Friday, May 7, 2010

The Old Country 3

I knew two things about today and they were both about the same thing: 1. We were having a birthday party for Tim, and: 2. It would involve a barbecue. That was all. But first we had some business. It wasn't something I was looking forward to, but it needed to be done. I told Cousin Arsen about it at breakfast. And then we had a few shots of vodka. Yeah, vodka for breakfast. Welcome to Ukraine. Thus fortified, we set out, Kathy, Tim, Cousin Arsen and me. It was a very nice day. We reached our destination in no time. Out of all, I was primarily interested in this one:

My aunt Zosya is buried here. Actually, she's my half-great aunt, but that's hardly an important distinction. She was a simple, strong woman who lived life the best she could under the circumstances - and there were circumstances. After the Soviets annexed this territory (it had belonged to Poland; after WWII, she and her sister Yustina spent 10 years in a Siberian prison camp. The charge was private ownership of state property or some such Communist dickery. Upon her release in 1959, she and her sister had to connive their best just to get back to their hometown. When they finally returned, they found out, much to their shock and disappointment, that their father - my great grandfather - had died the year before they were released. From that point on, things didn't get much easier. She got married, but her husband was an incorrigible drunk. He was staggering home one night when he tripped, fell and died. Eventually, she met and married Volodymir Mazur (who passed away in 2000), veteran of WWII who also happened to be a good man. Their union yielded my Cousin Arsen. And so the years went by. Aunt Zosya developed glaucoma and heart trouble, but it never seemed to slow her down. I'm not sure, but I'm fairly certain that she couldn't read. She told me that all she needed to see were the chickens and the ducks. Back in 2002, she got a telephone, a simple rotary-dial set-up. When I was last there, she hadn't quite mastered it. She thought that by dialing and picking up the receiver, she was making a call. When that didn't work, her strategy was to dial and then hang up, believing that the party on the other end would call her back. And so it went.

This winter, she contracted pneumonia and had to go to the hospital. She died there after much discomfort. Cousin Arsen believes blames her death on bad doctors. All I can do is lament her passing and regret the fact that I stayed away for 8 years.

As we were standing there at Aunt Zosya's grave, something happened that I didn't expect; Cousin Arsen began to cry. Normally, he is about the most stoic guy I've met. But not today. He loved his mother.

This is my great grandfather, Ignat Tuchapski, a man who so disliked the US (and Canada, I might add) that he felt compelled (along with his brothers) to return to his beginnings. How's that for Slavic contrariness? That's also why all of my Ukrainian aunts, Zosya, Yustina and Anastasiya, were half-great aunts. Ignat left my great grandmother in the US and married another woman in Peremyliv. Things went smoothly until the Soviet annexation in 1949. He was sent to the prison in downtown Lviv, where he was used as a punching bag by some dick Communists and eventually released in 1956. He came back to Peremyliv, lived with my aunt Anastasiya and died in 1958. Incidentally, he is buried next to his grandfather and grandmother. He went all the way to Ellensburg, only to realize that he shouldn't have left home in the first place. Of course, if he hadn't left, I wouldn't be writing this.

The last monument of interest is this one:

This belongs to my Cousin Igor. Even his headstone can't make him look reputable. He was quite the colorful character, a hard-drinking ne'er-do-well who alienated all those around him until there was no one. But without him, I would never have made contact wih the family, as he was the one who answered the first letter I sent to the village in 1993. I met him later that year. He simply oozed disrepute. He got me drunk at 6:00 in the morning in frozen Ternopil and he almost got us lynched on the elektrichka to Peremyliv. Yeah, good times. I really wondered why so many relatives were so neutral towards meeting me that first time. It's because I was being squired around by Cousin Igor, the blackest of black sheep. After all those experiences with him, I was looking forward to having him as a thorn in my side for years to come, but alas, it was not to be. He died a mysterious death in 1995. Either he fell or was pushed. Incidentally, his sister, Slava, with whom I stayed back in 1993 died at the end of last year. That was something of a surprise. Slava was a short, stout woman with a very loud voice and the family eyebrows. I'm sad that she's gone

I reflected on these three very different, very important people on the way back. But shortly afterward, the relatives began arriving for Tim's birthday, much to his continuing chagrin.

There's most of the gang. We've got Cousin Ivas, Cousin Ivan, Cousin Marika and her husband Roman (who totally looks like Jonathan Togo), Cousin Vasily, Lesa and Cousin Arsen, Oksana, Kristina and Cousin Volodya, Cousin Roman, Cousin Tim, and Cousins Olya and Darya are out of the picture. I'm not gonna go into detail here, but I came upon one essential truth during the six-some hours that we were together. It's this: If you feel bad when you're drinking vodka, YOU'RE NOT DRINKING ENOUGH. There, now you know.

They came, we ate, we drank, we had tons of laughs. You know what? Drinking a lot improves my Russian. Swear to God. This was the best way to celebrate anybody's birthday.

This is Ivas and myself after more than several rounds. Is there any family resemblence? If anything, Ivas looks something like Ignat Tuchapski and I look like some ordinary Slavic schlub. Here is a picture of men and fire:

They're just standin' around, waitin' for the meat to cook. Once that was done, we ate it. It was followed by a swimming pool's worth of vodka. And then all was well. And then I chatted with Cousin Vasily. And then my Russian got really good. And then everybody left. And they we watched this crazy show about the Red Army. And then we went to bed.


Anonymous said...

Great transmission of 'feeling' for unjust incarcerations.

And nice pic of you.

Anonymous said...

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Is this possible?