This is a true story about a man named Tato. I share it with permission from Tato’s son, Orest. Orest is married to my first cousin, and as his story captured my attention, I asked permission to retell it. He responded.

“Yes, absolutely, I’m fine with that. We need some hope and perspective in these times, and that is exactly what my dad stood for. Everyone has their share of unfair life challenges to overcome. Evil can’t be defeated by legislation or protests, but by simple men and women of courage, faith, and prayer.  This is what will change the world for generations to come,” Orest Lechnowsky.

Here is his story — the story of Tato.

“I want to tell you about my father,” writes Orest. Tato means ‘dad’ in Ukrainian, and that’s what we called him, Tato.”

Tato was the grandson of a serf (person owned to do labor) of Polish landlords. He was poor…dirt poor. No electricity, no cars, no phone, no plumbing, no money did he have. Every piece of clothing worn, every morsel of food eaten, every tool used, and every building crafted was done with the work of his hands and those of his family and friends.

At the age of five, Tato’s mom, Anna, unexpectedly and unexplainably died.

Once Tato’s father remarried, others would be the little guy’s caretakers. You see, the new wife had children of her own whom she favored greatly. Thus, the care of Tato was handed off to his older sisters. It’s not that a little man can’t be man enough to take what’s been given, but had some love been passed his way by her, it would have greatly warmed his heart.

However, what he was given was an education. Yes, all the way through the ranks of the third grade he rose. As all classes were taught in Polish, he survived even though he only spoke Ukrainian. He worked hard and tried to learn as best he could. Yes, Tato was a survivor all right, and this would just be the beginning. Little did the young lad know what was in store.

At about the age of eight he was taken out of school to help with the family farm. Caring for livestock was one of many jobs Tato was responsible for. Up to the mountain pastures the sheep and cows were herded each morning. At the edge of the forest they grazed until evening. Staving off wolves developed within Tato a keen eye on many fronts and bravery was birthed.

Tato grew and the years flew by as he spent time with many a cousin who lived nearby. They were one in the struggle to survive, yet an adventure it became. Like brothers they stood, and watching out for one another became second nature.

Although love forges bonds, it can also beget pain when one truly cares. Tato was no exception. Bond he did to his cousins as they worked the fields many a day. One evening, it happened. Whether he witnessed it, or heard about it — it matters not. Tato’s heart was broken but his spirit would not be — at least not yet — when the news arrived.

To be continued. Amen.

Kathleen Kjolhaug lives on the family homestead outside of Clearbrook with her husband Pete. She enjoys writing about family life and brings humor into the sacred moments of everyday living.

Theology in the Trenches appears in several local newspapers throughout Minnesota. Kathleen can be reached by e-mail at


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