My great grandparents, Stephan and Sanxira Tokaruk, along with my grandparents, Wasyl and Anna Huchulak, left Ukraine in 1898. They crossed Canada on the transcontinental railroad to become Alberta homesteaders.
In 2009 I went to a family reunion near Edmonton, where I gathered at our 1910 homestead with fifty first cousins whom I had never met. The clan helped me understand my mother’s childhood. I wish there had been time to watch my cousin Judy design her intricately patterned Ukrainian eggs.
We stopped at the onion-domed Orthodox Church filled with icons donated by my grandmother. The little cemetery is filled with pioneer graves. Every headstone bears the characteristic Ukrainian cross with its slanted crosspiece below the arms of the conventional cross. After the long winter, descendants of these pioneers gather at the cemetery for picnics on Orthodox Easter.
What a privilege it was to meet my mother’s family at last. While today’s shifting lifestyles often create a sense of impermanence, my trip “home” showed me that fragments of the Huchulak DNA have seeped through the generations in ongoing customs and habits.