The Desire of Dispossession
We have been wandering around and exploring the farm for about an hour now. My two sisters and John and Roy have spread out a bit. The muddy brown Dnestr spread out languidly below seems hardly to move, although my frequently folded map tells me it spills into the Black Sea about three hundred km’s away. Gabriel is busy ridding his Kombi of the swarm of midgets which welcomed us vociferously as the vehicle bumped to halt on the farm.
I feel the late summer sun on my back as I ponder the black earth of the Ukraine where my father and grandfather grew vegetables, grain and vines before World War II. It was Poland then, but Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt changed all that when they cut a deal in October 1945 at Yalta. Here was the house – all that remains is the cellar where my father kept his vegetables cool before taking them to his loyal Jewish merchant in Jazwowiez, a nearby village. The stone granary still stands, as does the piggery, although the local villagers seem to have removed the roof in their search for building material.
I glance up and notice a stooped old man and his dog crossing the farm some distance away. He sees me ambling over and changes direction my way.
‘Dzien dobri,’ I greet him, noticing his piercing blue eyes, gold-capped front tooth, unshaven grey stubble, and working boots.
He responds warmly, asking about my interest here. ‘My father and grandfather lived here many years ago,’ I begin in Polish.
‘Ah Glazewski …’ his eyes light up. ‘How wonderful … I remember your father …’
‘No, grandfather,’ I correct him.
‘My parents worked for him…’ he continues, his voice energetically delving into the long distant past ‘..they paid them two zloty a day, and me one zloty as I was only twelve years old then.’
My two sisters are gathering bunches of flowers which pop out of the green field here and there. I beckon them to come over. He immediately takes a shine to Marysia telling her how beautiful she is. They chat away in broken Polish about what was where on the farm, my father and grandfather.
‘Yes,’ he says, ‘when the Russians came they wanted to kill your grandfather. But my parents and the other workers said No, let him be. He is a good man. They flattened the house however, as a symbol of capitalism. This was done to all the maionteks in the entire district.’ Not unlike what is happening in Zimbabwe today, I realize, where the white farmers’ houses are being razed to the ground and occupied by locals.
‘Why don’t you come back…’ his eyes glint mischievously at me, ‘…and farm?. It was much better in those days before the communists took over’. I imagine re-building the house, sitting on the veranda after a long day in the fields, drinking hot broth, watching the waters of the Dnestr gliding slowly by. Listening to the workers shrilly chatting in the sunset on their way home to the adjoining village.
I come back from my reverie. ‘Yes my son is now in Kiev,’ he is saying to my sister Wanda.’ ‘Life is difficult there, but not as hard as here. He can find some jobs.’ But I sense he has lost touch with his son who has disappeared into the industrial heartland.
I feel a longing in him as he sets off down the hill, stick in hand, idly swishing at the ankle high grass. Or is it in me? A desire for something that has been lost in the annals of the class struggles of history. His brown scrawny short-haired dog loyally bounds along a short distance away.