Gerald Sliva starts his book-signing sessions with a question. “Do you know where Kuroki is?” The answer might not be what you think.
Where is it? Why, three miles south of Tryhubas’ barn, of course. And if you live or have lived in the area, you are probably saying, “Oh, of course!”
There must be something in the air. We have many talented people who live or grew up in our area, and Gerald Sliva has joined the list.
This fall, Sliva published a memoir of his years growing up in the hotel in Kuroki that his parents owned and operated.
The book is titled Barking From the Front Porch and has been published by FriesenPress. Sliva recently visited home again, and spent a day at the Wadena Bakery with his sister Margaret, visiting with old friends and new ones while he promoted his book.
The Sliva family, at the time consisting of parents Mike and Anne, and children Gerald and Don, bought the Kuroki Hotel in partnership with Gerald’s uncle, and they moved into the hotel in late 1948. Mike Sliva had been a staff sergeant at the military hospital in Regina, but after the war he took the chance to fulfil his dream of running a hotel.
Gerald was four years old when they moved, so he had a lot of growing-up time in Kuroki.
“Kuroki was a great place to grow up,” he told the News in an interview.
Running a hotel, he recalled, was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.
“We learned how to work at a young age,” he said. “We had chores. Saturdays my brother Don and I washed floors, and every day we washed dishes, so we learned how to be responsible.”
Electricity did not come to Kuroki until 1953 or 1954, according to Gerald’s recollection, so the hotel had a diesel generator with the big storage batteries in the basement.
“We didn’t have TV at first either, so we did a lot of family activities, especially on Sundays. Sunday was the family day.”
And they had an extended family. It included, besides the Slivas themselves, Anne’s mother, Axel Lindgrom the live-in bartender, the parish priest who visited often, travellers who had a regular route and came to stay regularly, and locals who came to shoot the breeze. Tom McNamee, one of the former owners of the hotel, was an honorary grandfather. The immediate family kept growing, too. Following Gerald and Don came Barbara, Jim, Margaret and John.
John, Margaret and Jim in the hotel café, around 1960.
Gerald started school in Kuroki in September 1949 when he was five years old, and continued up to Grade 10. Grades 11 and 12 were not offered in the local school, so he went to St. Joseph’s College in Yorkton, a boarding school, with some of his friends.
“Maybe we complained, like all kids, at the work we had to do,” Gerald said. “We didn’t get as much time to play ball or do other things as some of our friends because we had to work in the hotel. But there were advantages too.”
Circa 1959, brother and sister with Tom McNamee’s goat. It was used for milking, and for pulling a cart in the summer.
For instance, the hotel was the social centre of town. Older people might move into the hotel for the winter instead of staying alone on the farm. Many guests were the sort who made regular rounds, like travelling salesmen. People would come in for a game of cards. There was always somebody around, and it was always busy.
“Music was a big thing,” he reminisced. “In school, Mrs. (Dorothy) Simmons played piano. There was a music program on CBC Regina, with music for schools, that we had once a week for half an hour.” Music was important to small communities, and many learned how to play instruments. If you could not play, you could always sing.
“And before TV, we could usually convince the teacher to tune in the World Series on the radio.”
Gerald says he feels lucky to have attended a small school, as well. “The teacher had four grades, so the older kids would help the younger, and the younger had a chance to see what they would be learning the next year.”
One of Gerald’s favourite memories of his time in Kuroki, however, is the annual family portrait. In 1950, his dad took them to Wadena on Aug. 31 (their anniversary) to get a family photograph taken. This became an annual pilgrimage, no matter what – whether the date fell on a Sunday or a Wednesday or there was a bad storm. His dad would bring along a bottle of whisky to share with the photographer after the photo shoot. Not the whole bottle of course, just a few sips for each of the adults.
When Gerald started writing down his stories, he decided to turn them into a book. There was, as always, some hard work involved but thanks to his early training, that just made it a challenge.
“I tried to make it funny, sad and nostalgic,” he told the News. “The verbal comments I have gotten back so far have been good – people say they laughed, they cried – so I am happy to have achieved at least some of what I set out to do.”
Locals will recognize many of the situations and settings of his stories. Although he changed names to preserve anonymity in some cases, identity may still shine through to those in the know!
Following his years in Kuroki, Gerald attended the University of Saskatchewan, taught school for several years, and worked for Manpower Canada until he took early retirement. He also married and raised a family, and now lives in Winnipeg to be close to their granddaughter.
Visit Gerald Sliva’s webpage at barkingfromthefrontporch.com.
By Charlene Wirtz