Old Country Dames

Last week was Ukrainian Christmas, and I had an interesting talk with my grandpa (who I call Bampa) on the way to mass. It felt like a story I wanted to tell. So for now, it’s story time, but there will be DIY’s and giveaway announcements later this week, stay tuned! kr.

I climbed out of the icy air, lungs stinging, and into the belly of the warm Jeep. It’s from the mid-1990s and makes creaking noises, and the leather seats hug you. They’re worn and unpretentious, they fit my grandfather perfectly.

Bampa: “I almost missed your house, Kyla! I went right past it!”

Kyla: “I know Bampa, I’m going to have to buy some road flares for you so you don’t miss at Easter!”

I only found out he still went to mass last year. He goes to his old church that does the service all in Ukrainian, in the middle of the night in the middle of the cold. It seemed impossibly sad and, being stubborn, I’m refusing to let him go alone now. The car hums along and skids as we approach the intersection. A controlled skid. The kind you count on when you’re breaking in the prairies after October.

B: “It makes me very proud to have my grand daughter with me, you know, on Ukrainian Christmas, coming to mass with me. It’s important to be with family, Kyla.”

K: “It makes me proud that you have such a fine hat, Bampa, I just worry that I’m cramping your style. You look set to pick up some of the old country babes.”

B: “Old country babes? More like dames!”

K: “Maybe if you’re lucky!”

The car is wrapped in darkness and we duck through underpasses and skate over bridges, leaving the city center and driving north into the neighbourhood where he grew up. The area where all the Eastern European immigrants bought their houses, an area that’s held together by train tracks and picked over by gangs now.

B: “It’s nice of you to come though. Kyla, it’s important to be with family, you know.”

K: “I know, Bampa.”

B: “The holidays make me think about growing up, being with my mother and brother before they died. This was a different place then, we were very poor. I worked so my brother could go to university, you know? Being poor is no fun at all.”

K: “I know, I still can’t believe you sent him to McGill yourself.”

B: “Well, it was the thing to do. My little brother was the first person in the family to go to university. You’re the third one in the family to go to university, and you should be proud.”

K: “I am proud.”

B: “And you should go back!”

K: “Bampa I am in school, would you like my transcripts?”

B: “No no, I believe you, I’m just bugging you. I’m trying to say that…it’s important. School. Family. The city is a different place now. You can’t imagine, it was so happy here after the war. People were so happy to be alive and to be with their families in the forties and fifties. Churches were full, there were real communities and things like that. I used to go dancing downtown with my girl friends before I met your grandmother, and now the city is a different place. I tell that to my friends on twitter all the time.”

K: “HOW do you know what twitter is?! You’re listening to too much CBC!”

I mock punch him while he laughs after joking in my language, and so do I. I wonder what I will sound strange talking to my grandchildren about. We get close to the church and I notice that the clocks in the Jeep are wrong because of daylight savings time, so I change them and he laughs at himself for not knowing how.

B: “It’s nice to visit places we went together, my brother and I.”

K: “Hey, don’t forget me, Mister, I bet it’s okay going places with me too. And who knows, maybe you’ll meet a nice old country dame and you guys can run away together- you can have a partner for all your cruises!”

He adjusts his hat and looks at me, laughing.

B: “Your Baba doesn’t like to travel and she doesn’t believe in God, but Kyla, if I ran away with an old country dame she would kill me. Besides, you’re not a bad one yourself.”

I sit through the mass and don’t understand a word, but I understand what my grandpa feels. His brother and mother could be anyone here. I stare at the ornate church, painted robins egg blue and leafed with gold. I wonder what it’s like to lose a whole language or a sibling, and I think about if he’ll know my children until they’ll little, or until they’re in junior high, or high school.

I have a hard time with family sometimes. Mine is changing again- another divorce, another new cast of characters, more halting introductions and awkward laughs. More new kinda-siblings and less time with the people I really know in favour of ‘getting to know you’s. But when it’s just me and my grandpa one on one, I have no trouble at all.

When I’m with him it’s easier to remember that it’s important to try to be graceful, even things are changing and when all you can do is hope it all turns out alright. Even then, a little grace really can’t hurt at all.

Maybe I’m a bit of an old country dame after all.

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There are 47 responses already, join in!
  1. Lovely post. What a life your grandpa must’ve had. I think that that is a generation that really can appreciate everything that we tend to take for granted.

    By the way, your grandpa seems like an awesome guy for even knowing about Twitter.
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..Milestone #1, I’m almost there! =-.

  2. Awww, this made me smile! I love that your grandpa knew about Twitter too :) I sometimes go through the Exchange and look at all the old buildings and wonder how life must’ve been when they were all new and thriving and people went out dancing, so innocently… and it kind of makes me sad thinking about the world today (in the comparison in my head lol). It sounds like you had a fantastic evening :)
    .-= Emily Jane´s last blog ..Needles, hammers, and a pretty big countdown… =-.

  3. I love this story. It made me tear up a little bit. You should hold on to this memory forever. Put it in a little bottle on the shelf inside your heart… Thank you so much for sharing this. ♥
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Bull shit and deep thoughts. =-.

  4. I love this. It sounds like you have the same sort of relationship with your grandfather that I do mine. He is one of the constants in my family. I also dont mind going to church when he askes (and he usually only asks at Christmas). I’m glad that you go with yours to the Ukranian services, even though you dont understand the service, the most important thing is that you’re there with him. Being there is more important than always understanding.
    .-= mandy´s last blog ..Sledding Down The Hill On Backpacks =-.

  5. Sometimes I wish we were living in the 40s or 50s just to see what life was like back then. People seemed so much more content with life. People seemed happier and appreciated the simple things. Sometimes I wish life can be like that again but it has become so stressful and challenging. Maybe in 40 years from now, we will look back and say “Wow, life was so peaceful in 2010!”

    Your grandpa seems like a wonderful man. I am glad you get to spend those special moments with him.
    .-= Stefanie´s last blog ..Losing it: Week 2 =-.

  6. this brought tears to my eyes, kyla. it was so very beautiful. i can’t imagine all the change his eyes have seen.

  7. Your grandfather is on Twitter? I want to know who follows him!

    I think relationships among families are infinitely fascinating. And it’s always a wonder to hear the impressions of older generations on life as we know it. Hold tight to that grandfather of yours; he sounds like he has a lot of wonderful things to offer.

    I wish he was on twitter! He’s not, but he’s a huge consumer of media so he definitely knows about it- he also jokes with me and pretends that he has a blog that he’s going to document our outings on. Which I just think would be unspeakably awesome if it was real lol -kr

    .-= SoMi’s Nilsa´s last blog ..Spontaneity =-.

  8. I think there is a special bond between grandpas and granddaughters. For all the silliness that took place between various sides of families (like my gram vs my great aunt) when I was growing up, my grandpa and me could sit and chat, or not chat, and all was right with the world.

    When I come visit, can we add hanging out with your Grandpa to the mix!?

    When you come here, we can definitely hang out with my Bampa. He would be thoroughly amused- we’ll just have to pretend we’re pen pals. Deal? =) -kr

    .-= Nora´s last blog ..Chocolat & a Journal: A Giveaway =-.

  9. This story was so beautiful I literally teared up while reading it. Thanks for sharing, Kyla!

  10. san

    Oh, what precious memories you have created just then and there. I am so glad you have such a connection with your Granddad that you’re able to put yourself in his shoes.
    .-= san´s last blog ..On a dream come true. =-.

  11. I love grandparents’ stories. This is wonderful, Kyla.
    .-= Elle Bee´s last blog .. =-.

  12. Switching the genders and the nationality (Spanish instead of Ukranian) this could have easily been a conversation between me and mi nana (great-grandmother). Including the bit about how things changed after the war.

    From what I have read, your Bampa is the kind of man I hope to grow up to be.

    I loved this post Kyla. I love it a lot.

    I’m glad it hit home for you! I’m relentlessly nostalgic, so listening to him talk about how he grew up is just my idea of heaven. I’m glad I’m not the only one! -kr

    .-= Kendall´s last blog ..This? This Is My Heart. See How It Breaks. =-.

  13. Oh, my. Love this post. Love that you hang out with you grandpa. Grandparents are the best, and I love hearing all the stories they have to tell. Great post, friend.

  14. This post made me tear up a little bit at points and giggle at others. The only thing more amazing that the bond you have with your Bampa is that you appreciate it and the time spent and the memories and reflections. Thanks for sharing this with us.
    .-= Meghan´s last blog ..TMI Thursday:Most Awkward Blogger, Indeed =-.

  15. I love this. I wish my Grampa was still around to hang out with. So nice that you spend time with yours!
    .-= Vanessa (Last Night’s Leftovers)´s last blog ..Working Girl Recuperates =-.

  16. Aww, this made me miss my Grandpa! <3 I do agree, though. I can't imagine what life then compared to life now is like for the older generation. Sean and I always babble how we wish the Slow Movement was a little easier to join!
    .-= Brittney´s last blog ..A Little (Less) LaMidge! =-.

  17. That was great, Kyla! What a wonderful story!
    .-= Miss Dallas´s last blog ..There and back again =-.

  18. This was such a delight to read. Beautifully told. Kind of reminds me of my Grandpa, and makes me realize how much things have changed in such a short amount of time. Kind of sad.
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..Something to sweeten your Monday. =-.

  19. Bampa sounds like quite a character. And I love that he knows enough to joke about Twitter and blogging — too funny!

    I come from a small town where its heyday was in the middle of last century, and I can’t even imagine all the changes they’ve seen. Even my mother remembers it as a more vibrant place. It must be quite sad in some ways.
    .-= Ally´s last blog ..In which I describe why I shut down Facebook* =-.

  20. I loved this post. And it’s totally making me miss my (Lithuanian) grandfather.
    .-= Kerri Anne´s last blog ..A Year Complete =-.

  21. I love your Bampa. He sounds a lot like my Grampa. I always feel centered with him. And he just appreciates me wanted to be around him!
    .-= Habbala´s last blog ..Want to know what’s fun? =-.

  22. Kyla, you absolutely blow me away with your ability to tell stories, and I loved this story. The older I get, the more I want to hear these kinds of stories from my grandparents. I just spent a week with my grandmother, and seriously I feel like I hang onto every single word she speaks, clinging to age-old wisdom or just perspective of someone who’s seen 80 years before I’ve even seen 30.
    .-= Doniree´s last blog ..Dancing Down Michigan =-.

  23. Sigh.
    Loved this post, lady.
    It reminded me of my Gramps. He used to call me his best girl and tell me stories of how naughty my dad was when he was a boy. Your Bampa sounds like a fabulous story teller.
    .-= hillary´s last blog ..The Rest Of The World Becomes A Gift Shop =-.

  24. Your Bampa sounds like an awesome man. I had an equally awesome grandfather who passed away a little more than six years ago. He might not be here now, but he taught me a lot when he was, and I think about him all the time. Family relationships, as you mentioned, can be difficult, so I’m glad you treasure the sturdy ones you have.

  25. What a dreamy story! I feel the same way about my grandparents and how everything must have been so old fashioned when they were growing up. I love the fact that they would go to mass for Christmas, and they would bake and be merry all year around. After they passed was really when I started realizing that family is so important. I try my hardest to stay close to my family now, than ever before and it’s so rewarding!
    .-= Awmb´s last blog ..A Little Bitta Monday Inspiration =-.

  26. Kyla, wow. This is a beautiful post. It almost got me all teary-eyed! I think it is so sweet that you go with your Bampa to mass, and getting a little peak into this conversation was just so heart-warming. My own grandfather has been gone since I was fourteen, and this made me miss him! I miss the witty banter of the kind that only a young girl can have with her grandpa. Aww!

    Sometimes I have a hard time with family too—the older I get, the more complicated it seems. I’m trying to learn how to stay close while I’m far away, and how to make all the differences mesh, which is difficult to do the older I get. So anyway. It’s always encouraging when we have those perfect moments, those moments that aren’t defined by anything else except for the love within them.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..In which she learns to be more grown-uppish. =-.

  27. Oh! This is so precious. I love that you can talk so with your Bampa, that you could spend some time dashing through the night having such a sweet conversation. All my grandparents have passed, and I miss them, so when I read posts like this it definitely tugs something inside in my chest. Thanks for sharing, hey :)
    .-= Elly´s last blog ..Seven Steps on How to Move Forward =-.

  28. Lovely.

    We aren’t Ukrainian but Moira was calling my Dad “Bampa” for a while and it was the cutest thing – I don’t even know where she picked it up. She heard me calling him Papa one day and switched to calling him Papa and it made us all kind of sad.

  29. That’s really wonderful that you have such a great connection and relationship with your grandfather. This is such a great post!
    .-= Allie´s last blog ..Our Holiday Card =-.

  30. I would like to tell you that my eyes are all watery right now, what a beautiful relationship & how wonderful to have such a connection to your heritage.

    :)
    .-= Alexis´s last blog ..Under Construction =-.

  31. Stories like this are why I am into reading people’s blogs.

    I believe you are an old country dame. You just happen to have global citizenship. :)

  32. I said this on mandy’s blog but I love love love hearing stories about people’s grandfathers.

    Having never grown up with one, I’ve always tried to imagine what kind of relationship I would have with mine but I just can’t fully picture it. but the connection you and your bampa have is truly special.
    .-= thatShortChick´s last blog ..Is it twenty-ten or two thousand ten? =-.

  33. Wow did I read that right? Your grandpa twitters?! Yowza!

  34. Ahh, what a beautiful little story. Your grandpa sounds so sweet! I love that he knows about Twitter!!

    Reading this makes me miss my Grandpa. Our grandparents went through so much – we can listen to their stories & try to put ourselves in their shoes, but we probably won’t ever know the hardships they’ve known. I guess that’s what makes them the greatest generation, though.
    .-= Lisa from Lisa’s Yarns´s last blog ..Sunday Night Dinners: Thai Chicken in Coconut-Peanut Sauce =-.

  35. So sweet! Now that my Grandpa’s got dementia I wish I could have had a closer relationship with him before.
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..This Is Going To Be Your Year =-.

  36. Aww what a great post. You are so sweet!! I adore you.
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Keys, wallet or drivers license =-.

  37. This was a fantastic post, I really did laugh and cry at the same time. I cracked up when I read, “I tell that to my friends on twitter all the time.” Does your grandfather really Tweet!?!? Too cute!
    .-= Little Fish´s last blog ..In Defense of Men =-.

  38. Aaaaaaand I really, REALLY need to go visit my grandparents.

    Poughkeepsie, here I come.
    .-= LiLu´s last blog ..B Tells You What To Do With Your Life, Part I =-.

  39. What a lovely conversation. I’m thankful you shared. It makes me think about the conversations I’ve had with my own grandparents in recent years. How I don’t appreciate the moments together as much as I should. How I only remember the ‘negatives’, like my grandmother repeating the same stories over and over again. Perhaps next visit, I will find something positive to remember. Make the visit special.

    Thanks for sharing. And in doing do, help me realize something I probably would not have recognized anytime soon on my own.
    .-= Mandy´s last blog ..A Look at My Goals =-.

  40. Thank you for sharing this, Kyla. This post makes me wonder about my grandparents who are still around. How things were like for them when they were my age. How different things will be if I make it to their age.

    I really want to spend some quality time with my grandmother now. How you described your grandfather reminds me of her, even though they’re so very different.
    .-= E.P.´s last blog ..Looking forward =-.

  41. What a sweet read, your Bampa sounds so cute, and being on Twitter too!! My Babcia just got on facebook! It’s hilarious.

    I think it’s so awesome that you spent time with him and that you have such a good relationship. That’s something you will always remember.
    .-= Margarita´s last blog ..The Morning After =-.

  42. Your Bampa sounds really nice & sweet! Reading this definitely made me smile. That’d be awesome if he had a blog. He’d for sure have interesting things to share!
    .-= steph anne´s last blog ..Sounds Are Not Everything =-.

  43. I loved reading this. It was so sweet and real. Beautifully done darlin’.
    .-= MinD´s last blog ..Mork & Mindy. =-.

  44. Oh, I just loved this post. Your Bampa sounds so wonderful. It made me wish I had a grandpa for a friend. (My grandmothers both died when I was five years old, one grandfather died before I was born and my other grandfather lives on the other side of the country and I haven’t seen him since I was in elementary school.)You are a lucky lady! And I adore that you spend time with your Bampa. Sounds like he is pretty lucky himself to have you! xoxo
    .-= sarah marie p´s last blog ..How’d ya like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island? =-.

  45. This is such a beautiful post.
    .-= terra´s last blog ..Unmotivated, hybernation & winter overload =-.

  46. Oh Kyla, I love you. Beautiful writing and a beautiful story. I am obsessed with my grandparents and I worry all the time about if they will pass away without me being there. Its lovely to hear a sweet story about a girl and her grandpa. <3
    .-= Moorea Seal´s last blog ..To Do This Week… What I Wore Today #2 =-.

  47. Sarah

    Kyla, I loved this post. It was so beautiful and so meaningful to me. It reminds me of my husband’s family and their place: Palestine. Everyone there is all about family and they do anything for one another. They support eachother and they do anything for their brother or sister or cousin. My husband’s father died last year and his mother no longer works. His youngest brother is just 18 and going to university and I know that if he ever needs anything we will try to help him, because he doesn’t have his father to support him like that anymore. It made me so nostalgic to read this post. Your Bampa is right: family is very important.
    I feel the same way too: when there are problems in my family and I got to see my nanna, alone, everything seems alright. It is different with just me and her; complete understanding.

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