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
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