(February 15, 1916 – August 3, 2007)
Remembering Uncle Nickel Tarangle
Tribute written and presented by Janice (Melenchuk) Bell
Funeral Service, Abbotsford, British Columbia
August 19, 2007
At this celebration of Uncle Nickel’s life, it is an honor to remember the gifts he gave to me and to our extended Melnechuk family throughout his life.
My father (John Melenchuk) and Pearl were next to each other in the line of 10 children born to Mike and Catherine Melnechuk. I am one of the 29 nieces and nephews–the children of these original 10 siblings–who was privileged to call Nickel Tarangle, “Uncle Nickel”.
From the time I was born through to age 9 or 10, Uncle Nickel and Aunty Pearl’s home was like my second home—first in Elk Point and then during the years that they lived in my hometown of St. Paul, Alberta. To this day, whenever I read a book about a 1950’s vintage home with a screen door on the back porch that opened onto a big garden, a kitchen with a shiny metal table and chairs and a long set of kitchen cupboards down one wall with a fridge on one side and a stove on the other, and a black dial phone on the kitchen wall with a long dangling cord—I am effortlessly transported back to safety and comfort and love of Uncle Nickel and Aunty Pearl’s home in St. Paul.
The smell of car grease and gasoline coming from Uncle Nickel’s mechanic’s coveralls that hung by the back door, when he worked at the Zarowny garage in Elk Point and then later at the Tannas garage in St. Paul, was mixed with the smell of wonderful food coming from the kitchen. I have fond memories of sitting on the back porch shelling peas, practicing my addition or subtraction on the blackboard at the bottom of the stairs, enjoying Aunty Pearl’s perogies and cinnamon rolls, playing with Linda’s extensive collection of paper dolls and listening to her latest rock and roll 45 rpm record on the record player in her room, or pretending with Brenda that the little room off her bedroom was an office one day and a bank or a hospital the next. With Harold, I was always off an adventure around our small town–usually on our bikes. His hair-raising stories about strange activities within the mysterious Catholic Church or the day he took me to the local abattoir and I watched transfixed and horrified at the bloody process of slaughter that ended up as roast beef and hamburger are memories that I will never forget.
Those were the days when, under Uncle Nickel’s tutelage, we knew every car on the road and loved riding in the Tarangle’s long black, shiny 59 Chev Impala with the big wingtips or in our ‘57 turquoise Oldsmobile. My Dad and Uncle Nickel frequently bantered about which was the superior automobile—Ford or Chev. Our families would frequent the surrounding northern lakes on numerous fishing expeditions, whatever the season. I remember one day in early spring when Aunty Pearl and Uncle Nickel and my father stood on the shore of a fast moving stream snaring fish (flipping them in the air and onto the bank with long poles)—an activity that was supposed to be reserved only for the local Indians—but that spring day we took home a lot of illegally snared northern pike to our frying pans and freezers!
Central to all these memories is Uncle Nickel—a short, balding man with wire-rimmed glasses who frequently had a smile on his face—not just a tiny smile—but a large, full-toothed smile that filled his face. Whatever the challenges of his life were—he seemed to have some funny comment—usually about his balding head—that offered humor and encouragement. One day during the St. Paul rodeo, I came down with the flu while staying at their house. I remember despairing that all the other kids got to go to the rodeo and watch the bucking broncos and have cotton candy while I lay on the couch in Tarangle’s living room feeling miserable. Uncle Nick came home from work early that day—just to check on me and make sure that I was OK and comfortable. That kind of devotion was evident in his caring for Aunty Pearl during her many illness episodes and was likely an example to his children, Linda, Harold, and Brenda who have shown deep love and devotion in caring for their father in his elderly years.
Uncle Nickel’s character shown through humor, generosity, kindness, and cheerfulness have been hallmarks of his life that others remember as well:
From Ruth Melnechuk Eli: “He was one of my favorite brother-in-laws. I enjoyed his cheerful disposition and the many pleasant times we shared together as a family, especially those years when their family lived in Loma Linda, California.”
From Jenell Eli Hollett: “I have some precious, childhood memories of Uncle Nickel and Auntie Pearl from the time they lived in California. Brad and I stayed at their house after school quite often. I remember Uncle Nickel coming home from working as an auto mechanic dressed in coveralls with his hands stained with grease and a gentle smile on his face. As a child it seemed to me he was always smiling at children. I somehow always knew he cared about me, even though I can’t recall any specific time he verbalized it. His love for Brad and me, as the niece and nephew who were always hanging around his house, came through in his smile, the way he talked to us, the way he let us watch while he fixed things, and the many jokes and playful moments he shared with us. He had a way of making each person feel special, whether you were 7 or 70 years old. I’ll really miss his happy outlook, his kind ways, and his ever present smile.”
From Ellen Tkachuk Martin: “I remember Uncle Nickel as always joking, being cheerful, and having time for us when we were kids.”
From Sandi Kiehlbauch Toms: “I remember Uncle Nick as always friendly, always smiling. Though we seldom saw him, in my little child eyes I remember feeling that he cared genuinely for me”.
From Michael Melenchuk: “My memories are staying at a cabin at one of the northern Alberta lakes with Uncle Nick and having a great time with him, Harold, and the rest of their family. The other memory I have is visiting the Tarangle’s when they lived in St. Paul. I recall sitting on the front lawn of their house–and I remember laughing. When I think back as an adult, it was amazing how Uncle Nickel had the ability to make sure you smiled and laughed in his presence. Even when I was that young, you really had the feeling he was directing all his charm at you…he had that amazing gift. He would of made an excellent sales person!!”
From Bob and Debbie Merritt: “We really liked Uncle Nickel. He was always happy. We remember his kind, gentle manner and the quips he would always come up with. We will never forget his laugh and his smile. He made you feel happy just being around him, even if he had his head under the hood of a car–a very special man.”
From Brad Eli: “My memories extend back many years when I was in kindergarten–age 4 or 5–in Loma Linda. Aunty Pearl and Uncle Nickel’s house was where I went after school. That is where I enjoyed their very special dog named “Sporty”. I enjoyed observing the special bond between Aunty Pearl, Uncle Nickel, and “Sporty”. Later in my life, I named my own dog “Sporty” in honor of their great dog. To me, Uncle Nickel had a distinctive way of being–he worked on cars and showed me how tools worked and even had a shop in the back of their house. That was the house next to the dry riverbed that a year later flooded–completely wrecking their home. I remember walking in the house after the flood, with yards of mud covering the floors. My next memory is of their home/farm in Canada. I visited there with my family and got to go to the barn with Uncle Nickel. This is the place where he lost Aunty Pearl. I remember how much he missed her and told my mom that he loved her forever despite her many illnesses. Ducks, cows, and a farm–along with a spectacular smile that was truly from the heart. I never saw him angry, curse, or be short-tempered, rather he always seemed truly happy to see me and the other members of our expansive family. The sadness of his passing will never block the shining of his life in my heart and mind.”
Thank you, Uncle Nickel—from all of your nieces and nephews–for your example and for the life lessons you taught us. Enter now into the joy of your rest, and we’ll see you in the morning, likely with a huge smile on your face!