St. Nicholas - Sviatyi Mykolai has come and gone, in mid-December. I just remembered I has written this about an early gift I had received waaaay back.
She was the first Christmas gift I remember -- Bonnie Braids, the baby
doll with two short yellow braids sticking straight out at either side
of the top of her head. I was about six, and Saint Nicholas, the good
bishop, brought her to me during the night of his feast day (according
to the Julian calendar). On the morning of December 19,1951, I awoke
and moved my head from side to side, hoping to hear the rustle of paper.
St. Nicholas (Sviatyi Mykolai) always leaves your gift under or near
your pillow. Well, if it was a bicycle or something else really big, it
would be near your bed.
My doll did not come in the original box, but in a cradle basket, lying
on and covered with pink and blue satin brocade, one colour per side.
There was a ruffled pillow, a thin quilt for a sheet, and then a puffy
duvet-like cover. She was wearing a hand-embroidered flowered
nightgown, and had pink ribbons in her braids. The baby doll was beautiful, and I carried her everywhere, even to school and church.
Although I was not aware of it at the time, Bonnie Braids was the
daughter of comics heroes Dick Tracy and Tess Trueheart. In the early
1950s, this was as complicated as spins-off got. At the time, I did not
read the comics and would not have understood them anyway. Even though
I could read at the age of four, it was Ukrainian, not English, that I
knew. My parents were Ukrainians who had been forced labourers in
Germany during World War II. That is where they met, and where I was
born after the war. An older sister I never knew, Lesia, was born to
them during the war, but died of pneumonia at 14 months, and is buried
somewhere in southern Germany. After the war, we lived in the displaced
persons (DP) camp in Berchtesgaden, waiting for some country to take
us. Because my parents had been involved in the Ukrainian underground
in both Ukraine and Germany, and were fiercely anti-Russian-Communist,
there was no way they would return home to the now Soviet Ukraine under
Stalin. After four years in the camp, we arrived as refugees in New
York in September 1949, and settled in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Even though my parents knew a number of European languages, English was
not one of them. For young adults, it took quite a while for them to
figure out this strange language with no declensions nor articles. I,
on the other hand, was speaking English within two weeks. Playing with
other kids will do that, and soon I was helping my parents when they
shopped. Our lives were the same as those of the rest of the refugees –
no matter what professions or education the people had back home, in
America they worked at the most basic jobs until they could pick up the
language. My father worked in a mattress factory, a bus factory, and a
place that made brass horse clocks. I was fascinated with the one he
brought home – a lovely horse on a stand, with a big round clock in his
middle. He would come home with his hands full of cuts from the coils
and metal. My mother cleaned offices across the Hudson River in
Manhattan. He worked during the day, she at night – that was daycare
back in the early 1950s. They greeted each other on the doorstep. They
were also the janitors for the apartment building in which we lived.
Later, Mama worked as a seamstress in sewing factories and bridal
shops. Despite all their hard work, we still had time for church and
Ukrainian school and cultural organizations.
Growing up, I was unaware that we were not exactly wealthy. We had
arrived with a trunk filled mostly with books, a down-filled peryna
(duvet) from Ukraine, and my grandmother’s big, precious coral necklace.
There was love, warmth, culture, songs, and stories surrounding me.
For those first few years, I do not think anything we had was
newly-bought. I was probably about 10 or so before we acquired a
brand-new major piece of furniture. Now that I think back, that
original old furniture would fetch a good price on the Antiques Road
One of the first things my parents bought in America was a sewing
machine, second-hand. Mama had learned to sew at home, but
involuntarily perfected her sewing during the war, sewing German army
uniforms. Afterwards, in the DP camp, she remade clothing for us from
donations received through UNRRA (United Nations Relief and
Rehabilitation Association). I had some interesting dresses out of
men’s suiting, and a beautiful ruffled dyed-pink dress of parachute
silk. As I was growing up, rarely if ever did I have a store-bought
outfit. Mine were all one-of-a-kind, designed and custom-made by Mama.
So it was no wonder that the outfit that Bonnie Braids originally came
in the box was just not good enough.
It would be nice to hold Bonnie Braids again. She is available on eBay,
but I do not need her. I have the memory of her, and the enveloping
memory of loving, devoted, very hard-working parents who sacrificed
everything so that we could have a new life in a free land.
orig. published in http://www.ukrweekly.com/old/archive/2006/020617.shtml