After I moved to Santa Barbara and considered myself officially retired from singing, Ukrainian friends and family felt I should record in Ukrainian again.
“People still ask about you.”, they’d say to me.
“They still buy the Ukrainian album you made when you were six.”
It warmed my heart that people still thought I had something to offer, but I honestly thought I was done as a recording artist.
So now here I was, sitting across from a sixty-eight year old man who wanted to tell us something. Mike Cerkowniak had felt Paul and I were destined to walk a straight path to success.
We’d been sitting in the diner for about an hour but none of us had eaten much as Mike Cerkowniak continued to tell his story.
“We felt you needed to be heard.... and decided you were worth the risk. With Henry Smichura’s help, you and Paul recorded a Ukrainian album with Joe Hrycyk and his Starlight Band. But there weren’t many places two under aged kids could perform".
Mike leaned back into his chair and collected his thoughts for a moment.
"You were too good for singing in local halls and amateur contests. I went back to my day job and couldn’t stop talking about you. When you performed locally, I brought my co-workers to see you and they were as excited as I was. We brought our wives and they felt as we did. Before too long, a plan was hatched ".
Mike felt all of Canada needed to hear us. He felt we needed to appear on National television.
" What would that take?”, Mike asked rhetorically.
“Money. It would take money to get you to Toronto, the music mecca of Canada. Henry Smichura offered to uproot his family and travel the 2000 miles as your manager, but in the end, we felt you needed someone there who knew the ropes and could show you around properly.
We knew we needed to keep you in Toronto for as long as we could.... until your career took off. We needed to get our hands on a fair amount of money. Some of us turned to Household Finance.”
I was having trouble wrapping my brain around this information and it took a few seconds for all of it to finally sink in.
“ You MORTGAGED your homes?!” I blurted out.
“Those of us who could, did.” , answered Mike.
All I could do was stare.
“What did you mean by US?” I finally asked.
“There were five of us. Henry Smichura was the sixth.”
Mike had mentioned taking a risk and I suddenly felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I began to understand. I realized I was holding my breath.
“Who were the others?” I asked.
“They were comrades of mine.” Mike answered calmly.
Whatever possessed these men to help two underaged strangers, while putting their own financial security as well as their careers at risk, I’ll never quite understand.
For over forty years, I had assumed that my parents had miraculously managed to sell enough of our farm livestock in order to keep Paul and me in Toronto. It took over four decades for me to learn that I not only had anonymous benefactors, but that my “heroes”, had been Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen.
Mike recalled one incident where a complaint had been lodged with the RCMP. It stated that a young singer by the name of Gloria Kaye was being mistreated by having to perform weekends past nine o’clock. This complaint put "my" mounties in the awkward position of having to investigate themselves. At one point, one officer quipped, “ So, what do we do now? Arrest ourselves?! ”
“ There’s no reason to keep the secret anymore... ”
Mike sounded as if a burden had been lifted.
“ Henry Smichura, the DJ, passed away some ten years ago and.......”
As Mike paused and briefly concentrated on the soda glass cupped in his hands, Paul and I quickly exchanged glances. When Mike looked up, there was much sadness in his eyes.
“Oh dear Lord.” , I thought. “He’s come to tell us he’s the last man left standing. ”
“ .......the rest are scattered throughout western Canada, but we keep in touch with each other.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. All the mounties, all MY mounties were still alive!
But looking at Mike, you would have never known there was reason to celebrate. I couldn’t understand why Mike looked so sad.
We had to say good-bye to Mike, but the sadness in his eyes was troubling. It was just before we parted, Mike admitted that one of the mounties, Brian Van Norman, had recently suffered a major stroke. It didn’t look good. With a promise from him that we would speak again, Paul, Ann, and I said our good-byes.
“Will you tell me about the others? “, I asked Mike.
With a heavy heart, I waved good-bye. I found myself wondering where I’d be if he and the others hadn’t entered my life. I was a farm girl who came from "moonshine" territory. Through the 1960’s, our farmhouse had no phone and we carried water by the bucket from the well to our house. I must admit, I was not fond of the outhouse.... especially in 40 below zero weather. And yet, unlike the chickens I watched as a young girl, instead of walking through life, I was given the chance to fly.
At age nine, I made my first of many guest appearances on Canadian National Television ( The Tommy Hunter Show). By age ten, I had a recording contract with RCA records, and at sixteen, a recording contract in London, England to record the theme song for Last Tango In Paris, starring Marlon Brando. Back in Canada, I was given my very first CBC Variety Series (The Sunshine Hour with John Candy, Andrea Martin, and Eugene Levy), and began performing on stage with stars from Bob Newhart to Big Bird. Could these men realize how MUCH my life had changed because of them?
I travelled the world and performed for people from all walks of life, from rodeo riders to Royalty. I met the love of my life through my music career (Hosting Rock-It, ITV ), and I now live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world... in a house with running water, four INDOOR bathrooms, and six telephones. And oh, the wonderful memories I collected.
“How does one repay such an act of kindness?”, I asked Paul as we walked back to our car.
It was Ann who planted the seed.
“They met you when you still sang in Ukrainian.... I always felt you should record in Ukrainian again....”
“If I were to record again...” , I thought to myself,
“I’d sing for you Mike Cerkowniak, Henry Smichura, Brian Van Norman, Gordon Gattafoni, Frank Dyck, and Al Phulman. I’d pay tribute to the ones who helped a little Ukrainian girl follow a dream.”
And just like that, Mike Cerkowniak changed the course of my life for the second time. He also let me in on a secret within the secret. Something my very own brother kept from me all these years....
I began writing this story, my intent was to simply tell the facts,
just the bare- bones. But while probing for clarification of the truth,
I uncovered something that would leave me distraught for days. I am
basically a private person, but am compelled to tell you something
about my relationship with my brother, for it is through him, I truly
witnessed that the hearts of men are capable of many things...
began communicating with the other Mounties, and I can’t tell you how
wonderful it felt. I received pictures and was finally able to put
faces to these selfless men. When a picture of a young Mike in uniform
arrived, I knew my memory of him had been correct. Any woman (or even
little girl) would have been smitten by his good looks. Also, true to
his word, Mike continued to answer everything I asked about the past.
evening, our telephone conversation turned to the early years I spent
in Toronto. I admitted to Mike it had been lonely, and for a while, I
felt very lost. Life as I knew it was gone. The farm, my school
friends, brothers and sisters, grandmother, mother and father...
everything I loved had simply dropped off the face of this earth.
was terribly expensive in those days to call long distance, and we had
no telephone on our farm. My mother wrote letters to Paul on behalf of
all the family, but they were few as well, for the nearest post office
was twenty four dirt and gravel miles from our homestead.
the long plane flight and drive from the airport into Toronto, I became
fully aware that the only familiar thing in my new life, was my
brother,Paul. Since I was three, he and I shared a love of music. On
the farm, Paul spent hours teaching me what he knew about singing,
harmonizing, and performing. One day, between the cabbages and beets,
he even taught me "Elvis" moves .... to my chagrin. We were a team, and
it never occurred to me that anything could separate us.
my physical needs were met, (food, clothing, etc.), but the idea of
preparing me for this move was somehow lost in the shuffle, and the
burden of dealing with a little girl’s emotional needs was left to an
inexperienced and equally overwhelmed eighteen year old boy.
Paul dropped me off at a stranger’s house in Toronto, promising to come
back soon, I was too stunned to respond. I did not ask, and no one
explained to me why we couldn’t be together. As days turned into
months, and months turned into years, I kept my fears and homesickness
to myself, and did as I was told.
Paul was good about coming to visit, there were no more songs for us to
learn, no more harmonizing together, no Ukrainian spoken.
my first Canadian National Television appearance, Paul stood off camera
and watched. It felt strange not having him beside me. The next time I
appeared on National TV, I took Paul’s hand to come on stage with me
but he refused and gave me a gentle push onto the stage. It was clear
he did not want to sing with me anymore and I couldn’t understand what
I had done to make him feel this way. I was so upset I coughed through
the first take of the song. In many performances after, without him by
my side, I felt as if a part of me was missing.
some point, Paul stopped coming to television rehearsals and tapings,
and I eventually accepted that he had a life separate from me. But a
bond had been severed, too painful to speak of.
I heard a heavy sigh come from the other end of the phone. I thought it was just Mike’s way of easing a tired body into a chair.
“There is something you should know Gloria.... about your brother.”, said Mike in a gentle voice.
What could I possibly not know? It sounded so ominous.
“You do know your parents couldn’t afford to send either of you to Toronto...”
Even though he couldn’t see me, Mike waited until I finished nodding my head.
a few meetings with your Mother and Father, we all agreed we needed to
get you and Paul off the farm. We still didn’t know how much money
would be needed to send you 2000 miles to start a new life. Airfare,
room and board, schooling, everyday clothes, fancy clothes to perform
in, and more needed to be considered. When all was said and done, we
asked Paul to meet with us. We had come to a difficult conclusion. We
could only afford to support one of you. It was not easy telling
Paul.... we chose you. You see Gloria, we asked him to step aside so
that you could be given the chance to succeed, and even though it was a
terrible blow for Paul, he did as we asked ... and stepped aside.
deal was struck with Art Snider, a musical director/producer, along
with his wife Jackie, of the Allan Sisters, which solved our
guardianship problem. You would live with them and their three small
children and start a career... on your own.”
“But it was Paul’s dream more than it was mine.”, I whispered into the phone, barely able to speak.
Mike let out another sigh.
thought he would have told you.... In the end, Paul wanted to go to
Toronto and try to make a life there for himself. It was decided Paul
would fly with you to Toronto and deliver you to Art and Jackie
Snider’s home, where you would live for as long as we could afford to
keep you there. You were so small. We were nervous sending an eight
year old into the big world. It eased our minds knowing Paul would be
around to check in on you from time to time.”
shaken and not knowing how to broach the subject with Paul, I found
myself doing exactly what he had done in the past. I said nothing.
And I was ashamed.
see, one night, many years after the fact, I tried to understand and
come to terms with issues that stemmed from my childhood. I knew
nothing of the deals that had been made on my behalf, and in the heat
of anger, I accused my brother of many things. Instead of defending
himself and telling me how wrong I was, he said nothing. We never spoke
of it again.
In a recent telephone conversation, I asked Paul to tell me what the first couple of years in Toronto had been like for him.
was a bright boy and at age eighteen already earned a teaching
certificate in Mathematics from the University of Alberta. In order to
get his teaching degree however, he enrolled at the University of
Toronto for one year. That summer, he returned to Alberta to help our
parents with the farm, and also continued his studies at the University
of Alberta. He paid for his education by taking whatever work he could
find. He washed dishes in restaurants and painted houses. During this
time, he budgeted one dollar, per day, for food. Paul received his
teaching degree in Mathematics/Computer Science before he turned
music never left him. Years later, I remember many a time being in his
home when he’d pull out his guitar, and he and I would sing as we
had.... when we were a team.
I thought I had discovered six heroes, but I know now, I had seven.