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.