I chose a weird day to file long overdue papers – car, new license, makes me sad, remembering all the glorious trips the old one saw us through – and house. This day was supposed to be the memorial zoom, which i copped out of. And glad i did. It was hard enough to know it was his birthday, and the memories do flood.
But what i remember today is Don and his reaction to the Ukrainian side of my roots. I think we all take that part of our family heritage for granted, but also until recently, we have not talked much about it.
But one year early on, Don was adament we should go to Saskatchewan to see my mother’s family. It was the right thing to do, so, me reluctant, we went.
He loved it all, baba, uncles, cousins, sweet smart Uncle Dan, but most of all, well it’s not really noble, but the food! All the competitive visiting from aunt to aunt: “What did she feed you? Try this, mine is better.”
The aunts signalled tacit approval by gifting us with tea towels and such, but most importantly, a quilt for a queen bed! That quilt is on my bed even now and still makes me happy.
Uncle Dan tucked more and more food into our tiny car, Annie sent fabulous flax seed bread, and then we were away, back to my beloved coast.
As we left, Uncle Dan took advantage of a private moment to hug me and murmer “You, you keep this one, he is a Man.” Not a sentiment i would dispute, for sure.
The thing is, i had felt from the time i was a pre-teen that Uncle Dan was my idea of a man. My mom’s idea of entertaining family when they came to Ottawa was to send me as guide on an exhausting tour of the sites.
We did Parliament – a building i love mostly for the fossils encased in its stone walls – we went to the mint. The other tourists ohhed and ahhed at the view of coins cascading down from wherever. Dan moved quietly in the background and murmered, “You can’t take it with you.” This was in sync with my nascent radical spirit.
But it was the visit to Eddys Papermill that confirmed my elevated view of Dan. God knows why my mom thought a visit to a papermill would be fun – take my word, it’s not! Aunt Annie by then was staggering on her heels, all dressed up to see the capital, and Dan, without a word, took her heavy purse and carried it for the rest of the day.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal now. But in the late 50s, early 60s, it was. This man who “broke land” for a farm, logging the required 5 acres by hand, not allowed to sell the logs (“what are you supposed to do, eat the sons of bitches?” he groaned once telling us), this tough man made nothing of carrying his wife’s purse. And he approved of my man.
Going to see my Ukrainian family was a wonderful thing to do and i have always rejoiced that i shared that with my man.