I had dinner with my maternal Grandfather on friday. My Grandfather is my Hero. We are kindred spirits. By this, I mean we share the same passions in life. One of those passions, is the love of history. More importantly our family history. More often than not our conversations together centre around our family in Europe during the twentieth century. “What do you remember about growing up in the middle of Stalin’s purges and famines? What did you do during the war? And what happened to the rest of our family during and after the war?” These are the kind of topics and questions that are asked during our dinners and time spent together. Now, I’ve heard the stories a million times, but they never get old. Good or bad, the stories have it seems, ingrained themselves into my brain and shaped who I am today. They’re probably the reason why I myself like to tell stories and why I love to write.
So, today, I would like to share one. It is one that is quite common around our supper table, especially around my birthday. It was previously shared with the Winnipeg Free press when Mikhail Gorbachev was the guest editor. The story is about how I got my name and is written as a letter to Gorbachev himself. It is titled “From One Michael to Another.” ……
Dear Mr Gorbachev
I doubt you will remember this story, but when I heard that you would be the chief editor of my Winnipeg’s Free Press for a day, I knew this was my best chance to share it with you.
You and I are connected, we are intertwined; our stories, our families and our history. We are both romantics, we both love the beautiful country of Ukraine, have a love of history and we both are indebted to our Grandfathers. We also share a great name.
Before continuing I must introduce myself, my name is Michael Andrew Walter Wilms. I was born in Winnipeg in August of 1987. Both my parents were born in this city, but my grandparents were all born along the banks of the Dnieper River, just outside of Zaporozhe, Ukraine in Lictenau and Neider Chortiza.
My maternal Grandfather grew up shoeless in the city of Nikopol. Like you, and millions of others in the 1930s, our family fell victim to Stalin’s infamous purges. My great-grandfather was arrested and deported to Siberia, when my grandfather was only 4. My great-uncle was arrested and deported to Siberia, where he later died. My other great-uncle, Andre (who is of great importance for this story), at the age of 19 was sent to Siberia as an ‘undesirable’ from the Soviet Army. He would be imprisoned there, until 1987.My grandfather, fought during the war, and later immigrated to Winnipeg in May of 1948. He would start a family in the 1950s, a construction company in the 1960s and by the 1970s was travelling the world for business. By the start of the 1980s he became the first North American business man to do business in the former USSR. With his brother, still imprisoned in Siberia, and travelling to the Soviet Union quite often for work, he began to petition for his release. He began writing letters to you, pleading for his brother’s release. It was one day, early in 1987, that you responded to one of his letters, and in the late days of August 1987, my great-uncle Andre came to Canada for the first time. It was because of your desire for change, your bravery, and your willingness to open the gates of the past that he was set free.
My Great Uncle was here for my birth because of you and our family thanks you. My mother named me Michael, after you and my middle name Andrew after my Great Uncle.
But the story does not end there. Just two months after my birth, my Grandfather was invited to the Kremlin for a dinner that you hosted. Following the dinner, he had an opportunity to meet you. And it was in your office that my Grandfather shared with you this story. And at its completion you tore off a note from your note pad and wrote, “From one Michael to another.”
You are a hero in our family. My Grandfather and I, whenever we are together, love retelling this story. It gives him such joy and energy to speak those same words. I hold a special place in my heart for what you did for our family. You were an independent voice in the crowd of conformity, a light in the dark and a hope where there previously was none.
From one Michael to another