A New Life in a New Land, Chapter 1 … RAKING LEAVES IN FALLING SNOW


I don’t think you’re going to make it up here Joe!

It was late October in North Vancouver, Canada. My long underwear, wool watch-cap, wool shirt, wool scarf, wool gloves and old army field jacket didn’t help one bit! I was freezing to death and my teeth were clattering like a drunk flamenco dancer’s castanets!

It was bitter cold … for me that is. On the other hand, Larry stood directly opposite me wearing a nothing but a white tee shirt and jeans! That’s it! A tee shirt and jeans!

He seemed blithely unaware of my impending hypothermia and that’s when I admitted to myself, “Joe, you just might not do so well up here! Maybe you should have planned a bit better! Maybe you should re-think this entire live-in-Canada thing!”

Larry was my new landlord. Barbra and I had recently talked him and his mom into renting us their old bungalow on Third Street. We’d managed to leap-frog over a long list of other applicants and were even able to talk them into forgoing their requested security deposit. Maybe it was the pitiful desperation in our voices or our looks of absolute despair, but whatever it was, we were no doubt quite lucky!

 Although small, it had a king-sized lot with a bird’s-eye view of busy Burrard Inlet and the great, hi-rise city of Vancouver. The backyard was covered in a lush, picnic-inviting lawn. A giant cherry tree next to the house offered shade in the summer and a bounty of the best cherries you could ever want! Several smaller deciduous trees led to a single car garage by the back alley. It was the best of all possible rentals!


What a city! What a view! What luck!

Food, however, still posed a bit of a problem. We’d arrived in Canada nearly broke and scrapped the bottom or our financial barrel to pay for our first month’s rent. Our solution came in the form of Harry, proprietor of Harry’s Market, a small grocery store across the street from our new home.

On our first day shopping there Harry suggested a condiment that would go well with the “bangers and mash” ingredients we were buying … he was always helpful that way. No sooner had we confessed that we didn’t have enough cash for such things, or even for milk or eggs, Harry set up a store account for us that literally saved our bacon for our first months in North VanHarry was a real gem … successful in life and business, and loved by all, especially by us!

So within a few days of crossing the border, in spite of Canada’s short-lived declaration of martial law and a bit of bother over “lost” papers for the hi-jacked U-Haul trailer, which luckily fell into a forgotten bureaucratic hole, we were settling in quite nicely. Everyone we met was kind, welcoming and went out of their way to help us. Our Australian sheepdog Sundance particularly loved his new backyard … as did Larry who grew-up there and took special pride in its broad expanse of perfectly manicured, weed free green.

As Larry and I stood chatting in the back alleyhe instructed me in the finer points of lawn maintenance as if reading from a PGA championship golf course management manual. Looking skyward he mentioned the possibility of snow and pointed out that he’d always made sure to rake the leaves before snow season or they’d rot under the blanket of white yellowing the lawn beneath them.

Hey! Let's rake up some leaves!

Hey! Let’s rake up some leaves!

Naturally I wanted to do my best to keep Larry and his mom happy, but owing to an innate propensity to procrastinate, I neglected the raking … that is until I awoke one morning in early December to see a soft deluge of snow flakes drifting down from the Canadian heavens to settle on scattered masses of leaves that covered vast patches of the backyard lawn.

I panicked. Throwing on all the wool clothing I could find I ran to the garage, grabbed a rake and started frantically raking. But try as I might, the frosty leaves were far more difficult to rake than I’d imagined. As the volume of snow increased, turning into something of a white-out, I kept raking looking a lot like wraith with a long rake condemned to a Sisyphean task.

Some of my neighbors came round to take in this most unusual scene, word of which soon spread like wildfire to everyone in the neighborhood. This, combined with my Ford Galaxie 500’s California license plates, confirmed everything they’d ever suspected about Californians … a bunch of inept, deranged, senseless hippies who were too dumb to cope with the real world!

And while I raked blindly in the blizzard that engulfed me, I found I really couldn’t disagree with them … at all!



About Joe Illing

I hope you'll find my posts entertaining, occasionally edifying and worth whatever time you can spend with them ... Joe
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