On a park bench, in 1918 Vienna, my Grandfather Ivan Karach (pronounced
Care-ash) met his wife to be, Eulalia Gruber (roughly pronounced Eeu-lay-ah
Groober), for the first time.
Dressed in full military officer's regalia, including a tethered saber,
he was bold enough to approach and strike up a conversation with my
Grandmother, who sat shaded by her open parasol, minding her nieces
at play in the park.
Four years later, John and Ella Karach (now pronounced Car-ak) were
married and busily raising two infants, Katherine and John Jr., in Winnipeg,
And many years later, they were Oma (Grandma) and Opa (Grandpa) to
Opa was Ukrainian/Russian, and Oma was Austrian. Opa spoke or translated
thirteen different languages. Oma spoke fluently the language of the
John Karach Sr. first left home at the age of fourteen, put himself
through school, at least in part, by giving music lessons on violin
(and any other instrument you'd care to try to learn). Some instruments
he had never before played - didn't seem to matter to the soon-to-be
Eventually, after graduating with a Doctor of Law Degree, he became
an officer in the military, leaving the war shell-shocked and deaf in
As headmaster at a Winnipeg Boy's Catholic School, in the early 20s,
Opa met North American style bigotry and intolerance from the KKK-like
A building was set on fire, and a boy was killed.
So John and Ella and Katherine and John Jr. (à la "The
Grapes of Wrath") strapped everything they owned to a car and came
to Toronto on a Steinbeckian quest.
Apparently, there were road tolls and they had to borrow 5 cents from
a stranger to pay one at Kenora.
Once in Toronto, my grandfather's socialist conscience would not allow
him to take some high paying jobs.
Instead, he sold Encyclopedia Brittanica door to door, traveled to
pick tobacco, and never stopped doing translation work, much of it free,
for Canadian Socialist Parties, and especially for author Dyson Carter.
In his eighties, John Karach Sr. worked as an elevator boy in a major
downtown Toronto office building.
Going through his books and papers after he died, I found countless
"thank-yous" and published acknowledgments directed at my
He always said, "Canada is the answer. Canada is the Great Mosaic."
His experience with war had taken a major toll. He was nervous, and
half deaf, and sometimes bitter as he grew older, but he always said
he wished to "be with the people."
The "Great Canadian Mosaic," made up of every race, religion,
color and creed, was his answer to world wars and burning schoolhouses.
It was the imperfect dream that still had a chance in his eyes.
In a new century (that now starts with the number two) I continue to
try and write songs about spiritual connection, and the healing strength
Oma taught me that there weren't enough minutes in the day for all
the songs, and laughter, and play that life offered.
John Jr. reminded me often that kindness, patience, hard work, and
unquenchable curiosity were all the essential ingredients of life's
So my Mom and I continue to remember.
We continue to live in this country, in the City of Toronto, with real
memories of the greatest of hopes for a land that might one day truly
embrace the differences between all peoples.
It is a land made from individual lives and singular stories.
So, the stories of John, Ella and John Jr. are my gift on July 1st,
Canada Day, to my land of birth.
Three stories, three more patches for the quilt, the Great Canadian
Happy Birthday Canada!
Never grow to the size that you lose sight of the everyday living and
dying that goes on too often ignored by the posturing of politicians
and fragmentists, whose only concern is getting the biggest slice they
We lack the aggressive, territorial, frontier spirit of our neighbors
to the South.
And, we have yet to evolve the wisdom and culture of more ancient countries
But, we are open, and wide, high and fresh with possibility. That is
a gift that will not last forever. Beware the dreamless sleep.
Honor the stories.