Ukrainian hand embroidered dress in honor of my babcha
My Babcha was a special woman. Her story is quite remarkable and the lessons she taught me were even more so. I only hope to be as strong as her and pass on her spirit to others.
Aside from her wisdom, her love of sewing was passed on to me. My babcha was an incredible seamstress! She was self taught and used her skills as a seamstress when she moved to America.
Before my babcha’s passing in March (at the age of 93), I finished my first Ukrainian embroidered dress. My babcha was very sick and it was uncertain whether she would make it to Easter. However, she always wanted to die on Easter and we all believed she would make it to Easter day. (There is a Ukrianian myth that if you die on Easter, you go straight to heaven.) But sadly she didn’t make it or see the Ukrainian embroidered Easter dress. But I’m sure she got a glimpse of it up in heaven! (And I have no doubt that she is guiding me through my current projects!)
Dress is hand embroidered (took lots and lots of time to stitch)
Invisible Back Zipper
This is a compressed story of my babcha’s life (Written by my aunt but modified to be in my voice).
My babcha, Kataryna, was born in 1920 in Western Ukraine. Her father, prior to World War I, voyaged to America to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, while he built a homestead for his family in western Ukraine. My babcha’s parents settled to rear eight daughters, farming and woodcarving in that quiet, picturesque village in the rolling foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. As a child, my babcha vowed never to leave her home or her family. Little did she know of the adventures that lay ahead!
My babcha’s faith in God and her spirit of selfless service were instilled early in her life. Early childhood was a happy time for her. Those who knew her thought she was a bright and precocious child. Although her father had insisted
that his daughters acquire an education, his untimely death at the age of 46 brought those plans to an abrupt end. My babcha was nine years old. Within the next year and a half, she lost her sister, Rose, to tuberculosis and her sister, Sophie, who succumbed to a virus. With the additional deaths of three nephews and a niece, life in the her family became very sad.
Her mother, unable to cope with all the tragedy, sent my babcha away to work as a companion to a Ukrainian priest’s young daughter, who was recovering from a spinal injury. As a companion/nursemaid, my babcha became endeared to the family. It was during this time, living on the church estate until the age of 19, and assuming more and more household responsibility, that church became important to her.
When World War II broke out, my babcha found herself living in one of the most tumultuous areas – the geographic triangle consisting of Poland, Ukraine, and Czechoslovakia – with the Nazis to the west and the Soviets to the east. At the beginning of the war, she was sent to a school for kindergarten teachers where she excelled. Following her graduation, she managed a village program. However, as the war intensified and the front moved to her town, there was more important work to do. The Ukrainian clergy were being exterminated and the Ukrainian churches and culture were being destroyed. She spent the war years actively working to help save the Ukrainian church and her heritage. As a result, she was sentenced to ten years of hard labor by a Soviet war court, but, by miraculous circumstances, was retried and released. At that point, she fled on foot to a Czechoslovakian convent where the Sisters bought her a plane ticket to Belgium.
In Belgium, my babcha met and married her husband (deceased since 1980); She gave birth to her first daughter, my “Cha Cha Ola”, in France. As a displaced postwar family sponsored by international relief, my babcha, her husband, and my aunt were welcomed to the United States by the radiance of New York Harbor’s Statue of Liberty on Christmas Eve, 1950. Their sole possessions consisted of five dollars, a wicker trunk of clothing, and a radio. After living their first year on the east coast, the family moved to Flint, Michigan, seeking work at the recommendation of dear friends. My Deedo (grandfather) found work with General Motors; My babcha gave birth to two more daughters, my Cha Cha Nusha and mother; and together, the family joined a community of approximately 50 displaced Ukrainian refugee families. In addition to being a devoted mother, my babcha was a master seamstress, sewing clothing for many people in her community. She also worked in the alteration departments of Maas and Vogue stores.
It was during this time that my babcha’s long relationship with the International Institute of Flint began. She was perpetually volunteering on myriad of committees from the booming postwar Flint international scene through the 1980s. Highlighting that era was her participation in the international dance exhibition, telecast from the IMA on Dave Garroway’s (t’s a Wide, Wide World and Flint’s centennial parade. My babcha also was featured annually for her Ukrainian Easter egg (pysanky) workshops.
Whether baking her traditional bread (paska) and pastries, making pyrohy, or sewing costumes, my babcha was always lending a hand to ensure that traditions were preserved and handed down to the next generation, which, in her case, now includes eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Ever hardworking, my babcha lived a fruitful life, while serving her family, community, and country. Her spirit is still very present in the hearts of her daughters and grandchildren.
I love you babcha <3