My Irish/Ukrainian connection
For most of my life, I’ve had to defend my Ukrainian roots. My Dad was of Ukrainian heritage and although he could understand the language he couldn’t speak it. My baba tried to teach me but I had no interest. She also tried to teach me how to make all of the Ukrainian special dishes but I didn’t pay attention. How stupid was I, this has haunted me many times since. Thank goodness I learned how to pinch the perogies just right, so I wasn’t a complete disappointment to my beloved Baba.
I love anything with colour including my handpicked colourful clothes. My husband used to make fun of my Ukrainian heritage and join in the derisive jokes and comments about ‘uke-a-buks’. I was not amused and my standard retort was “my mom was Irish and my dad Ukrainian,” “BUT, Ukrainian is the best part of me and I’m proud of that.” He is my ex-husband now and in my old age, I have come to realize the harm done by giving groups of people labels. Needless to say, I do my best to not tolerate this anymore and have either spoken up or walked away from conversations that go this route.
I’m also proud of my Irish ancestry but why is it I’ve never had to defend that side of me? My nana had an English accent but my grampa didn’t. Grampa’s family was from Ireland but he was born in the states and his family moved to Canada when he was still a baby. I know nothing about my Irish roots and that too is my own fault. Grampa was not the chatty person anyway, he was always working and he was the patriarch of the family, whatever that means.. unapproachable maybe? I wish I knew more of that side of his family but he is long gone along with my beloved nana.
Someone just asked me recently if I had relatives in Ukraine? I’ve always wondered that as well but it is too late to ask my Baba or even my dad. Why didn’t I pay more attention? Why do we wait so long to feed our curiosity about our history and our roots? Lord knows I wish I would have paid attention to my baba’s cooking recipes, all those amazing Ukrainian dishes! My Nanas cooking not so much, a steak in her hands was cooked until it didn’t bend and you needed a hacksaw to cut it. She did show me how to make gravy though, adding flour to the frying pan and some water to make a suitable sauce/gravy to hide the top of the tough-as-nails steak or whatever meat she was frying. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I finally got to appreciate and truly enjoy a medium-rare delicious piece of heavenly beef.. who knew?
Both cultures came together in my upbringing with my nanas English/Irish songs and ditties, doo da, doo da. The sandman sprinkles sand in our eyes at night and takes us to fairyland. My love of the English fish (cod) and chips wrapped in newspaper and ordered from the authentic fish and chips place in Saskatoon (which is now long gone). Learning how to seal the little perogy triangles just so.. God how I loved my babas perogies dripping with butter and fried onions! I sneaked and ate so many of her jars of dill pickles that it was a few years before I could ever eat dill pickles again. Bortsch and homemade bread and buns and, and.. everything she made were from scratch and delicious.
My nana plied me with songs and stories of England. She was my secret Santa for a bride’s doll and a doctor’s kit every Christmas. I coveted and got black stretch pants and a special knitted siwash sweater/jacket, unique to Saskatoon school culture when I was in high school. I did not go without when my nana was around. I loved her dearly as I did my baba, living with both of them at one time or another.
Yes, I’m Irish but I am also Ukrainian and today I celebrate both, how lucky am I to have such a diverse heritage? I am also Canadian and perhaps that is the best part of my life. To be born in Canada is just about the most fortunate thing that could have happened to me and my children.
I am thankful for what we have and I pray we find a peaceful end to this ungodly conflict happening right now. I have never been prouder to be Ukrainian/Irish and a Canadian from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.. CANADA.
March 17th, 2022 copyright