‘Newcomers wore strange clothes’

From our January 2013 issue

By Dorothy (Miller) HunsleyMississauga, Ont.

I was six years old and eagerly waiting to start school when a family came to town from the Ukraine – parents and three children – one girl and two boys. The father spoke little English, the mother none, and the two oldest children had some English lessons before they left.

People in our small Saskatchewan town were curious. The newcomers wore strange clothes and they all wore felt boots. The girl wore heavy woolen stockings. The father worked on the tracks so they lived near them. Our house was on the last street in town so there was a big expanse of prairie between us.

The father gave my dad money and asked if would he take his two oldest children downtown to buy them Canadian clothes. He wanted them to become Canadian and leave everything Ukraine behind them.

There was only one store in town that sold clothes so it was no big deal. Dad and I went to buy clothes with them. As a six-year-old I had mixed emotions about these strange people. Later, we went with them to Saskatoon to buy more clothes.

The daughter, Olga, doesn’t remember starting school but she does remember that her dad gave me a green sweater that she wanted. I don’t remember that. She does remember that she had to stand in the corner at school because of me.

The day my baby sister was born I went to school all excited to tell everyone. The teacher said I was lying and that I didn’t have a baby sister. Several of the classmates had recently had siblings born. She told me to stand in a corner. Olga started to cry so that she had to stand in the other corner.

I went home at noon and told my dad. He was livid. He marched me back to the school – late. I opened the door and the teacher hollered for me to go back in my corner. Dad walked in and told her to apologize to me in front of the whole class because I did have a new sister. She did so very reluctantly and dad took me home for the rest of the day.

Olga and I walked back and forth to school and were friends. We moved away and we kept in touch for some time. She went to college in Saskatoon. I went to Regina and we lost touch. When I was transferred to Saskatoon I tried to find her to no avail.

One night coming out of a night classes at the university, I met up with a man that I had gone to high school with. I didn’t know him well because he was from another town that didn’t have a high school. He said he was married and suggested I come to dinner on Thursday. I said he better discuss that with his wife and call me.

The next morning at work my phone rang and a very annoyed sounding woman said she understood her husband had invited me to dinner. I said it was okay and not to worry, husbands sometimes didn’t think. She then laughed and said, “Dorothy, it’s Olga,” and I hollered, “You married Bill?”

Of course I had dinner with them and we picked up where we had left off. We are now both widows. She is in assisted living and I am still very independent.

We talk to each other regularly and reminisce. We remembered the time the gypsies came to town and how scared we were of them because we were told they stole little girls in the middle of the night. The only thing they stole was all the underwear off the clothesline before they left in the middle of the night.

Our friendship has lasted 82 years.