The Chumiak Award



My mother is the oldest surviving sibling in a sprawling poverty stricken family that grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Until just the past year my grandmother continued to live in the house my mother was born in.  The house was once surrounded by farmland that has slowly evolved to suburbs over the past 65 years. My grandmother was an alcoholic who would often spend the welfare money on booze while her kids ran around in clothes held together by safety pins. Her generation knew the power of the rod and often one or another of the children was sent next door to get the neighbour’s leather belt when there was a punishment to be dealt out. When my grandmother’s eldest son died in a mental institution she didn’t have enough money to bury him so she didn’t claim the body. The city buried him in an unmarked grave. Thirty years into her sobriety she would still remark how much that bothered her.


For years the last name of my mother’s brothers would be synonymous with crime in the small community they grew up in. A Saturday morning could find them chasing rats out at the dump. A Saturday night could find them tipping over outhouses or throwing straw stuffed dummies out into the streets under the wheels of unsuspecting drivers’ cars. It never occurred to them that the result of their actions might have dire consequences. They were poor, young and bored and that was reason enough. All this might serve to create a feeling of inferiority in most souls but not this hearty bunch.


I could never get the whole story but suffice it to say there was some reason that my mother’s family felt they were superior to their neighbours the Chumiaks. There’s some vague information in regards to socially awkward and unattractive children but nothing that would seem tragic enough to justify the establishment of the Chumiak Award. I’m not sure how the Chumiaks would feel to know the reasoning behind the establishment of this award. If they did I’m sure they’d show a marked lack of appreciation for the whole affair.

It’s just an old battered plaque. Old adhesive has dried up and most of the old brass plates are held in place with scotch tape. The years that the award has been handed out are sporadic as evidenced by the random listing of dates. In the later years the engraved brass plates had been replaced by paper nametags but still the institution remains. It is the Chumiak Award and it is awarded to the family member who presents or displays the silliest or lamest behaviour possible.


The last clearest memory I have of the Chumiak Award is at my Aunt Karen’s (affectionately known to all and sundry as Spider) 40th birthday party. Once again the shores of Lake Ontario would play host to this gala affair that would include barbeque, bonfires, music and a creative meatloaf contest. The best meatloaf entry would merit a place of infamy on the Chumiak Award. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to present my entry, a lovely meatloaf oasis with a ketchup spring and tatter tot palm trees. I can’t remember who won that night (professional jealousy I’m sure) but I do remember that battered old plaque with its mishmash of names and dates. There were a lot of miles on that plaque just as there were a lot of miles in the hearts of my mother and her siblings. They walked those miles together.


There are a lot of people who still spit on the ground when they hear that old family name. There are a lot of people who wouldn’t have bet you 2 cents that any of those kids would have made it to where they finally ended up. Some of those people would be my mother’s brothers and sisters themselves. Granted a few have fallen by the wayside but the core still remains. It’s funny about that plaque, you’d think that the life they were living wouldn’t have allowed them hold their heads up above anyone else’s but they did. Resilience, strength, stubbornness and humour are necessary tools for survival and they had them in spades as evidenced by the survival of the Chumiak Award. It’s just a grubby old plaque stored in the back of someone’s closet until it gets dragged out again for the next meatloaf contest or asinine event that occurs. The years are marked by the brass and the tape, the paper and the ink and the laughter and the tears. And until the last one of those kids is gone it will continue to stand in remembrance of battles fought together and the ties that bind and carry us through the most difficult of our days and beyond.


18 thoughts on “The Chumiak Award

  1. This was very well written, and I must agree with Patresa-sounds like the beginning to a novel…..lot of ideas in that few paragraphs. You can\’t help wanting to know them more intimately. Thoughts, ideas and why!Nice….Kat


  2. Hello! Your mother won the meatloaf contest, I think with the Christmas Tree Meatloaf. It had peas and corn and cut up green, red and yellow peppers for decorations.


  3. Every family has their secrets and things that they have dealt with the past. It seems that you & your family have come a long way from all that. My grandma was 1 of 22 kids and they were also all very poor, and there is only 2 of them that are still alive. And for some reason when they were growing they also thought they were superior to some families in the neighbourhood, eventhough none of them had any money or food. It kind of makes me laugh.Amanda


  4. @PatresaIt\’s the "________?" that concerns me. lol@KatOh there\’s a novel there alright, I\’m just not sure I\’m the one to write it…too many family secrets. ;)@LuvleeI want a recount! How could they choose a Christmas tree over my oasis?@CherylThey have come a long way I guess but there\’s still a long way to go. By the way have you done something to your home page? I haven\’t been able to get it to load for the past week or so. I have dial up and if the page has a lot of content my computer balks (so to speak).How\’s your house project going?@ AmandaI had some aunts and uncles that came to some pretty tragic ends but there are still more of them around than in your family. Can you imagine having 22 kids today? It just isn\’t done. It\’s a totally different world now. I agree with you about the family secrets, which is a shame. Some of those stories have gone to the grave and are lost forever. I guess we have some of our own secrets now that we\’re holding tight so how can we blame them?L


  5. Just saying hello back 🙂 thanks for stopping by my blog. I love reading your story.. I don\’t think that they really thought they were better than any one I think the attitude is part of survival. Not too many people will mess with you. Being poor is harder on the kids. I was the tallest and the youngest so all the hand-me downs that I wore the hems had to be let down so the mark from the old hem still showed. It’s funny but I can still remember how that made me Jessie


  6. @JessieMy mom\’ s the same about her clothes. She always made sure we never had to use safety pins when we were growing up because it bothered her so much. She actually made all of our clothes. I didn\’t have a store bought dress until I was 10 years old.


  7. Love those kind of families…. most of my best friends come from just such lineage. Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend. hugs, lottiemae


  8. @lemon2stpnYou know it\’s funny that you should say that because there is more to the story, so much more that it would have been too long for this particular format. Some of the things I write about are more easily encapsulated, this event (memory) fought me all the way. All of my aunts and uncles carry the scars of that childhood to some degree. It often puts me in mind of that quote from Six Feet Under," We are all wounded. We carry those wounds around with us until something happens and they kill us."(that\’s so deep it might as well be bleeding).They\’ve been together so long they don\’t see how "peculiar" some of their behaviour is. They\’ve all learned to cope or not cope in different ways. Alcoholism, depression and dangerous or antisocial behaviour are just a few of the fall outs from those years. On the other hand there are those who\’ve gone on to be wildly successful, publishing books, earning doctorates and running profitable businesses.It always seems to me that most of the stuff I write about here is a just a beginning (good or bad), and that some of it might bear further effort, a fleshing out so to speak. That would definitely be something for another forum.I appreciate your imput, constructive criticism has always worked for me. I think it\’s good to be able to see what you\’ve created through someone else\’s eyes and in doing so take away a more objective view point.ThanksL


  9. @Lottie-MaeI agree with you. The most interesting people have lived through some difficult times. Adversity has tempered them and created something stronger than the original version.Here\’s wishing you a good weekend as wellL=)


  10. Wow! That is awesome that you are able to share some of your family\’s history. Traditions are what make one family different then the next. Even though parts of the story are sad, I\’m glad to see some of your family seems to be doing well. Take Care!


  11. @WhamjamI think sound waves need air to travel through…you are obviously not a\’s probably for the best;)@PeppWe are definitely a "historical" family alright,lol


  12. @Junquedujourlol, There\’s more than a lifetime of moments there. I spent 3 hours last night on the phone with one of my aunts and I didn\’t mind at all. That\’s saying a lot because I am not a phone person ( I\’m so like her it\’s scary). I am absolutely fascinated by this family history. I\’m positive I would be even if I didn\’t play a part in it. These are infinitely interesting people, tragic and divine but always human and finite.


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