Canada Day, 2015: Home

To Canada
Canada in my grandfather's hand remains my favourite font for the word. All these years later I can see him tracing it, can feel still what that word meant for him, and I smile at his decision to underline it boldly, as if it were his signature. Which, it was.

The sentence those words to Canada belong to—One day Mom say you are going to Canada we had no money, cost $200 but how—is from my grandfather's handwritten account of his life, composed a few years before he died, a priceless document that has with time acquired the status of a country's founding document in our family, a living artifact that releases more meaning with every reading.

There is vivid storytelling from the very first paragraph, as we meet a young boy with a sense for the momentous events and the dramatic conversations swirling around Poland at that hour:
Memory of 1914, October (start of first War) We were notified by Government to prepare to leave our home, bake bread and other food, and be ready when order comes to go. I was 6½ year old, men were talking between themself, what to do? leave and go but where? born here, grown up, that is our home.
Armies on the move meant his family had to leave, but that underlined two other questions, one strategic and the other fundamental. Where? Why? My grandfather's instinct to ask questions was born early. It lasted as long as his obsession with home.

Canada became his home, arriving in Halifax on June 16, 1928. He was 20 years old and already behind him, as he tells in the memoir, was a lifetime of struggle: hunger, cold, death, war, persecution, fire, fear, moving, always moving, on foot on train, always moving.

A month short of what would have been the start of two years of conscripted military service, he was ransomed out of the country and sent by train to Gdansk and then by ship (the Hellig Olav) across the Atlantic. That kindness cost four men in his village $50 each. Evidently, they didn't see much of a soldier in the young, gentle, thoughtful, poetic Alex Gaychuk. My grandfather, in those pages of his memories, makes clear he considered himself free only when, with interest, he had paid that money back. But I still owe those men a debt.

Now, I am in Canada
Now I am in Canada, my grandfather writes. And Canada was in him. He sold bread from a horsed buggy, figuring out, thanks to cagey advice from a friend with customer relationship management instincts, that the houses with children's clothes on the back lines might be more open to buying bread. He went to night school. He improved himself. He married a girl from Mundare, started a family. He landed a job at Sunland Biscuits and worked there for 35 years. He observed himself.
Maybe it is to long in one place don't like to change places if long in one place, you feel like your home.
My grandfather experienced much that was not healthy and happy and welcoming, but, in the style of his time, he kept that to himself. Canada gave him the one place he longed for, the place he could stay still in. I am pretty sure he travelled no farther than Banff. I don't think he ever saw the ocean again.

And when he died, he was dressed for his next journey in a simple suit with a Canada flag pin in his lapel. It was, perhaps, his way of notifying the government that he was, with his last decision, gratefully, not prepared to leave his home.

In Canada















Comments

  1. A lovely tribute, Glenn. Such a treasure to have a handwritten journal. Telling one's own tale is clearly in the bloodline.

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  2. Thanks so much, Cathy. It means a lot coming from you. :) It was a killer lead paragraph he wrote, gotta say. Has it all! Thanks for reading.

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  3. This is such a moving piece. How lucky you are to have your grandfather's voice so close to you for ever- it must be such a powerful thing for you. As you say, it truly is priceless. It inspires me to make the effort to keep my journal going, to leave something for my grandkids. Thank you for sharing it.

    Jeannette Lewis @ Welcome Pack Canada

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