My Birkenstocks

Karen Bissonette


Canada represented a new life and a new love for Karen, a single mother in Germany after her divorce. Building a house in Nova Scotia over many years with her Canadian husband, she began to think of it as home. 


In spring 1998, Paul and I decided to buy a property in Canada and move there when I retired. Searching from Ontario to Nova Scotia, we finally found the right place. It was an exhausting time, and I was happy to have my Birkenstocks with me to relax my feet. They are healthy and fit perfectly for walking—my favourite, daily shoes.

In Germany, after my divorce, I lived alone for eight years with my two children before I met Paul. I worked as a pharmaceutical representative and was very busy. Two friends had a get-together at their home every Wednesday, and at 10 p.m., there was a spaghetti dinner. Everyone was welcome, but for me, it was mostly too late.

At one point, my children and I met one of the friends. “Why don’t you come to our gathering?” he asked.

“Our house is not that far from yours.”

“O.K. I’ll come next Wednesday.”

“You told me this three and a half years ago. Are you sure you will come?”

“Yes, this time I’ll come,” I answered.

But after a nice dinner with friends and their children, I didn’t want to go to the gathering. 

“I don’t think I’ll go to Sigi and Baldi’s,” I said to my children.

“Mom, you have to go! You promised!”

So, I went there. Because it was Ash Wednesday, there was only one guest who looked different than most Germans with his long hair and beard. I learned he was from Canada. He walked me home. The next day he called me, and I invited him to visit us the following day. He came and never left.

When I introduced Paul to my mother as my new partner, she said to him: “I’m happy that you found each other, but why do you have to be a Canadian—why not a European?” She was afraid that I would move far away.

One and a half years later, we married, and the next year we went with my children to Canada to visit Paul’s family. In Alberta, we met his ex-wife and two children, bought a very old car and went camping with all our kids. Then we drove to Ontario to see Paul’s mother and siblings.

“This car isn’t staying in my yard!” These were my mother-in-law’s first words. She looked at me and laughed. “Sorry, but look around. All my children leave their old cars at my place.” Looking at Paul, she said, “You made a German out of him!” I had cut his hair and beard very short. But we had a nice holiday there.

In Nova Scotia, our property in Antigonish was a construction site, and we came each year to finish the house. To save money, we bought a used car, stayed two years at a friends’ place and moved into the basement when the concrete floor and water were in. This was a wonderful time with our handmade furniture and second-hand appliances. One evening when there was nice music on the radio we danced.

The Birkenstocks were not made for dancing, and I thought of the shoes I wore at the ball at the end of my dancing class when I was 15 years old. I had the feeling I could fly over the dance floor.

Finally, in 2004, our house was finished. I was sorry my mother couldn’t see my new home; she had passed away in 2000. My son wanted to stay in Germany, but my daughter followed us two years later. I took my cat with me, and naturally, my Birkenstocks.

KAREN BISSONETTE was born in Gera, Germany, and later lived in Munich. After working in a veterinary clinic with her first husband, she became a pharmaceutical representative, making visits to ophthalmologists. She moved to Canada in 2004 with her second husband and retired in 2006.

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