Friday, October 24, 2014

First Frost, First Snow

We've been having a warm fall here in western Ukraine. Yulia and I have been wearing shorts while working and watching the bees fly around contently. Our garden looked like this two weeks ago:

But this morning we woke up to snow covered geraniums, nasturtiums, and marigolds. The blooms hadn't even been browned by winter's first frosts. This was both the first frost and first snow.

What month is it? October??

Our cat, Laska, figured out that the door to the pichka (pronounced, peechka) is also the door to warmth during these cold days.

Levko the copycat reasoned that it would be even warmer if he nuzzled right up against the metal door!

In the end they realized that it is even warmer when they are together.

Warm wishes where ever you are!

Our clematis, frozen in mid-bloom

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Small World

From left to right: Me, my father-in-law's friend, my father-in-law, my father's cousin. We were all connected before Yulia and I even got married. Let me tell you how...

After fleeing Ukraine during World War Two, my grandmother stayed in touch with friends from her town in Ukraine. She was a dedicated letter writer and sent letters and photographs of her life in America back to Ukraine.

When Yulia and I got married, my father-in-law met my family and learned that my grandmother was from the town of Lopatyn. A few weeks later he was talking with his friend and former roommate from the military.

"Which town are you from?" my father-in-law asked his friend.

"Lopatyn," he replied.

"I thought that sounded familiar. My new son-in-law from America actually has a grandmother from Lopatyn."

It turns out that, not only are they from the same town, but that my grandmother sent letters to his mother! She saved all of my grandmother's letter and pictures. He still  has photographs of my dad from when he was a boy!

*          *          *

During my parents' visit we met with my father-in-law's friend. He showed us old photographs of my family (pretty neat that someone you've never met before and who lives 7,000 miles from home has pictures of your family!) and took us to my grandmother's town. We went only to see my grandmother's house, which he claimed is still standing. Unfortunately, we didn't know of any family still living there.

When we arrived in Lopatyn our friend stopped by his relatives to ask where my grandmother's house is, exactly. Well, it turns out that his relative is actually my dad's cousin! Really small world!

An unexpected family reunion full of emotion. The woman in pink is my dad's aunt
They took us to my grandmother's house, which is only a few doors down from them. It is currently being lived in by someone who is not related to us, but it was nice to see that they are taking care of the house. In the picture below, you can see that they are renovating it. They put on a new roof and seem to have just completed an addition in front.

My grandmother's cousin still lives there too.

She is the woman wearing blue and yellow
We went to the local cemetery and saw my great-grandfather's and great-uncle's grave. They are buried together.

My family is no stranger to tragedy. My great-grandfather died when he was 31 (just one year older than me). His family had a homestead, and they owned several horses. "Beautiful animals," my grandmother would always tell me as tears ran down her eyes telling the story. When the barn suddenly caught fire one day, my great-grandfather rushed in to release the horses so they wouldn't be burned alive. Tragically, he himself died of burn wounds after selflessly giving his life.

My great-uncle (my grandmother's little brother) died in 1944 when he was 13 years old. He was walking on the roadside and found a device of some sort that I imagine piqued the interest of the young boy. He went over to examine it, and it blew him up. It was a Soviet booby trap.

It was interesting listening to everybody talk about their memories. This is a kind of history that you just don't find in books. For example, I learned that my family helped hide a Jew from their village during the war. It contradicts the tired stereotype of "fascist" western Ukraine that persists until today.

Lastly, I was encouraged to see things moving forward in Lopatyn. We got to see the orphanage that my father remembered my grandparents always sending money and my old clothes to. They didn't make much money in America--my grandfather worked in a butcher shop and my grandmother in a sewing studio--but they didn't let this be an excuse for why they couldn't donate to help the people "back home."

My relatives are completing work on a new building on their property. They'd like to open a small shop there when they are finished.

Looking good so far! I wish them the best of luck!