Preserving tradition by preserving. 65

I’m here to talk about pickles and family. Stay with me here, people.

At the end of September, my giant, crazy Ukrainian family gathered at my Uncle’s home in Springbank to celebrate my Grandpa’s 90th birthday. As we yelled overtop of one another for four successive hours in a true toast to Walter Michaleski’s love for talking and having things at a volume that destroys human hearing, I looked over at my grandparents and it was all smiles – tired smiles. Grandpa’s hearing hasn’t been great for years, and the complete cacophony my family generates makes it hard for him to stay in the conversation. He hurt his back earlier in the day and was hobbling from chair to chair, my Grandma in tow.

The Green Green Grass of Home. Happy 90th, Grandpa.

A video posted by Colin Brandt (@colinbrandt) on

Grandma, eyes crinkling as she smiled, holding her first great-granddaughter, bouncing her in her lap. Always seated, always tired. I listened to her story of having to take three breaks to walk through the mall to get to the grocery store, remembering seeing her in there two weeks before as she rushed our conversation, looking drained.

A couple of weeks later, she was rushed to hospital with an upper GI bleed brought on by complications with her blend of blood thinners. Turns out she’d been feeling crappy for months, and while she convalesced in the hospital with new meds and a blood transfusion, she’s much better.

Meanwhile in Dauphin, my Grandpa Al’s partner for more than 25 years has passed away, leaving him to reorganize and reorient a life with his closest family member a four-hour drive away.

I am incredibly lucky to have three of my grandparents still here, and a pair of them living five minutes from my home. I feel guilty about not seeing them all the time, not picking up the phone, not putting pen to paper to send them a letter. There’s always a great excuse about being busy, but busy is about choosing what you spend your time doing.

What I’ve been spending my time doing instead of calling Grandma

This summer and fall, I ended up spending a lot of time doing things that my grandparents do. Nic and I planted our first community gardens at the Parkdale Community Association and at an elderly neighbour’s place. I inexplicably built things like tool racks out of wood and screws. We harvested our bounty and picked up a giant canner at a yard sale so we could preserve everything. We have a bin full of potatoes in our parking garage, dirt and vermiculite still clinging hard to their skins.

2014-08-18 20.45.30-2

The first beets, picked fresh from our little garden.

I’m baking something at least once a week in our little kitchen – focaccia, loaves of bread spiralled with slow-roasted tomatoes that we grew in our garden, dinner rolls, buttermilk biscuits, cookies that ended up less like Cookies by George and more like Jawbreakers by Willy Wonka. We bought a chest freezer off Kijiji and stuck it in the office, where it hums away gently next to the susurrant purr of the external hard drive.

I (okay, we – virtually all of these activities are Nic-included, thank god, since she has actual life skills) spend a lot of time doing this stuff. It takes a lot of work and a lot of meetings (at least for the goddamned community garden) and I’m often finding my thoughts turning to my grandparents. I’m thinking about my Grandpa Wally and his neatly aligned rows of beans or his acumen for carpentry. I’m thinking of Grandma Jean and her “bake-’till-done, knead-it-until-it-feels-right” intuition with flour, eggs, water and yeast. I’m thinking of Al, all the way back in Dauphin, with a big house and a big yard full of produce.

I’m living in a condo across from a bike path in a big city, and I’m trying to recreate some kind of prairie diorama – a hipster-toba – that combines the place and community I love now with a sense of where I (or more specifically, my family) have been. I’ve been thinking a lot about the “why” behind that. Why do I want to know how to can? To make ribs the way my grandpa does? To eat food I’ve grown myself?

I am a bad Ukrainian, because I am not Ukrainian

For the past few years (basically since my divorce) I’ve been spending a huge amount of time thinking about – and acting on – a desire to be closer to my family and my city. I don’t think it should be a surprise that when my marriage fell apart I leaned pretty hard on my parents and extended family, who were there with kind words, late-night text messages and bad jokes about which farm animal my ex most closely resembled. It made me want to spend time with these people, but it also made me think a lot about why we do that – why we help our blood, why we make the time – with meals, a kind ear and (at least in my family) gently-used wine fridges.

Growing your own food, baking your own bread, canning your own stuff – all of these things my grandparents did for years had nothing to do with “authenticity” or “environmentalism” or any high-minded ideals. They did it because they were frugal. And they were frugal because they had to be – in a way that I simply can’t imagine. I’ve never had to make a choice between having to hunt for my meat or my family not having meat. The hardest decision in my average grocery shopping day is deciding whether I want to drive halfway across town to get the coffee beans I really like or being lazy and slumping to the local Co-op for a bag of Kicking Horse.

Spiced carrots are seriously tasty.

Spiced carrots are seriously tasty.

I live in a world of plenty where I can buy the artisan loaf and get the spicy pickled carrots to have on my charcuterie plate with the cheeses from halfway across the world. I have a family that treats food as something that approaches the sanctity of religion, but I’m thinking that the founding books of that church have a lot more to do with a lowly stable in Bethlehem than St. Peter’s Basilica. Getting back to the roots of prairie food is about more than just eating well – it’s about connecting to the things my family have been doing for generations and respecting what and how they put these things on the table.

My friends know that I wave the Ukrainian banner pretty hard for a third-generation Canadian. I use it as an excuse, mostly – for being stubborn, for being too loud, for hating Russians for no discernible reason. None of that makes any sense. I’m as much Belgian as I am Ukrainian. I can say about 14 non-curse words in Ukrainian and can’t read a sentence in Cryllic. I feel basically no connection with the country of Ukraine and yet here I am calling myself PerogyPower in video games.

Connecting to place and to family

Now I’m dating a girl who is also (kinda) half-Ukrainian and we are learning these things together (though Nic is a way better vegetable gardener than I am). I don’t think I’m so much a proud Ukrainian as I am a proud prairie kid. I’m proud of my family travelling here, for cutting out Manitoba scrubland to make way for farms, for living in places without plumbing and electricity, for building a life here so their kids could have it better, so my parents could have it better, so I can have it so good that I get pissy about not being able to get flat-leaf Italian parsley at the Safeway so bad that I grow it myself.

I’m not learning to can or garden or bake bread because it’s fun (though it really is) or particularly cheap (it really isn’t). I think I’m doing it because it connects me to that place and those people that have given me so much. I hope that once day I can do the same thing for another generation of sort-of-Ukrainian, mostly-just-prairie kids – right after I get off the phone with my Grandma. I have to learn how to make nalesnyky properly before Christmas.

Nic and Mom with their beet leaf holubtsi - and yes, the beet leaves are from the garden.

Nic and Mom with their beet leaf holubtsi – and yes, the beet leaves are from the garden.


65 thoughts on “Preserving tradition by preserving.

  1. Reply angela clarkson Nov 10,2014 10:46 pm

    Well done Colin. It is beautiful story! Thank you for sharing.xo

  2. Reply Petrosha Dec 10,2014 5:49 pm

    Thank you Colin for checking out my blog. Heres a little saying that I heard not too long ago that you can adopt….”There’s only two kind of people in this world of ours, those who are Ukrainian and those who want to be” !

  3. Pingback: bladesoulgold

  4. Pingback: labor day 2019 sales on nioi casual pants

  5. Pingback: spodnie damskie nike sportswear kremowy ceny i opinie

  6. Pingback: dames hoge laarzen kuitlaarzen met bont bruin

  7. Pingback: belgio maglia europei 50 shop

  8. Pingback: los angeles rams nfl pro line by fanatics branded toddler two piece victory script t shirt and short set navy heathered gray

  9. Pingback: sukienka bawe艂na maxi lampas od 34roz do 56 roz

  10. Pingback: christian louboutin orange leather materna peep toe wedges

  11. Pingback: tenisice Nike Air Force 1 07 LV8 hr

  12. Pingback: latest sandals for men cheap price september 2019 in the

  13. Pingback: fundas protector de celular sony xperia e4

  14. Pingback: african drum sounds

  15. Pingback: halvat punaiset keraamiset lattialaattojen valmistajat ja

  16. Pingback: scarpe vintage anni 10 con bottoni scarpe isolate in pelle

  17. Pingback: mens eye bag removal cream

  18. Pingback: christine manteaux

  19. Pingback: ralph lauren halter adorable rough lauren has her top with a

  20. Pingback: nuove adidas yeezy boost 750 2016

  21. Pingback: abbigliamento da lavoro giardiniere

  22. Pingback: 煤dr啪ba kovania okn谩

  23. Pingback: dionysus super mini python leather limited edition dark blue

  24. Pingback: con mini vestido

  25. Pingback: 讛讞讚砖讜转 讛谞转讜谞讬诐 谞讞砖驻讬诐 讻诪讛 讻住祝 讗诪讝讜谉 讘讬砖专讗诇

  26. Pingback: brugi kurtka damska

  27. Pingback: attache sucette original

  28. Pingback: giubbotti primaverili bambina gucci

  29. Pingback: vans authentic damen sale

  30. Pingback: ver botas de mujer 2018

  31. Pingback: 2020 moon yeezy

  32. Pingback: bedazzled converse for girls

  33. Pingback: new balance sneaker damen rot

  34. Pingback: 蟻慰位慰纬喂伪 纬喂伪 蟿味伪魏喂伪

  35. Pingback: men biker leather jackets tan brown

  36. Pingback: queenral womens full body shapewear open bust slimming thigh firm control long sleeve arm shapewear shapers

  37. Pingback: joj sport archiv

  38. Pingback: bob budowniczy zestaw naprawa most贸w

  39. Pingback: superge reebok crossfit 拧t.39

  40. Pingback: descuentos ropa deportiva

  41. Pingback: abs trolley bagaglio a mano dura valigia rigida

  42. Pingback: mori lee stockists near me

  43. Pingback: merrell womens outmost mid vent wtpf hiking boot

  44. Pingback: matracdep贸 谩rlista pdf

  45. Pingback: ber眉hmte marke mini umh盲ngetaschen f眉r frauen messenger

  46. Pingback: hope lingerie lojas

  47. Pingback: how to get to zara holon mall in 讞讜诇讜谉 by bus or train

  48. Pingback: tm hdc 2x large tesla yoga pants mid waist leggings w hidden

  49. Pingback: paul ogrady alt for hunden sesong 3 episode 7

  50. Pingback: solarne svietidla

  51. Pingback: new era colour block league 9fifty los angeles lakers gorra

  52. Pingback: patagonia forro polar para hombre marcas verde

  53. Pingback: kids under armour leadoff mid rm black blue grade school

  54. Pingback: hoja de laringoscopio welch allyn

  55. Pingback: how long does viagra last

  56. Pingback: i dag er anne sofie glad for

  57. Pingback: montblanc 2824 swiss mechanical movement

  58. Pingback: paski do spodni m臋skie calvin klein

  59. Pingback: baba strandt枚r枚lk枚z艖

  60. Pingback: tappeto rettangolare cm 50x80 shabby chic evita il lenzuolo

  61. Pingback: converse unisex chuck taylor all star seasonal 2019 low top sneaker

  62. Pingback: glas枚gon k枚p

  63. Pingback: damen geldb枚rse mini

  64. Pingback: roxy damen power powder snowboard helm

  65. Pingback: razas de perros que existen en el mundo

Leave a reply, or just scream at the infinite void

%d bloggers like this: