Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jack Frost (My Version) Was I mixed up...

The Story of Jack Frost

as told to me by my mother....

Warning, this is an excerpt from a book I have been writing for the last 10 years, memories of my mother.  As this is the holiday season and Jack Frost  is a very large part of it, I thought it might be appropriate to add this to the BLOG.  If you are not into reading long things, I won't mind if you decide to skip it.

When my mother was old enough, her father wanted his daughter to go to school.  His boys had been unable to spend many years there but both of them could read and write. The village school was a serious distance from the house.  It was on the other side of the village.  My mother would have to leave the house very early to arrive on time.  The school was run by the Party. It was not the traditional school that her own father had attended as a boy.  It was a communist school.  The children pledged their bodies and minds to the furtherance of the motherland each morning.  Words like comrades, motherland, sisterhood and Party were taught there.  These were big words for small ears to hear and understand.

Mama walked barefoot to school when the weather permitted.  Sometimes she flopped about in shoes much too large for her when the weather turned ugly. She was always hungry.

Food was scarce.  A round black pot hung suspended form a hook in the pripichek at home that boiled forever.  Into it were thrown the various meager vegetables, bones and endless potatoes that stewed and changed the flavor of the soup from day to day.  In the evenings, each member of the family and every guest were fed a ladle full of the watery stew from the pot.  Bellies were never full.  The large Samovar that stood on the roof of the pripichek held hot water flavored with tea leaves or other roots gathered in the forests.  Chicory was added when it was available.  The coals that were inserted in the middle tube were refreshed from the pripichek’s own embers.  Sugar was a luxury.  It was never placed in the cups of heated liquid.  Everyone held a cube of it in their mouths between their teeth.  It sweetened the drink as it passed the crystals on it’s journey inside and down.  A cube could last for many drink this way.

The Communist Party knew how to take advantage of this great hunger.  My mother was not the only child who came to school hungry every morning.  At school, the teachers began the indoctrination of the Party line.  They told the children that Russia was their true mother and the party leaders, their fathers.   They were comrades, brothers and sister. Then they spoke of loyalty and betrayal to the Party.  It was understood that the seeds of Communism, when planted  in the spring, would bloom heartily in the fall.  Clubs, called Young Pioneers, were organized for the children.  They were encouraged to join.  Everyone including my mama wanted to become a member.  The Comrades that supervised the clubs offered cakes and cookies as treats to the starving youth of Russia.  In exchange the children were encouraged to act as the eyes and ears of the community.  The sweet goods were rewards for the loyal youngsters who would report their own kind.

Bubba would visit the log cabin from time to time.  Bubba was father’s mother.  An old shriveled woman who would sit by their fire and mumble strange words and sing songs without tunes.  Her fascination for my mother was the onyx  black earrings she wore.  They were attached to her ears through holes that had long since become slits from the weight of the earring.  They almost threatened to slip through her ear they dangled so very close to it’s final edge.  

Mother spent many hours on her Bubba’s lap flicking the bright round spangles.  The tiny diamonds embedded within sometimes catching the fireplace light and sending sparkles throughout the small gloomy room.   As her Bubba rocked her and whispered into her ear the singsongs and sayings in foreign words, she also ingrained into her head that one day the bangles would be hers if only she would avoid the temptation of the Comrades at her school.

Bubba dispelled the words of the school in her granddaughter’s ear. Almost intuitively, the child felt that something was wrong in joining the clubs.  Bubba enjoined her back to the folds of her family.  She promised the old woman that she would always remain silent.  She wanted the earrings more.  She denied herself the luxury of the sweets at school.

The process took time, the teachers knew it. Change was in the wind when an undernourished young boy raised his hand one day in school.  He was in the same class.  “I would like a cake,” the boy said.

One of the teachers beckoned him forward.  “You would like a cake?”

“Yes, I would like a cake”, he said again.

He had been one of the shy boys in the classroom.  He lived in a cabin near my mother's.  The circumstances of his home were near to her own.  She had seen him playing in his yard before.  He lived with his mother and father and an uncle and aunt.  She had seen an old woman go into the house from time to time.  She guessed it was his Bubba.

“I would like a cake, I’m hungry” he said louder this time, his mouth already tasting the honeyed flavor.  He was hungry, as were most of Mother Russia’s children.  It had been hours since his last meal.  His tiny belly grumbled inside him.

“Come with me,” said the teacher holding out her hand to the boy.

She took him by the hand into another room in the school.  The children in the classroom began to fidget in their chairs.

“Quiet,” said the teacher who remained with them there.

The Party knew his family.  His father had fought in the war.  He had left his family to fend for themselves, as had the other fathers who were taken into the army.   They knew he had come back filled with tales of what he had seen in other counties.  It was a good omen, the boy’s hunger.

The second room had been arranged with a child’s comfort in mind.  Small chairs were placed beside an oblong table.  On the table was a plate of buns.  The boy could see and smell the treats immediately as he was escorted to a chair.  On the walls were large pictures of the Heros of mother Russia.  The flag relaxed on a pole in the corner.  It was bright in this room.  He took one of the chairs as his own.

The teacher took the chair on the opposite side of the table.  “Are you comfortable?” asked the adult.  He nodded that he was.  “Good,” continued the grownup.  “The cakes are very delicious.  Take one.”

He ate it greedily.  Crumbs that had fallen on his chin were promptly swept back into his mouth.  It had tasted as good as it looked and it left him hungry for more.  “May I have another?” he asked.

“Not now,” came the reply.  “Now, let’s talk.  Are you happy at home?”

The boy nodded his head affirmatively.  Then he spoke.  “We don’t have cakes like these at home.”  He wanted to cry now but the cake had choked his tears.

“ Are you happy at home boy?” the teacher asked again in a louder voice.

He cried then.  The drops of liquid rolling down his translucent cheeks.  He was frozen to stop them.  He sobbed and as he opened his mouth a crumb or two spit out onto the table.

“My father is unhappy.  He wants to leave this place.” he wept.  “At night, when I am laying in bed, I hear him talking with mother.”

Once the initial words had come out, it was not hard anymore for the child to open his heart and tell the good teacher everything.  He talked on and on as he felt the hand on his shoulder so comforting, and the soft voice urging him to continue.

“They have a plan.  Father is going to take us with him,” he finished.

The adult stood up.  “Eat another bun, child.  Fill your belly.  When you have had enough, join the other children in the class.”

He returned to classroom but only after eating two more cakes.  He walked in with his head down, afraid to meet the eyes of the other children.  As he sat down, he was unable to hold back the burp that escaped from his mouth.

When the school day ended, the boy got up from his seat with the other children.  He walked home alone.

It was quiet in the house when he came to his own door.  His Bubba was sitting by the pripichek warming herself by it’s heat.

“So the hero is home,” she said.  Did they give you their fowl cakes to eat?”

“The cakes were delicious Bubba, “ he replied as he ran to sit beside her.

She pushed him away from her with bony arms.  “Child, child,” she wept.  “Do you know what you have done?  They arrested everyone.  Look for yourself, the room is empty.  They took my daughter!  My precious daughter. They took everyone.  Only you and I are left now.”

He could see that his Bubba was right.  The room was in a mess, furniture and bedding were thrown around the room in frightful disarray.  He picked up his small pillow and began to cry as reality sunk in.  He tried to hug his Bubba, but she held him at arms length.

“It is no use, child,” she sobbed.  “They will never come back now.  The soldiers took them away.  They came with guns.  Maybe they are already dead.  You have cursed this house.”

He fell to the floor at her feet and cried.  His tummy was not so full now.  He was hungry again but there was no pot on the hook in the pripichek.  It had been turned over on the floor beside him. 

The village was silent that night.  The silence was deafening.  Not a word was spoken in any house.  Children were quickly bedded down.  Mothers tucked their children in bed and wondered if they might not be sold for a sweet.  Adults could not close their eyes.  They stared at the ceilings afraid to talk, lest their own children betray them.  Whole families were afraid of falling asleep.

When the sun finally rose the next morning, the village began to stir.  It was a new day but was it any less frightening then the night that had passed?  Other than to give their children brief instruction, parents remained silent, as they sent them off to school.  Suddenly it was impossible to determine who to trust.  Wives and husbands did not look each other in the eye.

The door to the boy’s house was closed all morning.  It remained closed throughout the whole day.  The child did not attend school.  His small chair was empty.

A neighbor or two thought to knock on the closed door of the house but quickly changed their mind.  The curtains on the windows were drawn.  There was no smoke or fire in the chimney.

As night fell once more on the village, the Bubba emerged from the darkened house carrying a cumbersome package.  It was heavy for her but she carried it lovingly in her arms.  A neighbor watched as she struggled with the weight of her bundle.  With deadened steps she walked into the forests nearby.

A villager found her there in the forest a few days later.  Beside her was a small grave she had apparently dug herself.  In it was the child.

The school erected a statue to the young boy in the courtyard.  His name "Jack Frost" was placed at the base of the object along with the word "Hero".  My mother past the statue everyday on her way to school.  The other children saw it too.  They marched by it in the evenings when their day was done.  His heroism was discussed by the teachers.  He was a martyr.  His memory and his deeds were recited by the children.  Mama closed her eyes and promised herself that one day she would be the proud owner of a pair of onyx earrings studded with tiny brilliant diamonds.

 And she was....

P.S. How these earrings made their way to America is  another story.... 


  1. You moved me to tears, thank you for passing this story and its message along.

  2. Stories like these need to be passed on to us. The brainwashing and the fear are palpable: man dominating man to his injury.

    So well written. Thank you for sharing. I can't wait for your book!

    Your mother was a strong woman, and she passed that strength down to you.