I knew I had a right to my memories about my father. It took a while to acknowledge that I had an obligation to share them with others.
As I write in My Emigrant Father: Jacob J. Funk, 1896-1986, A Memoir, I grew up at the intersection of life and storytelling. My father was a storyteller. His mother was a storyteller. They told stories not just to entertain but to release joys and sorrows. They told stories because life was better with stories.
I wrote my first article about my father in the 1960s. It took a while to realize the gold lying buried deep in his life, so I kept researching and writing. I launched into a lengthy essay about him in my book Good Times with Old Times: How to write your memoirs.
I continued with another about his searching for my mother’s family lost in the Russian Revolution of 1917-19. She had not seen or heard from them in about three years. That story, “Peter had come home,” which took me to Russia, Germany and research libraries was published in an academic journal.
Another was published in The Storekeeper’s Daughter: A memoir.
But I knew I wasn’t finished. I stopped my work from time to time to pursue other pursuits like the translation of my aunt Aganeta Janzen Block’s letters about her eleven years in forced labor in the northern regions of Siberia after World War II. I was thankful my parents had escaped that fate, having left Ukraine in 1923 for Canada. Two families—one left and one stayed behind to endure Stalin’s harsh brutality along with thousands of other German-speaking citizens of Russia. That book is A Strong Frailty available from Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas.
But, finally, I knew it was time to get Dad’s story done. I found a publisher and an editor who was a joy to work with. Last week my book My Emigrant Father was published in Canada by the Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission with Kindred Productions.
I tell my father’s story through the prism of world events affecting thousands of German-Russians at the time. My father was easily upset by religious posturing, unfairness, injustice, and violence. I show in the first chapters some of the cultural baggage he brought with him to the new land. I knew I had to include something about the family “witch.”
I give a picture of the Funk family living in the valley of Rosenthal in Ukraine in a “forever summer, forever Sunday” life before the Russian Revolution. They never expected this idyllic life to end. But it did. So Dad and his family knew the terror of opposing revolutionary forces stationed on each side of the ravine and their home in the middle. I write about his political imprisonment and experiences as a medical attendant during World War I.
A story he told often was of having to bury four close family members who died of typhus fever. That memory was sometimes too painful to talk about, but he did. My sister Anne wrote me she remembered these stories as well. “I remember how upset Dad would get when he remembered this time in Russia—and yet he couldn’t just ‘leave’ it. It was part of his psyche, his innermost being and it was in a way, cathartic for him to speak about it. Now, as an adult, I look back and realize the pain, the hurt he carried with him. I wanted to weep for Dad and the hurt he carried with him.”
I wanted to convey to readers the pain, suffering, and turmoil that happens because of war and its aftermath – disease, famine, homelessness.Only readers can tell me if I achieved that goal.
I carry the stories of his life to Canada and the Depression years, through church turf wars, and into my parent’s journey into the land of aging.
In this book I have included a map of Rosenthal, other maps, photos (lots of them), a brief family tree, and a chronology of events that affected both the Funk family and the world at large.
The book is available from Kindred Productions at 1-800-545-7322 with shipping from either Goessel, Kansas, or Winnipeg, Manitoba.
I like my book and its stories. I hope you do too.