Through all the ups and downs of living a life in show business (Toronto,
New York, London, Los Angeles), I had somehow managed to land on my feet with a wonderful husband on two acres of scenic mountain and ocean views in
California.For a farm girl who once
lived in a home with no running water, what I had now was not lost on me.
I thought my final phase in leaving show business for good would come when
we moved out of the hustle and bustle that was (and still is) Laurel Canyon in
LA, and into the beautiful, quiet foothills of Santa Barbara. To my surprise and delight, I kept my toe in
the business by writing songs for movies made for Film and Television, and even
though there are times I miss the stage, I still feel very blessed.
Summer 2006: Sitting in a gloomy diner somewhere on the outskirts of Red Deer, Alberta, I felt uncomfortable as my brother Paul and his wife Ann gallantly held up the conversation.Mike continued to stare at me, and I struggled to remember. He was there in my childhood, although mostly in my periphery.Putting my discomfort aside, I returned his stare and hoped for a memory to spark.
It was the way he spoke my name that suddenly lifted the veil obscuring my early memories of him. I could envision him now: a handsome young man in his twenties, introducing me with pride in his voice, to his family. I remembered how kind he and his wife had been to me, and I realized I was looking into the eyes of a man who had believed in me.The years melted away as Mike began painting a picture of meeting us at an Edmonton radio station, CHFA.
“Paul, you must have been 15 or 16 when you arrived from a long bus ride clutching your guitar in one hand and your sister in the other.Gloria, you were so.... small”, Mike recalled.
It all began on a Saturday, after the morning farm chores had been done. Dressed in our best Sunday clothes, our mom and dad piled us into our old Ford car and drove us twenty-four miles to Boyle, the nearest town. Once there, Paul and I caught a greyhound bus headed for Alberta’s capital city.The four-hour bus ride was gravel and dirt road almost all the way. The sun was nearly gone when we arrived in Edmonton, so Paul with address in hand, coaxed me to hurry for there was still a long walk to take.We couldn’t miss our chance to sing on Henry Smichura’s Ukrainian Radio program.
“When you two sang”, Mike continued, “... well you could just ..... we couldn’t figure out how you did it.It’s like you could read each others minds.... ”
So, Mike had been there at the start.After work, he moonlighted as an accordion player in a band at the radio station.He’d witnessed our initiation into the world of show business.
In his best radio announcer’s voice, Henry Smichura told us, “People just don’t show up at a radio station and sing live.”
“But we’ve come a long way...” Paul replied politely.
“Well, you should have called first", Henry stated.
As Paul and I stood dejected inside the entrance of a poorly lit foyer, Mr. Smichura began to walk away.He couldn’t stay. He had to put another record on for his listeners, but Paul persisted and followed him into his tiny booth.
“I don’t know when we can come back... we don’t have a phone in our house....” Paul pleaded.
Paul at 15
And in the end, with 15-year-old Paul standing his ground, Mr. Smichura took pity on us.He put another record on and scurried us into a room with a microphone suspended in mid air. As Paul checked his guitar, he asked for the folding chair leaning in a corner and Mr. Smichura obliged.
There was no window for us to see Mr. Smichura back in his booth, but we heard him explain to his listeners that he was about to do something he’d never done before.He was going to allow someone to sing live on his radio program.
“His name is Paul Kolmatycki, and he came all this way by greyhound bus from a place called Frains with his five year old sister in tow.I hope you don’t mind.So now, LIVE, Paul Kolmatycki is going to sing a song for you.”
Five year old Gloria with DJ Henry Smichura
There was still a far away look in Mike’s eyes as he paused, and then grinned.
“When you two started harmonizing, the phones at that radio station began ringing left and right.People wanted to know who you were.They wanted to hear more.Henry put another record on and practically ran into the room you were in.He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw little Gloria standing on that chair.”Mike turned to Paul with a chuckle. “He thought you wanted to sit in it.”
It was so unlike Paul not to respond with something clever. He just sat quietly, looking at his folded hands on the table.I couldn’t guess what Paul was thinking, but I was truly touched by this man who believed so much in our raw talent.