Saturday, 29 April 2017

An Immigrant's Child Asks "What if?" - a poem by Patricia (Blaney) Koretchuk

Patricia with her parents
Stan and Margaret Blaney
abt. 1945

While watching the news after lunch, on a cold grey March Friday afternoon in Toronto my telephone sounded those three distinct rings that indicate a long distance call. It is usually a call-centre marketing call but I was delighted to find that it was my cousin Patricia calling from Vancouver.

We have developed a wonderful caring and sharing relationship over the past couple of decades even though we are thousands of miles apart. We love to capture and share our family history stories with each other and pass them along to other family members.

Pat is an accomplished published writer and I am her biggest fan, finding her an inspiration as I struggle to write. She has written and published many short stories about our ancestors including one she shared as a guest writer on my blog post Harry Blaney Part I and II and

Her most ambitious published work to date is “Chasing the Comet, A Scottish-Canadian Life” which was published in 2002 and can be found and purchased online at Wilfrid Laurier University Press

It is a biography of a family friend’s father, David Caldow. In the preface Pat says “I fell in love with the story realizing it was not just David’s story but a distinctly Canadian experience, a humorous adventure and a love story – not only of a man and a woman but also a story of love for life itself.”

It was a cold and dreary day in Vancouver that day too. Pat had been tidying up her home office and came across a poem she had written long ago. She asked if I would like to hear it. Of course I did.

In a quiet voice she began to read her poem. It was wonderful, I was moved to tears listening to her and speechless when she finished. I have read it many times since and I love the sound and feel of it as well as the stories found therein.

With Pat’s permission I am pleased to share it here for our extended families.

An Immigrant’s Child Asks “What if?”

What if my mother had stayed with the Scotsman who beat her,
the husband and father of her first babies,
both of them “lost” before I came along, she’d told me years later.
But, what if she’d had two who’d lived, instead of those two who died?
Would I even be here, in my own home, sitting and wondering?

But she had waited for me, she said,
This Belfast-born, linen-factory maid-cum-Vancouver waitress, who’d conceived me,
perhaps on a ground sheet wide-spread on a Canadian prairie field,
with only one shared blanket for cover. Or ... I wonder...
perhaps I really began in a freight car she’d hopped, when dressed as a man,
helped and loved by my English logger-cum-father, during the Depression.

They shared no honeymoon riding those tracks, rocking and roaming
the myriad rivers, the towering mountains, those towns and those cities,
along miles that spanned Canada. No small feat, that.
Searching for safety, scrabbling for work, those two were,
barely surviving the dust storms and grasshopper plague.
Freely-given, as a gift, the corn bread became their long-savoured story -
also freely given – to me, as their proof of their belief in the kindness of strangers.

In my first bed, a rented bureau drawer in a rented Toronto room,
I was “wrapped in the warmth of a blanket and loved” they said,
though they’d starved.

I remember twelve of the times they moved, but there’d been many,
many times, before my memory came to me.
From “pogey”-funded room to room, they’d moved once every month,
with meager belongings carefully packed, all tight in my wicker pram.
“You see, the “pogey” paid for just a month,” she’d say as she told the tale,
“but with neither a job nor money to stay, we’d move. We had to”
She’s sigh then and say, “But it isn’t the house that makes the home.
Its’s the people within it. I’ve always believed that”
So what if my bed had been in a mansion? Would I ever have heard this simple truth?

And what if Dad’s mouth organ hadn’t played “Turkey in the Straw”
Or Mother’s Charleston had never been danced in our rented kitchens?
What if we’d never sung beside the radio, or if I’d never been urged to sing in a choir?
Would all the sweet music still resound within my bones?
What if the dictum, day after day, hadn’t been “Go outside and play?”
Would the woods and the mosses, the natural world, still so sustain me?

And what if Dad hadn’t honed my awareness, revealing the flowers of meadow grasses,
The free-to-sniff scents of wild honeysuckle and the strawberries we picked?
Or, if we’d never marveled at patterns hiding in the colours on a Painted Turtle’s back?
Would I have found these worldly wonders on my own?
What if I’d slept in a sweet, pink cradle, softly rocked in an heirloom nursery?
Or if my longed-for grandparents had cooed in flesh-and-blood beside my parents,
as together they lulled me fast asleep within that warm Toronto drawer?

What if just one of these truthful answers could flap like the weatherman’s butterfly wings?
Would the “I” that I now know be lost – blown away in a resulting hurricane of truth?
Then why/what/where and who would I be?  Would I still be me?

                                                                       By Patricia Koretchuk 07.02.14