Monday, December 28, 2015

The Men of Hutava

This is my grandfather Massey Pribish.  It was probably taken in 1913 or so.  I believe it was a picture he had taken when he was arrived Joliet, Illinois and sent it to his wife in Russia.  But I'm getting ahead of the story.
Massey Pribish Circ 1913
The story of Ikons begins in 1904.  Massey and his brother Sam are planning to leave their home in Hutava to claim their fortune.   Since I didn't have any pictures of the two brothers when they were young, I chose to use a picture of two Russians I found in a history book as inspiration. 

Massey and Sam's Stand-ins

"Victor looked carefully at each man trying to decide who would give the most work for the least pay.  Over to one side he saw two young men standing apart from the rest.  They were of medium height and strongly resembled one another.  One, the oldest, already had a dense growth of hair on his upper lip; the other lad, only a mere shadow.  Both were lean.  Not the hungry lean Victor usually saw, but a sturdy, muscular lean.  Their hair was black and close cropped, more in the fashion of a soldier than the bowl-shaped chasha of a peasant, and their skin was still dark from days in the sun.  It was obvious both were just off the land and not yet broken by factory labor.  Victor leaned toward the yard-boss and pointed a leathery finger at Samuel and Massey.  "Those two," he said and quickly walked back to the mill."

* * *

Based on this photo, I constructed a story line for the brothers.  At the time I didn't have all the family information about the two, so I made it up resulting in two mistakes.  First, in my novel Sam was the solid older brother and Massey the feisty little brother.  In actuality, Massey was older.  Second, I named Sam, Sam, an honest mistake.  All my life I knew my great-uncle as Sam.  It turned out his name was Sergei and he had changed his name to Sam when he came to the United States in 1910.

For the rest of the men in Hutava I used this photo.  Notice the man on the far right.  He became my great grandfather, Major Sergei Pribish. Many years later I obtained records from the Department of Homeland Security, which listed Massey's father's name as Lucian Lukaszewicz.  I have no idea what that means.
The Men of Hutava

My father called his grandfather on the Pribish side, The Major.  It could be he was a major in the Tsar's army or was mayor of Hutava.  Both words are similar in Russian.  I chose to name him Serei and make him a retired army officer.  Note the medals on his chest.  Russian officers in 1900 were usually of noble birth.  The only way Sergei could attain commissioned rank was by serving in the Asian frontier.  So that's how his story came to be.  Sending him to the Far East also allowed me to explain my father's Tatar features.  Sergei's story is the frame upon which Russia's participation in the Great War was constructed.

According to DHS, my father's maternal grandfather was Andrew Kotchik.  Not knowing this in 1992, I named him Boris Koscik.  My father claimed he was a horse thief.  Boris' story is based on the recollections of my then ten year-old father and is instrumental on projecting the story of politics in the Russian village.

Other villager men were the inn-keeper, mayor, assorted farmers and of course, the village villain, Shako.

Using old photos was not an original idea of mine. It actually came from Sue Grafton (Alphabet Murder series).  She taught my class at the Antioch Writers' Workshop and brought in photos to use as props.  One of her photos became a character in my second book.

Giving the brothers opposite personalities and placing them under the thumb of a domineering father allowed me to create a coming-of-age story for the two boys.  I used my own experience and those of my friends to paint a picture of young men leaving home, looking for work and finding it the lower levels of the factory.  While our lives may have been sixty years removed from that of our grandfathers, our experiences were similar.  It would have been something to actually be able to have a discussion between me and my grandfather at age eighteen.

Russian Factory Workers - Circ 1900
Based on this photo, I do believe our grandfathers had it rougher than we did.

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