As an immigrant, I longed for a family.Now my neighbor has become my relative

This first-person piece is by Vaidehee Lanke, a University of Saskatchewan alumnus living in Saskatoon. For more information on his story, visit CBC’s First His Person. See FAQ.

Growing up, I always longed for more family. My family immigrated from India to Canada when I was 4 years old, so the only family members I really knew were my sister, mother and father. The four of us are a tight-knit unit, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like enough.

Our apartment felt empty during holidays like Diwali and Christmas. I longed for the vast family my school friends had—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends—so many family traditions.

In difficult times, my longing for family seemed like a hole that would never be filled. I wish we had a support system that we can count on, learn from, and remind ourselves that we are not alone in the world.

In the 16 years my family lived in Saskatoon, I learned that emptiness will always be part of our immigration experience. You can even become a family.

Despite being part of a close-knit family, Vaidehee Lanke (right) said she still longs for a large, sprawling family. (Posted by Vaidehee Lanke)

warm welcome

When I first met Denny and Pat, my parents were overwhelmed with first-time homebuyers. I was nine years old at the time.

We parked our car and noticed an elderly man meticulously tending the front lawn. After taking a peek inside the house, on the way back to the car, the man smiled as if inviting us into conversation.

When we asked him about the area, he enthusiastically proceeded to tell us the history of the neighborhood and his family. Our conversations gave me reassurance when I needed it.

A man and three women in traditional Indian clothes are standing in a driveway.
Moving to a new neighborhood in Saskatoon, the Lanke family needed some reassurance from their neighbors who welcomed them into the community. (Posted by Vaidehee Lanke)

A day or two after moving into the neighborhood, the doorbell rang. It was there that I met Denny, with his bright smile, and his wife, Pat, who was energetic and full of practical advice.

Denny and Pat always made us feel like we belonged in the neighborhood. Whenever we passed, Pat would wave at us through the large living room window, and Denny would strike up a friendly conversation.

Together, Denny and Pat have helped us navigate life in the best possible way. Denny enthusiastically contributed valuable experience to home renovation projects, from lawn care to fence and roof work. Pat’s endless wisdom has helped me in many moments of my life.

When I was in grade school and attended a specialized science program on the other side of town, Denny and Pat generously drove me when it was too cold to catch the bus. They even parked in our driveway 5 minutes early each time.

Four people taking pictures in school.
Vaidehee Lanke, second from left, and her sister pose with neighbors Denny and Pat at Vaidehee’s 8th grade graduation. (Photo courtesy of Vaidehee Lanke)

Pat patiently taught her how to drive — a skill essential to Saskatoon. Pat also taught me when it was my turn to learn. I am reminded of Pat’s love when one of us drives.

When I moved here in the summer, I was worried because I couldn’t cook. Pat gave me a parting gift of a cookbook full of recipes collected over the years.

Three women are holding buckets of Saskatoon berries.
Vaidehee Lanke (left) with her mother and sister. The family was introduced to berry picking by a neighbor. (Posted by Vaidehee Lanke)

One summer, when my bike broke down, I asked Denny for help. He took me and my bike to the shop and explained the problem. He could have introduced me as a neighbor, but instead said, “This is my granddaughter.” I will never forget that moment.

Looking back, I realize I already had it in mind that Denny and Pat were family. Thanks to their friendship, the new traditions of our family, Christmas and birthdays, never felt empty.

I’m proud of many things, but being their granddaughter tops that list.

share our culture

Friendship with the family across the street also began with a smile through the window. One day out of the blue they generously invited our family to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. They welcomed me.

From there, our friendship blossomed. We had many meals together. They showed us how to make the sweetest jams, Saskatoon berry crisps, impeccable salads and his dressings.

Two women are standing next to a sitting elderly woman.
Over the years, the Vaidehee Lanke center and her family have exchanged traditions, culture and food with the family across the street. (Posted by Vaidehee Lanke)

They are the first to celebrate us in every milestone. Even when we cannot celebrate in person, they find a way. They sent me a box of cookies shaped like this: Diaz — A lamp that has a special meaning in our culture.

Through life’s trials — unemployment and mental health journeys — they stood by us and were people we could rely on. reminds me every time.

Now when I think of family, I think of the web of threads that connect all the people who make us feel seen, heard, supported, understood and empowered. is that this web can continue to grow.

Kind and open-minded, Denny, Pat, and the family across the street chose to take in our immigrant family.

Have you had experiences similar to this first-person column? We’d love to hear from you. Please contact

As an immigrant, I longed for a family.Now my neighbor has become my relative

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