“Forever-People”: Melnechuk Family

Melnechuk Family Reunion 2017

There’s something truly amazing about being a member of the Melnechuk family. If I had to describe it, I might use words like comfort, security, acceptance, and shared fun. As a child it was comforting to look around a table of 30 or 40 people at Thanksgiving or Christmas and know they were all related to me. My child’s mind felt secure knowing these people were more than neighbors or friends. They were forever-people—they were family.

My parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins have always been bound together by blood and love, not by the temporary feelings of today. I remember those temporary feelings–older cousins talking behind closed doors or aunts reverting to the Ukrainian language in mid-sentence to keep children from hearing too much detail.  Somehow those things didn’t shake my sense of family security because underneath the perceived rejection of the moment was a firmer truth. We were family.

That security has proven true in my adulthood as well. Our family isn’t perfect. In fact, we’re not even very much alike. We’re an astounding array of individuals who for some unexplainable reason manage to connect and find joy in that connection. We text, we connect on social media, we even phone each other for the simple joy of hearing another cousin’s voice. We have reunions that range from 70-120 people and manage to end them with a desire to do it again. That’s because at our reunions, which include Canada vs USA baseball games and stories around the campfires and hilarious skits in the evening, those deep feelings of security, connection, and shared fun rise to the surface and burst out in laughter. For one long weekend every few years, we’re not hard-working stressed-out individuals. We’re Melnechuks feeling secure with each other, playing and laughing together.

Turns out, there’s family history behind our desire for Melnechuk connection and shared fun. According to my mother and many of my aunts, our grandparents—the patriarch and matriarch of this big family—believed in deep family connection and shared play. They were Ukrainian settlers in the harsh frontiers provinces of Canada. They started their married life in Saskatchewan as a 14-year-old woman and a 24-year-old man. In just over two decades, they had moved twice, had eleven children (loosing one in infancy), and were working a plot of land in Alberta. Hard work began to pay off. By the time my mother (the youngest child) was old enough to remember, there was hard work on the farm but also a full day of rest every week and regular family baseball games on summer evenings. They worked together, worshipped together, and played together. That created a bond within the siblings that extended far into adulthood and carried into the lives of their children and grandchildren. In adulthood, the ten siblings sought each other out for Saturday night fun and shared vacations. They helped each other build and renovate houses, and they planned annual trips to the lake to fish. They enjoyed getting together as families. They didn’t do it because it was expected or demanded. They did it because it was fun.

To my grandparents, Mike and Catherine, family was the center, the core, the stake in the ground. Their beliefs about the centricity of family provided a sense of security and connection that continues to this day. Family was and still is the place my cousins and I return to for support, love, acceptance, and shared fun.

As Melnechuks, we know whether we’re nine or ninety, struggling to make ends meet or succeeding in our career, running freely or confined a wheelchair, fully engaged in each conversation or struggling to understand, each of us are always and forever an integral part of the family. There’s a place for us at every table, at every reunion, and in every heart.

Jenell Hollett (Ruth Melnechuk Eli’s daughter)   February 2018