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2015年09月21日

I was told that it came


After the hair-cutting is over, we sit down to dinner, my father and Ivan Vasilyevich in armchairs at each end of the table, the children on the sofa, and my mother opposite them. Ivan Vasilyevich took his meals with us until he was married. In winter we ate slowly and sat talking afterward. Ivan Vasilyevich would smoke and blow ingenious rings. Sometimes Sasha or Liza was made to read aloud. My father would doze in the recess of the stove. Once in a while in the evening we played old-maid, from which a great deal of noise and laughter resulted, and sometimes a little quarreling. We thought it particularly amusing to cheat my father, who played carelessly, and laughed when he lost My mother, on the other hand, played better, and would grow excited and watch my oldest brother sharply to see that he was not cheating her.

It was twenty-three kilometres from Yanovka to the nearest post-office, and more than thirty-five to the railroad. From there it was a long way again to the Government offices, to the stores and to a civic centre, and still farther to the world with its great events. Life at Yanovka was regulated entirely by the rhythm of the toil on the farm. Nothing else mattered, nothing but the price of grain in the world market. We never saw any magazines or newspapers in the country in those days. That followed later, when I had become a high-school boy. We got letters only on special occasions. Sometimes a neighbor would find a letter for us at Bobrinetz and carry it in his pocket for a week or two. A letter was an event; a telegram was a catastrophe. Some one explained to me that telegrams came on wires, but with my own eyes I saw a man on horse back bring a telegram from Bobrinetz for which my father had to pay two roubles and fifty kopecks. A telegram was a piece of paper, like a letter. There were words written on it in pencil. Did the wind blow it along a wire? by electricity. That was still worse. Uncle Abram once carefully explained to me: “The current comes over the wire and makes marks on a ribbon. Repeat what I have said.” I repeated: “Current over the wire and marks on a ribbon.”


My father and mother lived out their hard-working lives with some friction, but very happily on the whole. My mother came from a family of townspeople who looked down upon farmers, with their rough hands. But my father had been handsome and graceful in his youth, with a manly, energetic face. He succeeded in getting together the means that later enabled him to buy Yanovka. The young woman who had been taken from the city and flung out onto the lonely steppes found it difficult at first to adjust herself to the stern conditions of life on a farm. But she succeeded at last in adapting herself perfectly, and once in the traces, she did not relinquish her toil for forty-five years. Of the eight children born of this marriage, four survived. I was the fifth in order of birth. Four died in infancy, of diphtheria and of scarlet fever, deaths almost as unnoticed as was the life of those who survived. The land, the cattle, the poultry, the mill, took all my parents’ time; there was none left for us. The seasons succeeded one another, and waves of farm work swept over domestic affection. There was no display of tenderness in our family, especially during my early years, but there was a strong comradeship of labor between my father and mother.

“Give your mother a chair!” my father would cry as soon as my mother crossed the threshold, white with dust from the mill.

“Mashka! Light the samovar quick,” my mother would command even before she had reached the house. “Your master will soon be in from the fields.” Both knew what it was to have reached the limit of physical exhaustion.

My father was undoubtedly superior to my mother, both in intellect and character. He was deeper, more reserved, and more tactful He had an unusually good eye both for things and people. My father and mother bought very little, especially during our early years; they both knew how to save every penny. My father never made a mistake in what he bought: cloth, hats, shoes, horses or machinery, he always got his money’s worth. “I don’t like money,” he once said to me later, as if apologizing for being so mean, “but I like it less when there is none of it. It is bad to need money and not have any.” He spoke a broken mixture of the Russian and Ukrainian tongues, with a preponderance of the Ukrainian. He judged people by their manners, their faces and their habits, and he always judged them correctly.  


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