By Chuck Konkel
I grew up in Hamilton Ontario in the mid 1950s, in the very shadows of steel mills that were still vital and a football team that still won games, the only son of a refugee family who didn’t own a car, nor a television, nor a cottage and whose idea of a vacation was a yearly trek to the Canadian National Exhibition in far distant Toronto and a day’s outing to the great and bustling metropolis of Buffalo.
The neighborhood was diverse and vibrant, ringing with the voices of immigrant families from the wasteland that was postwar Europe, Poles, Ukrainians, Italians, a rag tag bundle of hopes and dreams and frustrations who knew their place in the scheme of things, though they might bridle at it, for it was the Irish who were the Lords of the Manor having arrived a generation before. And Canadians who thought of themselves first and foremost of British stock and only with much prodding admitted that they too were once immigrants with the same insecurities finding themselves at the bottom of the social ladder in a stranger and daunting land.
My father worked the mills and cleaned the open hearth and toiled and sweated in the honest labour it took to put food on our table. My Dutch mother learned to make (kapusta)- cabbage in a barrel and (polskie ogórki)-Polish pickled cucumbers and (pączki) (Polish doughnuts). And every night, without fail, we ate hearty helpings of potatoes and red beets and (kaszanka) -black barley sausage and Polish pierogi. Eevery Sunday we dressed up in our best for church, a long, langourous service held in a language that I could never master (Latin).