Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Opa - Part 1 (re-edited 31.7)

Yesterday I paid $15 to watch my grandfather pass away. It was a shit day. The parking fee afterwards was like rubbing salt in a wound. I laughed awkwardly at the ridiculousness of it, as I imagined the machine saying, "thanks for coming, hope you enjoyed the show!"

The handsome figure above is that of Boris; son, brother, soldier, saviour, survivor, nomad, husband, father, migrant, builder, provider, grandfather, great grandfather and a truly great man. He was born in Smolensk, Russia on the 3rd of March 1922 and sadly passed away here in Melbourne, Australia on the 28th July 2009. He lived a remarkable 87 years.

My mother, pictured above centre, and below left, has asked me to write a eulogy and speak at the service as she feels she cannot. I of course agreed and am using my blog as a bit of a first draught.

Boris was one of five children and at the age of 16 he left whatever known comforts family living had offered and marched off to military school as a cadet where he spent the best part of the next two years, with the occasional visit home to see his family. At the age of 18 he marched away from the school and his family for good and marched off to fight in World War II. He never saw his parents or siblings again.

World War II ended in 1945. Fortunately my grandfather survived. Unfortunately, returning to his birthplace of Russia, was not really an option for him. Instead, he walked from Poland to Germany, where he was taken in by the Americans and declared ‘without a country’, therefore a nomad.

It was in Germany, that same year, he met my grandmother, Kate. No doubt she swept him off his feet with her good looks and flamboyant nature, just as I am sure she was smitten by his dashingly handsome features and masculine charm…. Eventually! For as I only recently found out – there is a little more to the story than the boring old ‘love at first sight’. My grandmother tells me they met at the house of the local tailor. It just so happened that one day whilst my grandmother was there, Boris walked in to have a new pair of trousers altered. Apparently he took one look at Kate and asked “who are you?” Not wasting any time, he then smugly professed that he would come back the next day and take her out!

He did come back the following day - however, Kate was nowhere to be found. Determined to win this frauline over, he managed to find out where she lived and marched on over to her house, only to be greeted by Kate’s stern, and not so impressed mother, who promptly told him to go away.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And that is exactly what Boris did. He even went as far as to place oranges that he’d purchased from the black market on Kate’s windowsill and would write on them “from Colombia”. Fortunately for Boris he had somehow already won over Kate’s father with his desirable American cigarettes, but Kate and her mother were yet to be convinced that this nomad could offer them anything of substance. Eventually however, whether it was the oranges or not I can’t say, Kate gave in and went out with this persistent man. The date can’t have gone too badly because she continued seeing him after that – with or without the oranges.

They married on April 22, 1947 in a tiny church in my grandmother’s hometown of Gunzenhausen.

In October that same year my mother was born. This makes me laugh. I imagine that alone made them somewhat rebels or non-conformists for their time. It explains a lot about the following two generations. (My guess is that they really were good oranges!) Good on them I say, for that unity of their marriage lasted an outstanding 62 years!

Two years later, in October, my grandparents and my then one year old mother boarded a ship to Australia. The journey took them one whole month, during which time the men were separated from the women and children. My mother not only had her 2nd birthday as they crossed the equator, she was also very ill whilst travelling causing my grandmother much distress. Fortunately however, the three of them arrived on Australian shores safely and in good health in November 1949.

The family were positioned, along with many other migrants of that time, at Bonegilla Migrant Reception and Training Centre, where I believe again, the men's quarters were separate from those of the women and children. The men were sent off to work in various factories like the power station and the sugar factory, without any particular trade. With a little money under his belt, he set out to find accommodation for his young family, during which time my grandmother and mother waited in anticipation at Bonegilla, for around 2 weeks, for the news of a new abode and a new beginning.

After Bonegilla, my grandfather was contracted to Newport Power Station for two years. The family moved in with an Australian fellow in somewhat of a ‘communal’ bungalow-style dwelling and continued to learn and adapt to their new culture and environment. Determined to throw everything he had into this new life, full of new opportunities, my grandfather spent his weekends laying the foundations for a new family home on the of land he had managed to buy in Altona for around 100pounds.

On April 21, 1950 my uncle Harry came into this world – one day before my grandparents 3rd wedding anniversary. This addition now completed the ‘household’. All he had to do now, was complete the house.

After many laborious weekends, he did just that, and I am proud to say, the house still stands today.

Once settled into their new family home, Boris decided to study via night time correspondance, whilst continuing to work days, with a view to becoming a draughtsman. He officially achieved that goal, which made him proud as punch, in August 1960 when he received his diploma from the British Institute of Engineering Technology. After completing his contract with the Power Station and working various factory jobs, he gained employment as a Draughtsman with a company called Gerard, where he worked for over 25 years, until he retired at the age of 65.

Each year after his retirement brought a little more gentleness to his character, though his spirit remained as strong as an Ox.

He was a loyal family man, with a dry sense of humour and a strong sense of pride. And we, his family and all those who loved him were, and still are, so very proud of him.

And in closing, four lines that he would often recite, from the novel Spring Torrents by Russian author Ivan Turgenev

Days so happy
Years so gay
Like spring torrents
Have passed away.


Anonymous said...

Simone, this is a beautiful tribute to your Grandfather. The story, in some instances, could be the story of you. The walking and marching (is this where you get you seemingly unending energy?) and the dedication to a goal (is this where your optimism and ambition comes from?). You do resemble your Grandmother. But you share your Grandfathers strength in personality.
What a wonderful man (and family).


Karyn xxx

nataliette said...

the most heartwarming thing ive read in a long time. your grandfather seems to have led quite a remarkable life and im sure he would be proud to know how you remembered him by.