January 6 is Ukrainian Christmas Eve (Свят вечер; Sviat Vecher). This year was our first Sviat Vecher celebration without my father.
The tradition is to have a 12 course meal all made without meat. One of concoctions we had tonight was узвар; compote made from various fruits. The one we had tonight included apples.
In fall 2014 my mom and dad asked me if I would go with them for a day trip to go apple picking. I drove them to a farm owned by family friends, about an hour and a half away from the Toronto.
There were lots of ground falls which we picked up and filled our baskets.
My father wandered off by himself; my mother and I did not know where he was and we became alarmed. Did he fall? We called out to him and heard no answer.
Eventually we found him. He was okay; he heard us calling him. He called back and we didn’t hear him because his voice was not very strong.
I was mindful that my dad was elderly and treated that trip as if it was our last trip together because we don’t know what’s in store for us and it COULD be the last.
It turns out that it WAS our last trip together. My father passed away in June 2015.
In fall 2015 a slightly different family configuration went apple picking. My mother, my sister, and I.
We went to the same farm as the previous year and filled our baskets with ground falls. As we started to wind down the day and head back to the car we walked past the area where my dad had wandered off by himself the previous year.
Normally we just walk past that section as we return to the car, but I started wondering why my dad would have wandered into that area. I stopped and looked around, wondering what he might have been looking at, what he might have seen.
That’s when I noticed on the ground – so many more apples than what we had already picked. The ground in that area was covered with soft cedar needles so that when the apples fell they landed softly and didn’t bruise. It was if a grocery truck had overturned and spilled its load of apples in that spot; those were the best apples we found that day!
The spirit of my dad was still with us that day and was still helping us pick apples.
Every guest we had at dinner tonight has a father who has already departed. As we drank our узвар compote made from apples, we commemorated them.
Michael. Walter. Jim. John. Another Michael. We remember you.