An excerpt from her book „Z MIEJSCA NA MIEJSCE — opowiadania rodzinne" [“FROM PLACE TO PLACE – Family Stories”]
My mother told me of a particularly extraordinary experience she had during one of our many stops along the journey to southern Russia.
In a certain town, we had to wait for the next train. Because I was so weak after being sick, Mama had to carry me everywhere in her arms. Very often, she would sit somewhere with me on her knees and waited while my father went looking for work, on which depended whether we got our daily ration of bread. One day they wandered into the Uzbek district of the town.
At one point, my tired mother sat down on the edge of a small porch of some old building. My father told her to wait for him there. He would return there when he managed to find some kind of work and a ration of bread. Sometime later, an old Uzbek, the owner of this building, opened the door onto the porch where my mother sat with me on her knees and began to sweep the large room within. When he finished sweeping, he came up to my mother and told her that she could not sit there because this was a “Chayhana” [pub in Uzbek] and that in a few hours there would be a banquet, but only for men! Women were not permitted to be there.
At that moment, it started to drizzle, so Mama reluctantly began to pick me up. The owner of the chayhana looked at us with pity and said that we could sit on the porch for now but that we had to leave when the guests began to arrive. Mama thanked him and explained that she was waiting for her husband who was looking for work, and that they were strangers with no place to stay, and so she had no place to take me. The owner of the pub just shook his head and started preparing the main room of the pub for the banquet. Mama watched him at his work from her perch at the end of the porch. In the centre of the room there was a large hole in the floor in which stood a small cooking stove which was lit and to which he added pieces of wood from time to time. Around this hole he placed small carpets and large flat cushions for sitting on. Then he went to the back where there was a kitchen where he spent a long time preparing something. Around 4:00 pm the guests, only young and old men, began to arrive. Mama curled into a tighter ball on the end of the porch as they looked at her curiously since they realized she was not a Russian woman because the local Russian women would not dare to come to the Uzbek district.
It had started to rain very hard by now, and Mama rose again with reluctance, and as she slowly covered me with a shawl and prepared to leave, the owner of the pub came up to her and asked her where her husband was. When Mama replied that he would certainly be back soon, after a consultation with his guests, the owner of the pub allowed her to stay on the porch. So, Mama sat down again. After a while, the strong aroma of roasted meat hit her and she remembered that she had not had anything to eat that day. But, the wonderful aroma continued to waft out of the kitchen.
Later, two young boys carried in a gigantic tray full of rice in the centre of which was a huge pile of pieces of meat. Mama turned her back to the door but still caught sight of 10 to 15 men sitting comfortably on the cushions with their legs in the hole being warmed by the little stove. Bent over me, Mama could not think of anything else but the wonderful aroma of that meat that enveloped her. Suddenly, the owner of the pub came out again and said that his guests wanted to give us a bowl of food and he placed a small bowl full of rice and MEAT beside her. Mama was so moved that tears started to run down her cheeks as she warmly thanked them with a quiet smile. Then, all the guests started to smile too and, with much gesticulation to encourage her to eat. We ate quickly because we were very hungry. Mama always claimed that she had not eaten such a delicious meal in a long, long time.
Soon after this, father came back, worried, tired, soaked, and hungry, because he could find no work and got no bread. Mama immediately told him about how these good people had fed us, and the owner of the pub brought out a bowl of rice for my father. This was a happy day indeed because we all ate our fill. When the guests had left, the owner came up to us again as he closed his pub. Father asked him if he knew where we might stay overnight. The Uzbek said that behind his pub there was a small stable where his brother kept donkeys. It was empty now and we could sleep there if we wished. He led us to a small outbuilding where donkeys usually stayed. There was a little dry hay, and after a few minutes he came back with an old comforter to cover ourselves with. He then bade us farewell, wishing us a peaceful night.
Lying in this small outbuilding, Mama could not fall asleep so she gazed through a slit in the roof at the clearing magenta sky and the stars. Her thoughts ran over the extraordinary things that had happened to them that day. She recalled the events one by one, how, in the morning they had nothing to eat and nowhere to stay, and how when they wandered into the Uzbek district, this good Uzbek had allowed her sit on the porch with me, how he fed us that delicious meal, and had given us a place to sleep, and how she must give great thanks to God for all of these unexpected gifts.. Then, she started counting the days of their journey because she wanted above all to know the date of this extraordinary day to keep the memory forever. She knew it was December, and as she counted she realized that it was December 24, CHRISTMAS EVE. Just like the Holy Family, they were spending this night in a poor stable on the hay.
For her, this was the most beautiful Christmas Eve of their exile!