IT is twelve years since I have been there — in that little town by the river where I was born. It all comes back to me now, as I read in the newspaper: —
‘ The Germans have seized the bridge-head at Kartúshkiya-Beróza ; the Russians are retreating in good order across the marshes; the town is in flames.’
Kartúshkiya-Beróza! Sweet-sounding, time-scented name — smelling of wideextending marshes of hay, of cornfields, of apple-orchards, of cherry trees in full blossom; smelling of all the pleasant recollections of my childhood, of grandmother’s kitchen, grandmother’s freshly baked dainties, grandmother’s plumpudding — Kartúshkiya-Beróza!
I see before me a lane running between two rows of straggling cottages. I cannot remember the name of the lane; I do not know whether it has any name at all, but I remember it was broad and unpaved and shaded with wide-branching chestnuts, and entered the market-place just a few houses after my grandfather’s — Kartúshkiya-Beróza !
I can see it even now, my grandfather’s house — on the lane, to the right, as you come from the market-place — a big, hospitable frame building, big like my grandfather’s own heart and hospitable like grandmother’s smile. I can see it even now, with the white-pillared porch in the centre and the sharp-gabled roof pierced with little windows, and the great quadrangular garden behind it, and the tall fence surrounding the garden, and the old well in the corner of the garden with the bucket-lift rising high over the fence — Kartúshkiya-Beróza !
I can see him even now, my grandfather — bending over me, tall and sadeyed and thoughtful — lifting me up and seating me on his knees, lovingly, and listening to all my childish questions and confessions; pardoning, admonishing, remonstrating; satisfying my questioning soul with good-humored indulgence.
And my grandmother — dear little woman! I could never dissociate ner from plum-puddings and apple-dumplings and raisin-cakes and almond-cakes and crisp potato pancakes, and the smell of fish frying on the fire. Then there is my cousin Miriam, who lived in the yellow house across the lane — a freckle-faced little girl with a puckered-up nose and eyes like black cherries. I was very romantic about her.
And then there is my curse, my rival at school, my arch-enemy — Jacob, the synagogue sexton’s boy, on whom I was always warring. God knows on what battlefield he must be lying now! There is Nathan and Joseph and Berel and Solomon and Ephraim, the baker’s boy; Baruch, Gershen and Mendel, and longlegged, sandy-haired Emanuel who fell into the pond with me that time, while we were skating on the ice — Kartúshkiya-Beróza!
I can see myself even now in the lane on a summer’s day, cap in hand, chasing after dragon-flies. Suddenly, nearby, sounds the noise of drums and bugles — I know what that means! Breathlessly I dash up the lane. It is the regiment quartered in the barracks at the end of the town, in its annual parade on the highway — how I should like to be one of those gray-coated heroes! I watch them eager-eyed, and run after them until they reach the Gentile quarter. — Kartúshkiya-Beróza !
I am in the market-place at a fair. It is a heaving mass of carts and horses and oxen; the oxen are lowing, the horses neighing, the peasants cursing in a dozen different dialects. I am in grandfather’s store on the lower end of the market-place, right opposite the public well: the store is full of peasants and peasant women bargaining at the top of their voices. The men are clad in rough sheepskin coats and fur caps, their women are gay in bright-colored cottons, with red kerchiefs round their heads. My grandfather stands behind the counter measuring out rope to some peasants; grandmother is cutting a strip of linen for a peasant woman, chaffering with another one at the same time about the price of a pair of sandals — and I am sitting there, behind the counter, on a sack of flour, playing with my black-eyed little cousin — Kartúshkiya-Beróza . . .
It comes back to me suddenly that I am sitting here with a newspaper in my hand, reading: —
‘The Germans have seized the bridge-head at Kartúshkiya-Beróza; the Russians are retreating in good order across the marshes ; the town is in flames!’