Chapter the First.
After grandma's death. - Grandfather goes to the matchmakers. - He suddenly turns up with a wife. - The impression it makes on the family.- "Grandma". - Grandfather's delight. - His new daughters. - Widely scattered. - Estates. - Where we are well-received. - Yokheved. - Leye. - We become estranged from grandfather. - No longer the Days of Awe of yore.
Grandma died1, but grandfather's situation got even better. Now he was the only remaining Saviour and Redeemer2 to advise and guide the land-owners. They were bewildered by the revolt, the persecutions and the misery that had been meted out to them unsparingly by the iron hand of Muravyov3.Now many of them found solace with the old but clever Arn Leyzer and he assisted them with all their affairs. Thanks to his advice they gave up their estates, giving them in lease to Jews and so got enough money to keep living on the same footing as before. In those days they were in dire need of money4.
But grandfather began to make a lot of money himself as well and he lived it up on a grander scale than before. His carriage and span of horses, which used to look typically Jewish, now was of lordly appearance. Horses and carriage were presented to him by a landowner; he would drive around in it in his full glory.
Grandfather, who had always been an impulsive and impatient man, had of course needed to shed a flood of tears when grandma died, but the moment the wells of tears began to dry up he started thinking about a second wife .
Matchmakers soon got wind of it and started beleaguering grandfather around the clock, proposing all kinds of matches, with young women, rich and even pretty ones, women of good lineage and so on. But since their activities would be unacceptable to the family the matchmakers pretended they were talking about a match for Arn Leyzer's son Yisroel, who was the same age as I. It hadn't occured to any of the children - like they didn't know him at all, that grandfather would want to remarry. Hadn't he had a dearly beloved wife? Wasn't he elderly? Wasn't he surrounded by all his children and seventy grand- and great-grandchildren?
The thought of a second wife had excited grandfather so much that he forgot all about a match for his son, a matter that had been much on his mind before. As they found out later, he had instructed the matchmakers to get him a woman good looking, mature and of good family all in one.
So, after about three months grandfather suddenly came home from somewhere in good spirits and gave orders to bring a room in readiness. An important guest was to be expected. Shortly after that he casually said to the children, "I have married. She's a lady of very good family, Yitskhok, the Rov of Karline's daughter, a very pious Jewess."
A bit later he told about her in more detail, how she had divorced her husband because he had become a heretic, despite the fact that he was a Jew, quite a handsome, well educated man, and that she had grownup children with him. She, the pious one, had ignored all these blessings and had not wanted to live with an unbeliever.
The household was flabbergasted, it went black before their eyes and they hurried away into the other rooms to have a good cry. They were faced with an irreversible fact, a 'fait accompli', as they say. Grandfather just ignored his childrens' anguish and soon left to collect his new wife.
After he had left the great wailing really broke loose. The crying and screaming was nearly as bad as during the days following grandma's death. They all looked at each other with tears in their eyes, dumbfounded, as if they had to survive an unavoidable disaster. No one could believe that grandfather, having loved grandma so dearly and after acting like the world had come to an end at her death, would forget things so soon and that he at his age, sixty years old, having a house full of children and grandchildren, would bring home a stepmother. But their tears were just tears and achieved nothing. Afew days later she arrived, a substantial well-dressed Jewish beauty of about forty-five years old, and grandfather ordered the maid to put up the samovar.
The children closed themselves off, they did not show their anguish and sorrow to the plump Jewish beauty and they gave her a lukewarm reception. Grandfather felt very uncomfortable about that; he had been eager for his second wife to be warmly received, but he had not been able to demand it. And so the same house that always had been full of life, full of the noise of children and grandchildren, where they had played pranks, laughed, danced and sung, now that same house had become silent and somber as if there were nobody there.
No talking was heard, no laughter, no cries, no noise, every sound was kept in check, suppressed, silence reigned. People from the town stopped their visits to the children and even to Arn Leyzer himself. They figured that he was busy with his new wife and took it for granted that he only had to sit with her in the same room to find his pleasure.
Meanwhile grandma 'Nemi', as the grandchildren referred to her in public, acted properly towards the children and grandchildren. Obviously she realised that she was dealing with quite a decent household and that she'd better make an effort to accommodate its members in order to prevent the undesirable situation that they would come to dislike her. So her relations with the family were formal and correct and she took on the role of both a mother and a grandmother.
After a couple of weeks a guest arrived at grandfather's. It was one of the younger daughters of his wife, a young lady about fourteen years old. Another guest came about two weeks later. Again a daughter, a young lady , aged about seventeen. These daughters remained with their mother. A few months after a son of the new wife married a daughter of a resident of Kamenits.
And so grandfather acquired within a short period, not even half a year, a new family. The two daughters grew up at grandfather's and he bestowed a lot of fatherly love on them. The son and daughter-in-law and her parents with their whole family became regular visitors at grandfather's and got the place of honor at his table, so that there was no place left for Beile Rashe's children and grandchildren, the ones who used to fill the house with happiness and laughter. The bitterness of the children and their feeling of dejection also affected the unity between them. They were still close, there was still love between them, but its flame was burning low and in time it cooled down more and more.
Grandfather, whose favorite expression used to be, "He who lets down a child never will find rest in his grave5", started taking steps to ensure the future of all his children, one by one. Possibly he saw it as the way to free himself the sooner from their embittered looks which were spoiling his joy with his new wife. He arranged an estate on lease for each of them and he also got one for himself, an estate named Pruske6', near Vilevinski, four verst from Kamenits; a farmhouse and a vodka distillery.
Within half a year he succeeded in settling all of his children on separate estates. They drove off and dispersed and he delighted in his love and her daughters. The place became very quiet. Having gotten rid of the children he at first remained living in Kamenits, though the estate was quite near. It took only an hour to travel up and down to Pruske. However, shortly after, this restless man started hankering after true quiet, solitude, so nothing would disturb his happiness. This shows how much he was bewitched by his new wife.
The children all lived on their separate estates and the family ties began to loosen. If it had not been for Yokheved, uncle Yosel's wife7, who took the fate of the family to heart and who endeavoured to bind together the torn and weakened last threads, the family unity would certainly have dissolved completely8. Now Yokheved knew the true sense of hospitality and was a very compassionate woman. She lived in Babitsh, on an estate eight verst from Kamenits, and the family used to drive down by horse cart to stay with her often. At all times you could find about fifteen people at her place and as one would leave, another would arrive, to be feasted on blintses and lots of dairy products. The hubbub of grandfather's house, though somewhat reduced in volume and size, eventually shifted to her place. People used to amuse themselves there, dance, laugh and joke about 'grand grandma' and her daughters.
Another source of hospitality was father's sister Leye, also a clever and good woman. Both within the family and in town they used to say that she was her mother Beyle Rashe reincarnated. Of course, that was a bit of an exaggeration. Her husband, Aliezer Goldberg, was a young man. - a scholar, an adherent of the 'Haskole' or 'Enlightenment' movement and a Hebrew poet.
If he felt like it he would compose a song in Hebrew for the occasion of Khanuke or Purim and he also was a bon-vivant, very broadminded. The family used to say that he had a hole in his hand; money was not a serious matter to him. He lived on an estate named Starsheve, near Zostavye. (This, by the way, was the same estate that grandfather had been reluctant to accept when a landowner had offered to sign it over to him as a gift.9)
Although Starsheve was the family's second refuge, its hospitality was inferior to that offered by Yokheved. Leye did not keep any cattle and when the family came down she would not have any milk or butter in store. It must be said that eating meat was not the fashion in those days, except on Shabes and even on Shabes it was a rarity. But it cannot be denied that Yokheved's blintses formed a great attraction for our folks. She had learned the art to perfection from her mother-in-law, Beyle Rashe, who was famous for them. Those blintses were something else, you don't get them that way nowadays.
My dear father, who was the oldest child in the family, did not frequent these hospitable places for his own reasons. The young ones thought him over-pious, too sedate, although they loved him dearly and if he ventured to visit Yokheved's house it was a kind of special day to all, like Khsidim having a Rebbe visiting. In his presence they would all make a point of being quiet and calm, no shouting or laughter, no pranks. They would all surround him and he would tell them a story or a joke, in his own special way, which they would all thoroughly enjoy.
In winter Yokheved would kill up to thirty geese at once from which she would make goose fat and cracklings. Then Yokheved would start her special crackling routine. The geese themselves she cured with salt, in a barrel, and after one month she served pickled goose-meat with cracklings. She would also give a portion of cracklings to everyone to take home. Yokheved's cracklings were known far and wide. She also raised turkeys and with Peysekh all members of the family received a turkey from her.
She was a great expert, both in the house and on the farm. She was knowledgeable in all fields, she was at all places at once, ptook care of the cows, calves, horses and the like. She was busy all day and always was up at six o'clock in the morning. Both during summer and winter she would always be toiling, but efficiently, in a casual way, like a true master. In wintertime she often would be at the threshing of the wheat all day. But the comfort of her guests never suffered under it in the least. On waking up all guests would get tea from the samovar with that good cream10 [slivkes] and pastry.
One weakness she had though - after all, she was a woman - and it would sometimes be quite a burden to her guests; she liked boasting to everyone about what an expert she was. And she would not hold back in her bragging, but go into it at length. She would go on and on about her achievements, about her cooking, her baking, her skills in business, her knowing how to receive a guest, her cleverness at mending a torn piece of clothing and so on and she would often drive everyone mad with her female boasts. But under the surface this talk was sometimes meant as a stab at her husband who ostensibly played the lord, while she served him. He enjoyed the good life while she was always slaving away. His bed was made, his table set and he expected her to bow to him. But a great expert she was for sure and it was easy to forgive her this single shortcoming.
During the Days of Awe, when all the villagers came to town for Rosheshone and Yonkiper, our family gathered in Kamenits, but their journey was not to grandfather, although he had a big house standing empty in Kamenits. Everyone rented his own place for Rosheshone and Yonkiper. Grandfather himself came down too, with his wife and 'daughters'.
To keep away from grandfather altogether would not have been in the spirit of the High-Holy Days, so after saying prayers, the elder children would pay grandfather a visit to wish him a good 'Yontev', returning home soon after. They did not come again to grandfather's all day. During the first Rosheshone after grandma had died the house felt like a deserted city and if there was any movement in grandfather's house during the Rosheshone period, it would have been caused by the guests, visiting those 'stepdaughters'.
My father would spend Rosheshone with the Rebbe of Slonin.
Uncle Mordkhe Leyb11, who had been very saddened by his brother's marriage, became estranged from him. He had said nothing about it, but privately he considered it a misstep of the first order and a serious insult and he distanced himself from his brother more and more. Grandfather kept visiting Mordkhe Leyb, albeit not like before, jovial and at ease. Grandfather was clever and broadminded enough to understand his brother's silent grievance and did his very best to make the best of the situation. For instance, he made it a habit to visit his brother often, while before is was his brother who used to come to him.
The Eve of Yonkiper, which used to be very special at Grandfather's, now past in silence and boredom. The butcher still came to pay grandfather his respects, but other families failed to deliver their 'kapores' at grandfather's house. All his children got into the habit of doing the kapore ceremony at their own place [hobn zikh opgeshlogn di kapores bay zikh] and sending the already killed kapores [di kapores fartike], the ones they had used themselves for the ceremony [obgeshlogene], off to grandfather - not like in the old days.
Only on the Eve of Yonkiper did the oldest children go to grandfather's. He would have the same richly decked great table12, with all kinds of preserved fruits, tarts, snacks, cookies, nuts and liqueurs on it. But what about the joy, the friendship, brotherhood, true love? There was no real festive atmosphere, it was gloomy, tame; no longer the noise of all the little ones or of the bigger grandchildren, no happy faces. By now all had spread out, scattered, hidden away. Even the blessing on the Eve of Yonkiper was no longer what it used to be. They all used to wait for each other and no one would leave by himself. They would all join in the customary crying and the crying and wailing of both grownups and children would go up to the seventh heaven..
Uncle Berl Bendet13, who always used to come with all his children and grandchildren to visit grandfather on Rosheshone and Yonkiper, now went to his father Zelig Andarkes instead.
The only commodity that possibly was more bountiful than in the old days was tears, silent, suppressed tears.
After the Holidays everyone went back to his own estate and everything kind of drifted apart. It was clear that the great ship had gone down and that everyone floated off by himself on his own piece of wreckage, on a plank broken loose from the once mighty ship.
1.See Vol. I. Chapt. 28.
2.goyel-umoshie - Hebr.: helper, assistant (see Isaiah 49: 26; 60: 16).
3.At the outbreak of the Polish uprising in 1863, the Russian Prince Nicholas Michael Muravyov (1791-1866), known as the "hangman," was appointed governor-general of the provinces of Vilna, Grodno, Kovno, Vitebsk, Minsk and Moghilev. He established his headquarters in Vilna and cruelly suppressed the uprising through brutal terror and forced russification (D. Assaf).
4.For a description of the impact the Polish Uprising had on the Kotik family and on the Polish Jews in general, see Vol. I, Chapt. XXII.
5.Text: der zeyde, vos hot shtendik gezogt dos vertl, az " dem zol di erd aroysvarfn di beyner, ver es git op a kind fun zikh." Comp. Vol I, Chapt. VI, p. 127, l. 1,2: der zeyde hot lib gehat dos vertl: "di erd zol di beyner aroysvarfn dem, vos git op a kind fun zikh"
6.Comp.:Vol I, p. 23, l. 22, 23: Pruske, eight verst [1 verst = 1.06 km] from Kamenits. (this must be a mistake). See also Vol. I, Chapt. XX, p. 280, l. 31-35: far zikh hot er gedungen dem hoyf "pruske" (faran tvey "pruskes": eyne hot gehert tsu oserevskin un eyne tsu vilevinskin) ba vilevinskin, fir viarst fun kamenits.
7.See Vol. I, Chapt. XI, pp. 174, 175.
8.For a description of the former 'akhdes' in the family see Vol. I, Chapt. VI, p. 127, l. 7.
9.See Vol. I, Chapt. X, p. 169, l. 4-6.: hot er dos mayontikl starsheve gevolt avekshenkn dem zeydn. der zeyde hot zikh ober fun dem opgezogt.
10The cream is served with the tea and the pastry. Another possible reading for 'slivkes' is 'plums' [P. slivka], in which case confiture made of plums would be meant. See discussion on "The Mendele List".
11.Arn Leyzer's brother, Mordkhe Leyb is described in Vol. I, Chapt I, pp. 41-45.
12.See for a description of the 'amolike yomim neroim' Vol. I, Chapt. XIV.
13.See Vol. I, Chapts. XII, XIII, XXII.
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