Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Hope Springs Eternal




My embroidery
Our daughter just moved away from the comforts of our home in Calgary, and into a new life far away from the embrace of the familiar - her community, friends and family. As parents, we know the human journey involves change, and her place isn't really that far from home. But if you look at it as another emigration from the "homeland" it takes on a hugely different significance.

The ancestral homeland of Ukraine sits at the crossroads of many important travel, economic and political influences.  It has been so, since forever, it seems.  So, with international opportunities beaconing from every corner of the globe, Ukrainians, like every other people, have chased, emigrated, resettled, re-acclimatized, and re-assessed their "cultural inheritance".  I mean that quite broadly, though.  " Pobutove zhittya" is probably a better descriptor than "culture", but even that needs explaining.

In this particular context I am defining culture as "everything people can pass on to ensure their progeny thrive in the future".  So when helping pack some of her things, we had to anticipate her needs, in the short term, and perhaps longer.  Then to look at all of our collected stuff, and consider what would be hers to inherit. Besides the coffee maker and towels, what could we give her to sustain her, comfort her, and prepare her for life - for it happens without our invitation.  Change happens, but somebody recently told me, it is the small stuff that reveals what a person is made of.  If so, what truly authentic messages will her "stuff" reveal about her ancestral inheritance?  About us, her parents, grandparents, great grandparents?

I was speaking with a cousin in Winnipeg, and she suggested that every child of hers would have a newly embroidered pillow, for the living room sofa.  Taking a traditional pattern, going monochromatic with the color scheme, graphic and modernly finished.......

One of her grandparents gave her a painting referring to home-ie. Ukraine. A montage of events around church, the sights, smells, and spirituality a thousand years or two in the making.  Memories of blessing baskets, eating kutia, that kind of thing.

Another family member wanted to send jars of borsch.  Food, they say, is the most tenacious of the cultural elements, because it hangs around in the memories of home, comfort and love.  Actually, my daughter makes better varenyky than I do, but nobody makes better jam than baba.

And, knowing how much fun it can be to move big bulky stuff, I sent pysanky which can sit in a bowl on the counter to remind her of the many hours we sat together dreaming of what the future would bring. The "masterpiece in the hand", the "ikon of the universe" may prove to be a conversation piece, perhaps someday someone will ask what the whirls, crosses, circles, deer, wheat, and flowers signify?

What does a family give their child who is leaving, not just an airplane trip away, but a world away, like my great grandparents did over a century ago?  What "stuff" sustained them to the degree that many generations later, we still identify with their journey? Many Ukrainian immigrations ago it was said that a person could survive with two books in hand, the Bible and Taras Shevchenko's Kobzar!   How about your family and the travails that have brought them to their Ukrainian Calgary adventure?  What really important message is hidden in the gifts you will leave in your packing trunk?

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