Today, 23rd of January, marks 19 years since Dad died. Next year will mark the 20th year. I say Dad because when my father-in-law lived, I called him Dad.
Ivan was a tall, strong, earthy Ukrainian with a big heart for his family. The backyard was a vegetable garden, bursting with onions, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes. He would plant dill in strategic places to keep bugs out. He never used chemical fertilizers or insecticides.
In early spring, he would turn into the soil 7 year old horse manure, which contrary to popular belief, is a soft, odourless powder. As our sons grew, he would encourage them to help him till the soil and pull the weeds; physical labour can be a good thing.
Both of my sons have an interest in gardening. When Colin and Alix moved into their townhouse, Colin turned over the soil to plant vegetables. Jason plants herbs, tomatoes, potatoes, and onions. Ivan planted their interest as surely as he harvested his crop.
Dad’s generation was forever changed by Holodomor, the starvation in Ukraine of millions of people by Joseph Stalin. Ivan could remember his life in Ukraine in 1932 and the memories forever changed him. Many Ukrainian immigrants settled in Oshawa after the last Great War, and all of them, yes all of them, turned over their back yards for food.
Food was a social lubricant. A drink was a joyful event. When Dad hosted a barbecue, he invited the neighbours, put meat on three barbecues, and served fresh salad from his garden. It was a gesture as natural as breathing. In the winter, he would shovel the driveway next door. I asked him why he did that, he said “she is too old. She no can.” Rather than call the city or a social agency, Dad always mowed Mrs. Aldsworth’s lawn in summer and shoveled her driveway in winter.
To suggest that Dad is missed strikes me as an understatement. Vera and I think of him often. Every time I fill the fireplace grate with wood, I recall the day, soon after we moved into the house, that Ivan measured the fireplace opening. He knelt in front of the fireplace and placed his hands at the width and height of the opening, without a tape measure. His cigarette was dangling from his mouth. His fingers were stained yellow from years of chain smoking, but they were good enough measure. Two days later, he returned with a new grate, that he had made in the shop, that fit the fireplace within a half inch on either side for clearance. It must be something inherited, because Vera can do it too.
I didn’t take to vegetables, as Ivan did. We planted flowers, bushes, and trees. He would say “you no can eat dat;” Dad’s mantra was as brilliant as it was simple but my generation grew up with cheap, available food, not a fact of life when Dad was young living in Ukraine.
Nineteen years ago today, Dad died. Years of smoking, drinking, and grief over the loss of his son Peter to MS (Multiple Sclerosis) rent his heart. I am sure God asked him, as He had asked Aniela, “do you forgive Me?” Ivan, tongue tied for the first time, must have answered “I don’t know if I can. Peter was just 14. How could you?” And God must have said “did you ever plant a vegetable deliberately so it wouldn’t grow?” After a long pause Dad, more than a little embarrassed, must have replied, “yes, I forgive you.”
Professional. Retired. Canadian.