If you walk on Congress street in Portland, from Eastern Promenade down the hill, past Portland Observatory and then further south towards Commercial street, you will come across a bakery called Katie Made. It is a small shop with large windows, few tables, an open kitchen and aroma of freshly made pies. The owners Katie and Jenny are sisters. I have known them for quite some time.
In December Jenny surprised me with a phone call. We had not talked for a while, a year, two, maybe more. But she tracked me down. Would I display some of my photographs at Katie Made? I agreed at once, my mind already racing; I need to go in, look at the space, look at the walls. I started planning, counting, thinking ahead and then going back to the time we met, ten years ago.
In February 2006 I received my Green card. It arrived after a year of filing and filling, worrying and money counting for the next fee for the government. There was a physical exam, scheduled for the same day the news of my grandfather’s passing came. My mother’s father, the painter, the writer, the bishop, the kind and wise patriarch. He was an artist. When he died, I did not know yet that I was one too. The doctor deemed me suitable and sane. I had doubts about my sanity as chose to stay put in the following days when family and friends gathered to attend the funeral. Not authorized to travel.
The card arrived quietly, in an unassuming envelope without a certificate or ceremony unlike its more symbolic cousin, the citizenship. It is quite unfair if you ask me. The green card is the stepping stone, the dividing line between a life where you can work, earn money, participate, belong, build a life in a new place and a life where you cannot.
With a new status in my pocket, I was facing a new task, finding a job, a place that would give a chance to a newcomer with no experience or references, just a lot of schools in towns they have not heard of.
Was February 2006 mild or cold with too much snow or none? All I remember is walking down Maine street with hopes of seeing a Help Wanted sign in a shop or a restaurant. It had to be in town. I had no car. In fact, I feared driving almost as much as the immigration.
And there was a place, a café. It looked cozy from the outside. I had never worked in a restaurant. Neither had anyone in my family or my friends. But I opened the door and met Jenny who barely had time to turn from the stove. “Are you hiring? I will do anything.”
I started next day and in the following years I came close to doing just about anything. I worked a lot, learned more and made life long friends.
Ten years later I watch Jenny behind another stove, in a different café, in a different town. But something has not changed, the laughter we share, the friendly banter with customers, the smell of cookies, the heat rising from the stove filing the shop and fogging up the windows. We exchange more jokes and laugh at the daily foolishness of making a living from eggs and flour. “We speak the same language,” Katie tells me. And I marvel, once again, at the odds of meeting likeminded people halfway across the world and at my luck of finding warmth, friends and feeling of home on a cold winter street.
So if you are in Portland, maybe you like to walk on Eastern Promenade. The view from the end of Congress street still takes me by surprise, the way the road suddenly opens and there it is, right in front of me: the ocean, the boats, the view that is not just for weekends and Sunday afternoons on the beach but for every day, for Starbucks, and walking the dog, for morning runs and evening dates. Portland is that kind of a city. Right on water! And once you take your walk, stroll down to Katie Made, say hi, get a cup of coffee, and have a cookie. You have walked it off.