When I found out that Julia Orpana was organizing our school dance, I knew I had to be there. I asked my friend John Kelly if he’d go with me. I was standing in the noisy kitchen of his place on Spadina Avenue near Bloor Street, waiting for him to walk me the rest of the way to school. A large iron stewing pot filled with coffee sat in the middle of the table. His parents and six brothers and sisters huddled around the pot, each breaking off hunks of crusty bread and dunking them in the coffee. The coffee was beige with milk, and Mrs. Kelly had used honey to sweeten it. John’s youngest brother, Attila, was on his knees in his chair, the coffee dribbling down his chin as he slurped it from the bread.
John’s family spoke only Hungarian to one another, as did mine. In fact, they weren’t Kelly at all but Kulcsar. An officer at Pier 21 in Halifax had decided that Kulcsar wouldn’t fly in Canada, so he renamed the family Kelly. We were Beck, and our officer was all right with that, so we got to keep our name.