Note: a year and a week ago, I was writing about just returning from Ukraine, in what seems like another century, another life…
When I woke this morning, after a good sleep my first night home after two weeks in Ukraine, I thought of the church in Ivankivtsi, my grandfather’s village. Well, there are two churches, the new one and the old one. The old one was where my grandfather was christened in 1879. No one could have imagined that baby leaving, going to Canada, and more than a hundred years later, a woman trying to find traces of him in a landscape full of beauty. There were fields, a horse pulling a wagon down the dusty road, a baba carrying a pail of water with two apples floating on top. The priest came (summoned by the mayor, who made calls to everyone who might have information for me) and opened the church. He opened both churches and engaged my translator Vasyl in a long conversation about the dates of the green building which might have been 250 years or maybe 300. He would talk to his wife, who spoke English, about me and my search and he carefully wrote down Vasyl’s email address. In a way it was enough—seeing the village where my grandfather was born, seeing the church, decoding the Cyrillic characters of my surname on the WW1 memorial, one П. Кишкан. So imagine my surprise, a few days later, while I was seated at the table of an outdoor Hutsul feast in the small community of Bukovets in the Carpathian mountains where the little glasses of vodka flavoured with golden root (ginseng) were kept full for toasts, to have Snizhana come to tell me that Vasyl was on the phone: the priest and his wife had found some Kishkans in Ivankivtsi. When we returned to our hotel after the feast, they would be waiting to meet me. I knew it was at least a 2 hour drive, on rough roads for part of the way (our hotel was up a long rubbly track which wound through farms and orchards), so I wondered if they could find us. 7 of them were indeed waiting, with gifts of champagne, a length of intricate textile, chocolates. We spent 3 hours together, with Snizhana bravely translating (because Kishkans are excitable), and although we don’t know quite the intricacies of our relationship to one another, we are confident that we are family.
There were other things. A woman making blankets in a workshop built over a river. Morning swims in cold water. Endless plates of delicious food and glasses of vodka, the red one flavoured with kalyna, the fiery one made with horseradish. Pulling aside the curtain at the end of my bed on the train traveling by night from Kyiv to Chernivtsi to see Orion stretched across the sky. Churchbells in Lviv. The smell of incense in the Armenian Cathedral. Eating bowls of kasha in the morning and remembering my grandmother’s cabbage rolls.
I am sitting at my desk, wondering how I will take the strands of what I found in Ukraine and make them into something approximating the texture and colour of a place that felt familiar. The schoolteacher at the feast in Bukovets said, This is your land. Come again and bring your children, your grandchildren. I wonder if my grandfather ever hoped to return? Or if I will?