Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter 2012

Patriarch Kirill: Head of Russian Orthodox Church
The resemblance to Nick is striking. This guy is probably one of my distant relatives.

My mother was Slovak
My father from the Ukraine
Our name "Gorbesh" mangled
To "Herbert" at Ellis Island
By assholes with badges
Who spoke nothing but English.

Both sides of my family came from Galicia (Halychyna), sandwiched between Russia and Poland and occupied successively by several great powers. My mother was Roman Catholic, my father Russian Orthodox, who converted to the Romish faith for my mother's sake. Mom was religious; Dad did not take that stuff very seriously. For both of them Slovak/Ukrainian/Polish/Russian was their first language. But they did not teach it to us kids. My grandparents on both sides worked in coal mines in south-eastern Ohio, then graduated (paradise for them) to running small farms near Cleveland, OH.

Most of my relatives migrated from the coal fields to a Slovak ghetto near Cleveland, Ohio where some worked in the Lorain steel mills and spoke English and the old-country language in a neighborhood where billboards were in Polish (Martian as far as I was concerned).

My father (also named Nick) and mother moved to Columbus, OH, into a Roman Catholic enclave, dominated by Italian speakers and Irish, where Dad started a motor-repair business which he expanded into radio, TV, and refrigeration.

In Columbus, the Mass was in Latin but the sermons were in English. However, when we visited my relatives in Lorain (where blast furnaces reddened the night sky), the Mass was in Russian and so were the sermons. Altho I never learned much Slovak, I grew up in an environment where it was spoken by all the adults. And I am still moved by the sound of Slovak/Ukrainian/Russian. I experience this speech as soul-comforting music: the lullaby-language I heard in my cradle.

On Easter morning our family fasted from food, dressed up and took Holy Communion at St. Augustine Church, then hurried home for the Easter feast which featured baked ham, the paska bread, hard-boiled eggs and three kinds of kolatcki--pastry rolls stuffed with poppy seeds, walnuts or prune paste. For dessert we were treated with klepya--deep-fried soft dough dusted with powdered sugar. For some of us kids, fresh-fried klepya tasted better than candy.

The week before Easter our family would huddle round the gas stove on which were heating small containers of beeswax into which we dipped straight pins embedded in pencil eraserheads and marked hard-boiled eggs in intricate designs. We then dyed the eggs, applied more wax, then dyed them again. These Ukrainian batik-style eggs are called pysanki. Every Slovak family had their own tradition of decorating pysanki and we exchanged techniques, designs and physical eggs. The most beautiful eggs were displayed for years and the duds were used by kids in "egg wars" where combatants hit eggs together and the loser's egg was the one that cracked. All eggs were eventually eaten so everyone was winners in that game.

Easter is the celebration of Christ's Resurrection, the coming of Spring and, most of all, a reminder of the billion-year-old struggle of Life against Death. In the short term, Death always wins. But in another sense, Death always loses. No matter how harsh the winter, the flowers ever return. Each year at Easter time,  that return is the triumph we celebrate.

Veshela Velcanutz! Happy Easter to you.

Typical Ukrainian pysanki


Dr. Will said...

Can't see his watch.

nick herbert said...

It's OK with the watch. The ones responsible have been punished.

Alec said...

I was unaware of a "Galicia" that far north, but it suggests the area was another remnant of Gall, the Celtic region. Galicia in northwestern Spain, and Galatia in Asia Minor are others. The other evidence, which could be just coincidence, is the design on the red and green pysanki egg on the left side of the picture, which is a classical Celtic symbol called the triskele.

Looks like your Celtic roots just go a little deeper than most.