In 1898 my great grandparents,Stephan and Sanxira Tokaruk, along with my grandparents, Wasyl and Anna Huchulak, left the estate in Ukraine where Stephan attended the horses when their landlord offered them passage to the new world. They crossed Canada on the Canadian Pacific Railroad and became Alberta homesteaders.
In 2009 I went to a family reunion near Edmonton where we gathered at the now derelict 1910 family homestead and I met fifty first cousins. The clan helped me understand my grandparents’ early challenges and 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 the religious icons that became my grandmother’s passion during her life as a struggling homesteader. 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 still gather at the cemetery for picnics on Orthodox Easter.
It was a privilege 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 had seeped through earlier generations to my own in ongoing customs and habits.