His memoir called "Human Traces"
The old man lay in bed with his eyes closed. Every breath, taken strenuously, seemed to catch the pain, he felt in his heart. Suddenly, he opened his eyes and looked around the room in a wild panic. He threw the covers back and heaved himself up. Julian realized that he was not at home, the room he was in smelt of disinfectant and medicines. He was in a hospital. Reaching for his cane, traumatized by the sudden, unexpected terror of his family, Julian hauled himself up. He made tentative steps towards his wardrobe. With great difficulty, he got out his clothes, which fell on the floor. He picked up a pair of trousers and, sitting in a nearby chair, started to put them on over his pajamas. He was trying to fasten them, when the door opened and the duty nurse stepped in. “Mr. Szymanski!" She shouted anxiously, “What are you doing?” “Help me with my clothes.” He mumbled. “But sir, where are you going?” Jane, the duty nurse, inquired quietly. “I must go. I must go home. My farm is waiting for me. The animals need feeding. I must go to Poland.”
Julian was agitated and still fumbling with his trousers. The nurse went up to him and held him gently in her arms. “It’s all right, sir. It’s all right,” she whispered to reassure him. “You’ll get there. Lie down now and have a rest. Come on now, lie down first.” Joanne helped him off the chair. He leaned heavily on her arm, nearly toppling her over. “You promise, now? You promise that I’ll go to Poland? I must get back to my land, my house. They are all waiting for me.” “Yes, Mr. Szymanski, you'll get there, but come and lie down first. I’ll make you a glass of tea just the way you like it. Come on. Please help me. You are too heavy for me. Please lie down.”
Joanne led him to the bed, helping him to lie down and pulled the duvet over him. Julian lay there looking at her. He opened his mouth to say something, but the words were inaudible. She tucked him in bed, making sure that he would be warm. “Witek....” he whispered. “Tell Witek ... “ He mouthed the words, but apart from "Witek", she could not make up what he was saying, she could not hear them. She could see that he was thinking of his son Witek. Should she contact him to come? What could Vit do to help the old man now? “I’ll go and make that tea, now. It will help you to calm down. I won’t be long”.
Julian closed his eyes and smiled. His breathing was now quite regular. He looked happy. The nurse rushed to the kitchen to put the kettle on. In the corridor, she came across a young woman. "Can I help you?" Joanne enquired. "Yes please, I'm Genia Szymanska. I'm looking for my father, Julian.” " What a lucky coincident. I'm just on the way to the kitchen, to make your father a cup of tea”. "You're so kind", commented Genia. "May I help you, please? I'd make my father his tea just the way he likes it: In a glass, with a slice of lemon and sweetened with honey. Matter of fact, I'd brought a jar of Polish honey, because only Polish honey would do for him. He always said that the Polish bees were the only ones, which knew how to choose the best blossom.” Genia smiled as she thought of his eccentricities. He could be so stubborn and awkward at times.
The nurse told Genia about her father and that he was saying "Witek". "Oh, yes, that's my youngest brother. Slowly, Genia put the glass on a saucer and carried it to her father's room. Opening the door, quietly, she walked to his bedside and put the glass on the bedside cabinet. He was exactly as the nurse had left him. No, he was not. Genia looked at him again and saw a face free of worry lines. His mouth was curling up in a smile. He was totally relaxed, dreaming, and asleep. She leaned over and kissed his brow. Genia startled in a panic. There was only faint warmth coming from him. His face felt clammy, lifeless. “Father!” She cried. “Father! Wake up. I’ve brought your tea.” There was no reaction. Genia shook him by the shoulders and could not believe what had happened. She cried out again and fell on her knees beside him sobbing. “Our Father who are in Heaven.” Genia made the sign of the cross and said her prayers.
Was her father's soul in heaven now, or was it in Poland, the country he loved and fought for? His last thoughts were with Witek. Genia would have to tell him, but not just yet. Let the old man's body have some rest and his soul some prayers, which were needed so much. In the meantime, Julian’s soul, on the way to eternal life, went to ponder for a while around his late earthly holding by the river Bug.
The devastation of the war was visible in every part of the farm. Even the pigsty had been destroyed. There was no sign of the eight young piglets or their sow. The whole farmyard was dead quiet, there was no sign of life. One gable of the family dwelling was black, which was clear evidence of a fire. Inside, it looked spooky, with haunting shadows, as evidence of further destruction and looting.
Julian’s soul went by the orchard. All the beehives had gone from there. His soul passed over the cornfields. They were bare and somewhat dark. Then on over the meadows and the fishponds, went his soul. The water had been drained and all the fish had been taken out. The ponds stood empty and dry. There was nothing down below, on earth. Nothing was even worth looking at. A moment later, guided by his Angel, Julian’s soul went into a tunnel of heavenly beauty, peace and tranquility. At the end of the tunnel, there were more beautiful colours than those of any rainbow, flowers, or birds’ song, here on earth. Ascending on, Julian’s soul was made one with that of his Angel.
As angelic choir sang praises to the glory of God, the gates of heaven and eternity opened. No human words could ever describe that eternal existence with our Maker. God made us from His miraculous eternal dust and breathed His everlasting soul into human frail body, thus making us into His image for His eternal glory in heaven. Heaven is the most wonderful life eternal of wanting nothing. No more wars, no suffering of any pain, hunger, or injustice. Heaven is just everlasting contentment. It is just -life eternal- beyond human imagination. Julian’s soul ended in heaven, in peace with his Maker, everlasting God.
The summer of 1939 had been the hottest in memory. The sun's rays reflected their life giving warmth over the fields and dales. Over the mountains, lakes of rivers, it shone, spreading the warmth to the forests and the rich black soil of the fertile country. The golden wheat fields reached out to it and the corn ripened rapidly. The fruit trees and vegetables were not far behind. The harvest that year looked very promising. It would be plentiful.
Just beyond, on the east side of the River Bug nestled a small hamlet, called Wolczek. It was an agricultural center surrounded by land, richer and more fertile than anywhere else. On each side of the hard dust road, there grew willow trees. Away from the road, were well kept cottages with thatched roofs.
Further on, across the winding hamlet’s dirt road, were green vales, small creeks and pastureland, stretching right up to bank of the right side of the river Bug. Three kilometers over the river, was a small market town, Krylow. Though it was an old town, somehow it had never grown much over the years. Old people claimed that the reason behind the town’s neglect of growth were constant battles in the region; with the ever invading robbing Tartars, as well as other bandits from the east.
The main town’s road led to a cobbled square with an old church, its spire reaching up to the blue sky. The other three sides of the square were full of inns and shops. Many travelers found this a convenient place to stop for a rest. A few people from the Jewish community made a good living from them.
In the middle of the town’s square was a well with benches around it. Here, people would sit and gossip. Although the well itself had not been used for years now, the local dwellers would not dream of covering it, or dismantling it. It was an integral part of this close-knit community and had brought them good fortune. The legend enveloped well was strong. Both, locals and visitors alike still believed that if one made a wish and threw a coin into the well, the wish would be granted.
Leaving the square, opposite the church, a road led down a slight slope to a large river ferry.On the right side of the river, there was magnificent homestead. It dominated the area. One could tell it was a well looked after household, for everything was in its place, with a place for everything. The front garden was full of flowers.
Through the orchard, there was a path leading up to three different sized fishponds, whose almost still waters acted like a mirror. They reflected the sky above. This was frightening for small children, for they got the impression of bottomless ponds of water. Surfacing giant carp would break the stillness of the water, now and again, thus creating irregular rings, which resembled miniature colourful rainbows.
Beyond the house were rich productive acres of black soil, opposite, which was pastureland. A small stream ran on the very edge, acting like a barrier between the grassland and the vast forests. The land was embellished with meadows and forests. There, the wild boar, deer and wolves lived in natural harmony and roamed freely. The birds sang joyfully from dawn to dusk, as if competing with each other, which could produce the loudest melody that would echo across the land. Every bit of this land had been paid for with the blood of many generations. In the past, a fight to death was the way of settling disputes.
The people of the land were used to protecting it from different invaders. They have had to fight and protect their homes and the land against the Tartars, the Turks and the Russians, all of whom had been tempted by the beauty and richness. They were also tempted by the goods, which the fertile land and the hard work of the people produced. The land fed the people and there was never any shortage of food. No one went hungry and nothing was ever wasted.
“I can see Helenka has been busy today,” laughed Dziadek Stach. “Oh yes. She has been in the kitchen with Magda and Genia since the early morning, baking bread from the first milled flour. It’s time we got ready to take this to church. Come, father, it will be a long night.” Julian guided Dziadek Stach out of the barn, across the yard and they went inside the house. “Hela!” shouted Julian from the hall. “Are you ready yet?” Helena came rushing from the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron. She was a tall, slim woman, with dark hair combed back from her face. Wisps of hair flew away from the tight chignon and formed a frame around her face. Her sparkling, beautiful, dark green eyes were always smiling, so one could never tell what mood she was in; whether she was laughing or angry.“What’s all this noise?” she asked. “You should be the one getting ready. You know how long it always takes you to get dressed. I’ll be ready long before you are”. So saying, Helena rushed out peeling her apron off on the way. Julian and Granddad Stach followed her, but the latter disappeared into his room.
True to her words, Helena emerged from her room dressed in the national costume of the region. This consisted of a white blouse with full, bouffant sleeves, embroidered elaborately on the sides with a round collar with lace edging. Her waistcoat was blue, and this was also embroidered with motifs of the area. It fitted snugly around her waist and showed off the full striped skirt, which reached mid-calf. On her feet, she wore red boots made of the thinnest leather. Helena rushed down the corridor to the children’s room. On entering, she saw her son, Witek, sitting by the open window pulling the last of the season morello cherries from the tree that grew just outside his room. He regarded it as his tree and no one else would dare touch it. Witek's face and hands were smeared with the red of the cherries, but he was unaware of this.
“What are you up to? Don’t you know what time it is?” Helena admonished him. She rushed to the get a cloth to wipe his face and mouth and looked angrily at the girl, employed to look after the children. Magda was busy and did not take much notice of Witek, who she thought was old enough to look after himself. After all he was now five years old and would soon be leaving to go to school in the big city, where his uncle Kazik lived.
A cheerful, sun kissed dawn started to creep up over the far horizon. A flicker of bright light was beginning to give birth to a new day. It winked here and there between clumps of playful morning cloud. Soon after, the night dispersed completely.The sun’s big, smiling face was spreading warm rays upon the entire earth below. They were rays of promise and hope for the entire human race, as well as for all animals and plants, on land and in water.
The warm sun’s rays seemed to send signals, saying: "Wake up! Wake up, to all the people, and to all creatures; great and small, by seeping through the clear blue sky above. It was during such a captivating, magic of moment when, as a young boy, aged of just over six, I was walking with my grandfather along the edge of the fertile fields of our farmstead in Wolczek, in Poland. The golden ears of corn were covered in the fresh silvery dew of the summer. The gentle, refracted sun's rays turned them into diamond droplets. They glittered everywhere, making me feel as if I were walking in paradise. Everything around me was so tranquil. It was so serene. There was a touch of freshness from an early morning summer breeze coming from the nearby river Bug. Dziadzio, can you please cut me a small walking stick", I asked my Granddad, as we were passing a small clump of hazel. "Now let's see, which would be the best one for such a purpose", muttered my wonderful Granddad, as he reached for his penknife, in his right trouser pocket. "This one", I offered my help enthusiastically. Whereby my grandfather cut it and proceeded in cleaning, then cutting it to my size and rounding off the sharp ends. From then on, not only have I had my walking stick, but, as far as I was concerned it was my sword, with which I could cut any nettles or weed found in my path. After all, I was only a small boy, just over six years of age, full of dreams and plenty of vivid imagination. I was just a happy, healthy, smiling child, one of the thousands who roam God's earth without a care in the world.
Now, I shall try to tell you a bit more about my boyhood days, via the enchanted world of my memories. To do that, we must across the river Bug, to arrive at that tiny, tranquil and treasured plot in Poland, where I was born in the spring of 1933. When we reach that captivating valley of my birth, the curtains of passage of over fifty years in time will be lifted and allow you into my world of memory where you can share my cherished days, which were curtailed by a horrible war.
The river Bug is not very deep in summer time, but it is wide. We will have to get a ferry to cross it. Then, it is only a couple of kilometers to our homestead, my home. I have the greatest affinity and the deepest affection on God’s Earth with this place. I am aware that it would be impossible for me to live there again today. The treasured images of my childhood home will remain in my memory. They could not again become reality. They would reject those innocent bygone, boyhood days, because all the family love that had gone into making the place so special, had dried up. They had disappeared from there the very moment my family and I were forced to leave our home by brutal force, caused by the most despicable, such evil human greed and manipulation known as war.
The war of 1939-45 was the most horribly dreadful war. It caused my childhood to have been suddenly interrupted. My dreams were dashed by that evil war. My innocent boyhood was viciously destroyed. Only my memories remain there, deep between those ruins of war, bearing witness to the disappearance of human traces. My birthplace is bare and cold. No one is there to care for. No one is there to share life with. No love. No heartbeats to be heard. No soul. No sign of any life there at all.Memories, however, live on eternally.
My boyhood is an area surrounded by nature in all its' glory; the green meadows dotted with different d species of butterflies, the flocks of birds flying over the fields breaking the monotony of the silence.My memories are full of the melodious, cheerful, chirping of different birds; the sound of the white and black storks’ clatter during their courtship.
My carefree days are in the mesmerizing sunrays in the clear waters of streams filled with lively fish; brown trout jumping out of the warm water after flies; the calm creeks offering cover beneath the banks' shadow, to the ever watchful, hungry predator - the killer pike.My vivid memory continues with a venture into nearby deep, dark forest. The obvious signs of the wild boar having had their snouts to the ground, looking for juicy, edible roots of wild plants and whilst doing so, having, inadvertently frightened away the elegant, timid deer. The sudden bellowing, strong, wild roars of the mighty bison sending the cunning foxes and the vicious, hungry wolves looking for cover. These images of memory enable us to believe that we are in the countryside, in Poland, just once more. Time does not exist. There is darkness and light, more good than evil, but time is just a human convention.
It is June 1939. Not a cloud in the sky. It is a blazing hot summer's day. We need to take shelter from the blistering heat. There, on to our right. It will be so refreshing in the cool, fresh shadows of the orchard. There is an old wooden bench, under a Morello-cherry tree, where we can sit.
As we relax, the, forever, busy bees can be heard among the abundance of flowers, collecting their nectar, taking it to their hives and turning it into delicious honey.
The orchard is not very big, about seven acres, but there are a numerous variety of fruit trees in it, as well as over a dozen beehives.
The golden delicious apple trees are in the southern part of the orchard. Next to them, standing in a row, are some pear trees and plum trees.
Sweet, red cherries grow right up to the cottage. When they get ripe, I'll climb into the loft and pick the fruit through a small window, there, at the gable end.
There are also orello-cherry trees, bearing dark red, tangy berries, from which "wisniowka" - cherry-vodka-, and "wisniak" -cherry wine is made.
For my taste, though, the delicious home made morello-cherry jam is the best end product made from those juicy cherries.
My father, Julian, should be around the orchard somewhere. This orchard is his pride and joy, his favourite place. There he is, in his seven acres of heaven, inspecting his apiary.Let's not disturb him. You can meet him later.
In the meantime, we can go and wonder around those colourful, fragrant meadows by the river
Let's take our time, that way we'll enjoy the beauty of the scenery along the way. If we are quiet, we will be rewarded with the sound singing of the skylark.
Let's stop for a moment to hear the chirping and whistling, (almost as if a small group of flutes and panpipes were being played) of other birds. Listen.... Can you hear that melodious music in the air?
Now, meet our close neighbours; Dabrowski's family is over there, on the left, in the fields.Barski's friendly clan is on our right. These and others, in and around Wolczek, are all country people. They all live off the land. They certainly know a thing or two about their fields and how to best utilize them.Look over that slope, along the hedgerow. You can see fruiting trees, even there. They are the wild balk pear trees, growing between the fields and bearing sweet, juicy fruit. They are traditionally free to everyone.
By the edge of the river there are numerous ponds, different in sizes, for breeding and growing fish.
The mirror carp are bred especially for the Polish traditional Christmas Eve Supper.After being fed on boiled potatoes mixed with lupine, carp grow very big, very fast, during the hot summer months. That is the reason why the local people called them "king carp".Walking back along the wheat field, one can see gentle, golden ripples, and even hear gentle music of the ripening ears of their corn. It is the nature's summer action produced by the warm breeze, forever changing the direction and thus ventilating the corn and speeding up the process of the ripening.
Our Mother, Helena, is by the chickens’ pen. My two years old baby sister Irena is with her.Genia, my oldest sister and Zygmunt, my older brother, are both at school, which is only a walking distance away.
Let's go inside my modest, but roomy home. Step into the porch. Through the door in front, we'll get into the biggest room, which is a living room, but it also serves as the dining room.By the window is a big, oval, solid wood table, with the pretty, matured cherry wood grain showing. Around it are twelve chairs, also made of cherry wood to match. They are used when there are guests, or when there is a meeting of the village elders.On the main wall, facing the big window, there hangs a picture of Our Lady of Sorrows. Underneath it, is that large painting, a panoramic view of the gates of Vienna, with the king Jan Sobieski kneeling down in a prayer, before the big battle against the occupying Turkish army in 1683. It represents one of many noble deeds of the glorious history of the Polish nation, who went to fight and gave their most precious possession, their lives, so that people everywhere could be free.On the other walls hang different watercolour, oil paintings and other ornaments.There is a painting of a knight on a horseback slaying a vicious dragon. This portrayal of Saint George and the dragon on its back is my father's favourite painting. The reason being, I guess, that he himself is a good horse rider, who served in the cavalry during the First World War.
My Mother has a different hobby, more down to earth, almost literarily. She likes gardening and therefore has an awful lot of indoor potted plants, as well as potted shrubs.
There is certainly a great evidence of their presence, variety and number all over this room, which is used, not only for dining but also for other festive and social occasions. For practical reasons, our family, quite often eat in that spacious kitchen next door.
There is an old iron range with six stove lids and also a fairly big bread oven, which is built in such a way that it warms all the adjoining rooms as the heat, from the wood burning fire, goes round and around and then out the chimney.
Many loaves of delicious, nutritious, wholesome rye bread and other goodies, like honey cake, with the honey from our own apiary, yeast babka and cheese cake, but to mention
a few, are baked in that oven.
On the left, there is the working-top, the table and a number of stools, two of which have
a bowl on each of them. The bigger one is for washing all sorts of pots, pans, plates and other kitchen and table utensils, which are stored in that cupboard in the corner.The smaller bowl is used for washing hands in.There also is a big bathtub in that small room between the porch and the kitchen, where everyone gets their hot baths.There is no tap water in the cottage. That's why, on the way out through the porch, there are two galvanized buckets full of fresh water for the housewife's daily use.
Father brings in water from the well, which is in the middle of the farmyard.The well is cased with hard wood, which protrudes, about a meter, above the ground and is covered with a roof, supported by four posts. In the middle of the well there is a wooden structure. It consists of steel shaft carrying a wooden drum with a long rope wrapped around it. On one end of that shaft there is a crank handle with which to turn the whole drum. At the end of the rope, strongly secured, there is a bucket. All that is needed to get a bucketful of water is to let the attached bucket down the well, until the bucket hits the surface of the spring water below, with a splash, let it fill up with water, and then turn the handle.
All this might sound complicated. It isn't, though, and it is well worth all the effort, because that water is from a deep spring below the ground. It is crystal clear, full of goodness and so refreshingly cold that even during the hottest summer's day, this water is fresh and ice cold. Try some.In the corner of the farmyard, by that big chestnut tree, painted white, there is a small hut. That's the outside toilet.
On the right, there are stables and a big barn. Straw and hay is stored inside it. There is also a small covered horse coach, popularly called a droshky, as well as an open horse cart with bench seats for traveling in summer time. A heavy one, open cart is for taking manure out for spreading it on the fields.
By the near wall there is one horse sleigh for winter travel as well as for having fun in the snow.
On the left hand side of the farmyard are poultry pens, pigsty, and then further on are the cow sheds.
As one can see, everything is in its place and a place for everything.
Here is a wooden kennel for our two guard dogs; Aza and Azor. You'll find more about them later.
Julian Szymanski, my Father settled in Wolczek after the First World War.
Every furrow of that black soil of land, which he chose to toil, had been paid for very dearly, with the blood and lives of many past generations of his ancestors.
Our ancestors got well used to protecting their homeland over the centuries against many invaders. Even as far back as against the wild hoards of Ghengis-Ghan, who terrorized, pilfered and tried to conquer Europe, but was forced to move his bandits further south.
Having heard about the riches in the far away country, Ghengis-Ghan's son, Ogodei, armed some sixty thousand wild Mongols and Tartars to try again.
He got as far as the old capital Krakow, in March 1241, where one young, Polish prince, Henry the Pious, died in the battle.
In that battle, ten thousand Polish, gallant peasants would have beaten twice as many Tartars, had it not been for the wild invaders desperate moment of survival, in using black powder, which produced nasty smoke to blow with the wind into Poles' faces, making them choke and causing them to vomit.
Even though the Tartars had won that particular battle, by devious trick, they lost so many men and horses that they had to retreat and never conquered their goals; Poland and Europe.
There is a reminiscing remnant, from those days of barbaric invasion of Krakow by the Tartars, which had grown into a legend.
It was during a peaceful and silent, full-moon, night, when some Tartars were spotted by the watchman -on duty- from his tower. He immediately sounded a loud warning on his trumpet to wake up the city's inhabitants. As Jan, the watchman, was trumpeting, he got shot by an arrow from Tartar's bow, just as he was about to sound his final, known, tune of warning.
That is why to this day, in Krakow, and also on a radio throughout Poland, that suddenly broken tune of a trumpeter, can be heard being played every hour, on the hour ever since those bygone days of over seven hundred years ago, when Poland became the bulwark of Christian culture.
That's also as far back as my ancestry and my name goes. It was about that time when my forefathers have written their name into the golden book of the nobility as freedom fighters, whose motto is; "Always keep your faith and your word".
Over the ages, they responded with such courage and valor. Many gave their lives, when forced to fight to protect their homes, and often their neighbours' homes; against the Cossacks, Turks and others, who were tempted by the beauty and the richness of that land of fields, Poland. (Pola means -literally- fields) That is where the name of the country originated.
In fact, the first Slavs living in Poland were called Polanie, people of the fields, plains-Polans, or Poles.
Let's go back and look at those rich black acres of productive land, the soil where
I was born.Let's get down right to the meadows by the river Bug; to the fishponds in which hundreds of Mirror Carp can be seen. Passed the ponds, along the neighbour’s fields, will get into my Father's favourite seven acres, the orchard, covered with different fruit trees. There, between the trees, he keeps something like two dozen, or so, bee hives, for he knows the importance of those hard working insects.
He often tells me that the bees are very important in every orchard. They pollinate all the flowers and by doing so, not only help to produce the perfect shape and plenty of fruit, but also, in that process, collect the sweet nectar of pollen and produce hundreds of liters of delicious honey, which, he claims, that over the ages, ever since people have lived, has been a natural sweetener and even used as medicine.My Mother is more practical with the usage of that sweet bees' product. She uses it for baking, lip smacking honey cakes and she, also, sells some of it, so that other people can enjoy it too.
Across the road, on the other side from the house, is some pastureland. A small stream runs on its very edge, which is like a border between the grassland and the vast forest.
Old folks used to call it Witold's waters. For long ago, way back, at the end of thirteenth century, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, yes the same one who fought in the battle of Grunwald, in the later years, rested and bathed there, during the times of chasing the Tartars back to the south-east. So the story goes.Almost half way along the stream, there is a small island, Ducks' Island; the locals call it, for hundreds of mallards nest there; though other birds like partridge, water hen and grouse also like to live there.The slow flowing water of the stream is also a natural border between the domestic animals on the pastureland and the wild ones from the forest; thus the forever hungry wolves can be killed just when trying to cross the stream.
Boars, or hogs as some call them, are a terrible nuisance on the potato fields, but they add to the farmers diet and their income, not only during the hunting seasons, but also at other times, when there are too many of them about.Venison is considered a bit of a delicacy and is therefore -mostly- kept for own consumption; except when a greater number of deer are killed.
What an exciting experience it is to see the prettiest live animal show, to get into the forest before the dark. Then find a forest clearing, stand by the edge and watch the roe deer come to graze with her young foal. Those moments are so mesmerizing that it is necessary to be absolutely dead quiet, because, as soon as, those classy animals can pick up human presence, they'll lift their heads for the slightest whiff of air, look with such innocence, that it is a wonder how could anyone want to kill them.
I experienced a traumatic case of an orphaned baby deer, when my father had found a tiny desolated foal and brought it home, only to be -somehow- caught and eaten by a wolf.
Getting out the forest and walking along that stream which flows by the edge and falls into the river Bug, looking across, gas streetlights can just about be seen at the small town Krylow.To get there it is necessary to get a ferry, and then it is only three kilometers by road, right to the town's square, where the weekly market takes place.On the right hand side of the square, there is a road leading to the church.
It was in the same church where, as a baby boy, I have received my first Holly Sacrament, by being baptized and becoming a member of a big Christian family. There, also, I go regularly every Sunday and on other days of worship to pray, as I listen to the church choir, where my Mother Helena sings.Julian, my Father goes to the market in Krylow every Thursday. Sometimes he takes me with him.
Krylow is a very friendly place, with happy people going about their daily lives.I love it, especially during those market days. I spend the whole day there with my Father, selling various farm products and buying all sorts of goods to take home.
The last stop is always at the sweet shop, where we buy enough children's fancies for all the family back home.It is such a delightful moment, sharing out all the goodies with Genia, Zygmunt and Irena. The house is full of joy and laughter every market day.Thirteen year old Genia and Zygmunt, who is eleven years old, often go to bigger towns. They venture with father further from home.Sometimes they go to Wlodzimierz, which is the district county town; it is about twenty kilometers north from our homestead.Genia always brings all sorts of toys for the two of us, young ones at home.
On one occasion, she got me an acrobat made out of wood. It was fixed on a piece of string between two sticks with a cross support, about two thirds of the way up.
By squeezing the two bottom parts of the vertical sticks, I, the happy young lad used to get my wooden gymnast do all sorts of acrobatic tricks.
Two year old Irena got a miniature kitchen. It consisted of all sorts of utilities. She could prepare different 'dishes' from the grass and nettles, cut in the garden, by her big -six years old- brother Vic.
Jaroslawiec is a town of charming nostalgia, almost fairylike, because it was the birth’s place of my beloved mother -Helena- from the Karpinski family. The town itself is spread in the valley of the river Lug.Sometimes, during the summer time, our whole family ends up picnicking upon the green, picturesque banks.
Hrubieszow is another memorable place, where all our family ventures to quite often, because one of our favourite aunt lives there. She runs a general shop on the outskirts of the town.Her shop is covered with an extremely pretty thatched roof that has very artistic patterns cut around the edges.
Aunt Lodzia is very generous with the whole of our family, especially with the children.
She treats everyone to her delicious, homemade dairy ice cream and the fruity flavour lemonades. Then she would give bagfuls of other children's fancies, like halva, for us to take home.
Aunt Lodzia's son Ryszard is the same age as I am, so we play hide and seek around their gardens together. Our simple children games were so colourful, magnificent, and idyllic. It was like in paradise.This small, beautiful world around us looked so big, with an endless horizon.
In our children's carefree memory - that world around us, was fullof fragrance of different flowers, from the surrounding forests, fields, meadows and the many fruit orchards, which the Wolyn region was so well known for.Above all, Wolyn was about the happy and friendly people in the fields working together in harmony. Laughing and singing, the people were, in unison with the choruses of the birds around.All those precious memories of mine are deep in my heart.There was no need to keep too many cows, horses or poultry on a self-sufficient farmstead like ours.Blacky, Spotty and other, cows, which used to respond to their names, gave plenty of milk for the whole family to use, to make own fresh butter and cheeses, with plenty more of surplus to sell.
Pigs were also reared and bred to make home cured goodies such as smoked hams, sausages, spicy brawns, black puddings and other homemade delicacies.A variety of poultry was kept too. There were plenty of fresh, free-range eggs for own consumption, for baking and many dozens for the market. This was the homemaker’s department, but Genia helped her, she loved picking, sorting and counting all the eggs.
The local farmers were left free to killing a deer, hare and hog or two, the latter of which used to be a bit of a nuisance on the potato fields.Wheat, rye, sugar beet and potatoes were the main produce of the black, fertile fields of our farm, while carp and various orchard fruit also complimented our income.Seasonally, there were supplementary surpluses sold such as ducks, geese and king carp, which were traditionally bred for Christmas.Horses, cows and pigs were also bred for trading purposes.The wild game like partridge, grouse and mallard, which were plenty in the nearby meadows, creeks and fields, all used to add to the farmers income, in and around Wolczek.There were plenty of other wild birds by the various streams, ponds and in the nearby forests.
I remember their joyful choruses all around, almost like a wild, distant echo.One bird, that I'd miss and not have seen since my childhood days, is the magnificent stork. It was the herald of the springtime in my country, Poland and it was such a welcome sight in every homestead, in every village, that they were almost sacred.
Those big, migratory birds of black and white were used to coming back to the same place, generation after generation. Their recognizable, friendly “cla-cla-cla” greetings were in the air.
I only hope and pray that my countrymen in Poland would not start exporting frogs, which were the birds main diet, so that at least those beautiful storks would be able, and would want, to return to their nests, were they hatched, brooded and nestled as chicks, in that most enchanting countryside, where I was born.
On one occasion, I got to ride a horse.Zygmunt, my big brother, was taking the four; Frisky, Jumpy, Stubborn and Slowy, as the horses were called, to the green pastures by the forest.
He put me on the Slowy for a bareback ride, telling me to hold on to the mane, while he led the rest of them and riding Jumpy himself.As soon as the horses reached the grazing fields, they all went for the juicy grass, bending their necks down, in the process, and at that same time I slid down to be trodden on by the Slowy."Hey!” shouted Zygmunt, dashing to my rescue in a panic, but the clever animal just stepped over without even touching me.
On many occasions, when Zygmunt has had a moment to spare, for he was always up to something, he would go to do a spot of fishing from the bank of the river.
He would pick a quiet, secluded spot, on a wide river's bend, low down by the water, where he could be hidden from the fish's sight, to spend all Saturday morning there.
Predatory pike was always his favourite fish. It used to give him best of a fight, he claimed.
He must have been very skillful though, for he always ended up with at least half a dozen pike and as many brown trout, all weighing a handsome weight.Mother would make pike in aspic jelly, which was delicious. It was like Heaven in my mouth.
While on the subject of fishing, or rather angling hobby, uncle Kazik springs to mind. He used to love coming to spend weekends in the country, away from the smoky, dusty air of the town Hrubieszow, where he was teaching.Wujek Kazik used to claim that spending a day by the river was the best relaxation of all and to end up with a fish or two was certainly an added reward.
My young uncle lived by himself at that time, and did all his own cooking, so the fish he would catch, he used to barbecue there and then, on the river’s bank, on burning wood. He must have been a scout’s master, for he could start a fire with just a couple of dried twigs.
Just imagine, freshly caught pike, or brown trout, an eel, sometimes a mixture of all of them, barbecued out in the open air, then eaten with homemade rye bread. It was such simple, yet so nutritious and healthy food, that nothing can compare. Those precious moments, spent on the riverbank with brother Zygmunt and uncle Kazik, will never be forgotten.
The last local hunting, in 1939, in the nearby forests is also engraved in my memory.There seemed to be exceptionaly plenty of boars that particular season.Father could tell about the quantities of wild life by the way the two afore mentioned guard dogs, Aza and her, ever present, partner Azor would start bringing more than the usual amount of different wild prey from the fields around.
The dogs were both as big as wolves. They certainly hunted like wolves, which made them almost independent, as far as food was concerned.Their most common prey was a hare, but they would frequently bring a young boar or even a deer.For a change of diet, they would patiently lay in wait by a pond, to end with the biggest carp to come to the surface of the water.Those dogs were my two 'horses', on whose backs I would frequently ride. More often, the clever dogs would throw the lad off, when they did not feel like playing, and waggling their tail, almost with a smile on their animal, deadly jaws, they'd watch their young master's predicament on the grass.
During the wintertime, father used to harness these two dogs to a small sleigh. It must have been that winter sport which made them so fit and strong.On this particular hunting eve, the two dogs brought in two preys; one young boar and a big hare.Early the following morning, the two dogs were waggling their tails in anticipation of a full hunting spree.With the early down, there were drovers to be heard chasing the wild animals and birds of the forests, of the meadows and the fields.The dogs were barking with an unusual excitement, while the hunters were shooting in different spots of the meadows and the creeks.“Bang! Bang! Bang!”, here, there and around, while sharper “Paw! Paw! Paw!, could be heard mixed all over the entire Wolczek region.The hunters were shooting with one unwritten rule and tradition; the younger men would shoot with their rifles the big game; the boar and the deer, or even an odd wolf, which might come out the forest, in all the commotion, while all the retired gentlemen would shoot all different wild-fowl with their shotguns.Aza was fetching all the wildfowl shot by my grandfather, while Azor was close to my father's side, shooting wild boar and deer.
Now and again, a running fox would suddenly appear along the far horizon, but fortunately, on at this particular time would quickly disappear into it's hole in the undergrowth.An odd wolf would have been spotted, but had their lives spared, because hunters' eyes were aimed at more valuable trophies, on that day of plenty.
Later, that afternoon, heavy burdened, noisy wheels of horse carts, brought in dozens of different shot animals and heaps of wildfowl to the village administrator's farmyard. As usual, there was plenty of joking, laughing and singing to be heard all around the whole district.There was this great expectation of a big, communal, happy party, for the grown ups and children alike.
I remember standing with my grandfather on one side and Aza on the other.A group of musicians was there also, playing some very lively, old tunes, all connected with the event of the days hunting. “Over there sits a hare, oh my dear friend to share”…The hosts were extremely busy that day; offering food and drink to everybody.Firstly, a very hot borsch with chunks of meaty, smoked pork was served. Then there was spicy “bigos” and a glass of “wodka” for those who had been up shooting since dawn.Afterwards, the boar, deer, grouse, partridge, mallard and other, day's spoils of the hunt were divided fairly between everyone.t was just as it ought to be, like in a big, happy human family.
Even some traveling gypsies stopped by to find out what the happy gathering was all about, did not leave empty handed.The partying with the joyful singing and dancing, which began earlier, carried on well into the night, even after the vesper brightened up the clear sky above.
Grandfather the storyteller
The autumn of the year 1939 was most unusual. The rich, plentiful harvest had finished. The hunting season, too, was coming to a happy close.Wild boar, deer, and the wild fowl had all been salted for preservation and stored in the underground cold cellar for the coming winter.During the hunt, many keen and sharp eyes had noticed more than the usual number of wolves, which, according to wise men, was a very bad omen.Gypsies, too, were going around telling people about some catastrophic human misfortune.Old men could be seen walking the countryside with their lyres, mumbling about unforeseen disasters, which were to befall the whole country, Europe and the world, in the, not so distant, future.Some elders noticed that the storks migrated earlier that year. Even the skies seemed somewhat darker that somewhat unusual year. There was no golden twilight to be seen on the dark horizon, that unwonted autumn of 1939.
My grandfather, Stanislaw came for a visit us well before the harvest time. He stayed on much longer than usual, to my delight, because I just loved his company.
Whenever Dziadzio visited our family, I was his inseparable companion. We would spend most of the time together.Whenever the locals saw an elderly gentleman walking with a smiling young boy, they immediately knew that they were the two Szymanskis’ generations. We even had the same Christian names.
Stach is a diminutive name of Stanislaw.As a little baby boy, I was given two names; Witold Stanislaw. I ended up being called Witus by my Mother and grandparents, but Witek by my Father. I responded to them all, even as small Stas.The inseparable duo, grandfather and I, we went fishing together. We sheltered from the summer's heat, in the cool shades of the orchard, together. Even if Dziadzio went for a chat to the neighbours, I would go with him.
At harvest time, I'd run around, helping my Dziadzio with preparation of the hot dishes for the folks working in the fields.
I must have been more of a hindrance than help, but my loving old guardian thanked me for every little deed. Even, when I had brought him one potato at a time, for baking it in the hot ashes, the gracious old companion would say 'dziekuje'.In a word, the two, Dziadzio and I were just inseparable.The handsome, noble old man looked ten feet tall in my eyes. Actually, he was a solid six- footer, slim, well built, with strong jawbone, which appears our family’s male feature, he had black brows and big moustache. Oh, and he smoked a pipe.
Most of my favourite moments with my Dziadzio have been spent listening to his many, very interesting stories, which the wise man would tell me, I, the happy youngster, in turn, would sit for hours listening, without ever getting bored.
This is one such a story told by my Dziadzio, one sunny autumn afternoon.We were both sitting on a wooden bench outside the cottage, chewing dried sunflower seeds.The sun's rays were twinkling through the tree branches brightening up the colour of the dark brown and golden leaves of the orchard.Clouds gathered in the sky, but the sudden, strong autumn wind would soon dissipate them.I would have never remembered such a detail, had it not been brought to my attention by my Dziadzio. He said that it was like life itself; happiness and sadness, ups and downs, none stable for long, as he was about to tell me this, his last story.
"Witus, would you bring me a cushion please". I ran inside the cottage and run back with two cushions; one for Dziadzio and one for myself, expecting the story to be a long one, or as in many cases, hear two stories in one sitting."Give respect to everyone, do to others as you'd like done onto you, but never be afraid of anything or anybody except The Almighty God in the Universe", my Dziadzio started. Then he lit up his pipe, took few puffs and went on; "At the beginning of the First World War, the Russian Bolsheviks invaded our country like the barbarians from the bygone times. They must have been so sure of their strength in numbers, that they kept on boasting how they would cover the entire country of Poland with their hats.Indeed, they came in such multitude, that they might have done that, if only they had possessed those hats in the first place.The poor, miserable, Russian beggars crept in, whipped on from behind by their own commissars, the most deprived, shabbiest looking hoard that had ever tried to rob our people.Why did they come, though? Has their despot Czar sent them to forage in their neighbours pasture next door?No, the Czar died a brutal death, the way he ruled, with a bullet in his head. Unfortunately, it did not put an end to the tyranny, because other "Czars", the red ones had taken over in Russia. They were even more despotic and tyrannous than it would be possible to imagine. These red oppressors of their own people, being unable to feed them, spurred them -instead- on to the slaughter of yet another, senseless and bloody war.
Thousands, hundreds of thousands of starving ragamuffins invaded our country. Mostly, they came on foot, with bits of cloth wrapped around their feet, serving as footwear, with many more on horseback. They were like cattle, driven from behind to the slaughterhouse by their commissars, without even knowing as to where they were being pushed. They were like massive swarms of locust, wild and hungry. They were starving and tired by having to drag with them all sorts of weapons. They brought machine guns, heavy artillery and all sorts of weapons of destruction, including primitive, but deadly looking tanks.
They must have forgotten the bitter truth from the history, that it is easier to bring such an arsenal with them, than to even save their own skins in the retreat.
Here, in Poland, all over the country, the people started organizing themselves into home guards and armed forces, to protect themselves.Finally, the Polish people had forgotten their internal squabbles and armed resistance began.Julian, your father, and his friend Jan have also volunteered. They both joined the cavalry unit under the command of Major Jaworski. The new formation was under the command of the regiment of General Zeligowski.Both, your father and his mate were young men at the time, of around eighteen years. Both of them were excellent shots with their expert shooters diplomas to their names. They had joined with their own, saddled horses, rifles and some ammunition.
The whole regiment was divided into small units of twenty to fifty soldiers, because it was easier to carry out a war of ambush against the overpowering Russian terrorizing masses, which outnumbered our soldiers at something like twenty to one.
Our lads had one big, moral advantage, though. They had the reason to fight. They had the determination, will and the faith in the cause of freeing their country from the invading, wild forces.Their motto was simple: "For whoever should survive would be free, and those who might die for the right cause, would -there and then forever be free".One ambush, on the invading Russians, took place towards a sunset.
Our soldiers were just about to retire into their hiding place, into the nearby forest, when they spotted a small convoy of armored tanks. They were very crude, but awesome and deadly looking nonetheless.Five of them were moving slowly along the edge of the forest.
Possibly some traitor had told the Russians about Polish horse detachment in those woods.However, one of the tanks was well ahead of the rest. It was slightly bigger than the rest. It must have been the leader.
Young Jan could hardly sit in his saddle. A brilliant new idea germinated in his head. He hastened to share it with his best mate Julian, as he said to him, "Look, the 'Bolshes' have brought us tanks". "What do you mean; have brought us the tanks?" Julian asked with
a real surprise in his voice."I have got a simple idea that's worth putting to practice. It should work. Listen; it's getting dark. There is a mist in the air. We could creep over and pounce on them, and the tanks could be ours. Especially that one in front; it is pushing its luck, so far ahead from the rest. What do you think?"
A few minutes of discussion followed. The result of which was that the young soldiers made some special 'smoky, Tartar's sausages' as they called them, because they produced deadly, smoky fumes when ignited, and they originated from Tartars way back in 1241.
Armed with those deadly sausages; Jan, Julian Rys and Kazik got off their horses. Then, as the tank was nearby, with big leaps, almost on all fours, they ended up by it. With final whoops and with daring and brisk jump, they were on top of that steel monster.Almost at the same time, a small, black cloud covered the entire forest glade. The darkness fell all around, as if the nature itself was trying to cover up what was about to take place.The invaders must have heard the commotion and noticed the darkness. They had to examine what had happened. Soon the access hatch opened and out came a young Russian, head first.That is exactly what our lads were hoping for.Suddenly, a thunderbolt from that dark blue sky had struck. The Russian falls back into the tank - unconscious.
It was not a thunderbolt striking; it only felt as if it were. In fact, it was a powerful blow of our Jan's fist, hitting the young soldat with such a force, that it must have felt like some super force, and then the two lit up 'sausages', which followed, must have seemed like a lightening to the rest of the Russian tank crew, as Julian closed the hatch, holding it firmly with his, exceptionally muscular, strong arms.
Even the nature was cooperating with the defenders, like it has been in the past, during the siege of Czestochowa by the Swedish army, in the second half of the sixteen century. Then, the monastery and the church with the shire of Our Virgin Mary, The Dark Lady was covered by the clouds. It created a mirage, making the whole of the mount move up and down. This in turn made it impossible for the heavy mortars to bombard the monastery, forcing the Swedish to give up the siege. Soon afterwards, they were chased from Czestochowa right to the Baltic Sea. They were just glad to save their lives and set sails back to where they belonged - in Sweden.
Similar help came during that daring conquest of the Russian's tank, for the dark clouds passed away as they appeared. A moment later a beautiful golden twilight brightened the last dying moments of that eventful day.One deadly 'sausage' would have done the expected damage. After a few minutes; our brave lads opened the tank's hatch to clear it from the gas, they got inside to clear it from the dead bodies."Well? That wasn't difficult?" Boasted Jan, who deserved to be proud, even if perhaps somewhat boastful? After all, it was his daring idea that had worked."Do you know why?" Dziadzio asked, while relighting his pipe. "Why?" I asked him."Because the might of the human mind is stronger than steel, and for the golden freedom it is worth giving all the effort", answered Dziadzio, as he continued: it did not take long for excited Jan to work out how to maneuver the controls of that conquered tank, to get it going."Since you are so at home with this moving, 'steel coffin', you'd better look after it", said Julian” and I'll get back to the rest of our pals and see what can be done to the remaining four tanks. I must be quick, though, because it's getting darker by the minute".
The four tanks were slow. Having lost the sight of their leader, they stopped completely.
Julian got in time to finish the takeover of the tanks. His pals were already waiting. Soon they were on top of each of the tanks, waiting for the hatches to open.As soon as the heads started popping out, some invisible, strong hands snatched them out without as much as a murmur. All that could be heard were the invaders dead bodies falling on to the soft ground of the forest's clearing.Like the most skillful joiners, when using their heavy pincers to take the nails out from wood, so did those, our young dare devils, with their bare hands lifted those invading, Russian thieves from their tanks and turning them against the masses of oncoming soldats the following days, eventually chasing them all back to Russia. Once again, those who came to kill, themselves got the ugly measure of war, considered by some, the best peacemaker and great leveler, the cruel death.Some of those, who came to rob others, in the end, could not even save their own necks.One platoon of brave young soldiers got the highest military recognitions for valour beyond duty. Their daring conquest of the invaders' weapons of destruction was the finest example ever known.
The proverb of 'who dares wins' proved to be true once again, and they live to tell others to, never be afraid to die for the golden freedom, rather than to live a slave."What does that mean?" I interrupted."Well, you remember when we went to the zoo last year? There were different wild animals, like lions, tigers, bears, elephants and others. They were all behind a tall, double wire fence, because otherwise, they would all escape to roam around freely", answered Dziadzio, as he took a couple of puffs from his pipe, before finishing the story.He went on; "there were many battles fought along the eastern frontier during that, yet another, senseless war. Some battles were lost, here and there, but those lost battles only ignited the spirit of freedom to fight even more resourcefully and with double courage andstrength... and that's why the war ended as a complete victory for the brave Polish nation.
Zeligowski's regiment went out into the open, as one mighty and fearless army unit. His lancers were the most feared freedom fighters, who dictated the southeastern borders with their swords, and unfortunately and tragically - with brotherly blood.Towards the end of that terrible war, the Russians were leaving everything behind them. They were just glad of being able to escape with their lives. They panicked so much in the retreat that they were leaving behind mounts of weapons, even thousands of horses, were left, abandoned. Such was their fright that they were just glad to save their own skins.The horses, all needing fodder, were distributed amongst the farmers. They were, in turn, to carry out the task of burying masses of dead human bodies. It was a difficult task though, because there were so many of them, so unfortunately, and against the Christian traditions, many corpses were cleared by the hungry wolves at nights and the many ravens during the days.The order of the nature itself had turned around. For even the oldest people could not remember such large packs of wolves in, and around, the forests. As though with an animal instinct, they had multiplied in advance of such scavenge of plenty."Never forget one fact of justice; those who fight by the sword, die by the sword", ended my Dziadzio.
A cold breeze started blowing from the orchard and, as dusk was creeping in over diminishing horizon, Dziadzio took me by the hand and took me inside the cottage.nside was really dark and spooky, but a lit up paraffin lamp soon spread it's happy flickers through the cottage. Then Dziadzio got on with another task, getting the stove fire going.
"You stay in, while I'll just pop out to check that all is well and lock in the farm outbuildings".
While Dziadzio was outside, I watched the dark sky, through the big window. AsI looked up, I could see dark black clouds racing about, but now and again, the pale, white face of the lifeless moon tried to brighten up the dark horizon below. That is when a silhouette of a man could clearly be seen on, the otherwise, sad mirror of that small earth’s satellite.
"That must be Mr. Twardowski", I thought, every time I saw the profile, or what'd resembled a profile of a man on the moon, after hearing the story in which the devil was carrying Mr. Twardowski to hell, but dropped him on the moon.The sudden slamming of the porch door broke my moments of deliberations. I heard Dziadzio in the kitchen, suggesting a quick hot milk noodle soup.Dziadzio was an experienced, good cook. In no time at all, the two of us were enjoying the taste and the warmth of his chiefdom."Please tell me what happened to Jan after the war?" "Well, let me recollect: the vast, but neglected territories, taken back from Russia, along the eastern front, were very sparsely inhabited by mixed nationals. In the north, there lived Lithuanians, Byelorussians, Poles and Jews. The southern parts were inhabited by some genuine Ruthnians, popularly known as Ukrainians and also by some Poles, Slovaks, as well as Jews and other ethnic minorities, like Cossacks and Tartars, who, over the ages have survived many bloody wars, then intermarried with the local women and lived happily in that, very sparsely populated, region.
The newly formed Polish government encouraged ex-army men to move onto various large estates, which used to belong to some Russian and Polish aristocracies, but who lived abroad, mainly in France and in Italy, and who did not care much about what happened to that land. They, themselves, never had to work or toil it anyway.An inherited privilege without any effort or any work put in encourages laziness, which turns people into spongers and breeds corruption and injustice. Small is beautiful. Anything between fifty to a hundred hectares of land is big enough land parcel to farm and make a good living out of and pay government taxes.
After the war, all those vast estates were parceled off into small, self-sufficient holdings of between fifty to hundred acres, depending on the type of soil and the terrain, and were given to the ex-army men for free.Jan, having fallen in love with the freshness of the open spaces and the goodness of the richness of the forest's air, had chosen to stay and work in the forest.At first, he worked with an experienced forester, until he got to know all the ropes himself.After five years, Jan settled by a very big forest, in the southeastern part of the country, near Lwow.His working career’s beginning was hard. He had nothing to call his own, only his pay as an apprentice forester. It was not much, just enough to live on, but not enough for any savings.
Jan started by renting just one room in the nearby village. It was only for a short period, until he built himself a simple shelter over his head. It was just a one roomed, wooden shack, where Jan moved to live with this huge hunting dog - Samson.In the meantime, Jan was building an improved, two bedroom hunting lodges.Though he lived on his own, it was not a life of a hermit. In fact, Jan was very busy, not only building his lodge, but also managing, day-to-day, running of the forestry, where he had the help of two rangers.
The need for building timber was tremendous. One can imagine such situation just after the devastation of a war.
Three thousand new settlers needed some eighty cubic meters of building timber, each for their dwellings, in Jan’s region alone.It is worth mentioning that Jan was extremely good cook. Having left the army's irregular eating habits, he was spoiled for choice of fresh food just in the forest alone. There, the wild boar and deer were aplenty, not to mention the countless, big gray hare.
During the autumn time, his team had to supervise all the people, who would like to visit the forest, especially the townsfolk, who loved to come to the country, particularly to the forest, to pick various, delicious, wild berries, like bilberries, and the wild forest mushrooms.
The dark blue, almost black berries were the most popular of the many wild varieties, whereas the light brown borowki with broad, short stem was the most sought after mushroom.
The wild life of the forest was also in abundance, in the dark depth. While the lovely deer and hare were harmless, some wild animals, like the wolf and the boar, were quite dangerous. That's why there had to be some kind of code of behaviour for the people. First, no one should wander off on their own beyond certain destined areas. Rangers were on guard with their rifles at the ready at all times around those areas, which were mainly along the edges of the forest. There, people were allowed to spend their leisure pastime with strict instructions not to go into the depths of the forest, so as not to disturb the wild animals, which, normally, slept during the day.Along the edges of the forest, there were many groups of people to be seen. The whole families were humming happy tunes while in pursuit of their hobbies. Some were collecting the wild berries, while others, with great attention, were looking for those delicious, the fore mentioned, light brown borowik.
The autumn romance was in the air during mushroom season, especially amongst all those young at heart. The cupid found a lovely young maiden for our Jan too. Her name was Lonia.
Jan noticed that a very modestly dressed, blushing maiden, was a newcomer.On the first day, he went to meet her. He found that she came from the old city of Lwow and that she was staying with her friend Zosia, for a week, in the nearby village.Lonia was very pretty. Her beauty had hypnotized Jan. He could not take his eyes off her for a moment and became her 'Genie', picking berries and mushrooms, thus filling her baskets to the full every day.This was the beautiful beginning of a romance, which had a happy ending written all over the young, happy, pretty faces. Their cupid knew the art of match making. They, certainly, would make an extremely handsome couple.
Jan was an inch, maybe two, short of six feet, with broad shoulders, fit and strong; with that inspiring dare devil courage shining from his extremely handsome and intelligent face, featured with strong jaw bones.He was a rare specimen of a young man, who could choose the best looking and the prettiest girl anywhere, and with whom, a girl would feel safe, protected and well provided in marriage.
Lonia was about five feet six, in her high heels, with dark brown, long hair coming to her shoulders. She had enticing, light brown eyes to complement her pretty, silk smooth face, which had a touch of a gentle autumn suntan that added to her lively beauty. Lonia was a classic girl, walking with alluring female step. Her biggest and most tempting features were her fresh, like red cherries, slightly moisten, kissable lips. When she smiled, she just looked like a goddess from the ancient mythology, or a princess from a fairy tale. She was like a beautiful flower in the height of bloom.
It was Friday of one autumn afternoon, when Jan saw Lonia again. He rushed, with a great hope in his heart and a smiling face, greeted Lonia, asking her to go out with him for a meal, that evening.She accepted with a smile.Jan never left Lonia's side for a moment for the rest of that afternoon, though neither of them picked many berries or mushroom. They both were just happy chatting away, saying sweet nothings to one another, laughing and joking, most of that memorable, full of happy promises, day.That evening, Jan dressed himself in his best clothes. He arrived in an open, one horse-cart for two, to pick up his maiden Lonia on his first date.
It was just getting dusk, when the two young people were traveling along the edge of the tall, deep dark forest. Seating close to each other, their hearts were pounding fast, as the golden sunset of the evening began spreading its last glitter over the horizon, covering the young couple in its magic, warm tunic of love.They were so happy of being together, that even the trees seemed to have been waving with their branches for the couple's happiness, which only the true love can give, when Jan, suddenly turned his face to Lonia’s, stealing his first kiss."How could you?" Rebuked a very embarrassed Lonia, blushing like a red rose."I like you very much". A simple and honest answer came from the happy young man in love."I hardly know you". The blushing lass said.
"It might take us our lifetime, getting to know each other, shall I do it again?" asked excited young beau. "Don't you dare"! Before she even finished protesting, Jan grabbed her into his powerful, loving arms and kissed her with such a passion that she was completely out of breath."Who are you, a pagan, to treat me like that?"
"No, I am not a pagan, but my father told me to always do everything with compassion and conviction. I fought during the war without a fear for my own life. Now, I work without much rest and now that I have met you, I intend to love, only you Lonia, with all my heart.
What's wrong with that?" Jan laid all his loving thoughts out at once, as best as he knew how.Lonia did not utter a word. There wasn't much she could find to say in contradiction to that most honest expression of Jan's affection and love for her.To hear his words of love pleased her, though, she thought that he might have said them a bit hastily, for she was brought up with very strict discipline.For a little while, they were quiet, both recollecting their thoughts, while trying to control their fast, almost audible heartbeats.
Just as well, they were riding a horse driven cart. The clever horse delivered them safely to their destination within the next quarter of an hour.Both of them, though, still needed a while to get their breath back, before going inside the candle lit tavern.When they got in, the tavern was full, but their reserved table, in the corner, was ready.Jan moved the chair, with full manners of a born gentleman, to let Lonia sit down comfortably.Two candles were glowing on their table, while a very romantic, gipsy music was completing that evening in the far corner of the tavern. There the two young loners were about to be served hot chicken noodle soup."Smacznego" said Jan, as he was about to start scooping from his bowl of hot soup."Na wzajem", responded Lonia, with a lovely smile, which was one of her most disarming features, and which Jan took as a first step of forgiveness, if there were anything to forgive.Both of them must have been hungry, for they only exchanged a few words during their first course.Just as they finished it, they could hear an accordion joining in to the violin with the most romantic tango, while a singer started singing about love - "that all lovers should have a kiss, on a romantic night like this ".... Jan asked Lonia for a dance.He held her tender body so tight that he could hear her fast heartbeats, feeling her warm body's heat transferring their dance into a wonderful dream. Jan felt that his fresh found love was the one with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
"Listen to the words of the singer", prompted Jan, as if to explain his passionate action during the journey.Instead of an answer, Lonia just smiled and cuddled closer to Jan and gave him a very gentle peck, followed by quick kiss. Jan was forgiven for sure.When could I meet your family?" Asked, relieved Jan. "I'm going back in a couple of days, so, if you wish, you could come with me," she answered, with that beautiful smile of hers.
"I'll take some time off work and go with you, of course. How many are there in your family?" Jan followed up his conversation.
"I have a younger sister and two older brothers. Hela is the baby of the family. She is twelve years old. Then, there are two older brothers; Stefan, who is twenty years of age and twenty- five years old Mark. He runs his own butcher's shop, where Stefan helps him".
The tango had finished and both went back to their table.Jan ordered some red wine to go with the venison, chosen by Lonia."Na zdrowie" offered Jan, as he raised his glass. "Na zdrowie", responded Lonia raising hers, with that natural, coquettish charm of a woman in love, fully aware of her own female beauty.
The main course was being served, as Jan was pouring her second glass of wine, with which to wash down that delicious venison, which she was looking forward to tasting for the first time, but which, living by the forest, was quite a common meal for Jan."What would you like for a desert?" Jan asked, as he was topping up his own glass."Well, it's really getting a bit hot in here, perhaps a bit of ice cream would be the answer?""Ice cream you'll have, while, with your permission, I'll have a cigarette"."How long have you been poisoning yourself with a smoke?" Lonia asked Jan.Why do you say 'poisoning?" asked a somewhat confused Jan."I understand that smoking is a killer, Lonia continued. My father told me that this habit came from America, or rather from an American Indian custom. They used to smoke tobacco leaves in their long pipes on special, social occasions only.Jan did not light the cigarette; neither did he smoke ever since.They were both having another sip of wine, when a waltz was being played. It was Lonia's favourite dance tune, so she was on her feet before Jan could even ask her to dance. She danced so lightly and with such grace like no other.
It was during that waltz, when Jan noticed her full beauty, Lonia’s dreamy, light brown eyes. Her red, full lips, like cherries and feeling her alluring figure, in his hands, like that of Venus, while admiring her smooth silky skin, tanned with the gentle touch of a beautiful autumn's sunshine.Jan too was exceptionally handsome man, everybody said so, but he could not help thinking himself so lucky for having met Lonia. He kissed her forehead in one of the twists during that waltz for lovers, but this time, she approved with that flirtatious, charming smile of a young maiden in love.Dreaming on, Jan wanted to dance out from that tavern. Into the open spaces, he would dance. Along the forests lanes, where they, and only they could be together, dancing with joy and that love, which was a completely new experience for both of them.Love overpowered their hearts and their souls - totally.
That waltz turned that starry night into the most precious moment of their lives. It was the beginning of a new life which neither of them had any knowledge of, or even had any idea as to where it was going to take them both.They were so happy by just being together, that nothing else in the whole wide world mattered at all.It was a very bright night outside the tavern. The full moon gleamed from the sky above. It had that half-happy grin on its round face, which was an indication that it would be cold night.Jan suggested small cherry vodka for his sweetheart, while he had a drop of 'wyborowa' to keep them both warm. He trusted and hoped that the horse would find his own merry way back home.During the slow journey, Jan did not use his horsewhip. He just let the reins loose for his steed to find his own happy pace.Though it was cold night, the young couple did not feel any of it. They just cuddled up to each other, kissing and exchanging warm hearted words of love all the way home.The clever horse stopped right outside the cottage of Lonia host's, in the early hours of the morning."Will you be coming to the forest later on?" "No", answered Lonia, "but you would be welcome to come to church with me to-morrow"."What time would you like me to come?" Inquired happy Jan. "Around about nine in the morning"- continued Lonia. "I'll be here, have a good day, see you on Sunday" waving, the happy beau got on his way home.
Jan went straight to his tiny forest shack. There after cold wash, he put his working uniform, and with his rifle across his right shoulder, went about his duties for a couple of hours before going back to his bachelor's den and hitting the pillow on his bed.Jan was dreaming about his rosy future, full of various plans, with his beautiful Lonia by his side, as his wife for the rest of his life. It certainly looked more colourful than even a rainbow at dawn.
Jan was still dreaming that wonderful dream of his life, as he went into deep, deserving sleep.It was a crisp and bright Sunday morning, when Jan woke up at six o'clock. Having had a good night's rest, he washed and dressed himself, while humming a happy tune; he had danced to with his sweetheart only the night before.After seeing his rangers, Jan went to the local, general store. There he could make a telephone call to his army mate. He wanted to share his most happy moments with Julian.Jan could not hold himself from the superlatives about his sweetheart Lonia. He was saying how pretty and how beautiful Lonia was and how much he loved her.Towards the end of the telephone conversation, Jan has learnt that Julian had also met someone special with whom he had fallen head over heels in love. She lived a fair distance away, in Jaroslawiec. Her name was Helena. Julian too, was dreaming the hope of marrying his beautiful sweetheart."That's excellent news", said Jan, after hearing his pal's secrets. "If everything goes well, why don't we have a double wedding?" Jan suggested, over the phone."You were always full of good ideas. Why not indeed", replied Julian, with happiness in his voice "Keep in touch with any progress, bye for now". "Bye".
Jan pulled up in front of a big thatched cottage, a few minutes before nine. To his delight, Lonia came to greet him and invited him inside. There, all the members of her friend's family have known Jan, and learnt, with a grin of envy, perhaps a touch of jealousy, about his choice of a sweetheart from an outsider, rather than of one the many, pretty maidens, from their own village.They welcomed him with the usual full hospitality of their house, nonetheless.After a refreshing cup of lemon tea, they all were ready to go to church for the ten o'clock mass.As soon as they were alone on the open horse cart, Lonia turned her beautiful face to Jan with an offer of a quick kiss. Jan responded with an eager passion. Then, cuddled up to each other, they chatted happily along the colourful route, embellished with the golden brown autumn leaves, all the ten kilometers to the church.Groups of people were gathering outside the church for a short exchange of greetings and a few words of innocent, local gossip, when Jan pulled up with Lonia, all eyes turned on to them, to weigh them up.
Deep down, they all agreed that the newly arrived made a very handsome couple indeed.
There were smiles from everyone they met, before going inside the church.The Holy Mass was connected with the two Saints of Cosma and Damian. The two, according to the legend, were credited with many holy deeds and miracles and with converting many pagans into Christianity all over Europe. Mostly, though, they preached in the southeast Poland and Ukraine.During the mass, the vocal talents of the people came to the fore, with the choir singing religious hymns to the very old folk melodies.At the end of the mass, the priest passed his blessings upon the congregation. He asked them to go home with God's peace into the daily lives of the coming week. All started leaving that place of worship, with a feeling of new energies in their souls gained during that holy mass.In the meantime, in Wolczek, out on his fields, Julian was having his three-bed roomed cottage finished with a thick thatched roof. He was hoping to move in before the winter would set in.
Julian, too, lived a very Spartan life. He would hunt a hare one day, from the nearby forest; a boar or a deer on other occasions, while spending all hours -God given- on building his new farm buildings and outbuildings.It was immediately after the war. Julian was a proud owner of four horses. In fact, his small stud consisted of three young mares and one classic stallion. His priority, therefore, was to build stables. He was doing it with great success, considering his own, very basic living conditions. He’d sleep on the hay in the loft of a small barn, he had completed.
Julian worked from early dawn until the late dusk, so long as the daylight was there. Sometimes, on cloud-less nights, he would work by the bright light of the silvery moon.
Busy, as he was, Julian did not neglect his love life. This, what it is, but to be young.
Even though Helena lived some distance away, Julian still managed to court her regularly.
Helena lived in Jaroslawiec. She was a maiden of a rare beauty. She was tall, had dark chestnut hair and a pair -of bewitchingly beautiful- light brown eyes. They were rare and bewitching beauty, which had a touch of dark blue turning into emerald just before blending into her white pupils.Her lightly tanned complexion in her very full-bodied, female posture, like that of Venus, completed her figure. It ought to be added that her most enticing, kissable lips, complimented her disarming smile that only a young female of rare beauty could possess.
Julian was an exceptionally handsome young man. Close to being six foot tall, he had strong jawbones, his main feature, a tiny dimple in his chin, dark hair and very dark, black eyebrows, slightly tilted outwards. He had high, intelligent forehead, unusually shapely skull, with a proportioned ears and nose to match, with a very shapely mouth completing his facial looks.His army service had trained and tuned his masculine body, especially his broad shoulders and his strong arms.It was a double benefit for Julian, when he went to see his sweetheart: a break from the daily, hard work and the pleasure of being with his beloved Helena.
During his last visit at Karpinkskis's, Julian asked Helena's parents for their permission to ask Helena to become his wife. That was only formality, the usual customary show of respect for Helena's parents. Then, the happy young couple went to a jewelers shop, where the bride to be chose her engagement ring. Afterwards, the newly engaged couple went to celebrate their happy moments at a dinner dance. It was at their favourite tavern, where they had first met a couple of years earlier.During the dance, their engagement was announced to the public, who responded with a happy song of "sto lat", wishing the newly pledged new couple a hundred years of happiness, bliss, etc. After celebrating their magic moment with a drop of wine and a light meal, Julian took Helena to his pa- rents in Hrubieszow.Knowing his mother's generosity and her delicious cooking, he wanted his finance to be able to taste some of it.Hrubieszow was almost half way between where Helena resided and Julian's new settlement in Wolczek, where he decided to start his married life.
It was late afternoon by the time Julian had arrived with his finance at the modest residence, up on the hill of this modern, market town, with gaslights in a wide street called July. Julian knocked at the front door number “twenty two”. His father, Stanislaw opened the door, came out to welcome the young couple. His mother, Maria welcomed them in the old Polish tradition with bread and salt on a tray.Everyone in the household was looking forward to meeting Helena, who they had heard so much about, but some of who were to meet her for the first time that day.
Julian's younger brother, Kazik, who was finishing his studies to be a teacher, paid a compliment by saying how charming his finance looked. Hearing what was said, Helena, blushingly and hardly audible, said "dziekuje". While Julian followed with his proud, "didn't I tell you so many times before?”In that very happy family atmosphere of questions and more questions, the time went by very fast indeed.The grandfather clock in the hall struck twice, just as they were finishing their last glass of wisniak, giving them the signal that it was high time to retire.Sleeping arrangements were made. Julian was going to share his brother's room. Helena was to share with Julian's sister Loda.
It was Sunday morning, when they heard the grandfather clock again, striking loudly nine times -across in the hall. With heavy heads, from the night before, they were being prompted by the homemaker to get up for breakfast, so that the whole family might get to church on time for the eleven o'clock mass.Back from the church and after lunch, Julian had to drop Helena back at her home.t was close to midnight by the time he got to his farmstead in Wolczek.
The following day, Julian sat down to write many invitation letters to his wedding.
In the meantime, Helena was doing the same, inviting, from a long list of friends and relatives, for this greatest day of a double wedding; Helena Karpinska to Julian Szymanski, and Lonia Szemberska to Jan Kozlowski.Three months later, on a very bright, sunny Saturday, nearly two hundred nearest and dearest, a handful of friends and close relatives from the four families, had arrived on the wedding day.They all met outside the church, chatting happily, making their acquaintances.Then, at ten o'clock' they all went inside, where the church choir sang "Veni Creator", staring a very pompous wedding ceremony.
The traditional "sto lat" was sung outside the church, as the newlywed couples were coming out.
The long wedding party of eating and drinking, combined with very lively dancing and happy singing, hosted by the two families, in two different towns, over fifty kilometers apart, lasted the whole two weeks.During one evening, Julian's father was asked to say a few words of wisdom. He stood up, raised his full glass in the direction of the newlyweds and invited all gathered to drink to their health.Then he passed his simple formula for a daily happiness with these words: "Live this life to the full according to God's law of loving one another as He loves you. Do not do onto others, what you would not want done on to you, that way you'll overcome everything. God works in very mysterious ways", he said, before seating down.
Eventually, and by then, the two weeks old married couples went their separate ways to start new lives: Julian with Helena, on a farm in Wolczek, and Jan with Lonia in the forestry near Lwow."Good night", could, just faintly, be heard, as Dziadzio Stanislaw tucked his young, sleepy, grandson Witek in a cozy, warm bed. "Good night, God bless you”.
Copyright: Szymanski family