PART ONE – Darkness to Light
The First Dimension
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)
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 beneficiary.
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.
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.
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 and rejoicing!”
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 this life.
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.
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 I was 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.
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 him.
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”?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 days following.
Auntie tried to comfort me. She and Uncle grew fond of me; they had no children of their own. My parents did not visit often, though we were less than 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.
Looking back to these first years in school, I‘ve now realized some things. There was a school closer to our home, 1¾ miles away. Seeing a teacher was driving past our home to another school 3 miles away, I suppose my parents decided to have him pick me up and drop me off on his way to save me a lengthy walk or my father the trouble of having to drive me to and from school.
But when brother Archie began school after my second grade (which is when our parents brought me back home from Auntie’s and Uncle’s), Archie and I walked to and from the school 1 ¾ miles away, with Dad driving us whenever the weather was bad or other circumstances required it.
So now I ask, “Why couldn’t they keep me at home in my first and second years of school and let me attend the school near our place?” If Archie could walk the distance at age 6, why couldn’t I have? Didn’t they care that they would part with me for a mere 1 ¼ mile of distance from school? Apparently not. I would much have preferred that to the heartache of being cut off from home and family.
When we received our son (Jonathan), there was no way Marilyn or I would have farmed him out to live with someone else. I would sooner have carried him to school and back in any kind of weather, no exaggeration.
Years later, I asked my mother about this. She said it was Dad’s idea, not hers. That may well be, but I don’t believe her. Putting together several facts of our relationship over many years, I strongly suspect it was my mother’s idea. In any case, they did it, whereas I wouldn’t think of doing such a thing with a child of mine. We treasured and enjoyed our son.
Still, I see the Lord’s hand in it all; it was necessary as a preparation for the call on my life.
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, until now.
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 pass away.
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!)
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.
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 share.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
From Auntie and Uncle’s place, I had to walk half a mile to school. Along that road was a boy in grade eight, Gordon Atamanchuk, 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 a half.
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.
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.
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.
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 delight.
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…
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!
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 hitch behind 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 at play.
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. I don’t recall any support from them in any of the many bullying incidents. I think 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 some. Because 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 circumstances, 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.
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, and levers. 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 pleased.
The pay? Three dollars. I suppose board and room counted for something.