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There were a lot of people whom I knew: teachers, neighbors, acquaintances, friends, fellow-students, relatives, but I will never forget my Mother, and her name- Maria.
I will be thankful to her for everything I have ever had in my life. She was a short woman, strong and wise, patient and kind. She hated injustice, any kind of it, and I hate it, too. She was a great believer, maybe, she was making mistakes, but she was an ardent Christian who used to walk 3 kilometers on foot to pray in the “little church”, as she called it. She was calm, but I remember, how devotedly she was praying on the knees, that hurt her from the long work, from the cold winter, from the deprivation. She had only a two-room apartment, which she had to fight for, as she was not a doctor, a nurse, but just a waitress. An honest and an open-minded person. Her manners were sweet, she looked at the people with jolly light in her eyes. Oh, her eyes. green or sometimes gray… Those were the eyes of the truth. She taught me the truthfulness and the honesty, the feeling of respect and dignity.
I will never forget her face, small and nice, in fact, pretty, sun-burned from the sun and the years, but always amicable, always companionable.
She liked the Holidays, the Christian holidays, the Easter and Christmas. She liked to cook the 12 main dishes for Christmas, She always liked Christmas trees and got me to decorate them. She liked the lights on the New-Year Tree. She liked happiness, of which she didn’t have too much. She was always happy to see me or my half-brother. Every day, when we were with her, was a holiday for her.
I will never forget her hands: how many things she had to make with them! When I was very little, she had to bring wood for the furnace to warm up our one-room apartment. Later, she used to bring some coal to make the room warm. When there was no wood, she had to walk in the nearest grove and to gather the fallen tree branches, to bring them and to use them as wood for the stove.
Her life was difficult. She used to live with my grandfather and my grandmother (be granted to them the Kingdom of Heaven!), she had to work in the field, to graze the cattle, to pick up berries, to bring the sheaves to the house, to clean, to cook, to help with the rest of her brothers and sisters (they were 8).
She could not really get good education, as she had to work at home. They could study only in winter time, in fierce frosts. There was the rule: sisters had to go to school in turn, as they had only one pair of booties to use. The elder went more often, the younger, my mother rarer. She had only 3 grades of the elementary school, but she knew a lot, she learned a lot from life. She could read and write, in Ukrainian and in Russian. She spoke both fluently.
Her family was not from Ukraine. They were from Poland. She used to tell me, how they were going to Rzeszow on foot to the church. She also mentioned, that they often were going to a Polish Catholic church, and, even, celebrated Christmas with their neighbors, and the neighbors visited them on “their” holidays.
They were deported from their land in 1945, I think, according to the Polish “Vistula-Operation” order, which, I believe, was a mistake, as, later, in the attic, I found a birth certificate of my grandmother, in which it was denoted “rusinka”, that mean a Rusyn.
They had to leave all they had, and come to a place they didn’t know, but they wanted to be closer to the border, perhaps, hoping that the times would change, and they will be able to come back to their real Fatherland. It didn’t happen.
They all worked hard. They overcome the Nazis occupation, with which they had a problem with their grandmother, as a German asked her, if they had “a Russ”, and she misunderstood him, thinking that he was asking for an iron to press clothes.
They had to hide in trenches during the Polish-Ukrainian conflict, as my grandpa told me, that they were afraid, as many people were slaughtered in their homes.
They had to “enlist” in a collective farm, as the Soviets needed to “prove” their truthfulness to Bolshevism, and they took from them all they had, having left only one cow, one horse and ten hens. With 8 children.
They had to work day and night. They could work on their plot only on Saturday, but not often, either, as, very often, they were ordered to work for the collective farm.
My mother was very young, when she had to start to work for a “lady” in Lviv/Lwo’w.
Later, when there was a sanatorium opened, she moved back to her family, and started to work there, being only 15 years old. There was no other way out. She had to work to help the family. In the evening, wind or snow, rain or thunderstorm, she had to go back, and, early in the morning, she had to go to work again, till she was given a room to live in.
She knew the war. She told me, that she was helping bringing bullets for the soldiers. She was brave. Be never forgotten her name!
She met my “father” at a place of her work, but he appeared to be a rascal, as many of the chaps were, drank, abandoned her and me, so that I had never seen him and had never known him.
I was later told by my aunt, that my mother had no money for her to feed me, she went to Lviv, where my biological father lived, took his coat and his watch, sold it, and decided never to see him again. She was right.
She loved the poultry, she tried to be good and rich enough even during the years of the Soviet crisis, when there was nothing in stores. We were working on our “pole” (plot) planting potatoes and other vegetables. We had some hut for the poultry. We had meat and vegetables, as we worked.
She helped me so much: she was giving me money, the provision, when I was a student in Drohobych. I was missing her so much, that, first, I was coming home every week, though, it was very difficult, as it took 6 hours to get there.
We loved her. She adored us, the boys. I can hardly find the correct words of gratitude to say enough thanks for what she had done for me.
She was my heroine. She will ever be.
I remember her asking me to go to church, when I was already living in the US. I did it. She was very proud and happy. I was not. I had my reasons. I used to study in Rome, but she asked me to come back home, to Ukraine. I obeyed her. I don’t know, if I were right, as my brother told me to stay there and to continue studies. He didn’t know, that among the beauty and luxury of the Italian Capital, I was a foreigner, who received the “permesso di soggiorno” (permission for staying) just before my departure to Ukraine: Italians didn’t really respect me or my knowledge. She might have been right. Thank you!
I will never forget, the last time, when I met her. She was sick living at her sister’s place in a village. She wanted me to stay, but I could not. She told me that my wife and my son and their relatives didn’t want me. But I knew: he needed me, maybe, not immediately, but it was important for him to know, that I was nearby, that I could help him, that he knew he had a father.
We were left alone, in my aunt’s house, as she was in the hospital. My mother was helping with the poultry, with water, with everything else, as my aunt could not walk any more: the work as a cook nearly killed her.
I didn’t know, what to do. I was telling her news every day reading the papers aloud. She liked to pray with me. I found a booklet of Prayers to S. Antonius, and we prayed the whole booklet in one seating. She was happy, tired and consoled.
She knew, I would go back to my son, and she told me not come again, as he needed me more, I guess.
I loved her, and one cannot even imagine, how sad I was leaving her. But she was not alone. She was with her sister. I knew, she wanted to live at her place, but it was impossible, as she was old, sick, and she could not be left alone.
Dear Mother, excuse me, please, if I did anything wrong. I loved you so much!
I called every week to talk to my aunt and my mom. My aunt told me not to call so often and not to spend so much money on the calls. I listened to her. I was sending them some money to help them out: the two could not walk. And the money was not of big help either, as the ambulance, according to my aunt, didn’t even come, when they learned that it was an old woman who needed help. The doctors had one comment: “age”.
I lost her in April. My half-brother called me at night and said that she was not any more. I called my aunt. She said that my mother died on her hands: she got up, my aunt gave her some water with honey,and she passed away…
It was the most difficult time for me. I gave some money to my brother, I sent some money to my aunt, I went to the church to order a service. I was praying day and night, three days, as it was ordered. I know God will forgive her her sins, if any, She will be granted the mercy of Our Lord. She was good, and had great hope in Jesus Christ.
I have her photo on top of the shelf in my room. The photo of a young woman. She was my mother, and I am praying for her every day, in every language I know. I think, I will be doing it for ever. I loved her, as much as she loved me. God, please, be merciful her, the one who had an old icon from the times, when her family was living in Poland. The icon of the Virgin Mary from Lourdes, with an inscription in French.
write by Galvin