Family & Friends

A tribute to cherry blossoms and Easter


It was winter when my family and I first arrived in Canada. Our friends and family in Manila thought we were crazy to make the move in the winter time. “Wait until the summer, when the weather’s warmer,” they urged us. But my mother wanted to spend Christmas with her parents and sisters, who were waiting for us in Vancouver. So on December 10, 1992, after interminable delays due to bad weather, and the final, bumpy flight in an airbus from Seattle, we seven Olagueras landed on Canadian soil.

I don’t know if you remember the winter of 1992. By December 10, it had already snowed, and it continued to snow into the new year. One morning, early, just a few days after we arrived, my father gently shook me awake and led me to the window, and together we watched our first snowfall. I was astonished and delighted to see that the sky was pink, and the thick, feathery flakes turned gold in the light of the street lamps.

For the most part, though, that was a miserable time. In early January, we moved from the comfort and familiarity of my aunt’s house and into a rental in South Burnaby. The house was clean and spacious, but unfurnished, the rooms echoing with emptiness. Our furniture, books and paintings had followed us out from the Philippines by ship and were not due to arrive for another month. The day after we moved in, there was another huge dump of snow which made it impossible for anyone to come out and visit us. But it was a Sunday, and my father and younger sister and I decided we had to try and make it to Mass. I remember standing at the bus stop in the whirling snow, wondering, “What am I doing here?” and feeling colder than I had ever been in my life – both inside and out.

Finally it stopped snowing, but it was still cold and I was stuck with the feeling of not belonging anywhere. Home, to me, was still the white stucco house back in Manila, with its red tile roof, eucalyptus trees and ginger flowers in the garden, and one of my best friends living across the park. But that house was no longer ours and I knew I could never go back. On the other hand, to call this empty rental house “home” was a joke.

I found a job and started working, telling myself that at least, unlike many immigrants, I already spoke English. But I found that nobody could understand me, as I struggled to get the accent and colloquialisms of Canadian English just right. New friends were few and far between, and I was terribly lonely. But I didn’t want to unburden my woes on my parents, who already had enough to worry about, or my sister, who had started at the local secondary school and had major adjustments of her own to cope with. My other siblings were too young to be confidantes. Besides, they seemed to have taken to our new life with no problems whatsoever. They thought playing in the snow was fun, for heaven’s sake – while I had to trudge up a steep and icy hill to the bus stop and was already thinking of it peevishly as that “d—ed” white stuff. The children’s innocent enjoyment seemed an affront to my misery.


So things sort of limped along – and then, spring came. Miraculously, the snow melted, the sun shone. Best of all, the cherry blossoms appeared. I had never seen cherry blossoms before. Our neighbourhood streets were lined with cherry trees, and walking to the bus stop was no longer penance but pleasure. To this day, the sight of cherry blossoms, pink and white against a blue sky, lifts my heart and my spirit.

By this time, the shipment from Manila had finally arrived. My mother was happily arranging our belongings, and the house looked better everyday. But there were delights outside as well. Whoever had lived here before us had been an avid gardener. As the months progressed, the garden was constantly surprising us with all sorts of unfamiliar but wonderful flowers. Later, I looked in garden books and found out that they were crocuses, daffodils and tulips. I stuck dandelions in the buttonholes of my jacket, not knowing they were weeds. We had apple trees by the back porch, all adrift in white, as if there had been another snowfall, and in the vegetable patch, my youngest sister discovered strawberries.

It was truly for me a time of new beginnings. Easter Sunday that year was a beautiful sunny day, warm enough for the children to paint Easter eggs on the back porch and have an egg hunt in the garden. Watching them, I found myself smiling, widely and openly, for the first time in months. I had been, both literally and figuratively, in a cold, gray limbo. But spring sunshine and Easter joy are a powerful combination. Suddenly, I was filled with hope for the future, and with the unshakable conviction that I was exactly where God wanted me to be. I was home.

Happy Easter season, everyone!

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