Saturday, November 24, 2007

Windmills


Hi!
Here are some photos of an old
windmill we visited in the vicinity
of Federofka. It was raining hard
when we found it and I thought of my
fictional character (I'd finished the
first draft of my novel) - taking shelter
from the storm in her father's windmill.

We climbed around inside the huge pine
structure. The technology was quite
impressive. However, I was more impressed with some initials carved into the wood beside the date - 1923. I felt tingly all over. Could this be my grandfather's windmill?

If you study his signature on the
bottom of his confession papers (see Oct. 27 post) - there is a
distinct similarity. But alas! We had to
conclude this was not my grandfather's windmill.
Why?

Piecing together my mom's memories and old Helena's directions, the windmill was a bit too far away and in another direction from where the school once stood.

Then there's also Helena's memory that the Communists tore down my grandfather's windmill within months of the family's deportation. Supposedly, they needed the wood to build the new collective manager's home. I added this fact into a later draft of my book.

I'll never know the truth. Next time I'll share with you what I think are the remains of my grandfather's windmill and I'll tell you how these remains connect to Lenin's tomb in Red Square, Moscow.

Talk to you soon,
(Go Bombers, Go!)
-gabe

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Graveyards


Hi, thanks for being here.

Graveyards have got to be one of
the most fascinating kind of gardens
around. I'd like to meander the
world just going from graveyard
to graveyard ...
Call me morbid, or just call me intrigued
with the past.

After landing in Kiev, back in May, 2004,
our six member tour group zoomed off
only to crunch to a stop at a graveyard.
We had a flat tire! And so we spent an
hour wandering through this colorful
graveyard.

Flowers, photos, empty food dishes,
stuffed animals, empty bottles, hungry
dogs (are there any other kind?) and
sleeping drifters made the cemetery
a busy place. What a contrast to the
graves of my two maternal
grandparents.

One of the last places I visited before
coming back home was a weed-infested
ditch in Zhitomir filled with industrial
piping. This was my grandfather's
resting place. The dandelions were
bright and profuse. They're a hardy
plant.

Then there's my grandmother. She died
in the dead of a Siberian winter. What
kind of grave marks her life? Maybe
someday I'll have the opportunity to
search for it.

That's why I write, I guess, to remember
the stories of those who are unremembered.
Call me morbid.

Next time, I promise to write a much brighter
blog entry.
-gabe

Word of the day: morbid
- abnormally susceptible to or characterized by
gloomy or unwholesome feelings
(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

So much to remember


Me again.

Hi, how are you? Still no snow
over here and that's fine with me.

I wanted to share a bit about the old woman,
Helena Nickel, from the rundown village once
called Federofka.

Helena Nickel is a couple of years younger
than my own mother who was born in 1919.
Like my mom, she too, has a worn out body,
crippled by arthritis. But while my mom has
painkillers, there is very limited health care in
the now defunkt USSR. And it's the old
who suffer the most. Helena eagerly accepted the
medicines I'd brought from home.

Sadly, her biggest concern was for the future.
How could she find the thirty dollars to
buy a coffin? I helped her out and then we
could focus on the past.

Helena's eyesight is clouded by cataracts.
My mom got surgery to brighten up her world
a few years ago and I remember her amazement
when she saw her sweater was in fact
red and not brown.

It's sad to think that the red poppies which bloom
- even in this forsaken place - look
brown to Helena. On the other hand, maybe not,
because she has memory to color her world.

I've come to see not what Helena now sees,
but what she once saw. Her inner sight is keen,
her memory sharp. With arthritic hands covered
in open sores, eyes clouded with cataracts, she points
to my own mother's past. We explore the Federofka
landscape.

The farm was in one direction. (I'm disappointed not
to be able to find the old well where my mom's
doll was once thrown.) The school was off another
way. It's now just another empty field. I ponder which
hill my mom went sledding down one Christmas - back
when Christmas was forbidden.

We head to the woods where Helena says the
old graveyard was. Only a few perennials suggest the
lives once lived - my grandfather's first wife (who died in childbirth)
and some of my mother's siblings (who died as infants)
would have been buried here.

Then I ask about the windmill - my granddad's pride
and joy. I'll tell you about that real soon, but first
I want to meander on about graveyards.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day. There is much
to remember. So much.

Talk to you soon.
-gabe

Word of the day: remember
"to bring to mind or think of again"
(from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Transition



Hello there!

First Saturday in November. November has got to be the most melancholy of months - the month squished between the gold of October and the snow of December. Any day now can bring the beginning of winter. Transition is always hard.

I think the weather in Ukraine is quite
similar to ours here on the Canadian
prairies. Not as harsh, of course. (We
prairie people like to think of ourselves
as tough.) But what do we know of winter
here with our centrally heated houses,
cars in driveways, warm clothes
and food-a-plenty?

Here's a photo of Helena Nickel. I met her in the
little village of Kaliniwka (about 35 kilometers north of
Zhitomir). This place was once called
Federofka (also spelled Federowka or Federoufka).
Exploring the past in the former USSR is
challenging - not just because of the politics,
Russian and Ukrainian languages, and the
Cyrillic alphabet, but because of the name
changes).

This is the village where my mother was born
in 1919 and my grandfather in 1875. It was
once a vibrant place. In 1911 it had 615 people
and 65 houses. When I visited in 2004,
it was an almost empty place with rampant
alcoholism (homemade vodka),
recent suicides, and extreme poverty.
There are few men and the women work
so hard just trying to survive.
With the fall of communism, there is no
collective farm and no employment. I can't
imagine the hardship of winter
in Kaliniwka.

Communism is over, but the transition
has hit the villages and the old people
very hard.

Talk to you soon. (I want to tell you more
about what I learned from Helena).
gabe

Word of the day:
Transition - a passage from one state, stage,
or place to another: change
from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary