I didn't know my father's parents as well as my mother's. They died sooner and weren't nearly as fluent in English. In fact, I barely recall either of them saying anything in English. And unfortunately, much of my Ukrainian was lost past the age of four or five.
But I knew this about them:
They seemed stern, although I can't remember a harsh word from either of them. Their faces, even in repose, showed hard lines, especially Gido's (pronounced: jee-doh). They lived in the bottom part of a two-story house. They rented the top half to another family, which, somewhat to my amazement, I realize I cannot recall at all. I may have never met them.
Gido was a cobbler. He repaired shoes and had several bee hives on his acre or so of property. At one time, he also had a cow but it wandered into the hives and got stung to death. So he and Baba made do with fixing shoes and selling honey. I remember being treated to hunks of sweet, sticky honeycombs fresh from the hive. And our family always had a 5 lb. tin of Gido's honey at home in the cupboard.
Gido was a smart man and knew owning property was important. He saved and bought a parcel of land in south Oshawa, Ontario, a corner lot on the main street. He set up his shoe repair business there but before long, parceled out part of the land to his oldest son, my uncle Peter. Uncle Pete started a business known as Barons' Radio & Electric in the late '40s. He sold radios and appliances and had the first television in Oshawa. He traveled to Buffalo, NY to buy the parts, assembled them, and set up the tv in the front window of his store. I recall seeing a framed newspaper photo of a crowd gathered outside the store to peer through the glass at this new marvel.
My father worked with his brother for a while and then, gifted by Gido with the other half of the parcel of land, extended my Uncle Pete's store, more than doubling its size and selling home furnishings from his part.
We always spent Christmas Eve at Baba and Gido's. It was solemnly festive. A choir from the Ukrainian Catholic Church would come and sing carols after the meal. The priest of the church came for supper and distributed communion. (I didn't know it at the time, but my grandparents were a driving force and major contributors to the building of the church in the first place, and were thus honoured by the priest's and choir's presence every Christmas Eve.)
Largely because of the priest's presence, I remember having to behave during dinner. But not necessarily before or after. Cousin John and I, and sister Theresa would gobble Baba's homemade dill pickles (still the best I've ever tasted) and honey cookies. We were usually stuffed well before dinner was served. We reasoned it was easier to behave with a full belly.
Gido took ill late in 1968. I went with Dad to their house when the call came. Somehow, everybody knew he was going to die. We got there just behind the ambulance. They were strapping Gido into the gurney when I came through the front door. I remember my Aunt Monia leaning over and asking if he was afraid. I'll never forget the contemptuous shake of his white head and his whispered, defiant, "No!"
He died, ironically, on Christmas Eve and was buried, if memory serves, on Boxing Day. I was asked to be a pallbearer at his funeral. I was 17. It was the first of some 20 times I was to perform that honourable duty.
A few months later, Baba died. They'd been married for 55 years (give or take a couple - some relative will set me straight). We all knew Baba wouldn't last long after Gido.
I have a couple of wonderful memories:
1 - They said the rosary together, on their knees, every night. Naturally, they prayed in Ukrainian. They had a pet budgie named Billie. Before too long, Billie began to recite the Our Father and Hail Mary in Ukrainian, along with my grandparents. And he'd occasionally prompt them to get started if he felt they were behind schedule.
2 - Before they got their indoor toilet, they had to use an outhouse about 50 yards from the main house. One of my earliest memories, I couldn't have been much more than four, was watching Baba and Gido walking together to the outhouse, hand in hand, heads tilted toward each other in conversation.
If I close my eyes, I can see them still.