Here is a harrowing Easter tale that is it’s own little family history miracle. My grandmother, Justina Davidovich, was born in the Ukraine. She left her homeland in 1913 at the age of 18, and first settled near Toronto, Canada in a large Ukrainian community where ethnic traditions were honored and passed down to the next generation.
Her nephew, John Maslo and his wife Kaye of Niagara Falls, New York, mastered the traditional Ukrainian art of decorating Easter eggs, called pysanky, and three of their beautiful, fragile, intricately designed eggs were given as gifts to my mother around the time I was born, and remained on display in our home in Ohio all the years I was growing up.
Eventually, after my father’s death, my mother moved to Homestead, Florida, and these three eggs accompanied her and were kept in a crystal box, along with the note from Aunt Kaye Maslo in a glass cabinet in her home in Homestead.
In August 1992, while my mother was visiting us in Utah, a hurricane hit south Florida, and Homestead was it’s first continental landfall with Category 5 strength. Andrew left little but piles of debris in Homestead.
The day after the storm, my cousin, Rose Murphy, picked her way from Miami toward Homestead and got within one mile of my mother’s neighborhood before she could go no further in her car. On foot she managed to get to the neighborhood and found nothing but rubble – except, oddly, there was one home that had three rooms in tact. Rose discovered it was my mother’s home.
Rose secured a shopping cart that she pushed, several trips back and forth to her car, to haul everything she could salvage from those three rooms that were virtually untouched by Andrew’s fury. Besides clothing and kitchenware, the glass cabinet had miraculously survived, and Rose extracted porcelain figurines, crystal vases and the little crystal box with the 30 year old Easter eggs inside and returned them to my mother, who never got back to Homestead to see the devastation of her world.
I was moving to Longwood, Florida the day after the storm and on my way out of Salt Lake City, I told my mother that I would find a place where she could come and stay with us till she decided what to do next in the aftermath of the hurricane. As it turned out, she lived with us for the next, and final, ten years of her life, even moving to Bountiful, Utah with us seven years later.
In 2003, a year after her death, I reconnected with a second cousin in Provo who invited my son and I to come spend Easter with her family. She had just gotten a pysanky decorating kit from her mother and we prepared traditional Ukrainian dishes and did our best, which wasn’t particularly successful, to use the kit to decorate some eggs. My unimpressive and mostly broken eggs (I’m an artist and used to getting good results when I try a new craft) emphasized the remarkable artistry and lifespan of the heirloom eggs by Aunt Kaye.
In 2004, I arrived home after a trip to Mexico and my son met me at the door holding the crystal box with a huge smile on his face. I knew he had received his mission call that day and rushed home to find out where he was assigned – and when I saw the eggs, I blurted out – “You’re going to Russia!” Why I said Russia instead of the Ukraine, I don’t know, but I was right.
The crystal box and the eggs are now in my glass curio, innocently nestled, belying their traumatic multi-decade cross country journey. They have played a persistent role in reminding us of our Ukrainian heritage – determined that we will not forget our roots, come hell or high water! And celebrate with us each Easter – Khrystos voskres! Voyistynu voskres! (Ukrainian Paschal greeting and reply – “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed”)