Friday, 13 September 2013

The story of pet mice and a barrel of butter

Olga Kardovskaya. Haystacks. 1933.
I’ve never seen a photo of my babushka as a child. I guess no one was taking photos in a relatively remote Russian village back then. Or if the did, the photos didn’t survive collectivisation and the war. For some reason  I don’t think I ever tried to imagine how she looked like as a child. I guess she was my babushka and that was it.

It was easy to imagine all the things she told me about though. I felt like I was there with her in the village, shepherding geese, playing in the fields, doing thousands other not so exciting things that she must have done as a little girl.

Being the tenth child, she didn’t exactly get too much parental attention or toys. As in many big families her sisters took care of her and her mother was only consulted on the really big issues.  

Of course I only remember snippets of stories and maybe she did spend a lot of time with her mother, but I doubt it. Her great gran didn’t feature that much in her childhood stories and mum recently said that she didn’t remember babushka talking of her mother too often. I guess my great gran was a busy woman. Ten surviving children and two sets of twins who didn’t make it would be enough to keep any woman busy. But being a peasan't wife, she had the whole household on her shoulders.

- Babushka, tell me the story about your pet mice, - I would ask, tucking into a warm blanket.

- There were lots of mice in the village: in the wheat barns, in the fields and in the haystacks…

They must have been very used to people because babushka and her friends would make tiny little houses for them from hay and play with them like with dolls. Of course, when they came the next day, the mice would be gone. I bet the mice were happy to e free again!

- We were a little sad, that they left the lovely huts we made for them.

One day the children found a barrel of butter under a bridge. No one knew how it got there, but it was pretty unusual. It must have fallen off a cart or someone must have nicked it and hidden it under the bridge.

They were so excited that they started eating it.  It was, at the end of the day, a bit of luxury. They ate so much that they all got sick.

I always imagined that babushka’s childhood was much more exciting than mine. But I guess it was like any other childhood: a bit boring, a bit slow, with a few exciting events here and there.

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