the imaginary line between Marc and I, trapped together for the seven-day trek.
It was time to get immersed in America.