Dictated by Ary
1906 or 7
(no longer in existence)
Often I would wake up in the morning and hear
the sound of loud voices outside the house. Peeking out the
high window I would see seated in the middle of a circle of
peasants, all talking and gesticulating in great excitement.
Only Grandfather was calm, his keen black eyes under their shaggy
eyebrows the only sign of his interest in the scene around him.
White hair, flowing white beard, white shirt and white linen
trousers that he had laboriously cut and fashioned himself,
he could have been one of the prophets out of the Bible. And
just as unerring he was in his judgment and his denunciation.
"Be still!" he would command. "Now, Ivan, what
is your complaint? The truth now, no lies!" The babble
would quiet down, and Ivan would begin his story. All through
his recital of the pig that had been stolen from him, Grandfather's
eyes would rest on one after another of the peasants gathered
around. At the conclusion of the story, he would pick up the
cane, which was always at his side, point it at one of the peasants,
and deliver his verdict:
"You, Dmitri, it is you who stole Ivan's
pig! Give it back to him!" Dmitri would nod his head submissively
"Yes, Yankel, I will do your bidding.'' The crowd would
disperse, and the next day the shame-faced Dmitri would bring
a little sack of corn for Grandfather as a token of his repentance.
Once a month I would go home for the weekend,
walking the distance of 12 miles between the city and Hretzk
in time to arrive home for the lighting of the candles and the
Sabbath meal. I would carry my schoolbooks with me, not that
I wanted to study, but because I had seen Grandfather's eyes
light up the first time I had come home carrying a book of geography.
And waking up at night, I had seen him seated by the big stove,
bent over the book, poring over its mysteries by the dim lights
of the oil lamp. All night long he read, laboriously translating
the Russian text, miraculously transported to a world of which
he had never heard.
Grandfather had already lived his life, made
his philosophy; there was no struggle now. He had a house where
he lived. The other little expenses he had solved also. In the
active years he had managed to save five or six hundred rubles.
There was no bank in the village, but he knew the people there
and those who had little stores always needed a little money,
so he would lend them money, and the interest he took out in
trade. He would get sugar, tea, salt, tobacco which he needed
for his pipe all these things that would be needed. Of
course potatoes and bread didn't cost him anything he
would get them from the peasants. He would go on Friday to the
store and bring home all those essentials which he would have
had to buy in the store prunes perhaps, and kerosene.
One of the main items was kerosene for the lamps. He must have
had an arrangement with another place too because he always
had a few rubles with him which he would get during the year
from interest. He didn't believe in spending money foolishly
When he was young, Grandfather had built churches;
he would build without ever studying architecture I don't
know if he had built the church in our village, but he would
make drawings and functioned as architect; some peasants would
come to him to consult him. He was self-trained in everything,
including this kind of work.
I don't think my father had Grandfathers
balance or the philosophical grasp on things. To Grandfather
the pig was a creature on a par with the horse or cow
a creature that inhabited the planet. Father was a young man,
of course, and he was like all of his generation in that primitive
society. But his desire was that his children should be educated.
That desire was very strong in Mother, who brought it from the
city. She always was proud that the family was well educated,
that their Uncle's family, the Bezborodkos, was a distinguished
family. That was her pride. There was nothing distinguished
in the family of Grandfather. My Grandfather wouldn't have accepted
the distinction of "class". We are all going to die
the elements of futility were strong in his mind. Grandfather
was proud of my older brother, Abe, and me because we showed
a great inclination for learning and study.
My father was physically very strong had
a robust frame. They used to tell the story that father once
had a contest with some of the peasant boys his age and he knocked
them all down. My Mother was sort of sickly. She came from the
city and had a hard time to fit into the primitive country life.
I vaguely remember my Grandfather's mother. They
say she was 110 when she died. She was the midwife in the village
and was called by the peasants when a child was to be born.
They used to bring her things and the little house was full
of linen, which she loved. Also cats. They claim there were
more than 100 cats around her. Her tiny little house was behind
Grandfather's. I hardly remember her she was so old that
she was incoherent, and she spoke a Yiddish that was hard to