ELIZABETH KISH

January 15, 2020 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

On January 15, 1921, a baby girl was born to Rosa (nee Lukacs) and Louis Kish (Lajos Kis). Elizabeth Kish was the sixth child produced by the Hungarian immigrants since their marriage in 1908. Her birth certificate, issued by the province of Saskatchewan, states that her birthplace was “Sec.2, Tp.27A, Rge14, W.2, Sask.”, the quarter section claimed by her father in 1905. During her life, she was known as Erzsebet, Elizabeth, Lizzie, Liz, Aunty (or Aunt) Liz and even, Betty.

We don’t have the historical data to prove it but I think it’s safe to assume that it was cold on the Kish farm and in the little log house that day but little Elizabeth survived the frigid winters, the summer heat, the hardships, the toil, and family drama for 98 years, 11 months. For the last 58 years, she led a singular and solitary life, relying on no one but herself. She was an outlier, particularly among her peers and women of her age. Elizabeth’s character was forged by hard work, the family, and the land of course but two events in her life, more than any others I think, shaped the woman she became.

The first was the Great Depression and the Dustbowl years, starting in 1929/30 when she was only 9 years old. Elizabeth retained the frugality she learned as a youngster for the rest of her life. Nothing was wasted in her house. Not a single carrot or potato from her garden. Not a piece of cheese or a heel of bread was thrown out. Her deep freeze and basement were always amply stocked with fruit and vegetables from her garden, baking and canned goods. If conserve and preserve wasn’t her actual motto, it certainly was the credo by which she lived. When she started receiving modest CPP and Old Age Security payments at the age of 65, it was as if a lottery ticket has paid off and she had no trouble saving money every month. During the Depression, the Kish family was better off than some of their neighbours and other homesteaders in the province, it was still a very tough period. There were shortages of everything; water, food, livestock forage, money, and as the years went on…maybe even hope. This may have had something to do with the second thing that affected her profoundly.

Elizabeth couldn’t remember the first time her father beat up his wife but, as often happens with this type of behaviour, it may have started with a single slap early in the marriage. It became progressively worse over the years and throughout the tough years. After one brutal episode, young Elizabeth cried uncontrollably until her mother admonished her, “Don’t cry now, daughter, you’ll have lots of time for that when it’s your turn.” Elizabeth’s response was, “I am never getting married. I will never put up with that.”, and she never did. One day in the late 1930s, after coming home drunk from an afternoon with some cronies, Louis nearly killed Rosa with a kitchen chair. The doctor who treated her in Lestock SK was so alarmed by her condition that he reported the incident to the RCMP. They investigated and charged Louis Kish with domestic assault. He was tried, convicted and did a short term in a provincial jail.

When he got out, Louis’ status in the community was greatly diminished and a man who’d been held in some esteem by his cronies and neighbours for his ability to farm and manage money was humbled and ashamed. He had been known as The Banker by some and took great pride in being in a position to lend money. They often needed help but didn’t always appreciate being asked to pay it back. As one neighbour, who had borrowed funds for a tractor, told Louis, “I can’t pay it back and it’s your fault for lending me the money n the first place.”

After jail, Louis went back to the farm for a while but at some point before 1940, he sold a large portion of the wheat harvest, pocketed the money, and caught a train west to British Columbia, leaving Elizabeth, her mother, and any brothers and sisters willing and able to help, to manage the farm on their own. The family heard that he was in Abbotsford for a while before surfacing in the Okanagan Valley. This act, as despicable as it seems, set in motion a series of events that led Liz to Kelowna in 1950 with my mother, which was just fine for 18-year-old Margaret whos aspirations didn’t include marrying “some farmer” in Saskatchewan.

In Kelowna, Elizabeth, Margaret and their mother, Rosa, made a home in the house on Fuller Avenue left behind by Louis who died of Hodgkins in 1949. Rosa had travelled to BC when she heard that he was sick and possibly dying. I don’t know whether her motivation was loyalty to her husband or simply protecting whatever assets he was about to leave behind. I suspect more of the latter than the former but they were still married, and partners for life in her eyes, despite everything he’d done before leaving the farm and the 10 years they’d lived apart. Rosa arrived in Kelowna only to discover that Louis had been moved to Vancouver General Hospital. She travelled to Vancouver but he died before she could reach him. Rosa returned to Kelowna and tried to find out if there was any money left. She found very little cash and lots of rumours of loans Louis had made to various friends and acquaintances but no records and no hope of collecting on any delinquent amounts. She was left with the Fuller Avenue house, which was unfinished, and two other small rental houses.

After settling into their new life in BC, Margaret enrolled in a secretarial school in Kelowna while Elizabeth searched for work, in orchards, fields, a bakery, and the cannery – wherever labour, mostly seasonal, was required. At home, Rosa planted vegetables and tended to the plum, apricot and cherry trees in the yard. And so, along with a little income from the rental houses, they made ends meet. After finishing her course, Margaret was offered a job at the Summerland Experimental Farm, between Kelowna and Penticton. This ultimately led (through new friendships) to her move to Prince George in 1952 or 1953, leaving Elizabeth and her mother to make a life for themselves. Rosa connected with the small Hungarian community in the Okanagan Valley while Elizabeth made friends with women from her various jobs. A confirmed spinster by this time, constantly rebuffing the efforts and pleas of her mother to get married, Elizabeth refused all offers and attention from men holding firm to her teenage declaration that no husband was ever going to use her as a punching bag. Rosa considered this an embarrassing travesty and a personal failure as a mother.

1956 was a memorable year for the Kishes of British Columbia – Margaret married Mel Young in Prince George in April and Rosa accepted or invited, four Hungarian refugees to board in their house, against the protests of Elizabeth. The quartet was a close group of friends, young men who had escaped the Russian crackdown on Hungarian dissenters and protesters. The four shared the two bedrooms upstairs while they started new lives in a new country. As she knew they would, the new house-guests added to Elizabeth’s already substantial workload and she wasn’t too happy about it at first. At the end of 1956, Margaret and her new husband welcomed their first child (the writer), adding to Rosa Kish’s growing list of grandchildren.

In December of 1961, Rosa’s brother died on the original Lukacs homestead, north of Cupar. She travelled back to Saskatchewan to attend the funeral but she died suddenly in bed on the night December 19 of a probable heart attack. The brother and sister were buried in separate cemeteries, St. Elizabeth’s and St. Joseph’s respectively, a couple of days apart.

From that moment, Elizabeth lived her life, her way – self-sufficient and self-reliant. She did that while maintaining the hospitality for which her family and culture are known. No one visited Elizabeth Kish and left hungry or empty-handed unless it was their choice and they had the will to resist her insistence to “eat something”. Friends and family, and even the odd stray, came to the back door of 771 Fuller (only strangers, salespeople, and the unaware knocked on the front door) to visit for an afternoon, a weekend, or a week. I was one year old the first time my parents presented me to Grandma Kish and Aunty Liz, and I have many memories of the weeks spent there every summer throughout my childhood. I maintained that tradition with my own family, as did my brothers. My daughter has taken her kids to see Aunty Liz since they were babies. A summer without a pilgrimage to Kelowna was rare in our family.

The focus of all activity in Liz’s house was the kitchen, of course. I spent countless hours at that blue and chrome table watching Liz cook or bake, eating great meals, playing Yahtzee, and most of all, listening to her stories, complaints, and opinions, and marvelling at her knowledge of the family. My primary connection to the Kishes and Bulkas was Liz. She knew every niece and nephew, their current marital status, and their spouses and children. Information on all of us was filed away in the recesses of her brain. She may not have had kids of her own but we were her family and she kept track of us from afar like a mother hen. Even into her nineties, she remembered things about me that I had long forgotten. She was sharp, smart, and a little caustic until the end but, if you listened, there was much wisdom dispensed from her end of that old blue table.

We were so lucky to know her and thankfully I did listen to her stories about the Kish family. I made some notes over the years and one day I hope to put compile and publish them in some fashion, as a lasting memory of a memorable woman.

Ron Young

 

 

 

 

 

CRIBBAGE WITH MY DAD

February 11, 2019 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Dementia and my father. 

Not long after my father turned 80, he developed symptoms of dementia. “Vascular dementia,” we were told, “nothing can be done.” After struggling at home alone for a year or so, he was given room in a small residence on Vancouver Island that specializes in care for early-stage Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. He was there for six years until he deteriorated past the stage at which they could care for him. I moved him to Langley in 2017.

Sitting across from him at the Cedar Hill Center where he now resides, Mel Young remains my dad on the outside. A face that sometimes seems younger than his eighty-nine years is topped by a shock of wavy white hair that is usually brushed. He shaves every day. He insists on a buttoned shirt and he dislikes the “hip-saver” padded sweat pants that the facility staff want him to wear, preferring khakis. At first glance, he looks good for his age and retains the urge to maintain his outward appearance. He still smiles and cares. He asks how things are at home or inquires about my ex-wife, even though I’ve lived alone for over 6 years.

Despite his ability to maintain a social veneer when I’m there, I know that he often gets lost in the facility, becomes angry and frustrated with the staff over little things, butts heads with his room-mates, feels abandoned by his family, and is generally confused. He needs a walker to get around but his primary disability is in his brain. His short-term memory is sixty seconds or less and his mid- and long-term memories are fading. He remembers me but some days it takes him a long moment and a hard stare to recall my name, even though I see him every couple of days.

I feel guilty admitting that visits are a chore because we can’t talk about the news or our shared past experiences. Mentioning family either draws blank stares, because he doesn’t remember my kids or grandchildren or sadness and disbelief when he “learns” that my mother died twenty-five years ago and he wonders why no one told him that he is the last of his brothers and sisters left alive. My method of coping with long silences punctuated by repetitive questions is to suggest a game of crib at nearly every visit.

When I was 12 or 13 my father agreed to teach me the game of cribbage. I pestered him to let me join in after watching him for years with his friends. As the eldest of four sons, I often preferred to hang out with Dad and the adults rather than my younger brothers. The game and their chatter fascinated me. I’m not sure when Dad learned the game but I know he spent hours in front of a crib board in his 20’s and 30’s on the hydrographic survey ship, William J. Stewart, in the Forest Service road construction camps, and on the Forest Service landing craft he skippered up and down the south coast in the early 1960s.

It is not a simple or straightforward game containing several layers and nuances, from deciding which two cards to throw into the crib (depending on whether the extra hand is yours or the opponents), how to maximize your pegging points, and then how to count the points in your hand. Dad also played “cut-throat” which meant that if I didn’t correctly count all the points in my hand, and he spotted them, they were his. He was an excellent player and it must have been frustrating to teach me both the basics and the tricks, but I eventually caught on to it.

He always agrees to a game but adds, “I haven’t played for years. I’m not sure I remember how.” There are many things that he forgets, like how many cards to deal, the colour of his pegs, and in which direction to move them. After dealing six cards each, I wait a few moments before reminding him to throw two cards into the crib.

“I don’t want to,” he responds with a petulant inflection and a chuckle. He will repeat the joke with every hand and I will be tired of it by the end of the game.

“I know,” is my standard reply, “you never do,” doing my best to play along.

He finally chooses a couple of discards and, after cutting the deck and turning over the top card, we begin to play. He usually remembers that fifteens and pairs score but struggles to recall that each round only goes to 31. Even simple math is becoming difficult for him but we always manage to get through our game with my help and sometimes, if the cards are coming up his way, Dad even wins.

Although he often asks me the same question every time I shuffle (currently it’s How is life treating you, Ron?), having the game makes it easier to be together. I know I should be more patient because none of this is his fault. The game helps me maintain a connection with the man I adored as a child, resented as a teenager, and came to respect as I grew up to became a father and a grandfather. In many ways he was, and is, a better man than I. It’s very hard to watch him regress, one year of his past at a time. He doesn’t remember his marriage or my birth eight months later. The only memories he can muster these days come from his pre-teen years. Soon he’ll be erased. Scrubbed clean of his past, including me.

He tells me to “drive safe,” as I get up to leave – a typical “dad” thing to do. I tell him to ‘stay out of trouble,’ which never fails to elicit a wry laugh. There are many things I don’t understand about dementia and Alzheimer’s. How does he still have the instinct to be my father even though he can’t remember being my father?

And, as always, I walk away wondering if the “dad” persona disappears as soon as I’m out of sight allowing the confusion and frustration of dementia to fill up space where his memories used to be.

Ian Johnston – Farewell

June 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

The exact date I met Ian, and the particulars, are lost in the fog of time like so many memories, but it must have been 25 years ago or so. I have an image of being approached while I am playing tennis with my wife but that may be a false memory. I might just be projecting myself into a scenario that I witnessed many times in the years that followed. Ian would spot someone he didn’t know on another court and introduce himself. It doesn’t really matter how it happened, the point is that we got together on the Walnut Grove tennis courts and a tennis friendship was born.

Ian and I had similar skill levels at that time unlike some of his original partners. His friend Richard, Barry the schoolteacher, and Peter the Brit often made us look foolish. But over time the group grew. Ian was indiscriminate and assembled an interesting cast of characters. There was Young Ian, the hearing-impaired teenager who drove us crazy chasing down every damn ball. Mark, the first galoot, along with Little Ron, who only earned that name because he was, and is, slimmer than me. Harold, who was better on one good leg than many of us are on two. Ted, who Ian loved to tease about being cheap, and Roy and Bryan with his snowshoe-sized racket. Old Raymond, who was just “Raymond” until New Raymond came along. Many more joined in over the years. Some stayed while others came and went. Some were better than us, some weren’t. Some could make a line-call, some struggle with that part of the game. But Ian didn’t care about skill level, language or accent, gender, or nationality. If you could hit a little green ball with a tennis racket, you were “in”. Ian was “inclusive” before it became a cliché.

For years we played in fog, cold, wind, and scorching sun. When the rains came during a match, we kept going until the risk of slipping was too high and “coffee time” was declared. Ian was the “President” of our group before it became a proper organization and was absolutely instrumental in bringing together enough tennis enthusiasts to support an indoor facility in Langley.

There are many things I will remember about Ian, like his desire to win the warm-up, the victory cackle and celebratory strut after hitting a winner, and his supply of corny jokes, the love for his family, but most of all – the joy he found in the game and the friends he made along the way.

Ian, I was one of your early tennis mates and your last doubles partner. I enjoyed the first game, the final set, and every point in between. Thanks for finding me, however it happened. I will think of you every time I play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final days.

February 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

We didn’t plan any outdoor activities on Saturday. With our vacation winding down, an Outlet mall was high on Sigrun’s list of things left to do and I had my heart set on visiting Joe’s Real Barbecue in downtown Gilbert. We managed to do both of these things, plus a bit of a walk, before seeing a special New Year’s Eve presentation of a play called Is He Dead?, advertised as a comedy based on a story by Mark Twain, at the Hale Theater in Gilbert.

The shopping was so-so (Sigrun did buy a pair of shoes); the barbecue was very good; the play wasn’t that special (it was more slap-stick farce than the type comedy that I associate with Mark Tawin’s dry wit). The second act salvaged the performance and all-in-all, it was a very nice evening. We returned to the condo and treated ourselves to some treats and drinks to bring in the New Year.

The next day, the rain returned in ernest and we were happy to have planned a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in north Scottsdale. In a nutshell, we loved it but 3 or 4 hours is not enough time to do it justice. They give you a headset and receiver that is activated every time you stand in front of a display. You see a video and hear dialogue and music. The galleries are large and full of instruments from all over the world.

Rastafarian harp in the lobby.

Steinway’s 1836 “kitchen” piano. Made before moving to the U.S. and changing his name.

Beautiful guitar.

A percussion zither.

After leaving the MIM we finished our trip to Arizona with a steak dinner at Wally and Laura’s place in Mesa. Early the next morning (January 2) we caught a cab to the airport and were greeted in Bellingham with Arctic outflow wind and snow. Welcome home.

 

Hieroglyphic Trail

January 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

It was a convoluted drive to the trail-head. Thank goodness for road signs after leaving Hwy 60. We started up the trail marked Hieroglyphic Trail (Petroglyphs). I remarked that it didn’t make sense that it was called “Hieroglyphic” since they were native petroglyphs. Read more

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