Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Pra-Baba's Woven Willow Basket

The ancient willow, it is said, grows with wet feet. To harvest the soft spring grown willow, you have to get your feet wet, and learn to bend. Then you weave.

Little Foxes Village, Лисичники is located in Beyond the Woods County, Заліщики, near the southern border of Halychyna Галичина where it meets Bukovina Буковина. The chutora (хутір farmstead) is a climb up a steep rocky hill, higher up the valley where Little Foxes begins. Steep, rolling hills climb up the river valley. The road? No more than the width of a car, it is lined with picket and willow fences - near enough to touch through a car window.

Old log homes built in the late 1800's still stand, repeatedly repaired and whitewashed over the years. Here and there the beautiful, old painted designs of rozpys розпис are hidden under the eaves and over windows.

On that beautiful May evening in 1887, Dmetro and Kateryna were so pleased to welcome their first born little girl, Anna. She would be the first of their five children who survived into adulthood. Times were hard, but Anna and Paraska, Maksym, Onufrey and John (who would be the 5th child) grew up loving the farm life.  

The villagers knew each other well, and worked together on the fields for the landlord. They worked for the 17th sheaf! That is, after stooking 17 sheaves of wheat for the landlord, he granted them permission to take one sheaf home for their growing family needs. Poverty was everywhere.

Sad news came from the neighboring village of Kashpertsi Кашперці. Yurij and his lovely wife had also had a little girl whom they called Anna. Tragically, his wife and next baby died during childbirth. Widowed and sorrowing, Yurij was blessed to have the neighborhood ladies care for his baby daughter Anna, but it was clear he needed a more permanent arrangement. Little Anna needed a mother, and poor Yurij needed a wife to take care of his child and make a home for his family.

Kateryna and Dmetro knew of Yurij's plight but they had problems of their own. Their children, Anna and younger siblings Paraska, Maksym and two year old Onufrij were soon going to be joined with another baby, and poverty was knocking at their door. Anna needed to be settled into her own home life very soon.

Barely 14, Anna married the widower Yurij. Wife and new mother to Yurij's daughter Anna, they made a family. By age 17, Yurij and Anna had a son, at 21 a daughter, and with three little children they realized the family plot wouldn't feed their growing family needs. Really, the term "farm" hardly encapsulates the size, they were small plots of land, not even acreages, about the width of a city lot and running perhaps a quarter mile in length!  Emigrating to the "free lands" of  Canada, they sold all their belonging in 1900 to pay for the steamship voyage from Hamburg to Halifax.

Not knowing what to anticipate ahead, Anna packed her hand-woven basket full of important necessities, eating utensils, seeds, a kerchief, sewing needs - all tools for the various roles she would play in the life ahead - doctor, veterinarian, tailor, carpenter, midwife and hunter. Oh, and dreams!


Time has not been very gentle with this basket. Anna was my pra-baba. The basket was woven in her little village before she left home. It served as her Paska Basket but at one point it was in danger of being discarded. Unable to burn the family heirloom, my dido's supple fingers strengthened the broken weave with willow. When that wouldn't serve, he lovingly wove wires through the broken places to preserve this beloved family treasure. 

On Easter Sunday the basket will cradle my family's hopes and dreams again, as it has for 113 years here on Canadian soil. Paska - the Resurrection, babka - the ancestors, kovbasa - the sacrifice of blood, cheese - the first fruits of the soil, eggs - the symbol of eternity, red beets horseradish khrin- both bitter and sweet, and the beautiful pysanky - the universe unfolding as it should. Happy Easter! Христос Воскрес!
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