Les rêveries du retraité solitaire

Les rêveries du retraité solitaire

Sam and Kim

Sam and Kim are not their real names. If you saw the movie or read the book Joy Luck Club, their story will sound familiar. They were born at the beginning of the 1930s in China. They came to Canada more than sixty years ago. They changed their names for names that would be easier to pronounce. They were our neighbours at the cottage. Two days ago, we had our last meal together at their cottage. They sold it because they were getting too old. We won’t be there when they leave tomorrow. We’re leaving to go on a cruise in the morning. When we come back, we’ll have new neighbours. We’re really sad to see them go. We had a special kind of relationship with them. Even though we’re over sixty years old and retired, Maria and I felt as if we were like their children. They had a bell, an old school bell, which they used when they used to come to the cottage with their children some thirty years ago, to call them for lunch or dinner. They used the same bell with us. I don’t know how many meals we had with them. Even when Maria was away in Vietnam or in Boston to visit her sister, they still invited me.


At first, it was difficult for me to understand them. After all those years in Canada, they still had a thick Chinese accent. With time, my ears got used to it, but I still had to concentrate and listen carefully to understand what they were saying. We talked about everything and we laughed a lot. My mother even came with us one day. They still ask me about her, and they were talking about going to visit her with us at her nursing home near Maniwaki. They didn’t tell us their story all at once, but I was able to piece it together from what they told us over the years.


They were born shortly after Japan invaded the North of China in 1931. Life was very difficult. They didn’t always have enough to eat. They got married when they were still young and within a few years had two children. Sam was the first one to leave. He came to Canada to join his father who had come a few years before to work on the construction of the railroad tracks in Western Canada. Kim came after with the kids. She had one on her back and one strapped to her belly. She went through Hong Kong. It was a strenuous and dangerous journey. During their first years in Canada, all they had were two bowls and two pairs of chopsticks. They started working in restaurants. They had a son who was born with polio in the 1950s. They had to go to the children's hospital in Montreal every week for treatments. Since they didn’t have enough money to take the city bus, they would walk to the hospital with the two other kids.


They saved money, and after a few years, they were able to invest in a restaurant. Kim was doing the cooking. Things were going so well that they were soon able to buy another restaurant. Because Sam liked fishing, they bought a cottage on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River 36 years ago. That’s where our paths crossed. Maria met them when she bought her cottage in 1995. I met them in 1998 when I started going out with Maria. They still had their condo in Ottawa, and since their children were not interested in coming to the cottage, they would come alone for a few days at a time. If there was rain in the forecast, they would pack up right away and go back to Ottawa. “Nothing to do!”, they would say with their Cantonese accent. They were always busy: working in the garden, cutting the grass, raking the leaves, making repairs and, of course, fishing. Even in their eighties, they are still very active and sharp. Kim has an incredible memory. Last week, Sam came with his tools to install the dart board that he gave us before leaving. After, he helped Maria insulate the basemant for the winter while I was kayaking.


Sam and Kim are some of the most decent people that I’ve ever met. They are generous and considerate. They are interested in everything and everybody, and always eager to help, learn new things and meet new people. I don’t think Kim can read, and Sam can only read Chinese. Nevertheless, they know what’s going on in their community and in the world. They travelled a lot. They went back to China. They went to Europe a couple of times. They went to Mexico and Cuba, and they visited the South on the United States. Sam drove all the way to Key West. Their two daughters are married with children. Their son, although severely handicapped, is able to work.


In a few years, it will be our turn to sell our cottage and leave. Unlike Sam and Kim, we won’t leave anybody behind to reminisce the wonderful time we spent together, to remember that we were there, and to write a little story about us. 





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