MYKETA (MIKE) AND ANNA PALINKA
by Jennie Palinka
Life in the old country was simple and offered little advancement. If a landowner was lucky to own a few acres, that was all he could afford, and on that he had to make a living for himself and his growing family. Therefore, when stories spread of the wide open spaces and cheap land in the new world, inspiration filled these younger men and hope arose. They dreamed of thriving farms and waving wheat-fields where they could expand. This is what spurred Father Palinka and his wife to leave their homeland in Ukraine and come across the ocean to Canada.
They sold their home where they lived in a little country called Borshchiw and, taking their three children and a few belongings, they sailed for Canada in the fall of 1906. It took them six weeks to cross the ocean and stepping on land again was a welcome thought. Their uncle lived near Vegreville, and this is where they came to spend their first winter in Canada.
When spring came along, Myketa struck out to find a homestead where he could build a shelter or home to take his family. Since Grandfather Stetsko came a year sooner and was settled on a farm six miles south of the place which is now called Elk Point, Myketa found a suitable homestead three miles farther south. This site is now owned by Mike Palinka, his youngest son. Here, Myketa and his wife Anna spent forty-five years in toil, sweat, worry and hard work.
The first thing they did was to brush a pathway to Grandfather Stetsko's. This took a whole week with four other men helping. Then, with the help of Grandfather and his wife Anna he built a crude log cabin and covered it with sod. Here they lived with their multiplying family till they were able to afford a better house many years later. Life was trying but pleasant with new adventures every day.
The grub hoe and axe, which they brought from the old country, came into use now, because a little clearing of land was next to be tackled. Naturally, this piece of land was prepared near the house to be used for a garden in future years. It was hard work to dig out those stumps and roots but each day's work brought a satisfied feeling and sweet sleep.
Money was scarce and things had to be obtained from the store, like sugar, salt, matches and a few clothes, so Father Palinka decided to walk to Vermilion to try his luck at finding work. He was fortunate enough to get employed on the railroad, where he worked for some time. Commuting back and forth was the hardest thing to do as this stretch of road (thirty-one miles) was travelled on foot with a sack of groceries on the back.
These trips had to be made quite often to feed a growing family of six children. The three who were born in Ukraine were Metro, Lena and Bill. To these were added Mary, John and Minnie. Later on the family multiplied to twelve surviving members with the addition of Harry, Elizabeth, Nick, Peter, Annie and Mike.
Whenever a load of grain was prepared for sale, the wheat was put into bags and loaded into the wagon a couple days before the trip was to be made. Although these pioneer farmers had no phones, word was passed around as to the day they were to make this journey and a few farmers banded together to make this trip safer and more pleasant. It was hauled by oxen, who, as we all know, were very unpredictable. If they decided to stop and take a rest, no on could make them move. They started up again whenever the decided to do so. During the summer, when it was hot, the would run into the slough and stay there for a while. Hauling grain was done mostly in the winter months and this problem was not there, but other problems had to be solved; such as low temperatures. You would find the men walking behind or alongside their wagons to keep themselves warm. Whenever anyone had wagon or oxen problems, they would a halt and help the one in trouble. Concern for the welfare of all was the motto, especially when they travelled together. A trip like that took them many hours, although they did set out in the wee hours of the morning.
Mike Palinka and wife Anna.
During the time father was away, mother would dress up in her warm sheepskin coat, called "kozuch" in Ukrainiain. She had to do chores while he was away and look after the few animals and chickens. This kozuch was a wonderful garment in cold weather. It was made with the sheep skin on the outside and the warm wool inside. No wind could penetratel this coat and many pioneer women owned one. It was hand made and safely brought across from the old country in trunk. This is where it was stored during the summer months.
Homecoming of father was always a looked-for occasion for the children especially, because they anticipated receiving treats of candies, peanuts and maybe some apples. Father never failed to bring these happy surprises for the children. Mother Palinka was happy to have her pantry filled again with bags of flour, salt, sugar, coal oil, matches and other necessities. If the money lasted, she was fortunate to get few yards of cloth or a shawl.
At the first sound of sleigh bells, which signified that Father was returning, the older boys would quickly dress up to go help unharness the team, carry in groceries and feed the animals. Father would come in with his frosted hood and whiskers, and the children would look on in amazement as Father pulled off the icicles from his whiskers and eyebrows. Mother was busy at the stove heating up food to give her husband a good hot meal. While he ate, he would tell a sentence here and there, conveying some latest news or relating the hardships of the trip. Everyone was ready for a good sleep after Father returned home with the supplies.
Now we'll take a glance at the role mother played in those pioneering days. Life for her was hard but rewarding, with the anticipation of a good garden or a bumper crop to feed her growing family. Her duties in the house were always of lesser importance compared to those outside. Whenever father called her out to help him with some work, she was always ready to give a helping hand, be it in the field or on the yard. It was a common thing to see both parents cutting brush or picking roots, while the children, who were too small to help, stood by crying from mosquito bites and flies buzzing around. They were always begging to go home, as the field was a trying place for them.
Mother had to see that her family was well fed, considering that there wasn't much variety to place on the table. The tea pot was always on the stove as tea took the place of milk, which was always scarce in the winter months. Their staple food was potatoes, sour kraut, borsch and meat, if they were fortunate enough to kill something wild. Two forty-five gallon barrels of sour kraut were prepared every fall and this was kept outside, to stay frozen. Whenever she needed some, mother would take a knife or a little axe and chip away at it till enough was obtained. Sometimes a pig was fattened to provide meat for the winter months.
Very few luxuries were to be had from the store. The family had to provide food themselves, and canned goods were out of their reach. All the flour was milled from their own wheat and with it, they got cream of wheat and bran. A trip to the flour mill once or twice a year was a must. Fertilizer was unknown in those days, neither were there sprays, and their flour made good bread due to the wheat containing high gluten because it wasn't rushed to mature earlier.
We want to remember the device or invention those early pioneers used to bake their many loaves of bread. It was called "Peech", in their native language and was made of brick and clay. Families were large and baking bread in a small oven would have taken many hours. They made this outside oven in shape more like an Eskimo igloo. The opening was large to allow long sticks of wood or stumps to be placed inside to burn for an hour or longer. This is how the oven was heated. When the temperature was about right, all the coals were raked to the front or side and the many loaves were set in with a flat board attached to a long stick. On this flat board they would set the pan and push it off with another stick. Woe unto the person who would upset a loaf of bread. Turning it right side up was quite impossible. After an hour or longer, all the loaves were taken out at once. As many as twenty loaves were baked at one time in approximately an hour.
This "Peech" was indispensable when a wedding was forthcoming. All the cabbage rolls, roasters of meat, cornmeal (machinka) and hamburgers were put into this oven after it was heated real well. The opening was closed with a tight fitting door, or sometimes even plastered around so that heat would not escape. After five or six hours, tender roasts and well baked hot food was taken out to be served to the guests. Incidentally, my mother baked the food in one of those ovens which took place in the year 1942. Smaller families and larger stove ovens have helped to do away with this very convenient "Peech".
Preparing food during the summer months was somewhat different from what it is now. Women and children were out looking for berries, such as saskatoons, which they dried. Mushrooms in their season were also much sought for. Dried mushrooms cooked for Christmas eve were a delicacy. No canning was done and, with no refrigerators, the best thing the pioneers could do was to salt down their meat and keep it in a cool place. Vegetables, such as peas, beans, corn and lentils were dried. A root cellar was made to store the carrots and beets, as well as surplus potatoes. Sunflower and hemp were used for oil. Their own home-made device was used to extract the oil from the seeds of hemp and sunflower. Cheese and butter were stored in crocks for winter use. They didn't keep as well as they do now in a deep freezer.
The children were growing up and it became imperative for the district to have a school. King George School was built in 1912, just six years after Myketa Palinka settled in the district. Mrs. Day was the first teacher and the Palinka children all had the privilege of learning to read and write.
An obvious feature of their early life was the friendliness, helpfulness and concern one family showed to another. If a farmer had a house or barn to build, a bee was called to which all the neighbors would come to help. The women and children went along to make the day merrier. The women were busy preparing a special dinner and supper for this occasion, while the children played. It was their goal to have a house or barn up in one day. Then they had another bee for the plastering of the building and roof raising. Everyone worked hard but they regarded it as fun, being in a group. No one would miss a bee.
"Plastering Bee". Making plaster for the barn.
Mother Palinka taught the children reverence for God by teaching them to pray. They had to learn to say their prayers from a young age and if by chance the pronunciation was bad, they were sharply reprimanded with a slap for not speaking clearly. Peter got one of those slaps and didn't move from that corner for a long time. The children were made to understand that, if they learned other things, they could learn to say their prayers well. Mother Palinka herself never failed to pray early in the morning upon arising and before going to bed. This was part of her life.
Later on, when the church was built, they attended regularly and took the children along. We can all recall how Father Palinka served as a deacon or helper in the church for many years. He was always a good volunteer to help with work that was necessary to do in the church, be it the yearly clean up job or even washing the floor. Palinkas were also willing to entertain the priest and take him over for dinner or transport him to his residence. We can never do too many benevolent deeds and he believed that, without looking for recompense.
Last but not least, we do not want to forget the social get togethers the families had. Visiting Grandpa and Grandma was an occasion the children looked forward to. Sunday was their special day to visit one another and talk over the week's accomplishment. The children were dressed in their Sunday dresses and the women felt quite in style with a pretty frock and an apron embroidered with brightly colored thread.
The Palinkas' off for a drive.
Other recreations for children were sliding down the Horseshoe hill on a home made sled or a shovel, building snow houses, or even snaring rabbits. The latter were sometimes used for food.
The adults had the custom of putting on a concert for Christmas and Easter. They would get together in the schoolhouse and build a stage for their concert or play. The schoolmaster usually was looked up to as the one who was to teach them parts for a concert. First it was the play and then the dance. This usually ended a period of six weeks of fasting for those of the Catholic faith.
Christmas was the biggest holiday of the year. They observed some old country celebrations like going out carolling the night before Christmas Day, putting hay under the table, and having twelve varieties of dishes for Christmas eve supper. The children could hardly contain themselves with all the goodies to look forward to and the visiting that usually took place. Their celebration lasted at least three days and sometimes longer. Easter was also celebrated but in a different manner. Each child was provided with some new apparel and the festivities didn't last quite so long.
The Ukrainian people observed Christmas by the Julian calendar, which came on the 7th of January. Christmas eve was on the 6th and it was a very special evening. At this time we want to review the menu of this special night of the Christmas season. This evening was the culmination of a long day of cooking for the mother, as twelve different foods were to be served. Kotyh (cooked wheat) was put on the stove to cook early in the morning and simmered slowly nearly all day. It was served with honey and ground poppy seeds. It was to be eaten the first thing for supper. Kolach was fancy braided bread. A large pot of Borsch was prepared and made especially tasty. No meat was used on Friday, but some pieces of fish were cooked and the broth drained into the soup. Studenatch (jellied fish) was usually made with jack fish because it would jell best. Fried foods were not allowed for this evening. Peedpenkie was made with the mushrooms which had been picked and dried in the summer especially for Christmas. They were prepared with gravy made of browned flour. There were four varieties of Perohe. The main one was usually with cheese mixed with mashed potatoes or cheese alone. The other varieties were with sauerkraut; with ground, sweetened poppy seeds; or with cooked prunes. Holubchi (cabbage rolls) was made by rolling rice in sweet or sour cabbage leaves. Fasoli and Salamaxa was prepared with dry beans boiled and mixed with ground garlic cloves. Sooshenetze (stewed dried prunes or mixed fruit) was served as a dessert. A small serving of each variety was sure to fill the stomachs of the whole family with lots left over. Thi supper was usually eaten early with all the family members present. Candles lighted the room, and the Christmas spirit was in the air. After supper, Christmas carols were sung and the family lingered around talking and laughing, enjoying each other's presence. Christmas Day was coming with many festivities in store.
Easter holidays were different. The family had to go to confession on Good Friday, or any time during the last week before Easter. Also Good Friday was considered as a partial fasting day. Bland food was eaten without butter or grease of any kind, e.g., bread without butter; soup or tea. This was al so observed on Saturday. Easter Sunday was looked forward to as the big day. No food was eaten until it was blessed in church. Items that were blessed were Paska (bread especially for Easter), Pesanke (hand painted Easter eggs), salt and a jar of water. Easter Sunday dinner consisted of painted Easter eggs, home-made sausage (kobasa), cabbage rolls, beet relish with horse radish, nachinks (cornmeal dish) and cottage cheese. Cold meat was in order, too. The day after Easter Sunday was a holiday also and all these festivities through out the year made their happiness complete.
Many years later when the railway was built in 1927, town sprang up called Elk Point. This consisted of just a few buildings, but the main one that attracted the pioneer families was Markstad's Store. Here, Palinkas bought all their groceries and clothes.
Father, Myketa, died in January, 1951, and Mother Anna, in the fall of 1964. Dmytro passed away in 1968. He farmed half a mile south of his father's. He never married. Lena married Ed Chessick from this district. He worked on the railroad the main part of his life. They now reside in Edmonton. Bill lives in Detroit, Michigan, and is retired. Formerly, he held two jobs at times -- in the Ford factory and in a service station. Mary married Mike Kefuik of the Slawa district. He also worked in the Ford factory in Detroit, where they still live after his retirement. John married Ann Bykowsky. They farmed seven years next to King George School and then bought a general store in the town of Derwent, which John still operates. Minnie married Johnny Yantus, who was a mailman the main part of his life. Later they operated a restaurant successfully, and also tried the motel business for a few years. After living in Detroit all their lives, they bought a home in Mesa, Arizona, where they are enjoying the mild, warm winters. Harry married Anne Yewchin who lived a mile away. They farmed in the Landonvifie district, then moved to Anne's home place, a mile north of the Palinka homestead. At present they reside on an acreage near St. Paul and Harry is active for the county of St. Paul during the summer months.
Elizabeth married Harry Letwin, who operated a shoe repair shop in Derwent. Later, they moved to Fort William, now Thunder Bay, where he was employed as a carpenter. They have retired now and reside in Kelowna, B.C. Nick married Kay Danyluk. He was a successful building contractor for many years, then built himself the first motel in Fort William, called "The Blue Swan Inn". This was followed by a car wash and a bowling alley. Some years ago he moved to Edmonton, where he is an owner of his own real estate business. Peter married me, Jennie Pashniak, formerly of Beauvallon. We are still farming a mile south of the Palinka homestead. He is the boy who couldn't remember his prayers! Anne married Willie Leaf, who lived three miles south of their home. They farmed for a few years after Willie came home from the army. For some time they also operated a filling station, too. At present Willie is employed by the School Board in Edmonton, where they reside.