Chapter the tenth.
Rozenblum's forest. - My forest job. - A cabin in the forest. - "He will always be a pauper!" - Lawyers. - Dobrozhinski. - German fashion clothes. - My father's letter. - Trousers. - My letter. - Another dispute with my father.
Rozenblum had bought himself a forest, about ten versts away from where we lived. He had obtained it for a low price, for eight hundred rubles. It was dense forest, over half a verst long and about a quarter verst wide, containing fire wood and timber for construction. He appointed me to sell the wood retail, tree by tree, to the villagers in the neighborhood. We decided that I would sell wood three days a week: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On market days I visited the nearby towns, Krinik, Amdur and Sokolke, accompanied by two constables. One would beat with a hammer on a washbasin [mednitse > P. miednica] and the second loudly proclaimed to the assembled farmers that wood from the Artsheki forest would be sold three days a week.
The farmers were already in the forest, with carts and axes. I was to sell them the trees and they would cut them down. On my first day Rozenblum came with me, but he went home later in the day.
I liked the forest business. I figured that there was good money in it. If you employed people to chop the wood, cut down the trees and saw them up in planks for the construction of houses the forest would yield a small fortune. I proposed this plan to Rozenblum. He consulted Liubovitshove, but they decided that they could not bother about that, they were busy enough as it was. They settled on the plan to sell the inferior trees to start with and to see about the rest later.
I knew that Liubovitshove was behind this, she was afraid that it would be like giving me a license [podrad - R. podrjad - contract] for pleasure, for being a loafer, to use one of her favorite designations for me. Too bad.
Well, three days a week I went to the forest at an early hour and there I would spend all day figuring the price of wood. Each farmer would first pick the tree that he liked and then come to me to sell it to him. Using a heavy hammer I would mark the tree with the Rozenblum brand and the farmer would fell the tree. Because of that the farmers would continuously drag me from one end of the forest to the other . One would bring me to the east, the next to the west side, it never stopped.
It was very hot that year and you got very thirsty, but there was no water. At first I brought along a small barrel with water, but that soon became too warm to drink. I then had them dig a deep hole to put the barrel in, but that didn't help either.
Then I had an extraordinary idea. I would have to be in the forest during winter and it would be virtually impossible to drive home in the evening because of the freezing cold, wolves and darkness. Actually the best solution would be to build a tavern with a good well. That would take care of all my problems, the cold, hunger and thirst. The forest would provide building material and the farmers would do the work. They could be paid in trees instead of in money. It was not going to cost a penny except for the bricks and tiles needed for the stoves.
I planned to lease the tavern to a Jew and to have my office there. The first year I would not charge him for the lease, thus ensuring that he would take quite good care of me. He would have the samovar ready for me, cook my meals and I would live the good life in spite of the Lady [oyf tsupukenish >Hark. tsupukenes].
Rozenblum liked my plan and gave his consent. And what could he have had against it? It was absolutely necessary during winter. I went to work and in about three months time I was able to show a beauty of tavern: a big house with two rooms and a small office for me, a stable and a deep well. They had struck good water.
When all was ready Rozenblum and the Lady came to visit and inspect the tavern. They liked it, even thanked me. But I looked the Lady in the eye and read there that she begrudged me my pleasure.
I found out that the Lady had started speaking about me to Rozenblum on the way back. She maintained that I was not to be trusted with any business. I would only throw away money and that's all there was to it.
"He will build himself a tavern, that's all he is capable of", she grumbled.
I told Rozenblum once again that there was big business to be had, good money to be made.
But the Lady didn't let him. I received orders to sell the trees cheaply, so they would be all sold within a year and I lost heart. During the long nights I stayed in the forest with my horse and wagon. I had a complete tea set with me. I had leased the tavern to a Jew, the first year for free.
I sold wood all winter, but so cheaply that everybody made fun of me. Early in the morning a few hundred carts would arrive with farmers and gentry folk on them. Those three days in the forest I would work hard, from dark to dark. It was quite a bad winter, strong frost, heavy snow. The customers would drag me along all the time through the forest during snow storms, blizzards [zaverukhes - Hark. zavierukhe, -s].
I came back to my office completely exhausted, but the samovar was ready and that got me back up. I would drink one glass after the other, then read something and think about my affairs.
For the forest I needed a new outfit, a short fur-coat, a good one of warm fur, boots and felt boots and high overshoes, a good warm hat, gloves - all things you can't do without in a forest. I earned sixty rubles a month.
But when I came home from the forest on a Thursday night and entered the farm dressed in my new forest-dress to see Rozenblum the Lady almost exploded at the sight of me.
"He will be a pauper if he lives like that!" she hissed snake-like.
And I am afraid that she may have been partially right.
But on those bright winter nights, when the road was good for sledding, the moon above, I had a good time on my little sleigh riding towards Sokolke, about ten versts away. I had two friends there, Polyakevitsh and Borekh-Leyb's son. I would travel those ten versts within half an hour, it was more flying than driving. Once I turned over with my sleigh, but nothing bad happened, back on the sleigh and off again, onwards.
In Sokolke I used to stay for an hour or two and at nine o' clock I would be back in my office already where the samovar would be waiting for me. In this way I came through the winter.
I sold almost all of the forest, but at a very low price. I made eighty to ninety rubles a day. Rozenblum made several thousand rubles of easy money from the forest and after Peysekh I told him I wasn't interested in the job anymore.
The forest had been thinned out. I found a dealer who offered me five hundred rubles for the few thinly spread trees and hundred and fifty rubles for the tavern.
That man also made a thousand rubles from the deal. I had not been wrong, for when Rozenblum met another person afterwards, a dealer in wood who knew his business, this man told him that the forest could have been sold for up to fifty thousand rubles. By that time Rozenblum was sorry for not having followed my advice.
Lord Dobrozhinski's creditors had started claiming money from him through the courts. They wanted to take the farm Makarovitsi away from Rozenblum and bring it under the hammer.
Rozenblum took three lawyers from Grodno for the trial, one of them Yisroel-Khaim Friedberg, the former scribe of Kamenits, well known to the reader of my first volume1. The trial went all the way to the Senate and that cost Rozenblum thousands and thousands. It dragged on for three years, but Rozenblum did win in the end.
During that period I got to know the lawyers who worked for Rozenblum. Since Rozenblum didn't have time, I used to visit them. In those days I still dressed in long clothes, and one day I visited the lawyer Knarizovski while he was entertaining the 'intelligentsia' of Grodno. He looked me over in a rather rude way. I felt insulted of course and soon went home. I told Rozenblum that I had not had a chance to tell Knarizovski everything about his case and that I would not visit there anymore.
"He acted haughty and didn't receive me well."
Rozenblum wrote a letter about it to him. The lawyer apologized and added a word of advice, saying that a long caftan did not make too good an impression on guests.
Rozenblum admitted that the lawyer was right and whether I wanted it or not (actually, I was quite willing), I had to start dressing short, German style, with the trousers over the boots. While walking dressed à la German along a street in Grodno I met someone from Kamenits, a good friend of my grandfather's. He asks me how I was doing and I ask him, as everyone would, to give my cordial greetings to my father, grandfather and the rest of the family.
Some weeks later I got a letter from my parents. I had already gone to bed and read my father's letter there. This is almost literally what he wrote:
Sholem Beker has delivered your greetings to me in Kamenits. I asked him how my son was doing and how he looked. Says he, "Well! He walks with his trousers over his boots." I was really utterly shattered, it was like a bullet had struck me in the heart and I was very upset. During my whole life a catastrophe bigger than that has never hit me, I could not eat for three days from sorrow. When I came home in Paseki we happened to have a guest, your sister-in-law Hadase, the Rov's daughter-in-law. They noticed that I was very down-hearted so I had to tell them about Sholem Beker's message and then the crying started. Both your mother and Hadase cried for a long, long time.
Let me tell you, my son, I would have liked it better to have had word that you were going around in a torn caftan than to hear that you wear your trousers over your boots. Let me put it to you in few words: Either you write me that you have put your trousers in your boots like your father and our ancestors or I will no longer be
This letter agitated me, it shook me up, laying there in my bed.
That letter was really an example of fanaticism, of being unenlightened, considering it was written during the heydays of Haskole, to me, a person who was wild about enlightenment.
[far yener tsayt haskole un tsusamen dermit oykh far mayn yenem narishn seykhl
iz dos geven a brief fun same "fanatizm un finsternish"...]
He is my father, so what, big thing, I reasoned in my outrage. What is so special about him? He is not a learned man, my Hebrew is better than his, I can't expect an inheritance from him. And he renounces his fatherhood?
I decided that I would write him a letter not sparing his feelings, in which I would tell him openly that I would not put my trousers in my boots and that I had shed my long clothes for the short style already and that there was nothing he could do about it. That I would do.
My mother, on the other hand, wrote me a letter as a true Jewess.
Her letter wasn't a letter but a long scroll with lamentations and strong remonstrations:
Are you wearing long pants now? Neither your father nor your grandfather wear long pants. No honest Jew wears long pants. I beg you, my dear and beloved son, don't wear long pants any more.
And so she kept long-pantsing me until my head started reeling.
I never wrote that letter to my father. I assured myself that I wouldn't have anything to do with him anymore. If he wanted to be an ex-father, I would be an ex-son.
A few months went by. In time I started feeling uncomfortable about it. I remembered my father's anguish. After all, he was a sweet man, a kind person and a father with a good heart. Was he to blame that he could not stand seeing people wearing short clothes? Wasn't he a pious and devote Jew, someone belonging to another generation? He was bound to be convinced that his son was doomed to eternal torture in hell for wearing short garments. He knew that I was an 'enlightened' person. The mere fact that I wrote such highly convoluted letters in Hebrew proved to him beyond doubt that I was a lost case. [er halt dokh mit an emes, az ikh bin gekhapt in der mayse, vorem ikh shrayb dokh shoyn azoyne hebreische brief mit hoykhe melitse].
As long as I still wore the long dress, he somehow could see that as a sign that I still was committed to Judaism. But since I had discarded this symbol he feared the worst for me, the very worst. What would become of me?
What to do in this predicament?
I refused to write him that I had put my trousers in my boots. Why would I lie about it? I had become fed up with long clothes long ago, I felt ashamed in them.
After long deliberation I decided that I would write him that he should not be worried about me, that he shouldn't eat his heart out because I wasn't the type of person to follow someone else's ideas blindly and that I was not going to become an apostate, since I was a faithful Jew etc. etc.
I started writing and got into all kind of side tracks: conviction, religion, philosophy, reflection, the whole caboodle. I 'knocked out' eight sheets of paper and it took me fully two months to complete the letter. I added a kind of introduction to the letter, with a quote from 'rabeynu Sadye goen2, saying:
"What is the difference between a person who has faith [das] but no conviction [daas] and a man who has both conviction and faith?
The first may be illustrated thus: Imagine a blind man holding on to another blind man and this second one holding on to a third and so on.
Those blind people walk a whole 'tkhus-shabes'3, all holding on to each other; but a man with good eyesight is leading them. The blind people know that the first one, who can see, will bring them in the city where they want to go. But the very last blind man doesn't trust his feet. He is constantly afraid to trip over a the root of a tree or a stone on the road.
The second case, of the man with both faith an conviction, can be illustrated with a blind man who doesn't only directly hold onto the seeing person, but also carries a stick. He feels sure that he will arrive at his destination in the city and that he won't stumble.
In this way I 'proved' to my father that I wasn't afraid to stumble. That my being enlightened helped me along, didn't spoil me.
Sending off the letter I didn't realise that my labors had been in vain. My father, seeing such a heap of paper with reflections and "philosophy", would be too afraid to read it. And even if he would read it he would not think it interesting. And indeed, what happened was that he burned the letter.
Ever since he would only write a simple 'hello, how are you'4 note, about his and everyone's state of health.
1See: Vol I, Chapt. II, p.80, 81: His initials are given: I. H. P. Vol. I, Chapt. XV, p. 222-5: Here the scribe is referred to as 'Tverski'.
2Saadiah ibn Yusuf al-Fayyum = Saadiah (ben Yosef) Gaon (942-882). See footnote Chapt. VIII.
3tkhus-shabes: Shabes limit; a distance of 2000 ells, [Engl. ell, 45 inches; Dutch el: 69 cm.], which observant Jews are not permitted to exceed when walking out of town.
4text :a sholem-yedidi-brivele > yedidi - my friend, at the beginning of a letter.
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