- Hi, my name is Andrew.
- This is
One of the first questions I get asked when I meet someone new is almost always about my name. “How do you spell that?” “What nationality is that?” “Where does that come from?” So today I’d like to share the story of what the name “Kurjata” means to me.
The first thing I associate with the name “Kurjata” is my grandmother. Mary Madeline Oster was born in 1930 in St. Walburg, Saskatchewan, and later met and married my grandfather George Kurjata. He passed away when I was just one year old, so my vision of the family is a matriarchy- with “Grandma K” at the top of the family tree.
And it is quite the family tree– my grandma had fifteen children, most of whom had children, and many of those have had children, too. Over the span of my memory the number of people in my family has climbed from in the fifties, to the seventies, and ever so closer to the one hundred point as spouses, cousins, and cousins’ kids have been added to the fold.
So, not surprisingly, the second thing I associate with the name “Kurjata” is large family gatherings. Christmas, weddings, Easter: when I was really young it was out on the family farm, but most of my memories are of a large custom-built house in Dawson Creek some of my uncles made for her. It was specifically designed for entertaining: a huge kitchen overlooking a second living space so that you could easily fit a full gathering, including lots of young kids running around.
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We just had another family gathering. My grandmother moved out of her large home about twelve years ago, into a smaller assisted living unit. Earlier this year it was into a care home. A week ago she passed away there, peacefully, at the age of 84.
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And so we gathered, in the church I used to attend on family visits. It was smaller than I remember, but big enough to hold my extended family – 101, according to the going count.
When I was a kid I didn’t think much of these family gatherings. I knew it was a big group, but beyond that I didn’t see anything special.
Today, there’s something that impresses me more than the size: the closeness. There are smaller families who refuse to be in the same room with each other for any length of time, or who just don’t make the effort, even if there’s no particular animosity.
That my grandma and grandpa raised fifteen kids who still wanted to see each other into their adult years is a testament to the kind of people they were. You have to have a certain amount of patience… and love. As one of my cousins said while looking at everyone gathered at the funeral, there was no need to talk about my grandma’s legacy. You could see it in the room.
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One more thing I think about when I think about Kurjata, and about the grandmother who bore the name: socks.
With so many people in the family, we went towards having a gift exchange system at Christmas where you would draw a name and that was the person you would get a gift for. It was a lot easier than trying to remember everyone in the family.
But inevitably, each grandkid would get a gift from grandma– and during my formative years that gift was socks and a bit of money. When you’re younger the money’s the exciting part, but today I have no memory of what I spent it on. I remember the socks, though. I also remember the hand-addressed cards I would get on my birthday, and I think about the fact that my grandma did that for fifty, sixty, seventy people as time went on. I have a hard time remembering to get birthday cards for about a dozen people in my life. But she took the time to show she cared about every one of us individually.
She made us feel loved.
Mary Madeline Kurjata
Bob Greenaway is retiring.
Almost every Wednesday for over 19 years, Bob has made juice, muffins and granola bars for students at Duchess Park Secondary School as part of a breakfast program aimed at making sure no students go hungry. He also runs breakfast and lunch programs at other schools throughout Prince George.
The principal of Duchess Park recently wrote Bob a letter of commendation, saying he has made a difference in the lives of generations of students by running this program. “Our students are seldom exposed to selfless generosity with ‘no strings attached,” it reads. “Undoubtedly, as a result of Bob’s example, many of them have made a conscious decision in their own lives to help others.”
Lecia Beetlestone lives in Prince George. She has always loved animals. Her husband Tony, not so much. But over the years, she’s got him to be more interested in helping them out. Right now he’s working on the road and while staying in Pemberton he found a stray, scraggly cat hanging around his motel room. A few years ago he would have never gone near the cat, but now he decided to help out. He started feeding him, and eventually got him to come for a truck ride to a shelter in Whistler, run by volunteers who give their time and money to helping animals in need.
I had never heard of Bob Greenaway, Tony Beetlestone, or the Whistler shelter before I started writing this. I found them by going onto community event announcements and Facebook groups to find out what else was going on in the world aside from what was in the news.
You’ve heard the news, right? Today it’s mostly focused on the 24-year-old who shot three RCMP officers in Moncton. It doesn’t take much digging to hear about him. I have heard interviews with friends on the radio. I have seen his image on TV. I have learned about his Facebook statuses from national publications, and that one of his former co-worker believes he wants to go “out with a bang”.
If he does go out, it will be in the style his former co-worker believes he desires. Already there has been more than 20 hours of near-continuous coverage, his image plastered on the front page of every national media site, a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter. “What is this world coming to?” reads one of the statuses in my Facebook feed.
34.87 million Canadians woke up yesterday and didn’t go on a shooting spree. One did. Guess whose name will be in the most headlines.
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We (and I’m saying this as both a member of the media and a person who gets information from the media) pick and choose which stories and individuals shape our understanding of what the world is and the type of people who are in it. We pay rapturous attention to the actions of a lone gunman while Bob Greenaway, Tony Beetlestone, and the stranger who smiled at you in the grocery store are largely ignored.
Does this make sense? For the people of Moncton, I absolutely understand the up-to-the-minute coverage. This is a matter of public safety, and the reporters who are there are completely right to help the public understand what they need to do in order to best stay safe.
But why do I, here in Prince George, British Columbia, need to know every detail as it unfolds? What purpose does it serve? If I were to hop in my car right now, it would take me 58 hours to drive to Moncton. I could be halfway through Mexico before then. I have no idea what happened in Mexico today.
I’m not asking these questions because I’m absolutely certain the mass coverage of what’s happening in Moncton (or another mass shooting in Seattle that’s unfolded as I write this) shouldn’t be happening. I’m just not certain it should, either. Obviously there are people who want to follow along, but I have a sense that responsible media should strive to go beyond just chasing eyeballs. I believe there’s more to our job than that, and it involves weighing questions of ethics and responsibility and representation and so many other considerations beyond “will people click on this?”
We cannot offer a perfect summary of the world as it stands. The world is a messy, complicated place with so much happening at any given moment that it’s impossible to contemplate. And so we, as media, filter. We look around and we choose to present a few people and events out of near-infinite possibilities, and we call that the news.
It seems almost inevetiable that the tragedies and the horror stories will get more coverage than the mundane, everyday kindnesses of people just doing their best. But it is important to remember that the tragedies and horror stories are just one part of what the world is coming to, a part that has been filtered through hundreds of other stories that might have been chosen, as well. It’s important to remember that there are bad things in the world, but there are good ones, too, and the volunteers and animal-lovers and people smiling at you at the grocery store are just as representative of humanity as anyone else. Even if they never make headline news.
“Yesterday, I fixed that old steam radiator. Threaded a new valve into the side, removed the handle from the base, unscrewed the packing nut from the stem. This subpar toolbox only had one wrench, so I was lucky it was a three-quarters or I’d have been screwed.
“By the time I was done, this 100-year-old piece of American-made cast iron was singing like a bird. Now to most people, this story would seem boring. But to me, it was immensely satisfying because I enjoy fixing radiators.
“You like fixing this town, Leslie, you always have.
“You know it’s an uphill battle, but you love the struggle.”
- Parks and Recreation, Season 6, Episode 15: “The Wall”
The long weekend is (nearly) here. Last weekend we got a start on prepping our yard for the summer, which included an hour plus of cleaning up after those two dogs in the picture up there. It also involved repairing our cat jail from the weight of winter, but it was a pretty minimal task: just going around and angling it upwards again. If you’re looking for a way to keep cats in your yard, this seems to be effective.
I get why people don’t want pets wandering around, but with the right group of people it can certainly help create a bit more of bond between strangers. When I was growing up, the neighbours across the street from us had a dog who could leap over their fence in a single bound. She only did this so she could go for walks with us, and eventually she became a joint dog with both families caring for her.
More recently, my parents have had a neighbourhood cat decide it lives with them part-time. They are not sure where it comes from, but it is definitely cared for- it just apparently likes to come over in the morning and get some extra pets. Eventually they’ll find out where it lives, and that will be how the ice is broken between them.
There are so many people I only know in the context of the dogs I see them walking in local parks, to the point that if we see each other say, grocery shopping, we identify each other by our dogs names. But it turns out these low-level bonds are an important part of creating happy cities. Who says? Charles Montgomery, the author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design. I heard him on this episode of Tapestry a few weeks ago, and immediately put his book on my reading list.
At one point in the interview, he talks about what happened to him when he started walking around more and bumping into neighbours:
“Not having deep conversations, just ‘hello, how are you?’ It turns out these superficial conversations are really good for well-being. They’re much easier than the conversations we have with fellow employees and family sometimes.”
He goes much deeper into this concept in the book, but anecdotally I’ve definitely found it to be true. Stopping for a chat with someone while I bike, having brief conversations with the panhandlers near where I work, and knowing my neighbours in the contexts of their dogs have all added to a sense of connection and belonging in the spaces I spend my time.