Anna, a.k.a. Baba

by Julia Gotz October. 07, 2007 11900 views

jg []

Anna is the Ukranian grandmother of my close friend Dawn []. I first met her about 30 years ago, shortly after the death of her first husband. She was born in January. of 1906, and she is nearly 102 years old. On Sunday, we talked for a long time. Here are some of the stories she told me.

Anna's father left for Canada before she was three years old. War came, and her mother and the three children lived through terrible times. For a year, soldiers took over their home, and they were forced out with nothing but the clothes on their backs. When they finally returned, everything was destroyed. Anna and her brother had to build a shelter for themselves. Her mother died of Typhus when Anna was 12, and from that age on, she had to fend for herself.

Luckily, at age 15 she got steady work as a housekeeper. Her work earned her good food, clothes for work, and nice clothes for Sunday, but no money. She worked there nearly five years, but at 19 she had no prospects and no money, and she knew she needed to do something for herself.

Her father, who she had not seen since she was a toddler, arranged for her to come to Canada. She did not speak English, she was all alone, and she was 19 years old. In Toronto, she had a room in a boarding house on Euclid Avenue. Her first job was in a Laundry for $2 per day. Carrying a heavy load of laundry in badly fitting boots, she fell down a flight of stairs. She had to miss work while recovering, and she was fired. Next she worked in a restaurant for $7 per week.

Friends told her they knew a man who wanted to get married. She was invited to a gathering where Nick was introduced, but he didn't say much. The next day, he came to her house. He said he didn't know if she would want him because he was ten years older. To her, he didn't look old. He was clean shaven, and his hair was combed nicely. He looked neat and nicely dressed and decent. She told him that for her, older was good. She wanted someone who knew something. The next day, Nick Binkowski came with his friend and his friend's car, and took her to the church. They spoke to the priest and became engaged. They waited the required 3 weeks, and then they were married. She was twenty. Nine months later, her first child was born.

Anna tells how her life was full of ups and downs. Many years ago, she talked of the hardships in her marriage, but she doesn't speak of that anymore. Nick married her when she had nothing, and he brought her sister over from Europe, and that is what is important now. When her first child was still a baby, her husband bought property in his home village without telling Anna. Then he announced they would move back. She told him to go without her, and if it was good, he could send for them. He refused to go without her, so she got on a boat and went back to the old country. There was nothing there for them. The land deal had been a swindle, there was no work, no money, no food. After some months, they came back to Canada.

Anna had three children. Catherine, then three years later, Olga, and seven years after that, Steve (the father of Dawn and Britney). Her daughter Catherine had a wonderful talent for sewing. She also did embroidery, and made beautiful things. When Catherine was 18 years old, she came home sick from work. They didn't have a doctor, so they took Catherine to the hospital. “She came home from work on Monday, and on Saturday she died” - Anna repeats this several times. “The doctor came to the house. He said it was his fault”. Then she adds “What can you do?” Her daughter had undiagnosed diabetes. Catherine has been gone more then sixty years, and the pain of the loss lives on.

Anna worked for Campell's soup for 32 years. This was a good place. She was a hard worker, and reliable. She says that they treated her well. When injuries to her hands prevented her from doing a particular job, they moved her to a different job. She worked there until retirement.

Baba was there looking after Dawn [] when she was a baby, fighting with her daughter-in-law about how to raise a child. She had a very active role in raising Dawn's daughter Taylin, her great-grandchild. Dawn brings out the sweet side in this tough, tough lady. The loving tenderness that she accepts from Dawn is something I think she didn't have much of in her lifetime. Because she could be tough on her children, it might be easier for a granddaughter to be close to her in this gentle way. Dawn brushes her hair and massages her arthritic hands. Only Dawn is allowed to help her get ready for bed. Seeing them together, I think this tenderness is really a new experience in Anna's life.

Britney and Baba live together, so Britney is there for her on a daily basis. She takes her to her doctor's appointments, watches over her, makes her food and handles her quirks with good humour. Though they have an age difference of about 65 years, Anna seems to relate to Brit like a daughter or a sister. It is Brit who sees all her moods, her anger and her criticism. It was Brittney's idea for me to come and take pictures of Baba.

After her first husband died, Anna cried every night. She knew this wasn't good. She needed to do something. One time she went to a big wedding. She was meeting lots of people, and shook each person's hand. When she was introduced to William, he did not let go of her hand. He kept on holding it and holding it, not letting go. The next day he called her, wondering if she wanted to get married. She said no, she couldn't until one year after Nick had died. He waited until the appropriate time had passed and called her again. She invited him to come for lunch. Anna kept William a secret for months. She was living at her son's house, but she would invite William for lunches when everyone was at work. Only her little granddaughter Britney would sometimes meet him when she came home from school for lunch. She would talk about the man who came to visit Baba, but nobody listened to her.

When she was 74 years old, Anna announced there would be a guest for dinner, William, and that they were engaged to be married. She was happily married to William until he died. His children and grandchildren became great friends of the Binkowski family, and they have remained close.

In the terrible conditions of her childhood, Anna was not able to go to school. It was a great regret. She didn't begin to learn to read and write until later in life. Her second husband William would spend time teaching her. To this day, she works on her writing. She reads the newspaper every morning, and gets very upset with all the news of war. She wishes they would stop all these terrible things that bring so much suffering.

When Anna was 94, she woke up one morning in terrible, terrible pain. They rushed her to emergency, in fear that this might be the end. It turned out that she'd hurt her back vigorously raking leaves the day before. The doctor told her that maybe it was time to lighten up on the yard work.

We talked for hours, and as she gets tired, Anna switches from English to Ukranian. By the end of the visit, reminders to speak English were having less effect. She was talking in a very impassioned way about what happened to the Jews in Poland and the Ukraine. I don't know if she was aware that I was Jewish. She talked about books being torn and thrown on the floor, and a Jewish man picking them up and kissing them. The rest I wasn't able to understand. (That really is her cup, and I didn't place it there. I wonder who gave it to her.)

It was time to go, and I found I was quite emotional. Now she was speaking mostly in Ukranian, and still I felt very connected to her and what she was saying. As I was getting ready to leave, she hugged me. She told me she loved me. She was so tender. She stood at the window, watching as we headed out.

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There are 23 comments, add yours!
Pepe Luarca Abdo 9 years, 10 months ago

Bella historia. Realmente navegar por tus fotos es todo un acontecimiento. Se gana tiempo, en vez de perderlo. Gracias, son lindas y con tanto sentido en un mundo ahora tan frio. Somosfelices.

9 years, 10 months ago Edited
Michel Beroard 9 years, 11 months ago

Might be a nice moment for all of you.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Miclaud 9 years, 11 months ago

I stayed many days wondering what I could write for this post... Now, I know: Thank you! I reminded me the dialogues I used to have with my grandmother who left us in 1992 at the age of 103 years old...

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Soyam 9 years, 11 months ago

very specail set! thanks for sharing.... congratulations... you tell stories and this is beautifull in your art

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Jet28 9 years, 11 months ago

What an inspirational story! Your words and photos are perfect!

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Charles O'Hara 9 years, 11 months ago

bravo, hats off, nice story great photos

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Storytaylor 9 years, 11 months ago

a glorious gift to our eyes. you are the master of portraits. I feel it. congrats (I agree with weeklyshots´s)

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Julia Gotz 9 years, 11 months ago

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. I felt lucky to have this opportunity to spend time with Anna. I hope she will like the pictures too.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Varghese Mathew 9 years, 11 months ago

Its such a moving post.. I'm speechless.. Awesome portraits.. Fantastic set.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Dennis 9 years, 11 months ago

Julia, What an amazing lady with an incredible life. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Lynda 9 years, 11 months ago

This is an incredibly touching post. The photos are as if your soul and her soul touched one another. Thank you for sharing the words and the photos. You have enriched my day. Shalom

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Peter 9 years, 11 months ago

Absolutely fantastic. Thank you.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Don Laczi 9 years, 11 months ago

wonderful set and story... thank you so much for sharing.. these are awesome

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Tortoise 9 years, 11 months ago

Oh, that smile.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
David Cardona 9 years, 11 months ago

wOw! A perfect visual document! It seems like a brief cinema documentary due the perfect shots that Julia takes! An excellent subject and text! Great narration and composition! I feel so honoured with friends as Julia Gotz, a very kind and gentle artist in Photoblog!

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Howard 9 years, 11 months ago

It's official, you may now quit your day job.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Mhannah55 9 years, 11 months ago

this is an amazing set. you definitely have a gift with words and it deepens the impact of the images. i love the last image. what a beautiful woman...very inspiring.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Agodashi 9 years, 11 months ago

Phantastic set, I love the face and expresion of the grandmother, It have a powerful big heart.!!

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Monika 9 years, 11 months ago

What a fascinating life! There are just a very few cultures on earth that respect old people for their wisdom, their experiences and make them their leader... what a smart way of thinking! Unfortunately, our culture (the west) does not belong to those! She reminds me of a very dear old lady in my childhood life who opened my young mind by telling me thousand of stories about her life! Even today (13 years after she passed away) I act often based on her words... A wonderful portrait that has touched my heart... and it is always fascinating with how much care you lighten even small details!

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Reeta_Beeta 9 years, 11 months ago

Thanks bebe... I'm crying at work!

.... I'm speachless.

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Mario Jean 9 years, 11 months ago

Deeply beautiful set. That lady is gorgeous. There's so much to learn from these people. We think we know everything...but we know nothing. On the beginning of the last century, mentalities were way different. Cities, religion, families...It was another world. These people who lived through these years know more about our generation than ourselves do 'cause they've seen us born and they know where we are coming from. Sincere congratulations for this post, Julia. And superb photos!

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Ridzky Pratama 9 years, 11 months ago

Great potrait

9 years, 11 months ago Edited
Eddied125 9 years, 11 months ago

Julia, that was a wonderful story and well told. Makes it real interesting. She seems like is quite a lady. It's so interesting to talk to someone of that age when they can relate so well . You'll probably cherish her forever, I know my grandma born in 1900 and my granfather born in 1989 had their stories and it is really something to hold on to as you relate to todays history. So glad you shared and set this tribute to her. Thank You....

9 years, 11 months ago Edited