The View From Here: Who were you, Luka?

Volodymyr Kish.

One of the great joys of my life in recent years has been adapting to the role of being a grandparent. Although my wife and I have had considerable parenting experience having raised three kids of our own, being a grandparent is very different and, in many ways, a much more enjoyable proposition. You are free from the more demanding on-going daily responsibilities of discipline and care and can focus much more on just having fun and sharing the experience of young and curious minds discovering the wonderful world around them. Their innocence, joy and awe is infectious, and we gain the added benefit of knowing we can help shape them into mature, knowledgeable and responsible adults. Our only regret is that we don’t get to see them often enough, since we live in different cities several hours drive away.

Our grandchildren are fortunate in that they have two sets of grandparents that dote on them. When I was growing up, I had none. Both my parents were immigrants who left their parents and families half a world away when they came to Canada. I know very little of my mother’s parents Semen and Anna Gerun. I have two very faded pictures of my grandmother Anna who died in the early 1960’s. I have none of my grandfather Semen.

Of my father’s parents, Luka and Kateryna Kish, I have no pictures at all. All I know of Luka Kish is that he was born in 1858. I do not even know when he died, though knowing that my father Karl was born in 1908, I know that he lived at least unto his fifties. There are no letters or other written records of his life, what he experienced or what he thought.

In recent decades, I have developed a strong interest in genealogy and have spent considerable time tracing my roots and family tree. Regrettably, much of this came too late, when most of the people who may have had personal recollections of that generation of my family, had departed from their earthly existence.

This is my greatest regret in life. When I was young, I had little interest in my personal ancestral heritage. My thoughts and ambitions were focused on the future rather than the past. It did not occur to me to delve into my parents’ histories and try and capture their memories and impressions of their parents and grandparents. As young people, I fervently believe that we really don’t understand and appreciate the importance of history, tradition and the personal genetic continuity of our lives. We live for the present, aspire for the future and ignore the past. We fail to realize that much of our personalities and who we are have deep roots in our genetic past.

So, who were you Luka Kish? I know you had ten kids starting with a daughter Anna born in 1883, and ending in the birth of my father Karl in 1908. Three of them died in childhood, which was about average for that era when roughly a third of all people born never survived into adulthood. Your life must have been incredibly hard and demanding, trying to eke out a subsistence living for your large family on a few hectares of land. Peasant life was undoubtedly grueling, made all the harder by the fact that your feudal existence was aggravated by the demands of the Polish nobility that ruled your lands and oppressed any of your aspirations for linguistic, cultural and political rights. What hopes and dreams, if any, did you have for the future for yourself, your children and grandchildren? Were you around for the upheavals of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution, and if so, how did they affect you? Were you still alive when your youngest son Karl, my father, decided to leave Ukraine and immigrate to Canada?

I will never really know the answers to these questions, as all those that were alive during that time are long gone, leaving no written record of what they thought or lived through. Many of their children and grandchildren are gone too, having fallen victim to the ravages of subsequent wars, revolutions and the Soviet state. Many of those that survived are very reluctant to talk or even remember the pain of those troubled times. Also, like myself, they missed the opportunity of collecting and preserving the personal histories of their predecessors when they had the chance.

Cognizant of my own unfortunate missed opportunities, I am now trying to make up for it by doing everything I can to document my family’s history and family tree. I am also writing my own autobiography in as much detail as I can. I don’t know if any of my children or grandchildren will ever develop that same passion for genealogy or personal history that I have, but if they do, then I will at least have left them a treasure trove of written records, photographs, detailed family trees, and a digital record of my own thoughts, impressions and memories. It is the most valuable legacy that I can give them.