Baba and Me
My heart has been so heavy for so long and I feel so helpless. I’m a mom and nana and also a baba I guess, I had a nana and a baba in my life growing up. My baba loved me and took care of me and fed me so well, I lived with her for three months or maybe it was six months when I was eight years old. Getting off the train in Vancouver to rejoin my family after spending that time with her, my mom and dad almost didn’t recognize me. My mom turned to my dad and said in a loud voice “look at what your mom did to Cherylle.. she is fat!” Well, I am still fat but that is not what this story is about and just so you know, I am also beautiful and grateful as well.
What can I say about my baba to convey those early years, she was such a big part of my life. Mom left my dad when I was twelve years old, the oldest of six, she not only left my dad but, I guess my baba as well.. it happens. We moved back to Saskatoon into my nanas house and she stepped in to become the most important person in my life. Thank goodness for grandparents in our lives. Mine was very important to me although I didn’t realize it at the time. Childhood is torturous enough in a two-parent home with parents constantly bickering and fighting. Later, living on welfare with a single mom, myself, and five siblings wasn’t much fun either.
My blog this morning is about my Baba, this war with Ukraine is tearing apart my heart. I didn’t pay attention to all the things my baba tried to teach me and that weighs heavy on my soul. I have so many happy memories of her, being in her house, sitting up on the wood box beside the woodstove, so nice and cozy. Every morning she toasted thick slices of homemade bread over the opening of that iron hole, she had slid aside the lid, to expose the fire. She then slathered it with butter and preserved jams she had made herself. I remember carrying coal from the cellar to augment the fire in that wood stove.
The stairs going down to that cellar were lined with shelves holding jars upon jars of dill pickles which I had also helped my baba with. Bortsch and vegetables and applesauce and jams and jellies and you name it, she canned it! I especially have a memory of spilling a big pot of applesauce all over myself and the table and a new winter coat which must have been hanging on the back of the chair. We had a real mess and it took a lot of time to get that coat cleaned up. I also carried that water from outside in a storage shed where the waterman delivered it once a week into a big barrel. It took a lot of water to clean up that mess.
My baba’s life is rich in my memories, she had it all. She had an outhouse and a root cellar and I slept with her in her huge bed with piles of handmade quilts and big pillows. Her ‘fridge’ required the iceman to deliver blocks of ice to keep it cold. We also kept butter and such, cool on the stairs, in the stairway from her bedroom leading into the attic. We kept that door closed to keep it cool and she never used the attic. We also kept the door closed to the rest of the three-bedroom house. We only used the kitchen and her bedroom, which was right beside the kitchen. The ice fridge was in the dining room and we used it sparingly. The rest of the house was opened up only when the relatives came from out of town, aunties and uncles, and cousins. They conversed a lot in their mother tongue which was Ukrainian and they tried to teach me but I just didn’t pay attention.
My memories with her are filled with an abundance of delicious foods. Her dill pickles were the best I have ever tasted. One of my later memories with her was going down to her cellar while she was out visiting a neighbour. I devoured my fill of them. I was so full and bloated and sick that I could not eat dill pickles for years after that. Lesson learned. I also helped gather the tomatoes, cucumbers, and every other kind of vegetable, and later on the seeds from those same plants. She had a humongous garden and also a flower garden. Nothing was wasted at my babas. She was into composting and recycling before any of us today were even born.
I loved being with my baba. It was a lot of work to fetch the water to water that same garden by hand, then weeding it, picking and pickling, and canning everything. Digging the potatoes and carrots for the root cellar, but I hardly remember the hard parts, it was all good to me. The funny thing here is that my nana also lived in the same city and she had all of the amenities, like running water and bathrooms, a real fridge, and they lived in a huge beautiful two-story house. She was a terrible cook though, a steak in her frying pan died a thousand deaths until it was inedible, before she served it up. I was into my twenties and my nana was long gone before I experienced the exquisite pleasure of a truly good steak done medium-rare. My nana had many other attributes, I loved her stories, her songs, her English accent and my time spent with her will always be precious to me as well.
Remember all of this, those of us that are moms, grandparents and nanas and babas, and whatever else we are called. We play such a huge part in our grandchildren’s lives and the memories made may well be the soft handstitched pillow of love we wove for them growing up. It also could be the place they lay their heads today…
Baba, I have never forgotten you and I wish I could have been a better grandchild, learning everything you tried to teach me. My Ukrainian heritage may have been lost to me but you remain in my heart and my soul and you are forever a part of me and for that, I will always be grateful.
copyright April 9th, 2022
footnote: I have an idea to do something for Ukraine, and this could be the reason I needed to write this blog about my Baba. I will keep you informed if it plans out the way I hope it does.