4 / 365 – Remembering the Old Country

VANEK

I didn’t think about these things, about the old country. The memories leave you if you lose the people you shared them with, if you don’t keep them alive in stories. You have to tell the stories, and hear other people tell them too. They remember things you forgot and correct the things that you didn’t get right, because maybe you wished they were different. You change the stories if you don’t tell them with other people. You can’t trust what you remember. That’s what I thought. And now I have no people to remember with — nobody visits me here. My wife’s family, I don’t see them since she passed, god bless her. They all moved away to down south somewhere, Florida, some of them. I am bad, I don’t keep in touch I guess. And the ones I knew when I came here, they keep passing too, except the ones stuck in here with me. So I have no people, except that daughter of mine, who keeps trying to sell off everything I still have. The house, the shop. Everything in the shop, it’s all junk, she says. All those things I found, I collected, I kept over the years, every tool, every part, piston, every gear, every wrench and hammer and grinder wheel hung up or set down in the place where it goes. Can you believe that woman, she says it is just junk. It’s all in order and she can’t even see it. Her father’s shop, what supported her and put her in college and even some of the nest egg for their house when they bought it. I don’t like being alone but when she comes in here, I just turn over in bed and look out the window. Until she leaves.

Maybe that’s why it is all coming back. Out the window, you see the fields over there, and when you look this way, out across where the creek cuts through, you can’t see many trees. It looks like I remember when we were in Russia, that first summer, when we were just marching on to the East, we didn’t know where, just East, and all you were worried about was that far off sound was going to be a plane, one of their planes. Or whether that village ahead had guns or artillery in it somewhere. Or whether any of the furrows in the bean field or the wheat field had mines buried in them. We didn’t think about anything else. Some days we had days of waiting, lying in a trench we had dug next to the Pak — that was the gun we towed along, to fire at the Russian tanks. The others would sometimes have a letter to read from home, from their family, but I never got any letters. My mother and father were already gone, taken away or whatever happened, nobody would say when I went back. People I had known when i grew up, neighbors, acted like they couldn’t remember or hadn’t seen anything, as if they had been asleep for five years. I didn’t remember my parents for a long time, but then I started to hear my mother’s voice. I see a picture of my mother humming to herself, lighting candles, asking me to help her light candles, maybe it was Friday night, the start of Sabbath. We didn’t go anywhere for Sabbath, but we were always together, there. I think. I remember my father standing in the doorway, watching, as if he was not sure if he should be there, or not. It’s as clear as anything, I can hear them, I can remember a good smell of bread and something warm on top of the stove. But you know, you can’t trust memory. I haven’t thought about all this in a long time, fifty years, more than that. I didn’t even talk about it with my wife, didn’t talk about it in those days. So maybe it wasn’t really like that, I don’t know.

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