We inhabited my grandfather's house, my mother's father, MEIR YOSEL ZALEBSKY. It was a characteristic town house, wood made, without painting. Had 5 rooms, a cook, a bathroom in the patio, a small deposit, and in the angle of the roof, a part was open and covered with branches, place that we could use for Sucot (cabins feast). The house had a basement, and under the tiles roof was an attic. In the patio was a log deposit to feed two ovens, one in the center of the house to heat all rooms, and that of the kitchen used to bake and cook. Behind the deposit was a vegetables orchard. I liked to help to plant radishes and onions, beets and cucumbers, all for home consumption. In last part of orchard we sowed potatoes. Also were fruit-bearing trees; cherry trees, plums, and grew floral plants next to the fence that surrounded the orchard.
In the bathroom was a big barrel that contained water, and the water provider MICHEL tossed two pails of water from the river. There was a stairway, which we climbed to go to the attic, where we hung clothes to dry them off. In another corner, were objects out of use. I liked to climb to the attic and poke among accumulated things; I was happy when I found a treasure of books in Yiddish, most of them were theater plays; I read them with enthusiasm while seated next to the small window, laughing while reading comedies or spilling tears on tragedies or dramas. Why were this books in the attic? For granted, for lack of space in the house, there was not where to place a closet for books. In the basement, there were barrels with pressed cabbage, cucumbers in brine, and flasks with marmalades of currants and plums.
In the big kitchen oven we baked braided bread for Saturday, and we cooked soup. As was common in this class of houses, there was a grave under the oven, where we stored potatoes. Was for me the most ingrate task to go down the grave with a candle in hand, and fill a basket with potatoes, while from surroundings I listened creaking of crickets.
As I said at the beginning, the house was my grandfather's property. He and grandmother occupied a room. My uncle LEIZER, mom's brother returned from Argentina to his paternal house because of a serious illness, and died when 28 year-old. He was not in good relation with his stepmother that was very greedy. She hid eggs and a bottle of oil under the bed.
Grandfather's daughter, CHAIA, at the beginning of years ' 20 escaped with her husband DAVID GOLDBERG to Leningrad, after the defeat of Bolsheviks in their fight against Poland. Poles put into jail her husband for communist activist's crime done when our town was under Bolsheviks rule. He was condemned to death, and taken prisoner to Brest jail. Then grandfather sold the cow, and with money obtained he could bribe the jailers. DAVID was liberated this way, and crossed the frontier toward Soviet Union with his wife .
Grandfather's older son , DAVID, emigrated to US, and there was a dynamic activist of Caps Makers Union in Philadelphia. Grandfather's second son, MOISHE, died tragically in a work accident, in the flour mill of our town. Grandfather was left with his young daughter VICHNE, who is my mother.
My grandfather was an old man. He had a partially gray beard , and good smiling eyes. His occupation was to sew caps that then sold them in his small market trade. People nicknamed him "skins vendor of Shereshev", because he came from that town beside Pruzhany. He died from an hearth attack, in front of my eyes. Grandfather had returned home at dusk very tired, sat down on the seat beside the big oven, and told with satisfaction to his family that I went to his business in the market, and requested him five coins to buy chocolates, but as in that moment he didn't have it, I should return in another opportunity.... Suddenly, while he was speaking, I listened a strong snore and he fell dead.
It is obvious to say the din that this situation caused at home. They took me to the house of our neighbors, the family REZNIK, in spite that their children were sick of measles. Mom said: "anyway all boys should get this illness". After grandfather's death, his second wife returned to Brest, her native city and there worked as teacher.
I was then alone with my family in grandfather's house: VICHNE my mother, my father ELI MOTE BOKSHTEIN, me, FEIGELE, and my two siblings BERELE AND LEIZERKE. Mom inherited the house and business, but this caused us many problems. Many clients worked in local sawmill, and were formerly soldiers of the "white" army (loyal to czarist régime that fought against Bolsheviks). They used to buy everything using credit notes, and suddenly disappeared. The trade was without merchandise, and with a big nosegay of credit notes that they didn't pay. In vain, dad traveled in bicycle or in sled the town looking for debtors.
In our house worked our neighboring SHEIME KOGAN who sewed caps. While he worked he sang songs and Chasidic melodies . From then on, I like liturgical songs. I liked to sing. When I went for an hair cut to the hairdresser SAPIR, he sat me down on a plank that put on the seat, and asked me to sing him a song. Then I sang him:
In front of my window in the garden
Beautiful flowers grew
But a young boy arrived
And my flowers he took...
When I remember my love for singing, appear in my memory people that stimulated me and fortified to feel this love.
My parents had, it seems to be, economic problems, because they rented grandfather's room. First was to teacher SHAFTAN and his wife, and later to teacher BAYON, his wife and daughter. He used to sing the girl beautiful songs, that I listened and repeated.
My head, my head hurts me
My head hurts me, around it rotates an apple.!!
Near my house lived the music teacher LEIBL KAPLAN. I sat down under his window, and during hours listened arias and beautiful opera melodies that sprang from the gramophone or his violin.
Teacher ROCHEL CHAMIEL SHAPIRA played the piano. Melodies floated from her house, while I listened them with attention. Doctor ARIAN's wife taught play violin to most capable and sensitive children; she did it for free. This also attracted me. Especially, I liked to sit down in neighbor's shoemaker KOGAN's small balcony, and listen beautiful songs, guitar and mandolin melodies played by his children SHEIME, SHILIM and HERSHEL. Their sister MACHLIA, was my best friend and therefore their house was open for me, and I could listen melodies and songs of his siblings. The father, the shoemaker, also took part in song; while repairing shoes sat down in his small bank in front of his working table. Until today I remember popular song that he liked to sing
A heavy stone in my heart I will hang
And to a deep lake I will hurtle...
And firemen's wind orchestra! The songs and marches they sang when they paraded, or during rehearsals I desired to listen to them! Still is in my memory their whole repertoire: "Jewish girl, Jewish girl who died virgin", and also "sweeter than honey you are for me, CHANA BEILE of Paris"....
In Saturday's eve, din covered home. It was not a common day, it was eve of Saturday! The young girl that helped mom at home, NADIA, knew how to speak Yiddish, cleaned the house, scrubbed the floors and then extended small carpets. She helped to cook and to bake. I liked to savor and to prove all that was taken out the oven. Until today I keep the flavor of currants and cinnamon cakes. I used to cut the cakes, and eat it's central part that was most tasteful. I didn't have laziness in going up on the seat to take out of the closet the big bottle of home-made "vishniak" (hung), and have several sips as "law orders it"...
On Friday at dusk, we were prepared to receive Saturday, had taken a bath, and were dressed with clean and festival clothes. On white cloth were two chandeliers. Mom lights Saturday's candles and blesses them ...Two covered braided breads were on the table, the plates, forks, knives and tablespoons . We were going to eat filled fish (gefilte fish), chicken soup with noodles, chicken with carrot stew, and a dessert. We all will be happy, and I will be full with satisfaction.
On Saturday's afternoon after drinking something hot, and eat other delights, dad and mom rested lightly. We children, left to go for a walk with them, if time was good. In general we went to left area, that is to say along railroad. There, pines grew to both sides of rail roads, and we listened the voices of youths that made mischief among trees thickness. When returning to our town, we went by cereal fields whose blue flowers were dispersed among rye sowed fields. My friends used to imitate my parents that went for a walk hugged, and as I liked my parents behavior, I didn't get angry with my friends who made it as a joke, and I laughed with them.
(Of the book of Fanny Brener "The first half of my life" Ed Y. L. Peretz, Tel Aviv, 1989)