Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chapter 11

One summer - I am 12 or 13 years old - I agree to accompany my grandfather (Dziadzio Miecio) to his village, 10 or so kilometers from Regów Stary. Just for a day or two, but we end up staying almost a week. It is similar and yet different. There is no river, or any body of water. Not even a pond.  There is, however, a big sand pit, and it is great fun to slide down the steep banks of that pit in a small avalanche of golden sand.  There is also a substantial wooded area (a forest?)  right by the village.

At first I am uneasy in the completely new place, with people I don't know, but they are kind and welcoming, especially Grandpa's younger brother, Jurek, who runs the farm. His face is crooked, due to the fact that the lids of his left eye are permanently shut - perhaps sewn together? - over an empty socket. It looks as if someone  pressed on that eye with enough strength to push it into his skull, and that emptiness behind is now pulling on the skin of his cheeks, rising the left corner of his mouth in a permanent expression of incredulity.

He seems a better farmer than my Grandma's brother. The farm  buildings are well maintained, leaving an impression if not exactly of prosperity, then at least of good work ethic. His two horses are a sight to behold: big, well fed, and well cared-for specimens with shiny coats and long, brushed manes.  They are far cry from that old, white mare in Regów, whose back looks like a worn sofa that collapsed after one too many fat person sat on it.

Uncle Jurek - as I am supposed to call him - seems a bit less prone to drinking in excess than what I'm used to seeing in those villages, where vodka tends to flow freely.  Perhaps that's the secret behind his well kept farm.  I like him more and more, until, one day,  I'm sitting with him, my Grandpa, and another farmer in front of his house. The men are drinking vodka, eating bread with smoked pork fat (słonina), while I'm filling my belly with oranżada - a very sweet, carbonated beverage with artificial orange flavor.  Jurek's small dog is hanging around, hoping for a morsel of that fat to be dropped on the ground.

The dog is a mutt with quite a bit of Chihuahua in him, and Uncle Jurek is adamant that this dog is purebred. so the two men start teasing him about it. "If he's  a Chihuahua, how come he has a tail? Chihuahuas don't have no tail!" After a bit of back-and-forth over this Jurek grabs the dog with his big hand, goes to the barn to fetch an ax, places the dog's tail on a tree stump, and chops it off, leaving about an inch.  The dog runs away, yelping in pain and terror, and does not show up for two days.  "Now he's a damn Chihuahua alright!", laugh the men,  pouring another round.

I'm so angry at Grandpa then when an opportunity arises to rattle his chains, I grab them with both hands. The three of us: Uncle Jurek, Dziadzio Miecio and I are coming back from the forest, where we cut into pieces a large tree that had just been felled by the local forester. We're riding, unhurriedly, on a lorry piled high with branches and pieces of tree trunk,  pulled by Jurek's pair of horses. The men are shooting the breeze when suddenly their conversation veers onto the Russkis and how they are keeping the Polish nation enslaved. I see my opening.

"Say what you might about the Soviet Union, but the fact remains they they liberated us. Without them, we would probably all have been exterminated by the Germans."
This is like jabbing a stick into a mound of fire ants.
"What kind of bullshit is this? Is that the kind of crap they teach you at school?? Shame! Don't they teach you about the Warsaw Uprising?".
I push the stick deeper.
"What about it? The uprising was just a suicidal gesture that accomplished nothing while sacrificing thousands of young people."
"You don't know shit! Our young people were being slaughtered while the Red Army stood on the other side of the Vistula, giving the Germans time to finish us off!"
"There were not enough Soviet soldiers to attack. The Uprising was simply badly timed."

I see my grandfather's face turning crimson, veins on his neck and forehead bulging, spit flying as he speaks.
"You dumbass! I can't believe this! Don't you know any better? Do you believe everything they tell you?"
And so it goes for a few more minutes, temperature rising, until I find myself flying through the air, with a great pile of branches and tree trunks tumbling right behind. One of the wheels hit a hole in the road, tipping the overloaded lorry over.  Thankfully, no bones or necks are broken, and the conversation is over. Not a moment too soon - I so enjoyed the ease of pushing my Grandpa's buttons, that I almost started believing this crap myself. It will take us till sunset to load the wood back in sulky silence and bring it home.

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