by Zahida Murtaza from Brampton, ON
Sep 10, 2011
Whenever I hear the name Stephen Leacock, I am transported, as if on a magic carpet, to a distant land, some forty years ago – to my Grade five classroom, in a small town – in Pakistan.
I was twelve years old. My teacher read a story from an Anthology of English Literature.
It was called: ‘MY FINANCIAL CAREER’.
The story, as you know, was written by Leacock. I didn’t know that then. I had never heard of him. His sense of humour grabbed my attention. I was charmed by his simple descriptions and by the person he was writing about.
The story described the experience of a man trying to open a bank account and his innocent fears and misgivings about banks and bank tellers.
I was desperate to read more stories written by this author, but I had no way of doing that. Instead, I read the story so many times that I memorized it.
I had no idea where Stephen Leacock lived, or if he’d written anything else. My knowledge of world geography was not sharp at that age. And Canada was definitely not on my radar screen.
In 1971, however, I moved to Canada with my husband. When we bought our first car, in 1975, we used to drive around the Canadian countryside on the weekends. We didn’t choose any particular place to go to. We would pack our lunch, stop wherever we liked, and sit and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. One summer morning we took off towards Barrie and kept driving, taking in the lovely green landscape. We stopped near a tiny town. We were looking for an ice-cream store. We started walking around, exploring. We came across a lovely little churchyard cemetery. Visiting cemeteries is something I have always enjoyed. Strange fascination, one might say, but they are just so peaceful and serene. I walked over to one of the graves and read the words on the headstone: “In Loving Memory of Stephen Butler Leacock”.
I could not believe my eyes.
Could this be the same Stephen Leacock whose memory I had kept close to my heart since childhood?
Stephen Leacock was Canadian?
It is hard to describe the sensation that went through my body. I had been spiritually connected to someone 11,000 miles away and then accidently discovered him, hiding, in a far corner of the world where I had made my new home. There must have been a reason why I came to Canada, I thought.
I stood there respectfully, taking in all of the graveyard, while at the same time, remembering that classroom in Pakistan. As I looked at his grave I felt Leacock must be smiling mischievously, and with his usual sense of humour saying:
“What took you so long?”