“Do you know me?” Ella, my soon to be fifteen-year-old granddaughter replied when I asked if she wanted to go on the Niagara Falls Ferris wheel. I was relieved. I hated Ferris wheels and was happy to skip the ride and most of the cheesy boardwalk attractions down Clifton Hill. Instead, we were soaked on the Hornblower boat ride, aka Maid of the Mist, and reveled in the spray while standing on the balcony overlooking Horseshoe Falls.
Rather than stay at a hotel, we bunked out at my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins on my father’s side of the family tree. Ella tried Poutine, a notorious Canadian specialty made of French fries, cheese, and brown gravy. She bought a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey with her favorite player’s name and number and attended a Shaw Festival performance of The Importance of Being Ernest.
Up for anything, excluding Ferris wheels, she was the perfect travel companion—appreciative, considerate, and helpful. Her Canadian relatives were not so different from us, except that they were the sole Catholics in a large Jewish clan. She wasn’t faced with a huge cultural challenge. This changed when we went to Toronto for the last two days of our trip.
In Toronto, we stayed with my Tibetan friends. Just the wafting incense that greeted us as we walked into their modest home was enough to tell Ella we weren’t in Kansas. Thangkas and quotes from the Dalai Llama hung on every inch of the walls, and Tibetan yak tea steamed in the kettle. Sonam, my friend, had prepared momos (Tibetan dumplings) and cream of mushroom soup. Despite protesting that we had already eaten lunch on the drive to Toronto from the Falls, plates of momos were set before us and expectations for Ella were high. Ella crammed a half dozen momos down into her full belly, smiling and complimenting the cook the whole time. In the evening, we rolled prayer-wheels at the local monastery for loved ones facing surgery and even death. From there, we joined in the Wednesday night Tibetan dancers as they whirled and twirled in a huge circle of traditionally dressed men, women, boys, and girls. Everybody spoke to Ella in English, albeit in Tibetan to each other. Ella, who learned to read at four years of age because she wanted to know what the billboards said, was frantic about not understanding them.
Ella stayed the night with Gayki, the eldest daughter, in her new one-bedroom condominium. Gayki and her fiancée Tashi had moved in barely a week before. They insisted that Ella take their bed and they would bunk on the couch. Amazed at their welcome and unable to resist, she had a dose of Asian hospitality . . . so different from her experiences in America.
Ella and I have traveled together since she was seven. In the early years, her mother made me tether her to me via a leash attached to our wrists. Happily, that is no longer necessary, and hopefully Ella and I will share more adventures in the years to come.
“I wouldn’t change my grandchildren for the world. But I wish I could change the world for my grandchildren.” Anonymous quote.