Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Baba & Gido Baron (#236)

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.


Hilary said...

I always loved hearing about your childhood memories though I had trouble keeping your relatives straight.. not knowing one Baba from the other, or from Big Baba, for that matter. Still your stories delight, as always.

I love the image of Baba and Gido heading off to the outhouse together and I'll bet it was because of them, that the outhouse at your cottage was built as a two-seater.

Sally said...

This is lovely, Frank. You honour them by sharing your memories with us. Doesn't it seem like another world, though? "The past is another country" as someone said. Doubly so in your case, I guess, because of the Ukrainian heritage.

Unknown said...

So, that's the secret, outhousing together! I'll make a note in the event I ever chase that wind again.

Your imagery is vibrant and your tenor is always so right on. I would love to hear the rosary in Ukrainian. What a tale of love and life.

Btw, I've been drowning my winter blues in peorgies. Thanks for turning me on to this ultimate comfort food. It's time to set my grass seed in the next snow as it should be our last, and I'll substitute homegrown spinach and kale for those perfect little dumplings.

Happy spring!


Bruce Robinson said...

Thank you, Frank.

As I read your stories I think of you as the story teller in your circle, the one who learned to type.

Thank you.

Linda at To Behold The Beauty said...

Your words paint a lovely portrait of your grandparents. You describe so beautifully the image you carry in your head of them walking to the outhouse together that I could see it in my own mind's eye.

Your description of the crowd standing outside the store window to see the television set brought back some memories for me, too. When the first color TVs came out, there was a store in our town that drew a crowd of people who wanted to watch "Bonanza" through the store window.

Tabor said...

I am guessing as you wrote this and so much came back to your memories you were greatly impressed by these people who preceded you into the world. People like your grandparents paved a very rough road and that does lead to sternness and deep religious respect.

Steve Gravano said...

Beautiful Frank, very visual. It brought back memories of my childhood.

Pauline said...

I like the idea of the budgie reciting prayers with your grandparents :)

Your ending line holds those memories in a space where we are all allowed to see them. That's a lovely gift, as wonderful as your ability to choose and polish just the right words.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading about your grandparents, Frank. Makes me think about my own grandparents.

Skunkfeathers said...

Memories worth telling ;-)

Frank Baron said...

Glad you enjoy those stories, Hil. 'Cause there's still quite a few that warrant some telling. :)

Good analogy, Maud. The past is indeed like another country. One, I think, that most of us tend to visit more often as we get older.

Pam, your darn tootin' about perogies being the ultimate comfort food. Especially so in winter. Hmmm...I'm way overdue for a feed. I'll fix that soon.

I'm glad you liked it, Bruce. Thank YOU for taking the time to say so.

Thank you, Linda. You must be a youngster if your Big Event was colour tv. Mine was getting our first B&W set when I was about four.

True, Tabor. They had hard lives for the most part, leaving one country and starting over with very little in another.

Thanks, Steve.

Thank you, Pauline. Billie was indeed quite a character. :)

Glad you enjoyed, msred. Thanks for saying so. :)

I thought so, Skunky. Glad you agree. :)

Thumbelina said...

The imagery you conjure up takes me right there.
You are truly gifted in your writing.
Thank you for your memories.

Unknown said...

Great story Frank. It's wonderful to have had such colorful family members who are forever in our hearts and minds.

Linda at To Behold The Beauty said...

I'm not so young, Frank. We actually got a black and white TV in 1953, when I was about eight years old, before our town even had any television stations. We used to sit and enjoy the test patterns as we waited for the advent of actual programming. So we didn't have to join the crowd at the store window until color TV was introduced.

Reb said...

What great memories Frank. Thank you for sharing them. It really makes me wish I knew my grandparents. Only one survived long enough for me to remember and she lived in Toronto...not exactly close.

Cay Sehnert said...

Beautifully told, Frank. Quite a contrast to current stories about Muammar Gadaffi losing his "voluptuous Ukrainian nurse". Back in Memphis, we all had to go to the one neighbor with a TV to see our local boy's first appearance. Elvis didn't let us down, but it was years before we got our own first TV. And now TV is struggling to retain its relevance.

Frank Baron said...

Thanks, Thumbelina. You're always kind. :)

Thanks, Gaston. And yes, I'm grateful to have come from a large family that stayed connected.

Okay, Linda. You're a smidge older than I. I recall blissfully watching the test pattern too, secure in the knowledge that Captain Kangaroo would be along shortly.

Glad you enjoyed, Reb. I'm blessed to have known my grandparents and two great-grandparents.

Thanks, Cay. Yeah, the future of tv has to be tied to the net, I would think.

Thanks all, for taking the time to visit, read and comment. I appreciate it. :)

Dianne said...

lovely and loving memories Frank
they make me think a bit of my sister-in-law's grandfather who was from Hungary
he and I became fast friends and there was so much love in him behind the stern, serious demeanor
he too bought land and was so very proud of that
he was a carpenter
I have everything he ever built for me and always will

thanks for the wonderful stories

Unknown said...

A big congrats on POTW!!

Leah J. Utas said...

Beautiful tribute, Frank.

Out on the prairie said...

A very nice share Frank.

Anonymous said...

Precious memories, beautifully told. The budgie reciting evening prayers made me smile and the walk to the outhouse is such a sweet story.

Frank Baron said...

Thanks, Dianne. Glad I helped kick-start a good memory. :)

Thanks, Gaston.

Thanks, Leah.

Thanks, Out.

And thank you, kcinnova. :)

Land of shimp said...

Frank, what a lovely and vivid story. It was a pleasure to read. The way people react towards their families has always fascinated me. I didn't grow up with cousins, or aunts and uncles. I was just never close to my very small family and have lived across the country from all of them for my entire adult life.

So to me, this is a very exotic tale of foreign lands, with or without the Ukrainian element. Thank you for sharing it.

I explained all of that about my "Yeah, don't really get family attachments for a reason" ...throughout my reaction was,

"Oh My God! The poor cow!!"

Frank Baron said...

I certainly consider it a blessing to come from a large family with an interesting history and wonderful culture. And yep, the cow was certainly Big News when it happened, Shimp.

Thanks for your visit and kind comments. :)

poetinahat said...

Frank, what a beautiful and well-told tale. Behaving on a full belly seems particularly wise. And memory #2 is a great delight.

Happy new year, compadre.

Frank Baron said...

Thanks, Rob. Always nice to see you. Same back atcha, and to your wonderful family. :)

Karen Fisher-Alaniz said...

This is so great. It's wonderful that you've written down your memories. Everyone should do that. When I was interviewing my dad, I realized how little I really knew about him. None of us knows how much time we have left with our loved ones. So, the time to write about them or interview them, is today. Great post! ~Karen

Anvilcloud said...

Decided to cruise around some this morning: something I hardly ever do. Came here from Smitten as a matter of fact. Blogging allows us to write, share and store our memories as you have done in this post of the warm relationship between your grandparents.

I also spent a year at UWO (teachers college) way back when. I am now living in retirement of sorts near Ottawa.

The AC is On

Frank Baron said...

Thanks, Karen. I'm glad you heard some of your dad's tales. :)

Thanks for the visit, AC. I'm a UWO grad (or perhaps you read that somewhere and that's why you mentioned it) and our family has a cottage a couple of hours from Ottawa. I'm living in retirement of sorts too. Not a bad life, eh? ;)

Mustbe Gettingold said...

Solemnly festive. I like that. It is instantly recognizable, and it is one of those things you might not appreciate so much as a child, but as an adult it is such a comforting idea. Don't know why I'm speaking in second person -- obviously I'm talking about myself.