My legs were bare when we visited Bubby on Sunday, which did not sit well with her. And so during my visit today she leaned over and took a look under the table to see if I’d come to my senses. I had. I was wearing leggings and socks.
Which led to the following story:
When Sara was about two and a half, there was a breakout of ‘scarletina’ — scarlet fever? Smallpox? Some sort of disease amongst the kids in her day care. By law, the whole group of kids were removed from the school and sent for a few days to stay in a kolhoz several kilometres away.
It was a beautiful winter morning when Buby set out to visit her. She described the sun shining on the snow and the wonderful air. On the way back, however, there began what Bubby called a ‘brun’– essentially, a snow storm– but a bad one. In Poland apparently there was the occasional frost or snowfall, but in Russia you got storms where you couldn’t see your own feet. She wasn’t wearing any stockings, just ‘valenkes’ (sp?) which are some kind of high boots made of wool, as I understand it, with rags tucked inside for extra warmth. Pretty soon, Bubby realized that she was not on the right road. She had no idea where she was, but she kept walking. According to Russian wisdom, never sit down if you’re lost outside in a snowstorm. Just keep moving no matter what it takes because if you sit down you’ll want to sleep, and if you sleep, you’ll die.
How many times has Bubby come to the brink of death? She wandered all night long, beating herself with her arms for warmth. Finally, she saw a small light and headed towards it. It turned out to be a man who was also lost in the snow but who was travelling with a horse and wagon and was somehow able to build a fire to keep warm. She stayed with him until the storm subsided and then he drove her back home. She had wandered 20 kilometres out of her way.
She said the skin on her thighs was completely stiff. I’m surprised she had any toes left.
All of this activity, by the way, was carried out on 200 grams of bread, which was her daily allotment. Sara also got 200 grams of bread a day. Hunger, Bubby told me, was the worst part of their struggles. Zaidy was able to help somehow because of opportunities he came across while travelling from kolhoz to kolhoz as part of his work.
Bubby also told me that when she was young she’d walk barefoot– not out of necessity, as she had shoes, but out of good old stubborn teenagerness– in the snow to fill up buckets of water from the local pump. She pointed to the building across the street from her balcony to demonstrate the distance she had to travel to get water. It was not a good idea, she told me. Save your health.