Eh, Vhat You Can Do?

My father-in-law immigrated from Ukraine in 1948. He quickly learned enough English to get a job. He would retain the heavy accent for the rest of his life. He and his young wife would soon settle in Amsterdam, buy a house and raise a family. All with no government assistance whatsoever. For the generation of immigrants that came to America, fleeing the aftereffects of war-torn Eastern Europe and the oppressive Stalin regime, hard work was not a stumbling block but rather a friend to be embraced.

The man had an enviable way about him when it came to stress. I believe the reason behind that was the attitude that you made your own success. Rather than worry about being unemployed, he would find a job, doing anything at all. He worked in carpet mills, a concrete block factory and as a construction laborer over the years. In fact, I doubt he ever worried about anything.

His accent was part of who he was. When we spent time with him, the accented English became a language of its own. When our younger son was in college, he came home for a visit. He had let his hair grow some and had it tied back in a pony tail. He asked Dido (Ukrainian for granddad) what he thought of his hair. He responded with “Ah, you look like voman”. Needless to say, he never minced words much. You always knew what was on his mind.

During the course of his visits, we would begin to adopt his phrases, right along with the accent. Another of them, and believe me there was a bunch, had to do with stressful situations. His response would be “Eh, vhat you can do?” (Hey, what can you do?). The intent was that whatever the problem was, you moved on and fixed it, not spend time angry or upset. That didn’t fix anything and he knew it.

Our second home had a walk-in attic over a good area of the house. Unfortunately, much of the attic floor consisted of 2×4 trusses which did not lend itself to storage. But, storage space was at a premium, so we used it anyway. I had put out some plywood to walk on but there were a number of gaps between the boards. My father-in-law was at our home for one of his regular visits. He and I were standing in one of the kids bedrooms, discussing some remodeling. My wife had gone into the attic to retrieve something. As we stood there talking, there was a pop in the ceiling. Out through a 12 inch hole in the sheet-rock, appears my wife’s lovely leg, right up to her knee. It seemed to dangle there, surrounded by fiberglass insulation and shards of broken building materials. The late afternoon sun reached across the room, highlighting the falling dust as we stood there. The muffled words “I’m all right” came from behind the ceiling as I tried to fight back the laughter. As she tries to retract her foot through the broken ceiling, my father-in-law stares up at the open gap and says “Eh, vhat you can do?”, as nonchalantly as you can imagine. Like this sort of thing happened every day. With Tato’s (Ukrainian for dad) time and skills, he and I went to the garage and retrieved the tools and materials and proceeded to repair the damage. For him, it was all in a day’s work, nothing to be upset about. In the process, he taught me the right way to respond to life’s little events.

How do you respond to stressful situations? Harsh words or anger to those around you? Maybe to those who don’t live up to your expectations. Perhaps the better attitude is “Eh, vhat you can do” and move on.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

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Rick Gile

Rick Gile

Life is made up of stories. You may not realize it, but we relay our experiences to one another all the time. They can give our loved ones a sense of the past, our friends a glimpse of how we have reacted to life's changes. Or, tell a new acquaintance something about ourselves. Stories are really about the journey of life.

What you encounter as life passes are views of events that make up your past, while shaping your future. What you read here are merely a few of the stories that have shaped my life, so far.

Rick and his wife Olga live in upstate New York, close to their grandchildren. They work part-time with their sons after running a business for 37 years in the Albany area.

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