PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
That is what the Regina Leader Post called it in a tiny article about the death of my father’s father, Michael Hafichuk. He died while dancing at the King’s Hotel in Dauphin during a celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. I was at the Grange Café with my friends, when Park Chow, the owner, a rather cynical fellow, shouted to me in his Chinese accent, “Ey, Ahfeechok, you granfadah jes drop dea’ at King Otel!”
What a way to break such news to a kid! I thought he was teasing, but why would he tease about something like that? He was serious, and I was incredulous and annoyed.
The King’s Hotel was just across the street from the Grange. I dashed over, found that there had indeed been a tragic event, and ran home ten blocks away. Sure enough, my grandfather, at age 72 and considerably overweight, died of a heart attack while dancing.
Before Grandpa died, it was reported in the family that, as he lay on the floor, he wanted to speak to someone. Two of his daughters-in-law spoke of how they were able to see a demon trying to pass from him to another vessel. For this reason, they did not wish to come near him.
There were omens in the days and weeks leading up to my grandfather’s passing. That morning at Catholic Mass held in my grandparents’ honor (for their anniversary), I was told there were two tapered candles on the altar in front of them as they renewed their marital vows. While one candle burned normally, the other burned swiftly, as if wind was blowing on it (there was no wind). By the time the ceremony was done, one candle had hardly burned while the other was burned up.
My family spoke of other events concerning him that were strange to me. Were these mystical stories true? I can’t say because I personally witnessed nothing, but I relate them to demonstrate the kind of elements, mentality, and beliefs that existed in my Ukrainian Catholic family.
Several members in our family had devils, as you will see with my brothers. I have no doubt that my father, mother, sister, cousins, aunts, and uncles had them as well.
When I was about thirteen or fourteen, playing at my friend Walter Malazdrewich’s home, I hung upside down by my legs bent at the knees, on a swingset. Rather strangely (I thought I had done this before, without difficulty), I slipped off the bar, landing on my head. I injured my neck and was very uncomfortable for some time, but I didn’t think much of it and didn’t receive any treatment.
Years later, my neck would trouble me with severe headaches that could last for days, with pain covering the whole left side of my head and face. It got so that I could not do things most people take for granted. I would also have great bouts of anxiety and depression, though I didn’t know the neck injury was the cause. This apparently unfortunate event would turn out to be quite significant in my life – physically, mentally, and socially. And in all this, there was a spiritual purpose at work.
I recall two men who touched me in my early days in town. One was Mr. Boroditzky, a friendly elderly Jewish fellow who had opened the A&W Drive-In. He took a liking to me and when I came around for a root beer or Papa burger, he treated me generously. Younger people don’t know the impact one can have on children, whether for good or for evil. I guess that’s an attractive feature to kids of grandpas and grandmas – they tend to have more understanding!
Another lesson, although learned many years later: I did not understand at the time, but now I see that Mr. Boroditzky was lonely, that he appreciated me, and I wish I had not been the usual careless, self-centered kid. So now I try to impress upon my son the importance of the feelings of adults, how they can indeed be interested in kids for good, and that kids ought to try to be interested in them because they could use some affection, too.
I know it is a hard and perhaps impossible lesson, but as lessons and words in my childhood made an impression on me to bear fruit later in life, so my hope is that my counsel will make an impression on a presently disinterested young soul I love.
Regrettably, children are counseled today to beware of strangers and casual adults, our society having degenerated to a rather dismal level with violence and sexual depravity and disregard for youth. Yet I now know, as you will plainly see, that God is over all and He determines all things, both good and evil.
My father urged me, at times, to visit certain older people, saying how much they would enjoy seeing me. I could not comprehend how that was so. Why would they want to see me? Now I understand, and I’m sorry I did not follow my father’s advice. I do recall that whenever I visited any of them, they were quite receptive and glad.
I shake my head. Why didn’t I understand? Why do we learn so late in life? I appreciate the mock German saying, “Ve get too soon oldt, und too late shmardt.”
The other man I recall with some nostalgia was Wally Foreman, the agent for the Winnipeg Free Press for our area. He was also a Jew.
The paper held contests for trips for the paperboys. If I were to get something like 30 to 50 three-month subscriptions to the paper, I could automatically win a trip to the Seattle World’s Fair, all expenses paid. Being in a small town, there was very little chance of that. But Wally took a liking to me, saw that I could talk and sell, and took me with him to all the little towns round about, promising me that if I signed people up, I would get the trip.
It seemed unfair to the kids in the small towns that I would get the credit for the signups, seeing those were in their territories, but Wally knew they had very little or no chance because only subscriptions accumulated over many areas would suffice for any boy to win. Besides, they would earn the commissions on those I signed up.
Wally knew what he was doing, enjoyed having me do the legwork, and took me under his wing. We worked hard; he drove me around, night after night, and I won, or should I say earned, the trip. I was very excited. (I enjoyed the scent of his cigars, too!)
I learned another lesson. It is not always skill or hard work, but the unmerited favor one receives of another, that brings opportunity, success, and achievement.
On the train, the district superintendent for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mr. Jimmy Trifinov, questioned me on how I got the trip. Just what did we do, and exactly how did we do it? Did Wally Foreman and I promise other kids the possibility of winning the trip with the subscriptions for which I received credit? Wally had taken care of that, too. He had already advised me how to answer.
But the truth was that we had not promised anyone else would win the trip, and I knew those kids in the small towns stood no chance unless someone had done for them what Wally did for me. Wally, being the agent for the territory, was the only one who would or could do that. He couldn’t do it for all, I was the one granted that favor, and everyone involved gained.
Still, I felt a bit guilty, not sure of the right and wrong of it. The main concern of the officials seemed to be that I was shown favoritism. But how fair was it for city kids to have the opportunity of making more contacts and sales, while those in the country did not?
While Wally Foreman was the agent for the Winnipeg Free Press in rural Manitoba, guess who was the agent in our territory for the other major competitive Winnipeg newspaper, the Tribune? None other than another “Wally,” but not just any Wally as fate would have it. This Wally happened to be a relative of mine! Now what are the chances of that from a city of 100’s of 1000’s of people?
So now a quandary began to approach my youthful self. Shouldn’t relatives be more important than strangers? It always seemed so to me. So what was I doing on the side against a relative (not that I had ever met him)? What was he doing with the Tribune when the Free Press was the better newspaper, in my biased mind? And how is it that I looked up to Wally Foreman who I felt was a greater guy than my own uncle? Truly, my relative turned me off; I thought he was a bit of a jerk.
How can these things be? Is there no lasting family loyalty, unity, or harmony? My young naïve mind and heart were perplexed. But then you’ll recall my cousin and presumed friend, Eddy Boyechko, not only sided with strangers, but joined them in bullying me in school.
So what does flesh-and-blood family mean? Sometimes a lot, sometimes very little. We’ve heard the saying, “Blood is thicker than water,” which some take to mean that family ties are stronger than friendship ties. Not necessarily so. It depends on conditions, who the family members and friends are, and how long and deeply you’ve been associated with them. In my youth, I liked Wally Foreman, and I wasn’t impressed with my relative Wally – I don’t recall his last name; I only recall he was Ukrainian and somewhat inconsiderate and arrogant. I had to get over my mild case of perplexity; it wasn’t difficult, but something to think about.
It occurs to me that I don’t enjoy being shown special favor for no apparent reason, at least not in all cases. I have always been one to prefer earning or deserving anything I got. Though I didn’t see anything wrong with what Wally did for me, I questioned it.
I recall my mother once holding a birthday party for me, though she had not done so for the other siblings, and I was uncomfortable with it.
Years later, I would be shown unimaginable, unmerited favor, as far beyond my dreams as traveling to another galaxy and beyond! And my comparison falls far short of the reality!
Imagine a poor country bumpkin on an all-expense-paid trip, going to the big city of Winnipeg by bus, staying in a fancy hotel downtown (the Marlborough – though by then, it was aging), boarding a train, for the first time, headed to the World’s Fair in Seattle, Washington, no less! I was traveling through the Canadian Rockies, sleeping in a berth, riding the revolutionary Monorail, going up the Space Needle, drawing a six-gun with the “fastest gun in the world,” while a kind “Indian brave” (he may have been white with makeup) guided me from behind, and going to an exciting science exhibit. These were the highlights of my experience. What a thrill for such a kid – at least in those days!
I had my mother sew a hidden pocket inside my pants for the bulk of my cash, because I was afraid that pickpockets might get me in the city. And we had to watch our American paper money, because, unlike Canadian currency, it was all the same color. We also had to watch out for unscrupulous ticket sellers who had no regard for children.
A fellow traveler was swindled at a wicket to a sideshow while using a large bill, or so he told us. The world was not necessarily a kind or safe place for the naïve, innocent, or defenseless, yet compared to the world today, it was quite benign.
When I visited the science exhibit, I was fascinated with the modern inventions. At a live show there, I was called up to the stage. They were demonstrating electromagnetism, I believe. The man asked me to pick up a suitcase off the floor. I tried and could not budge it. He said, “Try again!” I gave it all I had and went flying partway across the stage. He asked me to set it down and do it again. This time I was cautious, and I could not budge it. Electromagnetism at the touch of a button!
After the show, they asked me to come backstage. Being a kid in a strange large city in a foreign country, with strangers and without adult protection, I was leery, wondering why they would want me back there. They wasted little time and attempted to lead me in Scripture to realize my state as a sinner and “accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.” It was the first time I had ever heard the Gospel, as it was presented.
Being a “good Catholic,” I was uncomfortable. I was also somewhat afraid, wondering if I was going to make it safely out of there, though I sensed that I was not in true danger. They tried to encourage me to recite “the sinner’s prayer” and were not pushy, but patient, tolerant, and kind to me. I expect they saw I was not ready for what they had in mind.
I humored them, accepted the literature, and left as soon as possible. Did they sow seeds that would bear fruit one day? God knows. I received literature from them weeks later at home. My mother questioned me about it, and I disregarded it. I expect she destroyed it.
Who knew that I would be hearing the testimony of the Scriptures and of the love of God for the first time at the World’s Fair in Seattle, Washington, USA?
Back at home…every two weeks, we paperboys had to collect. I had to catch the people at home, and of course, it took much more time to collect than to drop off a paper. Therefore, I had to start several days ahead to collect by the deadline.
One lady complained that I was collecting in full before she received all her papers. “Why is that?” she asked.
“Nobody complains about receiving the paper,” I answered, suddenly annoyed, “but some complain when it comes to paying, so it takes much longer and I have to start early to get the job done.”
My words were entirely unpremeditated. Some people seem to come up with an effective answer most times. It has always been a rarity for me, so much so that I record this as an extraordinary event. How often have I wished I could always have ready answers that stumped all unreasonable or unthinking adversaries or objectors.
“Touché,” she respectfully replied, “I will pay!”
A word about collecting in another way – philately – big word. I started collecting used postage stamps when I was perhaps ten years old; nothing sophisticated. I was fascinated with the prospect of having something to do with all those countries around the world.
When we moved into my grandparents’ house in Dauphin, I found what I hoped would be a little treasure in our attic, behind the walls where old schoolbooks and other things were stored away. It was a stamp album that belonged to my father’s younger brother, Uncle Ernie. There were many stamps in it that I did not have. Although there was no value to them, because they were glued into the album, it was exciting just to find stamps of Queen Victoria and Edward VII of England.
Numismatics – another big word. At about this time, I also began to collect American and Canadian coins. Of the American, though I would collect all coinage, I particularly enjoyed the Lincoln pennies and Indian head/buffalo nickels from the different mints, and silver dollars.
Of the Canadian coins, I collected the large quarter-size pennies, having the Queen Victoria one I had found years before, the small pennies from 1920 on, the tiny old nickels that were smaller than today’s dimes, the larger ones, including the bronze wartime “V” (victory) nickels, and all the other denominations, along with quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, twenty-five cent paper bills (shinplasters), and one and two dollar bills.
Uncle Fred Hafichuk got into coins, as well as our friend, Myron Komarniski. We often traded. I finally sold my entire set to Myron for $350. For a kid like me, that was a fair bit of money then. Coins were at the peak in value at that time, a value that would decrease from there and not recover for decades.
Why do we collect things? I collected stamps, coins, Classics Illustrated comics, and Whitman books. People collect everything one can imagine. Why? I think acquisition and control is in our nature. Somehow we feel we have power, security, or worth, as if we have achieved something when we try to collect it all. Perhaps it is a form of reach for the eternal.
But there was something curious about collecting. If I found it or had it given to me, there was pleasure, but when I began to buy to add to my collection, the prime enjoyment, the “magic” of it was gone. Why was that? Was it because I was cheap? I don’t think so. I think it was the enjoyment of chancing on treasure.
One of our high school teachers, Mr. Shevkenyk, an eccentric, practical, and disciplined man in his late 40’s or early 50’s, believed in eating and living healthily. He would often bring up these subjects in his science classes. He could do fifty pushups in one minute – on one hand.
One of his ambitions was to promote the proposed universal language of Esperanto. He believed it was the logical language of the future. My first language was Ukrainian, then I learned English, and we studied French in school. I enjoyed languages. Then I was introduced to this one, which was simple, well-engineered, logical, practical… but not very popular.
There were no more than about a half dozen of us, in the whole school of perhaps 700 students, who showed interest. We, as ground floor students, would be key persons in this great endeavor, Mr. Shevkenyk promised. Esperanto would deliver mankind from the confusion of miscommunications and the waste of duplication, saving us the high cost in time and energy involved in learning, employing, and translating hundreds of languages. He was persuaded one common language might do much to restore mankind to harmony and sound understanding of one another, the possible key to world peace.
It sounded good, but there was one problem. Even in youth I sensed (though I was not conscious of it) that Esperanto is like an artificial houseplant – while not requiring fertilizer, water, pruning, or repotting, it can’t produce flowers, fruit, or anything new. Everything is perfectly predictable. People cannot countenance total lack of variety, perhaps especially with language. Languages are living and organic. Esperanto is sterile. It is like a robot that can walk, speak, see, hear, and gather information, but it cannot think, reason, feel, sense, imagine, relate, or love.
Having learned this Bible story at church, I wondered how Mr. Shevkenyk and others might presume to reverse God’s work of confounding the languages at the Tower of Babel. Esperanto certainly didn’t get going with us – it lasted for three or four classes and finally fizzled.
Uncle Fred Hafichuk took me golfing when I was about fourteen, and I fell in love with the sport. I longed to get out to the Dauphin course after school and weekends. He taught what he knew and, as I progressed, Stan Homeniuk, the shop pro, suggested that I take lessons because I showed promise of becoming a pro. My cynical self suggested he did that for the money he might make on lessons.
Myron Komarniski often picked me up after school at the Collegiate, and we raced out to the golf course ten miles away, in his Mercury, at 90 miles an hour, dodging potholes on a two-lane highway to meet our tee time.
The spirit of golf captivated me. If someone had seriously encouraged me to go pro, I would have gone for it, at least for a while; however, when I saw the practice Stan went through, I had second thoughts. In having to do the same, I think that in time I might have lost the enjoyment, that magic feeling.
Why do we take the pleasure out of things we enjoy by this compulsion to achieve, perfect, compete with, and prevail over, ourselves and others? Why, after all that work, do we discover that we sought for fulfillment in yet another dead-end alley? Are not fame and fortune frauds in this world? Or are we the frauds?
When trying out for the football team, I could not understand how to play my defensive position, and I was eliminated at the first tryout. I was humbled but thankful for it. I figured football was an injury guaranteed to happen, and to me, it just wasn’t worth it. I knew that Uncle Fred had broken his wrist playing high school football.
I enjoyed badminton, though. And I joined the high school five-pin bowling league, making it to the Manitoba provincials in Winnipeg.
Ron Gulas was one of the fellows in the high school bowling league. For a time he seemed quite reasonable, but then he changed, becoming, well, quite unreasonable. He seemed suddenly and inexplicably set on raising hell. He wasn’t a handsome fellow, and he didn’t have what one would esteem a desirable personality, though I didn’t have a problem with him.
He bought a convertible and was determined to take girls for a ride and show off. It was reported by those who rode with him that he was a reckless and arrogant driver. Ron was warned by others to drive responsibly, but he wouldn’t listen. People were warned not to go with him, lest something should happen.
On February 14th, 1964, Valentine’s Day, Ron picked up three girls after school – Lynn Lozinski, Linda Buchy, and Liz Kitlarchuk – and headed out on the highway south of Dauphin. Not watching where he was going, and likely in his usual rash attitude, they suddenly ploughed under a stopped school bus, his car replacing the bus’ rear axle. Perhaps in an attempt to miss at the last moment, Ron swerved to the left and barely spared his own life, but the girls were instantly killed – decapitated, I heard. Ron was mangled and in the hospital and physiotherapy for a long time thereafter, not to mention the burden on his conscience thereafter. One would think so.
What a shock to Dauphin! Yet we heard reports that Ron was defiant and cynical about the whole tragic event. He was a pariah in the community thereafter. I never talked to him about these things. He and I had mutually strayed apart as casual friends well before the collision.
In June 2012, Anne Saley got in touch with me after reading this account. She said Ron had offered her and her friend, Lillian Saari (now Delafuente), a ride that day and they ignored him. Ann and her friend look back at the event as having been protected from above. I agree.
I was an introvert and therefore some of my friends were introverted, though I had every kind of friend. I want to name a few:
Jim Danyluk taught me to make a wooden cribbage board coffee table, but it warped, having been green wood. I enjoyed his company, though I went on to other friends for something more.
Jerry Manchur was a quiet fellow who lived in the corner house next door to us. He lived with his recently widowed mother. There was a sadness there I did not comprehend or pay attention to at my age.
Peter Bzowy was a rather quiet, shy boy. His father had also died prematurely. Peter lost some fingers in handling dynamite on their farm. He lived with his poor, sad mother and sister in a very modest home, otherwise called a shack. Peter was never without his old bicycle, and he won a glorious bike race at the Dauphin Collegiate Technical Institute Track and Field Day, leaving the closest ones beyond the dust by at least a quarter-mile lap. Several quit the race long before it was over. I was glad for him.
Wally Malazdrewich had a sense of humor and wit, and we enjoyed each other’s company. He admired his older brother, Larry, who was a lady’s man and DJ with our local radio station, CKDM. Wally was the friend with whom I received my ill-fated neck injury.
Wayne Bosiak was my age – considerate, generous, and humorous. He was also effeminate (not homosexual that I knew), and he was often teased, if not scorned, for the way he was. He had a sister, Gwen; I appreciated them both.
Ralph Beattie was a guy with a peculiar sense of humor. We played badminton.
Ernie Gidilewich was my age and in my ninth grade class. He, Frank Sklepowich, and I became known as the “three musketeers” – we did things together, were in the same class, all Ukrainian, same size, same sense of humor, and same interests.
Girls? I was always struggling in that department.
The prettiest of them all, a living Barbie doll, Florence Yaschyshyn, once invited me to her place to discuss Ukrainian Youth Club executive business. I was president and she was secretary-treasurer. Her parents were not home. She pulled out the wine and made her moves. While I accepted the wine, I was too shy to take her up on so much as a kiss.
Linda Boyko was a wild one with whom I went steady when I was in the rock band (described in next particle). She later tried to betray me; a girl warned me of Linda’s plans to dump me at a beach party and join to Bill Brayshaw, who liked Linda – he would have to dump his steady. I canceled going, avoiding the public humiliation, thankful for having been warned. Linda went ahead with her plans and Bill dumped his steady and went with Linda. His girlfriend was distraught.
At least for my part, thanks to a concerned girl’s consideration, Linda’s plot had been foiled. I would never go back to her again, though she tried to reunite with me. She married Bill years later, and he became a member of the Ontario Provincial Police.
Marlene Koroscil was another extraverted girl, pretty and lively. She was offended by advances I made at a party, and she left me because of that. I didn’t blame her.
Thelma Kozak was an intelligent girl who seemed to indicate she enjoyed my company enough for courtship, but I wasn’t interested. I was looking for some adventure, safe adventure, a tall order (I don’t know that safe adventures are a reality).
I had respect for Thelma and her parents. Her father, Metro, taught French in tenth grade, and he once abruptly shouted a chill into me when I was talking in class. Her mother, Nancy, was the conductor of the Ukrainian Catholic choir. Hearing me sing tenor in harmony with others, she encouraged me to join the choir and soon instructed me to sing the tenor solo “Otche Nash” (“Our Father”) in Mass at church.
I went around with a shy Ukrainian girl, Marianne Wuin, for a while, but lost interest. Later, I learned she ended up with a child out of wedlock (not mine).
I also dated Beverly Barrie.
There were several girls I would have wanted to date, but I did not have either the opportunity or the nerve to pursue them. I had a crush on some of them, Jackie Lesyshyn for one, a girl in our eighth grade class at Smith Jackson. She was too extraverted for me.
Several girls had crushes on me, but I was either not interested or too shy. Some mistook my shyness for arrogance.
Ed Koshowski, a good-looking, popular Ukrainian Catholic high school student with a guitar (and convertible) was trying to get a music group going and invited me to sing with him. I remember one of the first songs we sang, a popular one – “Stewball,” recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary, a popular folk group in the 60’s. This was my entrance into the music world for a while.
The curious thing about that song was that to me, the tone or mood just didn’t match the lyrics. The music was rather melancholy and sentimental, while the words were quite stupid. I remember singing the song with gravity and emotion, harmonizing with Ed Koshowski and a girl, but if one were to pay attention to the words more than the music (I never did), one would have to laugh – or gag.
That is the power and magic of music. One can sing the most idiotic words, but by matching them up with sentimental music or music of a mood contrary to the words, the spirit of the music wins out, hands down.
In high school, I began to have other recurring dreams.
Strange social and complex circumstances were never easy for me. The Dauphin Collegiate, with its new wing attached, caused confusion in my mind, as did the hospital where I spent some summers working. Somehow the complexity (to me) of layouts caused an uncomfortableness in my mind. The two institutions combined to form a recurring nightmare of trying to find my way through physio and cancer wards (with smells and illness atmosphere included), school classrooms, long halls, and even shopping malls.
Often in the process, I was searching for a clean public washroom, which was hard to find. In the shopping mall portions, I tried to pass through by going out their back doors, but I could never find my way. Added to this mix would be the MIT I later attended. My mind is challenged with such things, which seem as nothing to others. Am I the only one to be so impacted by such circumstances?