PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
The Corneliuks seemed to have confidence in spite of the fact that they were common farmers and Ukrainians; they had Ukrainian accents and didn’t seem to have a lot of anything special going for them. How could they feel so self-assured and comfortable in their social relationships with Anglo-Saxons, business people, politicians, and others?
Other Ukrainians seemed to have this self-confidence as well: Dr. Potoski was a medical doctor. John Lysak was the Dauphin General Hospital administrator. Fred Zaplitny was an apparently successful politician, representing Dauphin for years. I sat in class with his son, Rick, who became a chartered accountant, someone who seemed quite adjusted socially, with the in-crowd, in spite of the fact that he lost his father early in his life to heart disease. Rick’s pal, Mike Ohryn, also seemed to get along.
There were the Wojtyshen twins, Steve and Sid, who were quite extroverted, even brazen in their ways, and popular. Ed Toporowski, our farm neighbor, who lost his father early in life, became a country and western DJ at CKDM, the local radio station. Years later, Laverne Lewycky was elected as Dauphin district’s representative to Ottawa as a Member of Parliament. The local dentists were Ukrainian – Steve and Orville Heschuk.
Citing someone out of the province for a greater example, Saskatchewanite Ukrainian, Ray Hnatyshyn, served as Governor General of Canada for a term.
There were many examples I recall.
Today, they continue, of course – Randy Bachman, former lead and vocalist for The Guess Who, and now the host of a popular CBC radio program Saturday nights; and Alex Trebek, host of CTV’s longstanding show, Jeopardy.
Internationally, Mikhail Gorbachev was a Ukrainian peasant who ended up as the leader of a superpower, the Soviet Union, and changed the world!
How is it that they, as Ukrainians, could have such confidence and sense of equality with others? I did not have it. I was insecure and simply did not ever feel that I measured up to the general populace. We were poor Ukrainian farmers, and that made me less. Why?
I think I know why. My parents felt that way and passed it on. My mother told us of how she and her siblings were looked down upon and scorned by the English in her village (Gilbert Plains) as “DPs” (displaced persons) – poor, dirty Ukrainians.
My father had identical complaints, and he would often comment on other races and religions. He would make short, contemptuous, and dismissive remarks like, “Ah, Francuse!” (Frenchman) or, “Peh, Nyeemits!” (German) or, “Peh! Anglyeek!” (Englishman) or, “Zhed!” (Jew) or, “Indian!”
My father had this same attitude towards Protestants and other religious or ethnic peoples, though only behind their backs. In daily life, he acted like he was respectful and everyone’s friend, and indeed, he did seem to trade his contempt for some respect for those different from himself as time passed. It seemed to me that he had his original attitude because he suffered low self-esteem, and the attitude and its consequences deeply, tragically affected me.
Is it not remarkable how what we do to others comes to be fulfilled in us? By trying to make others look small or inferior, we get to feel that way about ourselves. It is a vicious circle, a process feeding on itself.
My father seemed to get along, especially in later life, with successful or well-adjusted people in society – Ukrainian, English, Jew, or whatever else. He had a comfortable, if not close, friendship with John Lysak, the hospital administrator in Dauphin. He went fishing with English doctors, Dr. Stevens and Dr. Barry Carlson, Harvey the hospital pharmacist, accountant Bill Conway and comptroller Art Hiebert.
What was wrong with me? Yes, I also got along with several people of various classes, religions, and races. My discomfort was hidden from the undiscerning eye. It was likely the same for my father and others, too.
It would take me a while, and it would be quite a process, before I came to have peace with myself and enjoy that wonderful repose of feeling and conviction of equality with all others, no matter their race, gifts, status, or accomplishments. Thankfully, by God’s grace, I have not fallen to feeling superior to others; I certainly hope not!
Donnie Ryz sometimes came to school with his pockets stuffed with crispy, delicious sweet/sour crabapples from their tree, and he generously shared them with me. I felt so privileged. We never had any fruit trees, I loved crabapples, and treats were not common for us.
Here I am, half a century later, recounting this as though it was so significant – and obviously to me at that time it was. Yes, little things do mean a lot. Never forget it. One of my many regrets is that I haven’t remembered this truth throughout my life, and I failed to treat others better, especially children.
I recall two divorces to which I was somewhat exposed as a child. One was Uncle Bill Atamanchuk’s younger brother, Nick, a farmer, whose wife, Olga, left him mournfully yearning for her return (she never did come back). The other was Bill Panko, a meat cutter, whose wife left him the same way, permanently.
In both cases, the women left the men, despite my impression that men were the ones to run around and dump their wives. I saw the impact divorce had on them and it was sad, yet there was nothing they could do but get on with their lives.
I also recall a separation. Alice Michayluk seemed to want out of her marriage to Bill. She left him and her house for a time and he was quite forlorn about it. The children, Winnie and Minnie, were also quite saddened.
On our way to school, we would meet up with the Meidl family – Richard, Raymond, and Leonard. While I had some friendship with Richard, who was my age and in my grade, I was often rude to him. Decades later, Richard was an accountant for Allard Motors, the Ford dealership in Dauphin, while I was working for minimum wage at ARC Industries and living in a dumpy apartment across the street from his office.
We briefly met in passing on occasion, and Richard was cold toward me. I don’t know whether he thought himself better by occupation, or if he recalled my rudeness in our youth. Whether the latter or not, Richard, I apologize to you and your family. I am sorry for the way I was. I was so wrong. And you were by no means the only ones I’ve wronged.
I must have been about nine or ten when I experienced a memorable moment of frustration with ignorance and stupidity in “high places.” A teacher one day declared in class that, at birth, a baby’s head is as big as that of an adult. I said, “What?” Immediately, I pictured an adult head on a baby and saw how ridiculous an idea that was. I tried clarifying with her what she meant. She was not saying that in proportion to the body, it was larger (a baby’s head is actually larger for its body size), but that a baby’s head is as large as an adult’s head in actual size.
I got angry. I said, “No way! That’s silly!” My indignation was all over me. I thought the idea utterly absurd. Had I only been with peers, I would have exclaimed, “Just how stupid can you be?!” But I couldn’t do that to my teacher.
Adding insult to injury, the other students sycophantically agreed with, if not sincerely believed, the teacher and began laughing at me in my frustration. I thought, “How can I prove them wrong? I have no baby and no tape measure! What do I do?” I gave up, but I didn’t believe them.
Years later, I would discover that people were disposed to believing the most blatant lies, and though I knew better, there would be nothing I could do to convince them otherwise. I would have to learn to accept such circumstances and deal with my frustrations so that they might not consume me.
When Gordie Ryz lost interest in me as a school companion – in fact, he seemed to sour against me – I began to chum with Jerry Minarz, a boy one year older. We did many things together, but a friction also developed between Gordie and Jerry.
One day there came to be a competition between Jerry and me for a girl’s affections. That girl was Gordie’s sister, Ruth. With persistence and opportunity (they went home the same way, opposite to mine), Jerry won her affections, and I was disappointed; he displayed pleasure that he had gotten the better of me, and I was offended.
I decided to go back to friendship with Gordie again, but being as there was enmity between them, I fell in as a traitor to Jerry. We became enemies. Jerry’s friends, Ron and Gary Archer, from his former school of Listowel, were so incensed at Jerry’s report of me that they looked for opportunity to beat me up.
Some time later, we came to friendly terms, though we did not renew friendship. Years later, I apologized to Jerry, but the damage had been done. He said he forgave me, and I believed him, but the effects remained, in their subtle way. I had the impression Jerry somewhat relished my discomfort and regret.
Some things are never the same when once we have offended, at least not in this life. I know that God has forgiven me and wiped the slate clean, but I also know that I hurt Jerry and his family, which I always regretted.
To make matters worse, his younger brother David was killed in a shooting accident, when perhaps nine or ten years old. The family was devastated, especially his mother Betty, who wore a perpetual frown from that day forward, whereas she had invariably been a cheery, friendly woman. I only added to their burden. My ways have been ungodly and despicable.
Curiously enough, decades later, while being temporarily reacquainted with Jerry, I was suddenly able to see things in a new light. I came to realize that he wasn’t entirely innocent or undeserving of my reaction. God was addressing an issue for me that had been there all that time.
Gordie became sour, not only towards me, but in general – a far cry from what he was when we first met. He became somewhat contemptuous of me, but he became that way with others as well. He was sarcastic, snarly, critical, and generally difficult. One day, Bob Ryz, his older cousin by perhaps four or five years, would not take it any more. He turned on Gordon in fury, caught hold of his shirt at the chest with his left hand, and proceeded to pound him with his right, cursing and swearing as he struck repeatedly. I could hear Bob’s hard bony knuckles meet Gordie’s forehead and face.
It was shocking to those who witnessed it. Gordie could do nothing more than hang limp from Bob’s hand, as Bob beat him. He was not the same after that – quite subdued, the aggressive part of his misery knocked out of him for some time to come.
Years later, I heard that Bob was in a terrible car accident. I saw him after hearing about it. He had been mangled and scarred, and his speech was affected. Seeing him and knowing what had happened was as shocking to me as his beating Gordie.
Immediately, I identified the two events, coming to the conviction they were related. God used Bob to correct Gordie and then the accident to correct Bob. I saw and knew these things as an unbelieving kid, without anybody telling me.
I suppose Gordie had not had enough correction because I heard years later that, as a utilities line serviceman, he climbed a pole and fell a considerable distance to the ground. Both legs suffered multiple fractures.
While I don’t relish the thought of these boys suffering the things they suffered (I appreciated them both), I relate this to let people know that God’s judgment is always with mankind, not waiting for some day in the by-and-by. I saw His judgment working out, with these examples standing out in my mind, likely because they were dramatic and among the first in my experience of life. I have seen so many other examples since; they are everywhere all the time. People indeed reap what they sow; we all do.
Another lesson: The unregenerate person often does not learn good things. As I related, in first and second grade at Riverbend School, I was fat and often wetting and even soiling myself, and I was greatly teased and scorned for it. So did I gain understanding and compassion for others?
Only a couple of years later, at Dauphin Plains School, there was a family of five children who all had problems with incontinence, and they often smelled. The oldest girl, Dorothy, was overweight as well. I was in there along with the others, despising and teasing them mercilessly! What a horrible thing!
Over two decades later, I would meet with the second oldest, Stella, at an evangelical home meeting in Dauphin, where I apologized to her. She was married and, professing faith in Christ, graciously declared me forgiven.
I hereby apologize to her whole family – Dorothy, Roberta, Bob, Jack, and their parents. I pray God will have granted them the mercy and blessings they needed and which He deems fit. They were all kinder, gentler, humbler people, perhaps because of their handicaps.
I would sooner live with the weak and the humble than with the strong and proud who are “superior” and socially popular. Handicaps can be good, very good, and needful. And, yes, I know that the parents may no longer be living, but who says existence ends in this world?
I often fought with, and bullied, my brother, Archie, who was once driven to take a butcher knife after me. He got me cornered, and if I had not begged and pleaded with him, he might have seriously injured, if not killed, me.
I spoke of overeating as a cause of my soiling and wetting my pants, but after me, Archie also had this problem; he was the brunt of much cruel mockery… and I didn’t stand up to defend him. I even tormented him as did the others. If I was ever a big brother to him, it was only the Orwellian version. I deeply regret it, and I am ashamed to report it. So do we learn or don’t we?
My parents had friends who had a son about my age. The Matychuk family occasionally visited us and we them. As is the case with many boys, Fred and I were quite competitive, and we were also evenly matched in terms of strength and ability to wrestle. We enjoyed each other’s company.
Then something happened. Fred’s voice began to change, he began to show a moustache, and his body began maturing faster than mine. He started to tease me and toy with me. He cracked his voice and tried to get me to do it; I tried and failed, time and time again. His voice got deeper, while mine remained that of a boy. He grew in size and strength, and soon I was no longer a match for him.
You’ve heard of growing pains? I had the opposite. Fred was good about it, though; he still treated me as a friend, though we didn’t see one another anymore after a while. More on him later.
Across the road from where we lived, half a mile away from our house, was an old, humble country United Church building with a steeple. I remember that some of our Anglo-Saxon neighbors would go there on Sunday once a month or so. We walked by it every school day. I often wondered what was inside, but I wasn’t impressed with the plain wooden, weather-worn, paint-peeled exterior, compared to our stuccoed ornate Byzantine Church with stained glass, domes, arches, crosses, and various details.
I somehow thought less of people who would go to such a poor excuse of a church. “Their religious beliefs must be completely wrong,” I thought. Though I did not know the word then, I would have used “heretical” to describe those who would do such things.
When asking my father what the church was all about, he brushed it off as something contemptible. Perhaps worse, “the devil was there.” Interestingly, my mother’s father had left a church similar to the one we were attending (Greek Orthodox) because of a dispute with them, and the family (without him) began attending the United Church in Gilbert Plains, their home village, before my mother married and became Catholic.
I enjoyed traveling once to Winnipeg by Greyhound bus to spend a few days in the big city with my younger cousin, Brian Romanchuk. From the bus depot on Portage Avenue, I would take the Arlington bus over the Arlington Bridge and transfer to the Inkster bus to their home at Lansdowne.
Brian’s father, Victor, was a barber, and his mother, Joey, a hairdresser, who had her salon in their home. I recall having some friction with Joey.
Years later, Brian married Gail, a friendly and pretty girl. I expected their wedding to be a rather happy one; why, I’m not sure.
I was, in general, a selfish, proud, stubborn, dirty-minded, cowardly kid. It was during these years that a cousin, also from Winnipeg, came to stay with us during the summer vacations. He taught his cousins to masturbate, not that we were innocent, as I have already related. He was about five years older than I. I don’t hold it against him. I understand human nature and its corruption, the sexual and other kinds of vices inherent in all mankind. The disgusting habit became entrenched with me until the day God took over my life, years later.
I feel I must report one of the most shameful events of my life. We were about ten or eleven, when a neighbor, Andrew, and I entered his barn at his parents’ farm. The thought was conceived in us to have intercourse with the heifers tied in the stalls. We made a clumsy and feeble attempt at it, did not make contact, and abandoned the act.
In the days to come, Andrew boasted of this event to my cousin Ed, who was greatly entertained by the report. Embarrassed, I denied we had done anything, Andrew insisted we had, loving the attention he was receiving from Ed, and Ed laughed the more, believing Andrew. I was ashamed and never did admit to it.
It was evil of me to think such thoughts and do such things, it was evil of Andrew to boast of them, and it was evil of Ed to have pleasure in the fact that anyone would even think or speak of doing, never mind do, such things.
I have now confessed horrible things to the world. Why do I bring out such dirty laundry? Will I not incur contempt for myself and those with me, and worse still, for those whose names I mention (in this case, Andrew and Ed) who did not choose to be exposed? What about my family? How will they be affected? Will I not needlessly and unjustly shame those who do not feel it their duty to bring all their lurid details to light?
Did not the apostle Paul speak of things that were so shameful that even unbelievers blush at their mention?
“For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret” (Ephesians 5:12 MKJV).
Are these not such things? Should I be talking about them? And here is another piece of advice from the apostle Paul touching this matter:
“Finally, my brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are right, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8 MKJV).
I think and hope that when you have finished reading this book, you will have some understanding as to why I dare bring these matters up.
Speaking of dirty laundry, I hated the day when Mom would sort it on the kitchen floor for washing in our ringer washer. I hated the sight, the smell, and the inconvenience. However, laundry day is a good thing, is it not? Cannot laundering be a parable of God’s work with dirty people, restoring them to cleanliness? If my mother took on the unpleasant task of restoring cheap, perishable clothing, how much more will God restore those He made in His own image who are desperately soiled?
I tell these things for several reasons. The primary reason is that I want others to know that no matter the sins they have committed, there is hope. No matter how damned or hopeless they think their lot might be, I want everyone to know that no sin is too big for God, no job too dirty for Him, no soul too disgusting or beyond His reach to redeem. “Is My arm shortened that it cannot save?” He asks in the Scriptures.
Think of how long His arm is! Can anybody, in any way, whether by distance or conduct or corruption or hatred or betrayal or perversion or any other way, extend him or herself beyond God’s arm? To say one is able to do so would be to declare oneself more powerful, and that God is not omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
“Mr. Clean will clean your whole house and everything that’s in it,” went the commercial of the all-purpose cleaner. With God it is guaranteed. It is as good as done!
I have other reasons for declaring these things, with names. I spoke to Andrew decades later. At the time, he professed faith in Christ in a Pentecostal environment in Winnipeg, Manitoba, sometime in the ‘80s. Based on my experience with God, I believe that anyone with a genuine life-changing repentance will not be offended at any exposure of the past. If his faith is real, he will endure; if not, he will be offended. If our faith is in God, we are not moved, knowing He is sovereign and governs all things.
I also would like Ed to know that there is nothing that I am not prepared to face. Any true believer should feel the same. I am exuberantly thankful for such a freedom in Christ, Who has called me to His side before the world.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I want everyone to know that Jesus Christ is the only sure hope of deliverance from any and all problems and bondages. He has done it for many; He has done it for me, and He will do it for anyone and eventually everyone, no matter who you are or what you have done.
Uncle Bill had what was called a rabbit gun, a short single shot .22 caliber rifle. He wanted me to shoot flickers, which would peck away at his house roof. I went out and shot flickers, gophers, crows, rabbits, and whatever came along. What is it that gives people, particularly males, pleasure in killing things?
One day while in the bush on my own with my single shot .22, I spotted a Canada lynx following me. I turned around, took aim at his head (he was hiding behind a log with only his head showing), fired, missed, and he took off. I’m glad he didn’t have the mind to attack, seeing I only had the one shot.
I was taught how to hunt and trap when I was about ten. I had a weasel trap line, and it annoyed me when I caught squirrels, whose pelts were far less profitable than those of weasels. I also snared rabbits, and though their pelts were saleable as well, they were worth so little, I would feed the whole thing to the dogs. I caught very few weasels. Some of those I did catch would only leave a leg in the sprung trap, having chewed it off to escape.
Uncle Fred Prestayko had moles plaguing his field, digging high mounds and interfering with his machinery. He offered me a dollar for every one I caught. That was a generous offer to a kid in those days for something like that. I guess he thought there was only one or two.
To trap moles, the trap must be in darkness. With rhubarb leaves, I concealed my trap in the molehills with soil supported by more rhubarb leaves. I succeeded in catching several moles, but Uncle Fred didn’t pay me, not believing I had caught so many. I should have saved the tails to prove it, but the necessity didn’t occur to me – I fed the moles to the cats, thinking he would take my word for it. I don’t know that Uncle Fred would have paid me anyway. Broken promises towards me were not uncommon.
One day, a valuable registered Holstein dairy cow of Uncle Fred’s keeled over, bloated because it had found its way into an alfalfa field that was still moist from the night’s dew. Aunt Mary tried desperately to save it, crying, trying to get the cow up and walking, but she failed. We were later told that a swift, decisive, well-placed puncture in the cow’s side, releasing the pressure, could have saved the cow, but Aunt Mary didn’t know.
They kept the body for three days in summer heat, waiting for the veterinarian to do an autopsy. Then the body needed to be disposed of. Uncle Fred chained the carcass to the tractor and dragged it out to the far pasture for burning. He added wood, tires, and gasoline and lit the pyre.
It was necessary to approach the fire and add more fuel because the body was not burning well. You can’t imagine the stench of burning hair and hide, rotten flesh, and tires! You could smell it from a distance in the hot summer air. I have never smelled anything so awful.
Uncle Fred insisted that I throw on the wood. I tried but found the task too repulsive. He got angry with me. I then asked him why he wouldn’t do it. He gave me some excuse and almost forced me to do the job because he was gagging, but I did not obey; I was also gagging. I said, “You do it,” and walked away.
Could it be that Uncle Fred lost the cow for not keeping his promise to pay me for all the moles I caught? I have known things to work that way….