By John Lorinc, Toronto Star |

Through the sunny afternoon of July 12, 1968, Lina Preyra and the eldest of her eight children, ranging in age from 2 to 15, were busy packing trunks. So they’d be out of the way, the younger ones had been sent off with a few rupees to buy cane-sugar drinks from the vendors near the Bombay house the family had rented for the months leading up to this day.

Lina, then 40, had arranged for a friend, the principal of a local Catholic girls’ school, to drive them all to the airport. By nightfall, the travellers were hurtling over the Indian Ocean en route to Paris.

Now adults living in Canada, Lina’s children recall the emotions that marked the journey: fear and awe inspired by that first plane trip; regret at leaving behind friends; and relief at having escaped their precarious situations — both domestic and political.

Following a night with London relatives, and the novelty of a hot bath, the Preyras embarked on the final leg of their exodus — a flight to Toronto’s Malton airport. Upon arrival, they were reunited with Cecil Preyra, Lina’s husband, a lawyer with an Indian railway company who had come ahead some weeks earlier to find work and line up a place for his large family to live.

“It was dark when we arrived” in Toronto, recounts Cecilia Preyra, a St. Thomas, Ont., goat farmer and retired psychology professor. At 12, she was the fourth of the couple’s children. She spent the journey trying to help Lina, who was very pregnant, and praying the plane wouldn’t crash. As the family drove to a downtown hotel, Cecilia’s first impressions of Toronto remain etched in her memory: the smooth roads, the absence of crowds, the fresh air.

“I remember,” she says, “how clean it was.”

It was July 14, and Toronto seemed like a world away from the tumultuous life they had left behind just 48 hours earlier.

Anyone who has met returning friends or relatives at Pearson airport’s international arrivals gate will have observed the emotionally charged scenes at the end of such journeys. Weary travellers emerge into the over-lit concourse, pushing carts laden with luggage, their faces marked by fatigue, excitement and apprehension. Some are greeted by joyful relatives while others orient themselves, scanning for ground transport or emissaries carrying signs.

Many are in the midst of an unforgettable day — the turning point on a life’s calendar that sharply divides what came before and what came after.

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