Sing Me Back Home

Tomato paste cans at I-Square in Rochester, New York
Tomato paste cans at I-Square in Rochester, New York

At age 6 Olga’s mom lost her parents and brother in the famine-genocide the Soviets imposed on Ukraine. During the Nazi occupation of Ukraine she was deported to Germany to work in slave labor camps to build equipment for the war. The ball bearing factory she worked in was an Allied Forces bombing target. She emigrated to the US on a sponsorship from St. Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the church we attended her funeral in today.

We were here for her husband’s funeral so we knew the ceremony would be exceptionally beautiful. We stood, holding a tall candle, surrounded by saints with gold leaf halos, while the four person choir sang the gentlest chants imaginable. In Ukrainian with short passages of English, enough for me to hear “journey to heaven,” I felt as if we were drifting down the Genesee River from the Veteran’s Bridge to open waters of Lake Ontario. The priest chanted and shook incense at the pictures of the saints. We stood with the burning candles for close to an hour with only two short kneeling breaks and most people made the sign of the cross as we stood. I noticed the last two gestures of the Ukrainian sign of the cross are done in the opposite direction of the Catholic sign of the cross.

The choir and priest sang at the cemetery and they sang before our lunch at I-Square, chanting over the light jazz coming from the sound system in the ceiling. Olga said her mom would have loved it.

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