I heard the song Rasputin! play in the dentist’s office the other day. It forced me to think of my beloved Ukrainian baba (grandmother) who proclaimed to love this song. It was a hit in 1978- sung by Boney M. I was twelve when it came out. My outfit in those days included bell bottom jeans that often got caught in my bike chain. I had to savagely wrestle out the cuffs with a loud tearing sound. Most kids pants were ripped to shreds in the seventies, we all looked like we borrowed our clothes from a zombie’s wardrobe.
My grandmother was very clever in that she pre arranged her funeral many years before her death. Her wish was that we would play Neil Young’s Harvest Moon during the service. This request took me off guard. It is such a beautiful song. Every time I hear it my eyes tear up and I get a nostalgic, sweet feeling inside. I think of her while humming along and am amazed that my tiny baba who listened to her plastic am radio every day, could choose such a powerful song.
Harvest Moon –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2MtEsrcTTs
I can picture her tiny frame standing in the same corner of her minimalist tidy kitchen. The electric radio sits in the corner of the counter with the red pet rock I gave her for Christmas placed on top watching us with googly eyes. The large black knob is tuned to CJOB – a Winnipeg station. She was always awake hours before me. I can hear the rhythmic way she cleared her throat, ah- hmmn -hmnn- hmmn- hmmn- hmmm like a car battery stuttering to a start. I can hear the fresh splashing of water swirling down the sink and the comforting sound of her refrigerator that special machine noise that I knew so well. She always took the time to squeeze fresh oranges for me, something no one does anymore. The orange juicer was clear glass with little ridges that when she expertly cranked the orange half, streams of sweet juice collected in the bottom. It was fascinating for me to watch-the way her old crooked fingers could work so fast. I was transfixed like children are today with their iPad and iPhone. This was my ibaba.
The songs on the radio were often dedicated to all the “Shut- ins” which always concerned me. My baba had to reassure me that shut-ins weren’t prisoners, they weren’t small children locked in dark rooms by monsters, but were elderly people who couldn’t navigate the windy icy streets of a long Winnipeg winter. So they stayed inside and listened to songs like Rasputin and Harvest Moon. They sat listening to these songs, while sipping their red rose tea and thinking back to a time when the nights were warm. The air was heavy with the scent of lilacs and their bodies were young. They thought back to the nineteen twenties when a date meant catching the Moonlight Special train to Winnipeg beach. My baba told me of how she looked up over a bonfire on one of these trips and her eyes met those of a handsome young man. It was love at first sight. He unfortunately died in the war.
Click here for more of the Moonlight special to Winnipeg–http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/under-the-boardwalk-121984489.html