Kalman Doka, pictured bottom right with his bride Molly, pictured centre in white
I have a large envelope filled with old sermons that were written and delivered by my grandfather, Kalman Doka, throughout his ministry as a pastor of some 50 years. They were given to me by my grandmother a few years ago. I started to ask her questions about her life as a young girl, how she fell in love, what it was like to survive the Great Depression and live the War years. And after that, she started to send me his sermons, and her letters, and then more.
I was grateful for the time I could spend with my grandmother Molly over the years, alone, asking questions. Grateful her mind was always so sharp. It’s time I wish I had been able to spend with my other grandparents. By the time I was conscious of my need to know about the past, had the presence of mind to ask questions so vital whose answers could more nimbly weave the threads of my present steps into the rich tapestry of my heritage, they were gone.
Certain stories, of course, have been passed down and I had the privilege to know each of my grandparents. Of the four, I knew my grandmothers the most. And as a man looking forward, living now, in these times, I certainly can use all the wisdom I can get hold of. Recently, I’ve wondered about my grandfathers.
Imagine being granted the fortune of visiting your ancestors for a day – say a week! – when you’re ready. When they were the same age as you are now. Spending time with them. Observing their lives. Slip back through time like in a Hanna-Barbera production to be handed the kernel of wisdom you need (you’d only need half an hour), then vault back to the present, changed.
Not one to waste, my grandmother Molly preserved every kernel she could, especially things written down. I told her I wanted to read grandpa’s sermons and that perhaps one day I’d organize them, or from them somehow tell a story of their lives.
I started (in 2007) to enthusiastically transcribe the sermons I had in my possession, spending hours at a time typing at the keys. This was back when I used a PC. I lost all that work in a fateful crash and have left the sermons in their envelope since. Partly because the discouragement of the lost time, partly because other projects took root.
Only recently the urgency to go back to the keyboard was re-awakened. A major spur has been the recent arrival of a suitcase full of sermons – the rest in grandma’s personal archive – that arrived in Alberta.
I’ve decided to undertake the task of transcribing the sermons again, one by one, in order to preserve them. We’ll see how it goes. My intent is to tackle the small mountain of papers devotionally. Spending time I would in morning (or evening, or – let’s face it – midday) devotion to process the words. I mean to chip away at them and publish what I transcribe as a regularly as I get the words down. As of March 2016, I am making the transcriptions available on this site: Doka Sermons.
It’s an overwhelming thought, this exercise of delving into the past. There’s an amazing body of work that comes with it: not only sermons but letters to so many, articles, and other documents, like the ones regarding the family’s interaction with refugees fleeing the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.
It means diving into a wholly unique view of Canadian history too. The story of homesteaders on the prairies; the story of essential faith; the history of a family that made it’s way across this great country, further and further west.
So, though I did not have the fortune to relate to my grandfather as a friend, as a peer, or as a man while he lived, I hope to do so now, picking up some of the bounty he planted through the words he wrote down.
Heritage is “something reserved for one”, something that comes to one or belongs to one by reason of birth. We have no choice in what we are handed down. But I guess we have some choice in what we do with what we are given. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
What blessed heritage to be handed such a harvest.