It stood alone in the barren plain. Since I was a child, my mother had wondered what the structure was, and why my grandpa had saved the photo of his father standing there by the steps.. Was it a church? The oddly shaped windows and door seemed to make that a possibility. What about the apparently hexagonal room that served as the second story? Was there a third wing to the structure that could not be seen?
Even in the tattered photo, the building was obviously abandoned, its siding tattered, a few broken windows, eerie, haunting. Why couldn’t I have found this picture when my grandpa was alive? He lived to be 91, we labeled so many photos together, from civil war era battle fields, to boxes filled with faded mementos that cousins sent to him. Each was hoping beyond hope that he could identify the people in the ragged box they had found in an old closet. He often did-why was this one never labeled? Why was it tucked in an envelope at the bottom of his grandfathers chest?
Years went by, the photo forgotten, now rested in the bottom of another drawer in the stained and faded envelope. As I lay reading by candle light, my teen walked in with an old book he had found in the discard pile at the school library.
“Mom”, he whispered, so as not to startle me, “something about this picture looks familiar, do you know what it is?”
I took a deep breath, and peeked at the cover of the faded old book. Ukrainian History. That just didn’t strike me as having anything to do with anything I recalled. Then I thumbed through the dusty book and saw a chapter titled “Famous famines in Eastern Europe”
I gasped. I hesitated to turn back to the picture. What could that have to do with my grandfather? Slowly, I turned into the candle’s glow to get a better view. It was the same building, it had to be, surely no other building looked like that one. My great grandfather wasn’t in it of course. The script below the photo was in Russian, with an English translation below it. Prague, 1933: Grain famine caused by Stalin’s troops.”
“My great grandfather wasn’t from Ukraine.” I said as I looked at my son. What did that picture have to do with my family, again, I asked myself why there was a photo of that church in my grandfathers chest.. I turned the page. On it was a painting of a lady with a foreign name-one I recognized from my study of family history. Underneath the photo was her name, and the inscription, ‘”One of the few survivors of the great famine of 1933” Then it hit me-the genealogical connection that I could never find-the missing link that no one would talk about.. My great grandmother had come to America, changed her name and painfully put her past behind her.
I handed the book back to my son. “I don’t know.” I said to my son. “Perhaps you just saw it in a history book.”