My father-in-law John Kril died the last week of December on my wife Kashka’s birthday. He was in his 90th year. It was a gift to my wife who had looked after him in his declining months and to himself as a fiercely independent actor who did not take kindly to the infirmities of age.
Last summer, after the better part of a day spent in bed, he would rise up in defiance and mount his lawnmower tractor and drive it till he pretty much fell off. He would drive to visit his bees or inspect his last crops of cucumbers and garlic. Like his father before him he was a bee keeper and risked the lives of various family members over the years when he would invite them for a little remedial bee keeping.
He was of a time.
A Ukrainian national, his youth was stolen in the chaos of the remains of Europe in the Second World War, much of it in Germany’s forced labour camps. From there John found himself seconded to the occupying American forces and finally on to Canada to build a life in a faraway land.
I’m not sure John ever figured out how his two daughters ended up with a couple of old Celts for husbands — one a judge the other a publisher. They weren’t good for much outside of judging and publishing. When it was time to cut a tree, change the oil, fix a tractor or harvest honey they were…well, why bother? Maybe you could let them barbecue to keep them busy. He put up with us.
For John, particularly after he retired from the Toronto Transit Commission, life was about growing food, making honey, raising rabbits, planting trees, cutting grass, trimming hedges and keeping things organized and in their place. Then he would trade some honey for a massage or onions, or whatever else he fancied that day. He never stopped working and fixing and improving his hobby farm which had been carved out of an old gravel pit not far from Barrie.
Much to his wife Anne’s dismay, John would fall off a roof or into a pond but it was all in a day’s work.
I took him sailing once on the ocean and he smiled and laughed all the way through it. It was months before he admitted he was petrified. He was not going to show me or anyone else his fear. This disposition had served him well from an early age in the dregs of Europe and he wasn’t going to change it on the rolling hills of Innisfil Township or the shores of Nova Scotia half a century later. John was a survivor.
In that regard he was typical of his generation: tough, resourceful, asking little from his adopted country except the freedom to build his life on his own terms, in his own way, while wondering occasionally why those who followed him had to be quite so coddled on their arrival. He loved this country — its freedom, its openness and, yes, its generosity, although he thought we were getting a little soft.
Northern Ontario is full of these hearty souls from across Europe who escaped the madness and destruction of the Second World War and helped build this country. They could not believe their good fortune to find freedom and opportunity in the same place at the same time.
When a family member dies we think about their time, their passions, their losses, their achievements, their disappointments, their legacy.
John had much to teach, although it seldom had a pedagogical ring to it. His unspoken mantra was to expect nothing. He had seen the worst mankind had to offer and he was not going to waste a minute dwelling on it.
He lived life every day in the only way he knew how. Work hard, play hard.
He was entirely self-sufficient (well, he did patronize Costco and Tim Hortons).
These are important lessons for an itinerate publisher without a discernable practical bone in his body.
I wish I’d paid more attention. Fortunately, my wife knows how to drive a tractor and braid garlic in a pinch.
John, we’ll forever miss you and your smile.