Grade 8 classroom assignment
Baiden McCallum, Island Public and Natural Science School
Until a few years ago, I lived in the beautiful suburbs of Paris, France. My father was the owner of a humble restaurant named “The Lady of the Camellias”. He became quite wealthy by playing the stock market smartly. I didn’t have a mother, never really did. She died when I was four months old. I didn’t feel bad or empty not having a mother, for my father was always very kind and supportive. My father and I would invest in a promising company, or take a chance and invest in a fairly unknown one, and see what the result was. We became fairly rich and well-off.
We lived in a nice neighbourhood, with big houses, big cars, big trees, you know, the usual rich-person neighbourhood. It was a nice quiet place to live. Very peaceful. I was never one of those snooty rich people, though. Didn’t like them, never did.
About two years ago, we invested in a very promising company called Enron. The stocks kept going up, and the CEO kept saying they would continue climbing in value. My father believed him and bought a large number of Enron stocks when they were at $90. We were horribly mistaken. We lost almost everything. We became bankrupt and had to sell our house and just about all of our luxurious belongings.
My father had enough income from the restaurant to support us, but he decided to sell it and use the money to start a new life in America. I always liked baseball, and my favourite Major League Baseball team was the Cleveland Indians, so we decided to move there.
That was almost two years ago. It seemed like an eternity. I wasn’t really enjoying myself here in Cleveland, and as far as I could tell, neither was my dad; actually I think he still doesn’t. He works at a McDonald’s restaurant as a floor manager about a block away from our building. He thinks American food is a disgrace, “les ordures” he calls it, nothing compared to the French dishes he would make at his old restaurant, but he needs the job.
We now live in an apartment in the downtown area. It’s diverse around here; people speak Spanish, Italian, Iranian, Tagalog, but no one else that I could find speaks French. I didn’t really have many friends, partly because everyone kept to themselves. But lately people have become more social. The mood of the whole neighbourhood seems to have changed from solemn to almost happy. I think it’s related to this new garden that has appeared in the lot next to our building.
The last few months, people have been paying me a few bucks to watch over their plants in this garden.
“Guy, would you weed my zucchini while I’m at work? My back, you know, it aches.”
“Bien sûr. Happy to do so.”
I’m a fairly husky sixteen-year-old, and certainly no pushover, and I guess others think that too. I find looking after the garden quite peaceful. In Paris we had a gardener, and all we had were roses.
Recently, Raul, who grows tomatoes, whom I’ve recently befriended, offered me a few feet of his garden that I could use. He said the tomatoes he was growing there died, and that he didn’t want to go to the trouble of planting new ones. I talked to my dad about the space, and asked if he wanted to grow anything in particular. “Camellias,” he replied without hesitation. “Camellias were your mama’s fleurs favorites.” He said that he would like to plant them in memory of her. En affectueux souvenir d’elle. Apparently, when my mother and father were dating, she would plant camellias in my father’s garden. It was very touching. My father then brought out from his desk drawer a dusty envelope with few camellia seeds that he had kept for several years, in fact since my mother died.
We planted those seeds and – un miracle! – they grew; they grew tall with lustrous leaves and large, lovely flowers, white flowers and pink ones and red. The larger the flowers grew, the more curious I got about my mom, and for the first time I asked my dad about her.
“Dad,” I began quietly, “what was mom like; tell me, please.” He looked at me for a moment and then looked away without speaking. I could see his eyes moisten. It took a few days more but eventually he began to talk about her, about how they met, what she was like, her favourite songs and books, how she wept for joy when I was born. “J’ai gagné le gros lot,” she used to say, rocking me in her arms. Over the evenings, I came to know my mother, a little bit anyway.
The camellias brought everyone who worked in the garden to our spot. They admired the wonderful flowers and they congratulated my father and me on such a success. I never knew my dad was so thoughtful, and that after 16 years he still cared so much about my mother.
For the first time in two years, I’m actually kind of glad I live here. It’s beginning to feel like home.