Where are we Going to Sleep Tonight?

Posted on by Roy S

In light of all the discussions around Canada opening her doors to refugees and in this year of celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, I submit this small memoir piece of my own experience of being a refugee. In 1957 after the Hungarian Revolution I escaped with my parents, spending 6 months in Refugee camps in what was then Yugoslavia, arriving in Canada on July 1st of that year. Five years later, also on July 1st, then known as Dominion Day, I was so proud to be accepted as citizen of this wonderful country. This year I celebrate Canada Day with gratitude for this beautiful country of ours.

By Márta O’Reilly

The horses pulling our sled seem to be flying across the snow. There are four of us shivering on its cold wooden bench, Mother, Father, the driver and I. I just turned nine in December. It is now the 6th of January. Father is taking the reins to give the driver a rest but he is not giving the horses any slack. In fact he is making them go faster. The other man is getting nervous. He yells to Father, “Stop! There is the border.” Instead of stopping, my father whips the horses straight for the border which looks just like a snow-filled dip in the land. The man jumps off and I see him roll to the ground. Later he gets up and removes his hat to scratch his head. Then I see him walk back the way we had come through the white and bare fields.

It takes Father a while to stop the horses after the border crossing. I guess he is not quite sure if the man was right about the ditch. But when we finally do stop on the edge of a small wood, he strokes the two steaming and panting beasts, feeds them a bit of hay , turns them around whipping the air at their hind quarters. Making a whooping sound he chases them back, knowing full well that the clever creatures will head to the stables where they came from. “We don’t want to be accused of stealing and sent back because we took the horses,” he explains.

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Marta and her parents just after their arrival in Canada July 1957

Neither he nor my mother say anything more. They just take my hands, one on either side of me and we start to walk. We see no other sign of life than the odd deer or rabbit. It is hard for me to stay quiet but I feel in my stomach that this is not a good time to talk. Besides, I was told to stay quiet before we even left on this journey. It is odd too that I have to wear two of my dresses on top of each other, five pairs of panties, three pairs of socks and a pair of long pants. Even in the cold winter morning I am beginning to get warm now that we are walking, especially trying to keep up with the longer strides of the adults. All I got to bring along was my little prayer book, one dolly and what I am wearing.

I have never seen so much white on white on white. Although it is a cloudy morning the brightness is beginning to hurt my eyes, that and the tears I am trying to hold back.

They said to me yesterday, “We have to leave our homeland now because these people are after our souls. “ I am not sure what that means but I trust them. I think that it all started when the soldiers came and hung those big red stars on the buildings at home. They even hung one on our school. One of the boys had tried to knock it off but they stopped him. We have not seen him since. They wanted Father to “join the party”. He wouldn’t so they didn’t like him. I remember he had quite a few accidents after the stars came. “They can’t kill me because my staff would rebel. They have to make it look like an accident.” I remember my father saying this, with his arm in a sling after he fell from a badly saddled horse. The people that worked for him really liked him and he was not used to bad treatment.

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Marta, a young refugee in 1957, now a proud Canadian

None of us have ever been here before. I see no houses or barns or trucks or wagons. It looks like an abandoned country we are walking through. If I were not so worried I might even enjoy the sparkling white snow drifts. If my friends were here. If we had our sleds. This is not a game we are playing now. This I know. Even my mother who loves the beauty of nature seems to be thinking of things other than the scenery.

Finally, I can stay quiet no longer. “Where are we going to sleep tonight? I ask with tears running down my cheeks.

“Don’t worry, little one,” Father says. But I know from his voice that he doesn’t know either.

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