My sojourn on earth began on April Fools’ Day, 1946, in the
town of Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada. The day would come when I seriously
wondered if I was not the greatest fool that ever lived.
I was the oldest of four brothers and one sister born to Ukrainian
Catholic parents, Nick and Anne Hafichuk. My father’s parents’ names
were Michael and Dora Hafichuk, originally of Sifton, Manitoba; my
mother’s parents were Paul and Jessie Szmon, of Gilbert Plains,
Manitoba. Curiously, I recall that my grandfathers were both about
four years of age when their parents immigrated to Canada in the
first wave of Ukrainian migration in 1891 from Galicia of the Austro-Hungarian
empire. Some of their roots went back to near Kiev of the Ukraine.
My parents were mixed farmers who rented
a quarter section (160 acres) with house and farm buildings from
the Cassels of Brandon,
Manitoba. The rental fee was a third of the crop produced, if I recall
correctly. I’m not sure what would have happened if
there had been a crop failure. This property was five miles north
of Dauphin, where we lived for my first 12 years.
We also owned a quarter section of land, much of which was virgin
and needed clearing from aspens and poplars. We worked hard, were
relatively poor, but had all our needs met. I still remember our
mailing address as R. R. #1, Dauphin, and our phone number as “807
ring 3” on a party line.
Nothing in the universe is nearly as accidental as it may appear,
and names of people and places have often had a significance hidden
to most. The meaning of “Manitoba,” a central province
in Canada, would one day be significant to me:
“There are several accounts
of the origin and meaning of the name Manitoba. The most common
story claims the word originated with
the Cree words manitou (Great Spirit) and wapow (narrows) or, in
Ojibwe, Manitou-bau or baw. The "strait or narrows of the Spirit" referred
to the narrows of Lake Manitoba. Here, a strong north or south wind
can send the waves crashing against the limestone shingles on the
shores of the lake and Manitou Island. The Aboriginals believed the
eerie sound made by the wind and waves was the voice or drumbeat
of the Manitou or Great Spirit.” (source)
Particle –First Tongue
My first language was Ukrainian, and I began to learn English from
Raymond McKillop, my neighboring playmate who was four when I was
about six. Remarkably, his mother was ardent in teaching him proper
pronunciation and encouraged a sizable vocabulary, so I was a fortunate
Particle –Good “Googie”
My mother told me that when I was about three or so, I wandered
near a swamp we had in the bush near our house. My mother heard me
crying and found that our dog, which I called “Googie,” had
a hold of my pant leg and was dragging me away from the swamp. He
was not accustomed to doing that sort of thing, so my mother concluded
he sensed danger and was protecting me.
on Priests’ Knees
There always seemed to be a religious or spiritual dimension to
my life. My parents tell me that the priests of our parish would
visit us and play with me when I was a young child. They had thought
and hoped that perhaps one day, I would be a priest.
“Father” Tapli (I expect the spelling is wrong) was
our parish priest, a man well liked. He was later admitted into a
senior citizens’ home for priests in Winnipeg. When I was in
Winnipeg in my early twenties, Dad urged me to go visit him because
he would be pleased to see me; I never did. Young people don’t
understand how older people appreciate them. I now wish I had gone,
but then, I am older now.
Want to Go to Heaven!”
One evening, as my parents and I were driving home from town, the
sun had just freshly set. The remaining rays reached above the horizon
onto some distant clouds, which created a beautiful effect, as of
a glowing celestial abode. My mother passionately pointed to that
unusual scene and said (in Ukrainian), “Look, son, that’s
Heaven over there. God and the angels and the saints are all singing
That event was quite stirring to me. I knew I wanted to be there,
and curiously enough, I knew I would have to die to get there. I
would have to lose or let go of everything in this world to have
the immense privilege of being with God. This is my first recollection
of being made aware of the existence of God and another world. It
was a bittersweet experience, thrilling, yet deeply sad. I didn’t
know that I would come to experience the reality of it in
Particle –The Constant Question
It was an oral birthmark. My mother once said that
I came out of the womb with the word, “Why?” on my lips.
I wanted explanations for many things, not content with the “what.” I
was frustrated many times. Illogical or untruthful answers did not
sit well with
me. “Because,” was never acceptable; “I don’t
know!” or “Go ask…” were quite unsatisfactory.
Particle – A Born Barnstormer
Aunt and Uncle Fred and Mary Prestayko were dairy
farmers, living about five miles from our farm. They had an old red
barn with a hay
loft, the kind some have tried to restore and preserve, during this
past half century. It had a slight lean to it due to its age. When
in my pre-teens, they told me that when I was very young, seeing
the lean, I tried with all my might to push the barn over.
While children think, say, and do all sorts of silly
and bizarre things, I’ve often suspected there was something
of significance to what they related. Maybe not.
a Cruel Christmas
We were, by some Canadian standards, poor, if not physically, certainly
in our minds. My mother made much of our clothing (though she was
not a tailor), while she says she went around in rags, sacrificing
for us. There were times when all we had to eat was perogies (dumplings
made of boiled dough with potato, sauerkraut, or cottage cheese filling).
I remember using Sears or Eaton’s catalogue pages for toilet
paper. On occasion, we were treated to Japanese Mandarin orange wrappers,
which were softer than the stiff, glossy paper and didn’t require
crumpling into a softer condition before using.
There was a Christmas day morning when we eagerly came downstairs
to check the socks we had hung the night before for gifts. To our
great chagrin, we found perhaps no more than a half dozen unshelled
peanuts in each of our socks.
Did Santa forget? By that time, we had learned not to believe in
Were we bad?
My parents said they couldn’t afford gifts. Added to the disappointment
was the humiliation when we went to school and the other kids were
boasting about what Santa brought them. What could we say? “We
got six peanuts each”?
Particle –The Headless Horror
When I was about five years old, visiting my Uncle Alex and Aunt
Kay Hafichuk, Aunt Kay fetched her axe, a chopping block, and a rooster.
Off came the rooster’s head and off he took, running headless
around the yard. I was astonished, horrified to see this creature
able to run around as though it could still think and see; it seemed
angry and vengeful! At one point I gulped when it headed in my direction,
blood flying, then it turned and ran away, right into a doghouse.
The rooster seemed quite alive for a few seconds without a head,
though I could not understand how. This killing obviously left an
impression on me.
Particle –How Powerful Is Pee?
Also when five or younger, we went to the annual Dauphin Exhibition.
We were watching a grandstand performance when I needed to pee. I
told my father I had to go, but he was rather occupied with the entertainment.
I told him again. He only told me to hold it. “But Dad, I have
to go badly!” He was not about to take me anywhere.
As I recall, there were no washrooms. I find that rather incredible
to believe now. I dashed out to find some private place to pee. I
couldn’t find any, and then it was too late. I peed my pants,
which were soaked all over the front and down the legs. I was so
ashamed of myself. There was nowhere to hide, and I had to wait until
the show was over so that we could go home.
That event had a confusing impact on me. Why were there no washrooms?
Didn’t anybody care? Why would my dad not care? Nothing seemed
to make sense, not that I was able to make much sense of things.
Young children do get embarrassed – respect their needs, rights,
and wishes. They are sensitive, not necessarily stupid or ignorant
of social influences and implications.
Particle –Little Things Big
On a more positive note, a memorable time I had as a child was about
two hours I spent with my Uncle Ernie. We sat in a two-ton grain
truck in the field one evening, waiting for the combine hopper to
fill with grain, at which point he would unburden the combine of
its load. While we were waiting, he told jokes. That was one of the
highlights of my childhood. I hoped it would happen again, but it
didn’t. These kinds of special moments happen but once.
Would I tell you one of the jokes? OK, I will. It was about the
Three Bears. Papa Bear said, “Who ate my porridge?” Baby
Bear said, “Who ate my porridge? And Mama Bear said, “Oh,
be quiet! I haven’t even cooked any yet!”
I laughed and laughed.
Particle –Kindness Is Perpetual
Take time out for little enjoyments and granting others some kindness
and attention, anywhere, anytime. That day was instrumental in motivating
me decades later to tell my son bedtime stories he greatly enjoyed.
Particle –School Away from Home
Coming of age to start school, transportation was available from
a teacher, Peter Smaliuk, who drove north past our farm from Dauphin
to Riverbend School, three miles away. He had a daughter, Lorraine,
who also began school that year. (Why “Riverbend”? There
was no river anywhere near it. I suppose that was better than “Flatland” or “Bushland” or “Nowhere.”)
I remember that first day. It was a hard one. For the first time,
I was cast into the midst of strangers by myself, with only a scant
knowledge of English. I had to be washed and dressed early in the
morning, with the pressure of not keeping Mr. Smaliuk waiting. After
all, he was the teacher, and if he was late, it would hold up the
whole school, and whose fault would that be?
Particle –Home Away from Home
Mr. Smaliuk ceased teaching at the end of December 1952. For the
second half of first grade, my parents decided to have me stay with
my father’s aunt and uncle, Bill and Anne Atamanchuk, who lived
on a half section farm three and a half miles north of us and only
a half mile north of the school.
While my first day and first half year of school was hard, being
separated from my parents just for the day, the following half year
was heart-wrenching. I was very sad the day my parents dropped me
off at Auntie’s and Uncle’s and quite homesick in the
Auntie tried to comfort me. She and Uncle grew fond
of me; they had no children of their own. My parents did not visit
we were only three or four miles away. I don’t recall that
they even phoned much. I tried to be considerate,
but I didn’t feel considerate to my mother.
I was pretentious.
When Uncle lived in Regina, Saskatchewan, he was a weightlifter
or bodybuilder and wrestler. Though he was only about five foot six,
he was stocky and powerful, and he knew the holds and moves in wrestling.
Nobody in the countryside was willing to tackle him or able to overcome
him if they did.
Steve Harasym, a bachelor who lived on the property with us, was
nearly six feet tall, 180 pounds, in his late 20’s or early
30’s, and quite muscular. (Uncle was nearing 50.) Steve continually
taunted and defied Uncle in a playful manner, until Uncle finally
lost his patience. He grabbed Steve by the scruff of the neck and
the seat of his pants and swung him in about seven or eight circles
inside their small kitchen while Steve screamed for him to stop.
I did not appreciate the skill and strength Uncle needed to do that,
Uncle taught me several wrestling moves and holds, which I found
handy with my playmates at times. He would play a bit rough with
me, but not too rough. A day came in my later teens when I suddenly
overpowered him. He didn’t like it. Uncle was quite proud.
It saddened me to see the disillusionment or disappointment in his
face. Aging is unpleasant to those who value too highly things that
How these little incidents are not so little, and how they stick
in our minds when other seemingly more significant events seem to
have so little impact on us!
I recall now that Uncle hobbled. Could he have been injured wrestling?
Nobody ever talked about it, and I knew nothing, but for all I know
now, he could have seen a chiropractor or physiotherapist and had
his hip put back in place. (Years later, I would see him skipping
down the road, arms over shoulders with my father, full of joy, both
of them just fine!)
Particle –Returning Home
After six months at Uncle and Auntie’s, the school year was
over, and I had to go home. There went my heart again. While at Auntie’s
and Uncle’s, I was spoiled with treats and attention. They
would talk, laugh, play, and joke with me. They helped me with schoolwork.
Uncle always wanted to wrestle and playfully tease. While I was lonely
for home, I was also happy to have their attention and affection.
Particle –My Mother a Witch?
At home, I did not get special treatment, rightly so. I had a brother
and sister, two and three years younger, with whom to compete or
My mother was not an affectionate woman. I developed a strong resistance
to her; I don’t know why. I once angrily said to Auntie that
my mother was a witch. Why would a seven-year-old say such a thing?
What kind of creature was I?
Auntie told my mother, who cunningly questioned me on it when I
got home, asking what I had said to Auntie that was not very nice
about her. I could not remember until she told me. I was embarrassed
and afraid; I understood nothing but guilt. I suppose some psychologist
would say I had been reacting in pain to having been sent away. Perhaps
that is true; I have no idea.
Though I would miss my parents and home somewhat, I looked forward
to going back to Uncle and Auntie’s the next year, where I
felt appreciated. Auntie and Uncle missed me, although we all had
a hard time showing affection.
Particle –Sex Obfuscation
There was a black side to this time in my life. My uncle was a crude
man. He knew every dirty joke and song imaginable, many in Ukrainian,
and by the time I was seven, I knew them all. Auntie would often
scold him for telling me these things, but it didn’t deter
him; he would just laugh.
Steve Harasym, who was mentally handicapped, also lived on their
farm. He lived in a shack in the bush on Uncle’s property.
He was also continuously mindful of sexual pleasures, and he did
not spare influencing me in a fooling manner. I became a dirty-minded,
defiled being. I believe this profoundly affected my relationships
with everyone, especially females, for I was inclined to viewing
them as sex objects.
Though nothing ever happened, at an early age I was ever seeking
sexual relationships with girls, including a girl in my first grade
who lived close by, a girl in my third or fourth grade, and my sister,
with whom I tried to play “doctor.”
Gloria was the girl in grade one with me, the only other person
in that grade. People teased me about her. Embarrassed, I got angry
and mistreated her. In 1980 or 1981, I saw her in Winnipeg, and she
was quite cold to me, after all those decades.
Gloria, I understand; I hurt you. There was never any fault on your
part, none whatsoever. Please accept my deepest apologies for the
way I treated you. And pass on a warm greeting to your brother Arnold
who, very unlike another student in his grade, was always friendly
and decent with me. I thank you, Arnold, for that. God bless you!
Particle –Donald, the Draft Dodger
Uncle Bill divulged family secrets to me: “Your family told
you that they weren’t called to join the Army. That’s
not true. Your Uncle Don was called to join the Army, and he ran
away. I hid him here, in the hayloft, and the RCMP came looking for
him. I lied to them. He stayed here until after the war.”
Particle – Gluttony Not a Game
Auntie and Uncle fattened me up horribly. As an example, for breakfast
(at age seven), I would eat half a grapefruit with white sugar, two
large slices of homemade bread with butter and jam, a large bowl
of Nabisco Shreddies or hot Quaker oatmeal with cream, and a couple
of turkey eggs, which were at least twice the size of chicken eggs,
washed down with one or two glasses of Jersey whole milk.
For lunch, Auntie would pack me two large sandwiches (four slices
of homemade bread), some fruit, cake (there was always cake), and
a jar of milk.
Around 8 or 8:30 pm (after chores were done), we would sit down
to the biggest meal of the day, which was usually a considerable
feast. Uncle egged me on, competing, and I beat him in consumption,
though he was well able to pack away the food. Then we would both
race for a cot to lay down for a “goodz” (short rest)
to let the effects of gorging wear off before going to bed.
Within a year and a half, I went from a normal weight to twice what
I should have weighed, from about 50 to 100 pounds. What a shameful
thing! The foundation was laid for food and weight problems for many
years to come.
Boys Don’t Cry; Little Boys Do
From Auntie and Uncle’s place, I had to walk
half a mile to school. Along that road was a boy in grade eight,
who took a distinct disliking for me, and he did not hesitate to
show it at every opportunity - teasing, shoving, and generally bullying
me. I learned to dread that walk every school day for a year and
Particle –Pudginess, Pee, and Poo
I believe that one of the reasons he despised me was because I was
obese. I also wet my pants frequently, and I even dirtied them on
occasion. This made for rather bad relations with everybody.
I was obese, I stunk, and I was hated, defensive, dirty-minded,
ashamed, and very lonely in the midst of contemptuous people. And
who could blame them? To top it off, my birth date was April 1, and
I utterly dreaded its anniversary because everyone was going to make
sure I knew they knew I knew I was born a fool. Indeed, I was a fool,
whether by my doing or no.
Particle –The First of My Injuries
I consider being fed until I was twice my weight the first of the
major physical injuries I have suffered in my life. Studies show
higher incidence of heart disease and stroke for those who were obese
as children, even if not obese as adults. I have heard of other long-term
ill effects of childhood obesity as well, like the physiological
(not only psychological) propensity to gain weight in later life.
Not all injuries are obvious, and the ones that aren’t can
be even more harmful than those that are.
Particle –Injury Number Two
The second injury in my life was getting vaccinated. On the whole,
this is injury by assault. There is ample proof that vaccinations
are a heinous, deceptive perpetration by the pharmaceutical industry
and medical establishment on society. Thousands, more likely millions,
of deaths throughout the world have been caused by these “precautionary” and “preventative” treatments,
not to mention autism, cancer, and many other diseases, in the name
of health and wellbeing,.
Research by numerous responsible, educated people, specialists in
their fields of health, medicine, and science, proves the insanity
of vaccinations, especially to infants. I was injured several times
that way, and who knows the effects, if not for God protecting me
and overriding the damages.
Particle –Injury Number Three
We were playing baseball; all the grades were involved because the
entire school didn’t have enough people to make up two teams.
While grossly obese, I was a runner on third base, attempting to
make it to home. Bernice Kutcher, a grade seven girl, large and powerful
for her age, was catcher. She threw the ball to third base, but the
ball didn’t make it; my nose stopped it dead. I fell to the
ground, bleeding profusely. There was no treatment to be had. Today,
they might call 911 and rush a little kid to the emergency room.
There wasn’t even sympathy. My cousin, Ed Boyechko, who was
a year older than I, went hysterical with laughter. He could not
contain himself. “He bled like a pig! Ha, ha, ha! He bled like
a fat butchered pig! Ha, ha, ha!” he cried out in delirious
Even the teacher, John Urichyn, got carried away by Ed’s outburst
of prolonged laughter and glee, and he chuckled along with him; consequently,
so did other students. I have often wondered what possessed Ed to
be so cruelly pleased with my suffering and misfortune. It was a
mystery I would see repeated in him time and time again.
Why do I consider this a major injury? Nobody thought of it as such,
but I now realize how serious it could have been. My nose was slightly
altered forevermore, even visibly so, and my nasal passages were
never the same. This has caused me to breathe through my mouth much
of the time since.
It is known that breathing through the mouth is detrimental in many
ways. The air is not filtered before entering the lungs, thus the
lungs are polluted; the air is not moistened first by the nose, and
it is not warmed first in cold weather, which exposes the lungs to
injury in hard-breathing circumstances; lips become chapped more
easily - the list goes on. Who knows the long-term consequences?
Perhaps I wanted to escape my circumstances, because...
Particle –Peter Pan
How I wished I could fly away! How I wished I could fly to Never
Land! My favorite story in those days was Peter Pan. I wished so
hard to believe he existed. I once wrote a letter to Peter, and when
I wondered how I might get it to him, my aunt suggested I put it
on a fence post, so the wind could deliver it. I tried her suggestion,
but doubting it would get to him, I went out searching for it. Sure
enough, I found my letter in the snow.
Peter Pan remained impressed upon me for many years to come. Little
did I know that one day I would have something so much greater and
better, and real!
Particle - Ill Humor and Cruelty Despise Weakness
There was a cold winter day on a snow-drifted road
when Archie Blahitka came to the Riverbend School with his tractor
to pick his son, Larry,
up. The Blahitkas lived on Eddy Boyechko’s and Gordon Atamanchuk’s
way, so Archie also gave Eddy and me a ride. I don’t
recall if Gordon was there as well, although chances were
he would have been; he was usually there.
The design of the tractor provided standing room on
each side of the driver’s seat for one or, if children, two
persons. Then there was the option of standing and balancing on the
the tractor seat while hanging on to the back of the seat. I got
the hitch perch.
As we were driving home, Archie began teasing me
and loosing my hands from his seat. He and the kids were having
a good laugh about it, but I wasn’t finding it funny; I protested
to no avail. Finally, they succeeded in releasing my grip. I had
no choice but to try to jump or fall off while the tractor was traveling.
Likely because I was a fat, clumsy kid, I fell on the road, crying.
They were all in an uproar about it. Eddy cried out, laughing, “Ha,
ha, hee, hee! He went rolling over and over like a potato!” I
don’t recall what happened, whether they let me back on the
tractor and took me the rest of the way home, or I decided to walk
the rest of the way, which wasn’t far.
We learn our lessons beginning at birth and thereafter.
What were the lessons here?
One, don’t expect your relatives (Eddy was my first cousin)
to stick up for you.
Two, don’t expect fairness of numbers in any conflict.
Three, don’t be surprised if you don’t receive mercy
or judgment from an adult just because you’re a young child.
Four, don’t expect kindness from what appears to be your father’s
friend, which I assumed Archie was.
Five, don’t expect any mercy
from your ethnic group. We were all Ukrainians, and it didn’t
matter a whit. The sentiment of solidarity expressed in the common
Ukrainian saying, “Nashy
Lyewdeh” (our people), only applies when self interests are
Six, don’t expect your parents
to support you in cases of ill treatment.
Not that it should necessarily make any difference,
but I was naïve
in my early youth, thinking perhaps I might receive some kind of
favor because of one of these factors.
It seemed to me that my aunt, uncle, and parents would
have much preferred to avoid conflict with their neighbors and friends.
recall any support from them in any of the many bullying incidents.
they may have tried talking to someone, but it seemed they
really didn’t wish to do anything substantial about my social
and physical problems. Perhaps it would have involved making major
changes, like taking me back home from Auntie’s and Uncle’s
and sending me to the school in our own area. Better to let me suffer
it through, they probably figured. In God’s grand scheme
of things, it certainly was better.
I know that now, but it wasn’t easy to go through,
especially without understanding the goodness of God in evil.
I relate the event as I remember it, being six or seven
at the time. Perhaps it was my own fault to a great extent, at least
I was obese, I was a juicy target. I was also likely the brunt of
their contempt because I couldn’t take the abuse with a shrug
of the shoulder. My feelings were always hurt in such cases, and
I couldn’t conceal them. For all I know, I was a sissy or spoiled
brat, thus attracting more scorn, like a magnet draws nails.
I see this ugly part of my life as a conditioning and
preparation for the future. All these things were in God’s
hands. Still, the way I see it is that if ever my son was in such
I certainly would be moved to do something about it, even if it meant
losing favor with friends and neighbors. Indeed, I would never have
sent my son away from home to go to school in the first place, if
there was any possible way to avoid it. I would have found a way.
Particle – The Worst Job Ever
I’d like to tell you about the worst paying and the most unpleasant
job I ever had in my life! I was probably seven years old. Uncle
Bill talked me into painting his John Deere manure spreader.
First, it had to be cleaned of dried manure, mud, and
dust, which wasn’t easy because of the multitudinous bolts,
bars, nooks, and crannies around the box, frame, sprockets, chains,
I had no garden hose or air pressure hose to do it. I had a butter
knife, wire brush, and likely a bucket of water, rags, and floor
scrub brush. After cleaning off every particle of debris, I had to
wire brush any rust and loose or peeling paint, and then remove those
particles completely. I had no paint sprayer, only a paint brush.
It took me days to do the job, but I did it, and Uncle was apparently
The pay? Three dollars. I suppose board and room counted