PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
In this nightmare, I was trying to get to another part of Dauphin. A section of old warehouses stood in the way, some abandoned, but all seemed to have some sort of material stored in them – grain, lumber, crates, or refuse. I had to find my way through a maze of those buildings.
Sometimes a shortcut led me to a dead end. Sometimes I had to climb over piles of rubble to get to a small open window and try to crawl out. There were railroad tracks, it was dark, and sometimes there were gangs of criminals roaming about, which I had to avoid for my life. I would never find my way out of the dark, dreary, entrapping, foreboding maze. By fire, this dream would be removed with the others.
I suspect I developed this nightmare while in school. I would be searching for a clean stall, invariably finding an unflushed toilet with a filthy seat. Perhaps one out of three stalls might not be clean. Sometimes I found a plugged toilet, overflowing onto the floor with its vile contents.
I experienced these types of things when in high school and at other public washrooms. When I went to a public toilet, I often hoped it would not stop up on me – I would have found it quite embarrassing (it likely happened to me).
In the nightmare, I would try perhaps two or three washrooms before I found a clean toilet, and one with privacy; often the toilet was somewhat in the open where passersby could see everything. I wondered how this could be, and of course, in real life, at least where we have lived, it was not so. This nightmare and others would be taken care of with one fell swoop, for a time, at least.
In this nightmare, I would search everywhere for a private place to pee, having to go so badly. I think this kind of dream develops when one must go while sleeping, but also as a result of unpleasant real experiences, which most have had. This would be taken care of.
You might be surprised how it happened that these dreams disappeared all of a sudden. No, it was not by hypnotism, drugs, electric shock treatment, lobotomy, or Alzheimers, though it was indeed a rough experience.
There is one kind of dream I had as a kid on the farm and later as well, a pleasant one. It is one I know several others have had – flying, naturally, without any manmade apparatus. The success of flying was dependent on willpower or faith. More than once I flew straight for the barn and barely skimmed the top of it. Straining at my willpower was like pulling back on the controls in a plane, but the more I relaxed and believed, the better I did. What a wonderful feeling! Where does that come from?
Another dream I still have to this day is one of smoothly, swiftly sliding down the stairs, floor after floor, with my feet barely touching the edges of the steps. Sometimes in my waking hours I almost think I can do it, so real it can be. I have also dreamt of taking long steps on level ground while running. I could hold my feet up with concentration and go for dozens of yards without touching the ground.
There was a tough fellow, Ken Taylor, who had been a delinquent, having spent time in reform school, an institution where unmanageable, law-breaking kids were sent to be rehabilitated in those days. He was slim and over six feet tall.
One day he lost it with his chemistry teacher, Mr. Konopski. He wrapped his left hand in Mr. Konopski’s necktie and gave him a right to the face. I was not there; my cousin Ed reported the incident and it was publicized throughout the school. My cousin was typically delighted with the event, unable to keep from chuckling; yes, the same one who laughed hysterically when I “bled like a pig” seven years earlier at Riverbend.
I secretly enjoyed what I heard, and so did others. Mr. Konopski plainly did not like me, and he was not afraid to show it, ridiculing me in front of class one day. I thought he got what was coming to him. He did ease up a bit after that. Sometimes, teachers need to be taught lessons.
I was at cousin Ed Boyechko’s home when we saw President John Kennedy’s assassination. I think we were watching Walter Cronkite. That event on Friday, November 22, 1963 had a profound impact, reminding us of our frailty. If the President of the United States with all his security – the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful military in the world can get killed, what chance did any of us have?
I felt a sense of insecurity, wondering if war with the USSR was about to break out. After all, we had just had the Cuban missile crisis with Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro.
It is interesting how we expect our perceived heroes to live and villains to be vanquished. Kennedy was loved by many, while Castro was demonized. A remarkable thing is that Castro would survive many more American presidents.
I remember doing an aptitude test in high school. If I recall correctly, there were about 750 questions to be answered. When done, my results showed that I was inclined toward a peculiar mixture of vaudeville, the priesthood, and farming. For many years to come, I would proceed in none of those directions as an occupation, but was I in for a surprise!
Going to the Dauphin Collegiate Technical Institute for high school, I gradually became concerned that my schooling suffered because of many conflicting interests. What to do? I had heard of St. Vladimir’s College, a Ukrainian Catholic boy’s boarding school, which was a minor seminary in Roblin, Manitoba, sixty miles west of Dauphin. It was operated by the Redemptorist order of priesthood. I thought that if I went there, I could concentrate on studies and return to the good marks I used to have in my first grades of school.
In retrospect, I see that during this time, there was an unconscious search at work in me, calling me to something I could not identify. It was an opportunity to test the waters for the priesthood.
I believe I had another motive for going to St. Vladimir’s. I think it is a motive that many have who go into priesthood or ministry. It was a matter of avoiding the real world. I was insecure, with low self-esteem. I think that, subconsciously, I said to myself, “Self (kidding – remember Flip Wilson?), if I go to this private boy’s school, I won’t have to deal with girls and other social challenges, and if I become a priest, I will have shelter from the realities of life. I won’t have to compete and fail in society in the everyday activities and problems. I will simply counsel others on what to do and how.” (Isn’t it said that unsuccessful people become consultants?)
It is one thing to preach; it is another to live and do. I understand that stress levels, divorce, depression, and illness are high in the ministry. They think to get an easy ride or have a sure hideaway, but all they get is an abundance of problems, a multiplication of that which they couldn’t handle and tried to avoid.
I attended St. Vladimir’s College for the eleventh grade in 1962. School started with about sixty students, and less than forty remained at year’s end. We lived on campus with several priests. One of these was Reverend Wiwchar, the college Prefect who demanded perfection and discipline. He made things rather uncomfortable. He could be very nice, but he could also be very critical and demanding. He was in the habit of eavesdropping on us by a highly sensitive two-way speaker system throughout the building complex and grounds. More than once, I and others were caught with ill-advised conversation.
Many Catholics go to Mass only once or twice a year – at Christmas and Easter (besides baptisms, weddings, and funerals). We went to church services four times a day, seven days a week. The first service was at 6:55 AM. A loud bell in the dormitory awakened us at 6:30. We hurriedly washed up in public washrooms and headed down the long cement hall joining the dorm to the chapel for Mass, then back down the hall to the refectory for breakfast at 7:45, followed by housekeeping duties at 8:30, and classes from 9:00 till noon.
At noon, we headed down the long hall to the chapel for prayers, back up the hall to lunch, then to classes from 1:00 till 4:00. We had chores and sports till we went to chapel again at 5:45, then to supper at 6:00. After supper, it was study from 7:00 to 8:30, some recreation and leisure time till 9:30, back down the long hall for evening services in the chapel, and finally back to the dorm to be lulled to sleep by Perry Como’s “Ave Maria,” and lights out by 10:30, Monday to Friday. We got to sleep in until 7 or 7:30 on Saturday mornings, but we still attended church.
The main recreational activities in the school were hockey, pool, and music. Boys came from all over North America, and there were some tough dudes from places like Chicago, Detroit, New York, and other northeastern US cities, whose parents sent them there in despair. Those boys did not last long, most of them contemptuous of the disciplinary and religious atmosphere.
I didn’t know if I could last the year, but I did. I was glad to leave, knowing I was not going into the priesthood. For the next year or so, I had recurring nightmares of walking down that long hall. Some wonder if there had been physical and/or sexual abuse there. There was none during my time, none whatsoever. The priests treated us very well, conducting themselves with integrity, as far as I could tell.
Besides Michael Wiwchar, I recall priests Thaddeus Krawchuk, Lawrence Dybka, Michael Bzdel, George Perejda, and a couple of others, whose names I do not remember. There were also two “Brothers,” (a position of semi-priesthood) and Paul Lukie, a lay teacher, all of whom treated us well.
There was, however, one minor questionable incident…
Every morning before classes, we had our cleaning chores. One day the equipment closet was locked and the key was missing. Eventually, a locksmith was brought in to open the door.
There was no one person responsible for the closet. It was determined that it could only have been locked deliberately. Nobody would own up to the prank, however, so it was decided to cancel all privileges, including sleep, for everyone, until the guilty party confessed. Except for those who were out of town playing hockey, we were up all night on our knees, scrubbing floors, but nobody admitted to any wrong.
The question is, “Should we all have been punished for a wrong one committed without our knowledge?” Perhaps it was concluded that it was a conspiracy shared by many, but I was not aware of it. I don’t know that anything was solved or resolved.
I recall most of the students: Les Storozuk, Peter Pidskalny, Wesley Shewchuk, Russell Maksymetz, Walter Zulak of Winnipeg, Ron Wizniak of Roblin, Ron Tyszhinski, Ted Hafichuk (my cousin), Ernest Hlady, Eugene Buchko, Larry Sawaryn, Yaraslow “Yogi” (an orphaned immigrant; I don’t recall his last name), Emil Boychuk, John Muzyka, Vladimir Panio, Henry Derkach, Gerald Gazdewich, Dennis Wawrykow, Zanie Sadoway of Dauphin, Bobbie Ewankiw, James Short, Franko Szadiak from The Pas, Manitoba, Julian Klaczinski from Omaha, Steve Bahrij from Omaha (whose name I forgot and just recalled in 2017!), Wayne from Chicago, Freddie (Federowich?) from Detroit, Orest Woloski from Manitoba, Laurence Danko from Winnipeg, Ernest Siwak from Angusville, Ron Lukie from Grandview, Lawrence Tkach from Manitoba, Robert Kuspira from Yorkton, Lawrence Hukalo from Edmonton, Al Babiuk from Swan River, and Mike Klimchuk from Transcona of Winnipeg. There were also Jerry Lysowych of Montreal, who was there only part of the year (I believe he became ill and couldn’t continue) – a heavy-set fellow, quite friendly, Roman Wojtowicz, who was there a short time, and a heavyset fellow we called, “Doc” whose name I don’t recall.
I had learned to play pool from scratch at the seminary, taught by a “shark,” Lawrence Tkach, only to beat him in the final championship tournament at the end of the year, to my surprise and his chagrin. Was there a trophy or prize? No. How else could I have won? Well… I did win the trip to the Seattle World’s Fair (though I worked for it).
At one time, some of us were to put on a play. I wanted to do something radical and bold, so I arranged a script wherein sexual perversion of fornication was a theme. It was a fit of madness, I think. I still remember some of the details. I would grow to be very ashamed of that day, though nobody rebuked me for it, not even the Prefect, who sat there watching it, but never saying a word. The message wasn’t all that subtle, so I find it hard to believe he would not discern the implications. Perhaps he didn’t wish to divulge that he understood. I often wondered how I could possibly have done such a thing.
Monsignor Athol Murray was a radical, brash, entertaining priest who ran a boy’s school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. He was known for several vices – a foul mouth, drinking, and chain smoking five packs a day. He was also quite overweight and was not always very nice with the boys. He visited us one day and gave a talk. Some of the priests were quite impressed with his humor, gall, and brazen ways. Even in those days, I wondered what a priest was all about, doing those things. I understood he coached a formidable hockey team.
I learned to play hockey at St. Vlad’s, which began to excite me. But when Coach Wiwchar let me on the ice for my first game against an out-of-town team, I immediately tripped on a crack and fell. He took me off and kept me off – my hockey career ended, off ice and “on ice” at once, forever. I didn’t cry – I just unlaced my skates and walked off into the sunset. Gretzky, I was not.
I learned some guitar at St. Vladimir’s, and when I returned to Dauphin, my cousin Ted and I were invited to perform at a St. Viator’s Roman Catholic youth social one evening. We sang “Sheila” and perhaps one or two of the Everly Brothers’ tunes.
Bob Barrow, a young Manitoba Telephone Systems employee and guitarist in the audience, approached me later and asked if I wanted to form a rock band. I was surprised and delighted, though I told him I could hardly play. “I’ll teach you,” he replied. We began practicing at the DCTI. Bob played Stratocaster lead, I played rhythm on a seventy-dollar Sears electric guitar and amp (my fingers wore perpetual creases), and Bob Young from high school, whom I had never met previously, played drums.
After about six practices, Barrow decided we were ready to entertain and make money. I knew he was ready, but I was far from it. Nevertheless, he made the decision; we rented the town hall and held a dance for teens about once a month. He persuaded me to sing, and my first song was “The House of the Rising Sun,” my voice occasionally cracking on the high note, and the next, “Stand By Me.”
We made some good money (to me) as young fellows and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I soon upgraded to a Fender Stratocaster I ordered from John Zabiaka of Dauphin Musical Supplies. On Bob Young’s suggestion, we dressed in dark brown slacks, white shirts, narrow brown knit ties, and beige sports jackets.
We called ourselves “The Rebel Rousers.” In jackets and ties? I guess there are lots of antisocials in jackets and ties today – the IMF, CIA, FDA, CFR, The Fed, AMA, WTO, WHO, UN, American bankers….
It was not long before Bob Barrow left, having found a girlfriend, Myrna. His leaving greatly disappointed us. Today I look back with appreciation for what he did for me. Being in that band opened up a part of me for the better. I had been introverted all my life.
Though I wanted the spotlight and attention, I was shy and uncomfortable with it. I knew I was not free. Somehow I needed something.
We began holding practices on our own, and soon, with Weldon Jensen joining on rhythm guitar and Jim Puls (Bob’s friend) on bass, we were holding dances again and enjoying it immensely. Jim and I became close friends, and I grew to appreciate his parents, whom his friend Bob dubbed, “Sweet Cy” and “Sweet Mae,” because of Mr. Puls’ apparently not-so-sweet disposition.
Jim bought LPs by the Ventures and loved them, teasing me about playing like them. Comparing my ability to theirs, on a scale of 1-10, I would give myself about a 0.1 – maybe, but I made efforts at “Walk Don’t Run,” “Telstar,” “Pipeline,” and the Surfaris’ “Wipeout.” Our audiences didn’t seem to mind.
You’ll recall the “Dairy Devil,” the man my family feared at dairy inspection time. And now here I was, as fate would have it, a close companion with Cy Puls’ youngest son Jim, teaching him to play base and frequently visiting with Mr. and Mrs. Puls at their home.
Yes they called him “Sweet Cy” for his gruff, demanding, opinionated manner, but he also had a sense of humor. Nearly every time Jim and I got together at his place, he would tell me a joke. The one I remember:
“Victor, there was this guy who boasted that he could pee anytime he wanted to – no problem. He went on boasting until, finally, someone decided to take him up on it: ‘You say no matter what time of day it is, or how often you go, you can pee any time you want to?’
‘That’s right, anytime I want to, no matter when.’
‘OK,’ his friend said, ‘ten dollars says you can’t do it – pee right now’.”
Then, with a twinkle in his eye, Cy would nonchalantly produce the punchline:
“‘I don’t want to.’”
This was one of the greater disappointments of my youth: We decided to expand our horizons beyond Dauphin as performers, so we planned a dance at Swan River, about 100 miles north. We could have used a manager or agent, someone experienced at these things. We booked a hall, however, did a little advertising by posters in the town, and that was it.
The day we were to play, we drove up, set ourselves up in the hall, and waited. By starting time, we had two or three girls from the local “out crowd” …and that was it for the rest of the night! In two hours, we packed up our equipment and headed home.
We later found out that a local band did not take kindly to outsiders, so they tore all our posters down and held their own dance that night. We were very disappointed and disillusioned. Expanding was not going to be so easy.
We decided if we ever tried something like that again, we would let the locals of our host area rent the hall and hire us; otherwise, we were foolish to just walk into a town as strangers with guitars strung across our backs and expect open hearts, arms, and pockets.
Then there was the small matter of being good enough to be in demand.
One time, shortly after we brought Jim into the band, the Dauphin high school hired us for the grad dance. We enjoyed ourselves and so did those who came to be entertained. A peculiar thing happened in the last hour: Everyone that was left gathered around the stage and just watched us play. Then they got to talking to us and asking us questions about how it all began for us, what we did, and how we did it. We gave demonstrations on our individual instruments and talked about practice. It really was peculiar. We were “celebrities,” but we were also friends, and everyone was in the mood to enjoy the time.
A fellow in the crowd, Don Demetriuk, was “feeling good,” having been drinking (along with a few others). He was quite taken with how Jim Puls had learned to play bass so well so fast (this was at a time when Jim was just learning to play – I was teaching him). “Wow, you guys really sound good. Adding that bass just does the trick, doesn’t it!” He went on and on about it. The thing was, Jim was faking it, with his bass turned off for most of the night, except for perhaps a couple of numbers. We had him there for show until he learned.
We laughed many times about that night. The power of suggestion is fascinating. People hear what they want to believe! “Believing is hearing”?
No, we didn’t make it to Memphis as recording stars. The instrumental that impacted me in those days was Lonnie Mack’s “Memphis.” To me, he captured the spirit and essence of the electric guitar and its part in rock and roll. “Memphis” was magic to me, though I never learned how to play it; strangely, I barely tried.
The town of Dauphin paid a man to clean streets at night. In those years, it was John, an older Ukrainian fellow. He was eccentric, backward, and grubby. He would wear anything at all for clothing. For example, in winter he would not buy himself a pair of winter boots. Instead, he wrapped rag materials around his feet with binder twine. People thought he was poor, yet he had the town job and also worked for Park Chow at the Grange Café as a janitor.
Word came one day that old John had died, leaving behind something like $100,000, which is closer to $1 million or more today. A rich man had lived and died as a pauper, leaving it all behind. I don’t even know that he had any family heirs.
On the farm, Dad often hired Nick and John Yarema, two bachelor brothers, to cut wood, stook sheaves (arrange bundles of grain sheaves together in standing stacks, in preparation for the threshing machine), and help in threshing. They were simple, uneducated men.
I was told they would not take their money to the bank, but would stash it in cans under the floorboards of the little old house in which they lived on the west side of Dauphin, the poor side of town.
One day, their home was broken into and their many years of savings were plundered. I heard that there were many old coins and bills. I wonder how the word got out about the kind of coins and bills unless it came from the thieves, assuming the report is true. I don’t believe the Yarema brothers would have talked in those terms.
I saw those men after that. They were very sad. They weren’t young any more, and they were in no position to retire.
Do we learn from life’s examples? Why did these men lose all their savings? Is bucking the system always wise? Perhaps if you do it for the right reasons and have a viable alternative?
And what are we doing with what we have? Are we living for ourselves only? Is there any guarantee that we will live to spend it? What makes us think thieves will not “break through and steal,” that “moth and rust” will not consume what we keep unwisely? Are we trusting and serving God or mammon? What is the wisest and most effective thing we can do with our possessions?
I wish I could say that I took these things to heart, that I learned to govern my life accordingly. I have to say that I didn’t.
Some day, we will know who the thieves were and what happened to them.
We knew another set of bachelor brothers, the Sosnowskis, farmers who owned their grain farm. They lived near Uncle Fred and Aunt Mary’s. One brother was several years older than the other. Shocking news came one day that the younger committed suicide. Why do many people suffer in silence and privacy? And why is it the sufferer can’t seem to find a listening ear or some kind of help? Was there nobody who could discern what was happening or say anything to him?
Another set of Ukrainian bachelor brothers, the Ganczers, lived near the Prestaykos, as well. They were twins and alcoholics. It was not uncommon for them to drive into the Prestayko yard, hardly able to walk or talk, telling of their woes and sorrows. Lonely men all these bachelor brothers were, with no wives, no families, no social circles, no friends, and no religious or spiritual convictions – at least not that I was aware.
I wanted to buy a $70 record player so that I could listen to, and learn to play, songs and instrumentals. It was money I had earned, but my father forbade me to buy it. “Why?” I asked. “You don’t need it,” he replied. The conflict swiftly grew and I got so heated that if my mother had not stepped in, I might have hit him; it was close. I am so very thankful that did not happen. That wouldn’t have been something easy for me to live down.
It was strange that he would stand in the way of my pursuing my musical interests, seeing he once had been in a band, played violin and guitar, and had wanted me to do the same. This was a money matter, however. He thought I was spending it foolishly. I disobeyed him and bought it anyway. I don’t recall that I got much use out of it, and it ended up lost, broken, or given away. He knew better, and I didn’t know he knew better. I don’t know that he knew it himself. Whether he knew better or not, God did not bless my disobedience.
The lesson: Obey your parents whether under their roof or otherwise, unless it is illegal or immoral, whether you are married or not. It may not make sense, and you may not like it or agree. They may not be able to explain themselves, but they are almost always, if not always, right, except where they are contrary to the laws of God and His personal directions to you. It is the nature of things.