The First Big Push - Orthodox Easter & Oral History Interviews in Florida

We arrived in Ft. Meyers, Florida mid-day on a Thursday afternoon. Nothing special. Or was it special?

After exiting the airport in a theatrical process of events (the usual "hurry up and wait" routine with luggage with the added burden of camera equipment), “it” came almost as expected: sudden…but lacking character. "It" was the Florida Heat: exponential as always, but for some odd reason the usual Florida humidity was lacking its threatening personality. I hate Florida humidity – the way it creates heat waves that jar the skin as if magma were a viscous substance within Florida air instead of under the Earth’s mantle. That trait was lacking this trip. Maybe this trip wouldn’t be so bad after all.

As we gathered our belongings and progressed to packing them into our white rental vehicle, we started our venture to Babcia's house …around the corner of the airport's perimeter and a straight shot onward to North Port, Florida. This is where our business was, the Ukrainian community awaited our arrival as Ukrainian Easter started to crest above the weekly horizon on the calendar. What else is there to do during a drive as a backseat passenger but to gradually open and close your eyes in a slowing melodic manner that eventually would lead to heavy eyes and darkness.

I don't awaken until we arrive at Babcia’s house, our home for the next week. There is so much preparation for the Easter holidays and week of work. I’m here to document the oral histories of the Ukrainian Diaspora that live in the Ukrainian community here in North Port. It’s seems like a daunting mission. I’ve never met half of these individuals, and who knows if they will spare any interest in me, my questions, or my project, to say the least. With whatever doubts I may have, I must set them aside for the benefit of the project and its hopeful success, as I’m confident that these elders will be interested in telling me their stories in the end. Pushing aside my doubts, I prepare for the morning's filming of Mass at the Ukrainian church. This will likely be the point where many in the community witness me for the first time and start questioning why a camera is recording their religious rituals. Of course, there is no point in worrying about that at this point, it’s time for some rest after dinner.

Friday morning comes a little too slowly. I wake up before my alarm and everyone else. This might be a good time to go for a little run and just sweat out any stress building within my body for the day to come. I don’t understand though where the Florida humidity is hiding. Not once have I been to this state and failed to experience the torrential downpour of sweat exuding from the expanded pores of my body thanks to that monstrous humidity. This was a nice morning, balmy with a cool breeze, and thus, a nice run.

Without spoiling the rest of the week’s efforts in shooting video (you should watch the film), every interview ended with something special. Although there was some initial hesitation in some elder’s eyes about having their stories filmed or wondering whether anyone would even care about their stories, many took very well to the concept of "Baba Babee Skazala", encouraging me to push forward and create something that their children and grandchildren could appreciate. Over glasses of cognac, wonderful lunches, and too much food in general, these amazing people welcomed me into their homes with sincere hearts and teary eyes, and shared their desire for this project to come to a larger fruition than I thought possible.

As I sit in a P.F Changs on the second floor of the Ft. Meyers airport writing this blog post, I contemplate my initial feelings of the project and this large step in its progression to reality. I wasn’t all gung-ho, rather quite the opposite. I had uncertainties about how the project would be received and thus, wondered whether I should continue to push so hard for its existence or whether I should drop the project and save everyone the time and hassle. In the end, these many interviews and individual stories have expressed more than one would imagine and these people have so much to offer all of us if we just take the time to listen. I’ve come to realize that this project has a much greater, deeper meaning than I thought. So much so that I nearly forgot how much I despise the Florida Heat & Humidity!

Please stay tuned as there will be more to come. More wonderful Ukrainian lunches that I would love to share with you all as I fill up on too much bread and morning cognac! :)

Please don't limit yourself to "Baba Babee Skazala" for the stories of this amazing group of people. I encourage you to read and listen to the stories others have recorded, including some of our interviewees. Get copies of:

Guran, Bohdan, Lechman, Bohdan et seq., "Flight to Freedom: Biographies of Five Families," pub. with the assistance of Babiuk, Dr. Myron: 2015.

Tanczak-Dycio, Dr. Maria Myroslava, "My Life's Journey From Ukraine to Maine," PRGott Publishing, Maine: 2013.