Copyright © Vera Broido 1998
Reproduced with permission of the publisher,
Constable & Robinson, London, England
I remember our family
in Lithuania. On the way we usually spent a few days with our paternal
grandparents in the ancient capital of Lithuania, Vilna. . . .
From Vilna we went on to the home of our maternal grandparents in the shtetl of Svenciany. For me the main attraction there was the timber yard belonging to our grandparents. Facing the street there stood their house with its many windows and next to it a wide, heavy gate through which carts and wagons drove past a sort of garden, to the timber yard proper. At the entrance to the yard there was a small house known as the office, in which our grandfather sat all day long. He sat on a high stool before a kind of lectern on which lay the Talmud, open on a page dark with age. I never saw him turning this page and indeed Mother told me that it was the same page that he was reading when she was a child, only it was even darker now. He never seemed to leave the high stool and after the first greeting in the morning, when he gave us an abstracted gentle smile, he never talked to us. In later years I wondered whether he had always been the same or was it that he had been so devastated by the death of his first wife and their three sons that he did not care for life thereafter? This did not quite fit as he had married again, our grandmother Sara, and had a son, Naum, and a daughter, Eva, by her. But obviously at some stage he turned away from life and took to the Talmud, not reading it but nodding over it, rhythmically, in the manner of rabbinical scholars. He left the running of the timber yard entirely to his wife.
The timber yard was an ideal place to be in, a paradise, a vast expanse filled with uncut logs and freshly cut planks, all piled up neatly to make narrow passages between their ranks. Nothing delighted me more than the smell of the freshly cut timber. I would climb up to the top of a pile of planks and sit there smelling it. The ranks of logs and timber made wonderful passages and places to hide and to play all kinds of games. Simply climbing up and sitting on top was a lovely pastime, and it offered the bonus that one could look over the wooden fence and into the next-door yard. That was a place which hired out horse carriages, so there were always horses going out and returning, being watered and brushed down and led into the stables. There were also small light carriages and commodious family barouches standing about. And there was always plenty of movement and noise.
The summer was spent in a forester's house on a lake in the heart of the virgin forest. There was not another house for miles around and our only visitor was the forester himself, who lived in another part of the forest. The main attraction for the rest of my family was the boat on the lake but I was afraid of water and much preferred to go on gentle rambles through the woods, walking under high trees in semi-darkness and then coming to a warm, sunlit clearing, full of wild strawberries, raspberries or mushrooms, according to season. This was the best place to stop and sit or lie down and get warm in the sun, while the strong smell of grasses, flowers and berries made one drowsy. Time stood still. The day of departure came much too soon and it was always with a pang that we returned to St. Petersburg.
Copyright © 2000 M S Rosenfeld