By Van Andruss –
Gloria Atamanenko, a dear friend and a greatly valued contributor to Lived Experience, died this year at Deni House in Williams Lake, BC. By her side was George Atamanenko, her husband of 60 years, and her devoted son, Peter.
Gloria Katherine Chomiak was the first born of six children on a farm near Fort Vermilion, Alberta (see LE7, “Two Autobiographical Sketches”). She left the farm at age 15, summoned to Wilmington, Delaware, to care for her uncle. Graduating from high school, she continued her education in Wilmington at Swarthmore College and afterwards began a career as a social worker in Williams Lake.
She married George in Vancouver, in August of 1957. Following the birth of their first son, Boris, the young couple moved here and there, to Vancouver and Edmonton, and in 1963 to Victoria. Their son, Peter, was born in Victoria in 1965 and the family remained in the capital city until 1994, then returned to the Cariboo to take up ranching at 150 Mile House.
Gloria suffered a stroke in 2006, a misfortune that left her partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, but she carried on with life energetically, as was her nature, and with dignity.
It was Sage Birchwater who introduced my partner Eleanor and me to Gloria and George at their home near 150 Mile House on the road to Horsefly. That must have been about 10 years ago. We were immediately drawn to each other. Personal affinities are mysterious, but the attraction was very definite, and whenever Eleanor and I were in the area, we would drop by for a visit, which usually meant a sumptuous lunch or dinner in the dinette beside the kitchen. Gloria sat in her chair at the head of the table and retained full command of George’s activity in the kitchen. The food was delicious. Always there was pie or cookies, sometimes even ice cream. I would look out the bay window at the bird feeder and small yard on the knoll that overlooked a sizable pond, a typical, changeable feature of the Cariboo Country. I remember once taking a walk with Eleanor on the road running parallel to the pond. It was spring and the mosquitoes were awful. I’ve an image of myself walking along with a fir branch and repeatedly swiping my face to shake the devils off.
There was a coffee table in the living room stacked with the latest interesting books on politics and other social issues. Sensitive and acutely conscious of what was currently happening in the world, this was a committed NDP household.
There was a small piano in the living room, which I heartily tinkled at least once.
These are small memories. I see now, recalling them, that our relationship was primarily domestic. We were not doing politics together, though we inevitably dipped into that baffling topic; we simply enjoyed each other’s company, which was sufficient.
Gloria’s heritage was Ukrainian and it mattered to her. Once she loaned me a book she had translated from the Russian called Fourteen Months on Franz Joseph Land. The book was written by a friend’s uncle, the Ukrainian geomorphologist Mykhailo Mikolajovich Ivanychuk, who was sent out with a research party in the winter of 1932-33 to a Soviet weather station at Ostrov Gukera (Hooker Island), with the directive, besides weather research, to explore and survey the eastern islands of the Franz Joseph Land archipelago. Fourteen Months was originally published in Russian in 1934. I found the book absorbing and will always associate Gloria with this man of courage. Mykhailo, because he was Ukrainian, was later unjustly persecuted by the Bolsheviks, as were all Ukrainians.
Gloria had a literary talent that compelled her to write. She applied her gift to recollecting events, some of which found their way into Lived Experience. Below is a list of stories and essays by Gloria, published in the magazine:
LE7 “Two Autobiographical Sketches” and “My First Political Experience” appeared more recently in the excellent Williams Lake publication, TheGreenGazette.
LE8 “Aging on the Gold Rush Trail”. I can’t help recording that this is my favourite of all Gloria’s stories. Here you read of Gloria’s work as a social worker in touch with old prospectors.
LE9 “Tobacco Pudding”. A marvelous essay on her family’s immigration to Fort Vermilion from Western Ukraine after WWI. A classic portrayal of a Canadian pioneering experience.
LE10 “Breaking with Convention in the New World”.
So unique a woman leaves an empty space in our world that no one else could occupy.
I am one of those, among many, who will always think of Gloria with loving affection.
There will be a Celebration of Gloria’s Life on May 5, 2018 at Williams Lake.
Van Andruss is editor of Lived Experience, an annual anthology of poetry, essays, and stories from BC and beyond. Van is a bioregionalist who lives a simple life in community in the Yalakom Valley, BC. LEs are available at the Open Book and The Station House Gallery in Williams Lake.