I thought you might be interested in the bizarre 6 weeks I have been having...this episode in particular.
Make of it what you will....but your comments would be deeply appreciated as I am not quite sure whether I have returned to reality.
This is an excerpt from the book...in the form a Literary Agent might see it.
I have started a new book that is already written in my head and the first three chapters on paper...I started this book on Saturday 14th September...yes just 5 days ago. One of the symptoms of Parkinson's; is delusion or fantasy thinking one has special powers.
If so and this book has any worth at all then I had better get it all written down before the symptom goes away. Only you will be able to tell me, so please let me know, I don't mind if I'm deluded; you can take medication for that if it becomes troublesome. What I would like is your help to get this book finished even if it needs a ghost writer to do so. My son Gavin; who by coincidence graduated from St Andrews with a Phd in Chemistry; will be helping me with the technical aspects of writing and should the need arise Ghost for me.
The prologue introduces the reader into the mindset of the author, because I am the author I don't know if this was a delusional episode ;
At first the timeline was an approximation but then three dates kept appearing in the frame...1735...1848...and 1871. 1735 was far too early and I now believe that was the founding of the Dacha.The place is on the eastern slopes of the Ural mountains of Russia. The Russian revolution destroyed much of the history of the region and place names were mutilated beyond recognition. I believe strongly that the large town was what is now known as Karpinsk. In those days it was two separate towns. The Dacha had a name that was almost like a set of instructions of how to find it.
It took me five weeks to try and work out what Andrea was trying to convey to me, language was of no use .She does not speak English or I Russian, so most of it was done by imagery and the location of what is now Karpinsk seemed more than likely to fit the bill. I'm not so sure about the church though, so if I am not deluded then I have this feeling that it may have been destroyed during the revolution.
The remainder of the prologue gives the background information to take the reader forward.
Little Mouse 'Andrea' grows up in the wilderness of the Urals of Russia 'at 15 she meets the boy of her dreams; an orphan adopted by the dacha 4 years before she was born. Her father was elected as Grebeche (wise man) and refuses to give permission for them to marry despite having no real foundation. Andrea inherits a considerable amount of money held in trust till she is 21. She would have choices to make whether to transform her life and join the wealthy elite or stay in the Dacha.
The laws and customs of both Church and dacha permitted a couple to elope and as long as they stayed together for one year they would be married in the eyes of God and therefore be able to return to the dacha without fear of retribution from anybody even if he was the father or Grabeche Within that year if the father was to find them he could by church law bring her back but in dacha law he would face almost certain banishment.he could also find them and welcome them both and recognise their marriage he does neither. It was the Russian winter that was to pass final judgement and sadly they both perish.
Andrea dies without ever knowing the reason for her fathers actions....I stumbled upon the truth once the chapters of the book were all organised in my mind.
Her father kept a terrible secret in order to protect the shame of what he had done in the vain hope that he would protect the relationship that he had with his wife .Misha was Andrea's half brother.
I had to come off a medication for anxiety called Citalopram...it helped immensely but exacerbated my sleep problems ...I had not slept well for three days.
If the story has legs and the prequel and two sequels; then I thought I would make use of the time it takes for my voice recognition software to arrive to seek out a Literary Agent so that as author I could work with the agent and my son help get the book published.
I have sought the help and advice from other agencies.
While I am awaiting responses from whomever is first to show interest, I will continue and do as much as I can to the book to tell Andrea's story.
How does one recognise what is real and what is mere delusion?
Harder still when the influence of medication might corrupt one's very thoughts till even the boundaries become obscure. Perhaps in the end deterioration of the condition will make the question become irrelevant to the one deluded.
I have been asking myself that again and again over the past few months and while I still have the faculty to be able to comprehend the possibilities and the power of movement to be able to put pen to paper to tell the story, then I feel it right and proper that I should do so; not just because the story might have merit in its own right as a work of fiction but because it might give the medical profession something to ponder when they dole out multiple prescriptions and give pause for thought on how those concoctions interact with each other over time. Producing symptom's coming benignly under the heading of Parkinson's Disease.
I'm not complaining, far from it. If it is all down to a cocktail of medicines, a link to Parkinson's and I am indeed deluded, then I have truly been blessed with the gift presenting itself in this story.
There is of course another possibility but one only you as outsiders might remotely conclude and that is; I have had regressive visions and memories of a past existence and something has triggered them and allowed them to come into my conscious mind.
Perhaps even a third alternative and one which I tend to favour simply because of the strange coincidences that occurred once the final pieces were put in place.
I believe I could have had a temporary lodger inhabiting the creative part of my brain in a desperate attempt to find some answers.
I think she could have chosen a better subject but then again it could be that only the minds of the vulnerable can act as conduits.
Now I could have done an immense amount of research on the subject matter. But settled to tell it as it was conveyed to me.
If I did a lot of research then that research might corrupt the very thought processes till the story got lost in a desperate attempt to make it credible.
Let the professors, psychiatrists and sceptics do all the research to undo or make sense of it all. All I ask is that you draw your own conclusions.
The time is 1848 or thereabouts give or take a year; chronology as in years had very little relevance. The time of the year and events that took place within, were of more importance and more recognisable as a point of reference than a calendar. I can guess that Andrea was born in 1848 so let us take that date as our starting point.
The place is somewhere on the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains of Russia...I know that is a bit vague too, but you have to understand that I do not speak Russian and Andrea could not speak English so all that she was trying to convey was done through imagery.
The place was little more than a community built over a 5 mile stretch of a river that I cannot pronounce or translate; a bit like the longest place name in Britain that starts with Llan and ends with gogogogh.
Nothing you might call a village or hamlet, more a collection of houses dotted each side of a river and collectively known as the dacha. A river not deep enough for navigation by boat along its entire course even if that course went in the right direction, or fast enough in anything but the heaviest of downpours for it to pose serious risk of flooding to those dwellings built on the flat ground just above the flood plains.
Transport was almost entirely on foot; the roads were nothing more than tracks, sometimes an oxcart might come with a pedlar looking for trade or to deliver something that had been ordered in the nearest town some 63 miles to the east.
Horses were impracticable because they were too expensive; it cost too much to feed them and besides Oxen could do much more as beasts of burden and provide a fine feast for the dacha when their time came.
Nearly every need was either fashioned or skills and services provided and bartered for within the dacha. In the event that there was a need for something of import that could only come from outside; there was a community fund, the only source of money. This fund was regularly topped up from the labours of the men folk, who for a few days a month would go to the passes higher in the mountains to labour in the mineral mines. Most of the mines were owned by wealthy aristocrats or by distant communities lucky enough to have been granted the rights. Either way or for whom, it was a way to bring in valuable income.
The dacha was lucky or not in one major respect; once, in a time long before the grandparents of any living dacha were born. A member of the Royal household was given shelter and sustenance by the dacha and as a thank you he granted rights by charter impetuity; that it be free of tax/levy and of ownership by any one individual or family.
So the dacha owned everything and nothing...Lawyers would tie themselves in knots, just unravelling the legality of the charter, moreover, unwilling to challenge the Royal Estate in a bid to do so for the benefit of a third party.
However, there was one major disadvantage that would take nearly three generations to put right. The land around the dacha was unsuitable for agriculture; the forest on the lower slopes around the dacha being mainly of pine had the affect of leeching thus neutralising the soil or making it too acidic; therefore unsuitable for growing crops. It was a catch 22 situation, in order to bring the soil back to productive capability; it would have taken a large amount of fertilizer to do so. The major source of fertilizer would have been the bi-product of livestock, in order to keep livestock you would need to produce fodder to feed them during the winter months. The dacha had not the funds to purchase the fodder nor the legality to transform suitable open meadowland outside of the dacha. The only solution was to transform forest into pasture one piece at a time, the only place that could be done was where traditionally woodsmen of the dacha worked and built their dwellings. They and the generations to follow also became farmers and herds.
When that Royal personage wrote the charter on his handkerchief and placed his seal upon it, he knew exactly what he was giving away, in truth very little, because the Charter would only exist as long as the dacha existed and the very existence of the dacha was hampered by the charter. So the greatest threat to the community was the limitations for growth imposed by the very charter that guaranteed its autonomy....it laid down no specific bounds other than those limited by the extent of the dacha at the time or restricted by the laws of the dacha at the time. Any attempt to change the laws of the dacha to accommodate the Charter would be a breach of their faith and lead the dacha open to challenge by the laws of the realm governing property.
Nevertheless, with time, the hard labours of the dacha and the Lord's providence; within 80 years, enough land had been made fertile to produce; crops for grain and vegetables , fodder and grazing for livestock and jute and meadow cotton for making linen.
Religion played a major part in the daily lives of the dacha but in a practical way rather than any pious reverence. There was no church or common place of worship in the dacha, yet in simple terms; when more than one family were gathered together, prayers and hymns would emanate from the gathering. On feast days and holy days ordained in Eastern Orthodoxy and weather permitting, the dacha would congregate under the stars in celebration and be at one with god.
The laws of the dacha and the Eastern Orthodox beliefs were simple and based roughly on the last 6 of the ten commandments with one or two refinements. Adherence to them was the glue that bonded the dacha together. Failure to do so would lead to the punishment of ostracism or banishment. Either punishment might lead to the perpetrators demise in the hostile environment that was the Urals at the time. The laws were passed down verbally from generation to generation; nearly all of the dacha were illiterate.
Infant mortality and old age helped keep the balance but generally speaking once children reached their middle teens the girls were encouraged to take up the matchmaker's options or enter into an arranged marriage directed by their parents. The boys on the other hand were encouraged to find their fame and fortune in the wider world and were sent away with a small sum of money. Those lucky enough to stay within the dacha were encouraged to seek out a mate from outside.
It was one of the unspeakable practicalities of dacha law ; when The Dacha was founded around 1735 there were only four families and in that time of war and strife it would not be unheard of for incestuous relationships to produce offspring with all the problems associated with it.
A set of Dacha Laws was established to try and prevent this from happening.
I was born in the late spring of 1848. Late spring usually began around the middle of May and lasted till the end of June depending on how soon the soil heated up after the last of the melt water had gone. Most births occurred and were planned for around this time; as it would give a better chance of survival for both mother and child. The worst possible time for a child to be born was in the dead of winter; it was the harsh winters that were responsible for the high mortality rate among both young and old.
My mother Arianna was widowed at an early age and met my father Sergey at a time usually considered to be passed the prime for childbearing. Mama never showed any signs of remorse even if it might seem proper to do so, well at least not that we could observe. Above all she never spoke of her life before meeting Dada; whether this was so as not to offend Dada or whether she silently was still mourning for a lost love, whatever, she carried it to her grave.
The Royal charter was the very instrument that brought them together. To ensure that the conditions laid down by the charter were met; a census was taken every year, since no one in the dacha could read or write; a deputy or scribe was sent by the district authority to take the census.
Dada was one such scribe, he came one year with a deputy to take the census; Mama as a widow lived alone, the dacha in general and the matchmakers in particular; vigorously encouraged her to resolve the situation of her loneliness. He did not stay with her that year, but the seeds were sown; for he came alone the following year and stayed with Mama from then on, never to be anything other than a member of the dacha and loving husband. Their marriage was ratified later in the year on their first Pilgrimage together.
The story of the Royal Charter was passed down through the generations and was repeated regularly to the children who never tired of listening to it, especially when told by Grabeche ; the oldest and wisest member of the dacha. He would dramatise every sentence and watch their faces light up in awe; describing the event in such detail it was if it happened yesterday and you were party to it. I would often dream myself to sleep thinking that one day a great Prince would arrive at the dacha and carry me away to his palace, then I got older and thought better of it when the true consequences of the Charter became clear to me. Just like a pet dog or cat, they held an immediate attraction which soon wore off once the practicalities of living in the Urals and especially out here in the dacha set in.
Don't misunderstand me, I am as loving of God's creatures as anyone and made a fuss of the only two dogs kept anywhere near the dacha; the working dogs on the homesteading.
It was decided long ago that keeping dogs and cats would prove too much of a risk to both the welfare of the animals and to the people of the dacha. Rabies was an ever present threat to all, once contracted the person or animal would certainly die.
This Prince, whoever he was, arrived by horse to the dacha one evening in late summer. With him were three squires; the Prince rode a magnificent white stallion and he wore clothes of the finest material; it's like never seen before by anyone of the dacha. Even the squires wore fine clothes. Two of the squires had a burden tied securely to his mount; on one was a fine 10 pointed stag, on the other a much younger hind. Both dead and with a single fatal wound that showed the slayer was a good marksman. The third burdened by the weaponry that carried out the deed.
The Prince asked politely if there was a hostelry nearby where they could shelter for the night and perhaps a smith who could have a look at a hoof of one of the squires mounts.
It took several minutes before a reply came; as each of the growing throng looked quizzically at each other to find the right answer. The first thought of all who had gathered was, apart from the obvious that the visitors were totally out of place in the dacha, but the shear ignorance not knowing the nature of the Urals or whereabouts they were within it.
The Grabeche, took it upon himself in the most diplomatic way, to point out the error of their ways, adding that as good Christians they were duty bound to offer what hospitality they could. There was no deference at all to the status of the Prince as he did not formerly introduce himself. Moreover it was doubtful if the fop even noticed the slight, as he deftly turned his mount to cut loose the hind that fell rather ungraciously to the ground. 'Kindly prepare this venison for our evening repast' he said , adding 'I would hate to deprive you of what meagre rations you have'. Once again the Grabeche had to use all of his diplomacy to convey that his personage and that of his squires would suffer greatly if the hind was not hung to cure for a few days and that the dacha had ample fresh cured venison to give him a feast worthy of his rank, whatever it was. It was followed by the information that the nearest farrier was a hard days ride to the north, however, there was a dacha fully versed in animal husbandry and a smith who could fashion shoes but lacked the skills of a farrier, between them they might offer assistance.
As it turned out; the horse only needed a small stone be removed from a hoof and a ligament dressing applied to the area that was under stress as the horse favoured it's gait to avoid discomfort. Next day it was as right as rain.
The follies of this fop continued throughout their meal, culminating in the request for wine to accompany it. The Grabeche was sorely tempted at this point to go to the nearest byre and encourage a Billy goat to deliver up a fresh batch; thinking wisely, settled to inform the Prince that the Dacha were all temperate but they did have slightly fermented whey mixed with honey that would refresh them and keep them sober for their onward journey. The Prince acquiesced to all of the suggestions made by the Grabeche with the same remark ,'quite right, quit right'.
The next morning; after a hearty breakfast, the Royal Party prepared to leave. The Grabeche was summoned and asked to convey gratitude to all the dacha for the hospitality that they provided and that as a reward for their kindness he granted them Royal charter. The Grabeche accepted what he immediately recognised as a handkerchief with words on it and a wax seal. With a flourish of a bow while mounted on his stallion, the Prince and his squires rode away only to appear moments later as the realisation swept over them that they had headed in the same direction that brought them to the dacha the day before, repeating the bow the Prince and his squires rode away to god knows where and into the history of the dacha.
Because none of the dacha could read, they were not sure what had been presented to them in this Charter. The Grabeche and another dacha, headed off to the district authority to authenticate and ratify the charter but, moreover, find out exactly what it was all about.
It was a kindly officer of the authority who explained both the virtues and pitfalls of the charter and expressed the opinion that it might have been better had one of them used it to blow his nose on and drop it in the nearest gutter rather than bring it to the attention of the authorities who were now duty bound to act on it in accordance with the law.
I owe my existence to that handkerchief so I am awfully glad the advice was neither taken nor acted upon. The Charter was carefully prepared so as to preserve the delicate nature of the material on which it was written, then put away in the archives ready for the annual inspection by a representative of the dacha; as was the custom for all Charters.
I find it easier to describe Mama than Dada, her rounded face seemed to light an entire room when her broad smile beamed back at you. Her dark almost jet black locks flowed freely around her neck and shoulders, though you would seldom see it that way unless you were up early enough to catch her in the act of combing it. Most of the time it was platted and pinned in coils to her head. Her dark brown eyes with large pupils were perhaps inherited from her ancestors from more southern climes but those dark pools always seemed to have a glint or sparkle of mischief about them yet working in tandem with her smile there was always that sense of warmth and comfort in her presence. I inherited from her those dark brown pools and the wicked glint in them that was often the tell tale sign that I had been or was about to create mischief.
I would love to have seen her in her younger years, just to flatter her in a way that she justly deserved; rather than see her as I remember, where the ravages of time and perhaps an unhealthy diet had contributed to the roundness of her form, mind you most of the women of the dacha as they approached middle age gradually took on a slightly rotund appearance. Maybe it was just the harsh hand to mouth existence, the extremes of climate and the never ending toil in order to survive that took its toll. So once again the good Lord had played his part in helping those in the dacha obsessed with the vain, keep his laws.
Try as I might, whenever I visualise Dada, all I see is his form and a featureless face; as if it was always in silhouette.
I am not sure why, after all he was my father and I have fond memories of our time together. In fact my very first memory was of running to greet him on his return from his annual Pilgrimage.
I must have been about four at the time, I still had my milk teeth. I remember tripping over before Dada had chance to scoop me up in his arms. The fall must have been hard enough to embed both of my front milk teeth into my lip which was obviously torn and bleeding, with blood also coming from the vacant gum that up until a moment ago held the teeth. It happened so quickly the pain had yet to start when Dada swiftly gathered me up, deftly removed the now useless teeth protruding from my bottom lip and in a flash tore the cuff from his shirt to help stop the bleeding. I was now encompassed by a flood of mixed emotions; I was euphoric about dada's return, in shock from the accident and the pain was just starting till eventually it took over. I began to cry, yet I was happy enough to remain in the security and warmth of Dada's embrace and he was more than happy for me to be there. His embrace tightened slightly while he gently brushed the hair from my face preventing it from sticking and matting to the blood that was drying on my chin and lower cheek, allowing him in the process to kiss the now moist bare parts of my cheek and forehead.
At that moment Mama arrived, she had watched the scene take place from the front porch and I'm sure she must have ran as quickly as she could to aid and comfort me; emphasising the speed at which it all happened. She wanted so much to cradle me as her maternal instinct dictated yet was fearful that she might disturb the ad hock dressing and start the wound bleeding again, she settled for the compromise of stroking my head all the way down my light brown locks that stopped where the neckline met the shoulder. Then to place her arm around both Dada and I as we went into the house where they could both nurse and see the extent of the damage. Apart from the lasting memory I was left with a tiny scar barely visible just below my bottom lip.
When I said Dada's Pilgrimage, it was not strictly true; as his trip served many purposes other than to reassert and renew his faith as was the general custom.
He was a recognised scribe trusted by the district authority to ensure there were no infringements within the dacha of the laws of the realm. I suppose you might say he was a bit like a local sheriff or Justice of the peace but without powers of arrest, only to report.
He also reported on the births, deaths and marriages within the dacha and that of the nearest communities within 2 days walk of the dacha, he would also take the annual census for the authority. It corroborated the information of the former but also detailed the status of each member of the dacha, so in effect he was still employed by the district authority and as such received an annual salary.
He was also the dacha's representative when it came to reviewing the Royal Charter, he would be presented with the glass and wooden case that mounted the handkerchief on which the Charter was written and acknowledge that he had done so by signing the authorities register in accordance with the legislation dictated by laws of Charters and the wishes outlined by the Charter. Quite a mouthful and quite a ritual just to view a handkerchief that should have been used and tossed in the gutter.
You might think that there would be a great opportunity for him to be corrupted by that kind of power. That might have been the case had the Charter proved more valuable and Dada been a lesser or weaker man.
On the contrary; like all members of the dacha, any money he received in salary, went straight into the dachas account held by the district authority that also doubled as a bank.
He was also paid a stipend by the Church for providing them with the same information about births, marriages and deaths. Dada would put all but one third into the account; that third he gave as alms to the Church.
This would represent the dacha's yield; so no one on Pilgrimage from the dacha would feel ashamed that they were penniless.
There was also one added bonus as an employee of the district, when he or any other member of the dacha arrived in the town on Pilgrimage, they were given hospitality and provided with accommodation for their stay. It happened to be the very quarters that Dada occupied before he came to the dacha and was now kept vacant for just such visits.
The fund did have its outgoings as well as funds paid into it, the bulk of any outgoings went on supplies or tools for the dacha that they could not make for themselves, however the more regular expenditure of the dacha was to pay for the costs of sending two of the younger dacha to school and then to university. This was something that was only possible around 1840 for three reasons; one, the school was not built before then, two the children would need to be taught the basics before being accepted as suitable candidates and lastly the dacha did not have enough funds saved to send them to the University in Moscow many miles to the west.
Which harkens me back to that damned Charter, without it's burden we could have remained as the Philistines and backwoodsmen that the noble Prince took us for.
Now we had the prospect of two additional literate and worldly dachas to welcome home; just like the biblical prodigal son.
Just in case God or they decided that was not their future, Grabeche scolded Dada on more than one occasion for not teaching what he knew to other dachas. Dada's reply that he was not worthy or capable of teaching others, might have fooled any other man. Grabeche retorted harshly and with few words, 'you speak, they learn ,that has always been the way'.
For Dada to have continued his objections with excuses about the technicalities of writing would have been futile and only angered Grabeche more.
Grabeche was a title bestowed on an elder unanimously selected by the dacha and it was for life, whatever name the holder went by before, he would always be known from that moment as Grabeche, on his death and in future reference to him he would be known as Grabeche followed by his surname. The Grabeche who so scolded Dada, but so loved and respected by the dacha, was Grabeche Sorodov. The Grabeche had no powers within the dacha and had only one voice among the dacha, however well he might be loved and respected. He was the voice of the dacha when visitors came calling or on official visits to the district other than those made by Dada.
So the selection of suitable candidates to send away was a lengthy process and of necessity at the time only open to male dachas. Not anything laid down by the dacha but the closed minds of the schools and universities of the time.
Perhaps Dada being so worldly, recognised the limits of a future that he so wanted for me; would be dashed simply by the fact that I was a girl in such a male dominated world. Perhaps too, it would hurt so much to teach others; what was futile to teach me, that he would rather suffer the Grabeche's rebuke than ever show that kind of favouritism over me. He never spoke on the subject, so I never had chance to say how I felt.
The thought never crossed my mind that the reason I was given a name more readily associated with the male gender at the time; was that he had wished I were a boy.
I preferred to believe that I was named after some distant relative.
Grabeche Sorodov passed away and there was great sorrow among the dacha at his passing; with open wailing among the mourners and barely a dry eye in sight, one noticeable exception was Dada, who kept his head bowed in reverence as the coffin was laid into the earth and the first shovels of soil began covering it. The coffin itself was rather crude and flimsy; strong enough to hold his weight for the short time it took for the ceremony yet easily broken by the growing roots of his favourite variety of tree that would be his living memorial. All dacha were buried this way, what they gave in life they could also give in death. The sending or wake would celebrate his life; while his spirit ascended to take its place in heaven. All such occasions were treated as holy days so as well as feasting the whole dacha would join in singing all the hymns they knew.
Because it was the Grabeche who had died there was the added task of electing a new one; it was a procedure that was more of a formality on this occasion ; for without exception there was but only one nominee and he was duly elected. My father was now Grabeche.
Both my mother and I were sworn not to address him in private as such and must continue to call him Sergey , husband or Dada.
The First Pilgrimage
My next memory; was my first Pilgrimage at the age of six. The journey would be arduous but it was considered I was strong enough to make the journey and besides it was about time Mama had a break and the dacha had a rest from the mischief that I created.
I was not really old enough to appreciate the countryside that we went through so took very little in of its beauty, for me putting one foot in front of another for so long a journey was hard enough.
It was not until the late afternoon of the second day that we crested a hill and I was able to take in the panorama that was before me. I was sleeping when we arrived at the halfway dacha, and was still sleeping when we rose to continue the journey.
Forest gave way to farmland that swept down to a large lake that was almost like the sea of Noah. Beyond the lake was building upon building, some grander and taller than others. The grandest and tallest of all was a magnificent brilliantly white one that glistened in places where the sun reflected off the ornate gold of its turrets and crucifix. Of course I was not to know till later that was what it and they were.
Because I had slept some of the way; I though perhaps some strange event had taken place and that we had all died and were now on another journey and what I saw before me was heaven. I gave Mama a sharp pinch just to assure myself that things were real. She let out a yelp and I immediately said I was sorry and gave her hug and kisses to which she responded in only the way Mama could; 'it's alright my angel, you must be really tired', kissing me in equal measure.
Dada lifted me up high on his shoulders and I clasped my hands around his forehead. Every now and then he would give my thighs a gentle and affectionate squeeze. I knew then that I would receive no punishment for disrespecting my mother. Usually punishment meant a lecture on what I had done and then to repeat the 5th commandment 10 times. Not that being an educated man he had taught me how to count and add up, but just that with my fingers before me, that was the easiest way to know what ten was
During the lecture part, I would hold my head down in penitence with my lips drawn down so as not to appear to smile. Only my eyes peered up to gaze at the stern expression I knew lay behind the still faceless silhouette.
I had then to raise my head high and almost shout out the 5th so that all the dacha might hear me and the Good Lord too if he was so inclined to listen. But it was in our faith; as children we were innocent in his eyes, it would not be until I reached thirteen that I would have to face the wrath of God the dacha and my father in that order.
As we drew closer, the more I found the vista difficult to take in; there was something new in all directions. Nearly all of the town lay to the left of the road we were taking, stretching almost the entire length of the lakes foreshore, the great white building marking the limits to the road. To the right lay homestead after homestead till they reached forest.
Beyond the great white building were more buildings and more homesteads till the forest marked the limits. Only the road on which we were travelling seemed to go on; passing the great white building, passed the homesteads till only the gap in the forest marked progress. Every step we took closer, the faint sounds of singing grew louder, obviously hymns but every note sung perfectly yet without the recognisable tones of a female voice.
Was this the choir of angels that Grabeche Sorodov talked of; welcoming you into the kingdom of heaven?
I almost fell from Dada's shoulders as I looked forever upwards at the expanse of the great white building that now filled the vista before us. Dada put me down. I held his hand tightly as we climbed the steps to enter the biggest door I had ever seen, mind you everything seemed to be the biggest I had ever seen.
I was even more convinced that we had passed on; as the great door opened as if by itself.
Relieved when a man in dark robes wearing a funny headdress appeared and ushered us in as if we were expected.
Other people had gathered into the cavernous expanse of the interior; some dressed like ourselves and some in finer clothes, a bit like the ones imagined Grabeche Sorodov talking of when telling the story of the Charter, but perhaps not quite as grand.
I could now see where all the singing was coming from, still half expecting to see angels, yet once again relieved when I saw it was just three rows of men dressed in the same garb as the usher who welcomed us at the door. The singing stopped momentarily then began again with just a hint more gusto, something was happening somewhere in the depths but I could not quite make it out, in front of us a line began to form and we joined this line.
Moving ever steadily forward, all of the congregation were silent yet I could hear the whispers of one voice getting more audible as we approached.
Eventually I could see where or should I say whom was doing the whispering and my jaw dropped and my hands began to tremble. The man had on long white robes with the funny headdress and a white beard that almost hid the features of his face and went down to where I imagined his navel might be.
I tugged on Mama's hand and whispered as she bent down,' Is that God? ', it was obvious she knew who I was talking about but all she could do was beam that smile back at me and gesture that I should clasp my hands together like Mama and Dada . I now saw what was happening, the people in the line, each in turn were spoken to by 'God ' using the same phrase each time, then he dipped his thumb into a golden cup and made the sign of the cross on the forehead of person who stood before him.
Then it was Dada's turn and instead of going through the same ritual; he clasped both Dada's hands in his and kissed him on each cheek before repeating the ritual the others received. He did the same to Mama, then it was my turn. Of course he had to bend down in order to reach me , clasping my tiny hands in his, he kissed me on each cheek but adding a third gently on my lips, at which point his whiskers tickled my nose. I could not help but screw up in response. Dada bent down to me and said, 'Here is your Uncle Gregor'.
We moved on, and joined the main body of the congregation.
After what seemed hours; with me finding it harder to stay awake, the choir started up again; stirring me into some sort of consciousness.
Instead of following the others out through the big door, we moved instead into a corridor that went the whole length of the side of the building, and through a set of doors at the end.
The man who had kissed me was waiting on the other side ; this time his rich white robes had turned the same black as the choir and the usher. He openly hugged Dada and Mama in a warm embrace then deftly scooped me up in his arms to once again kiss me but this time firmly on the lips. Once again his whiskers had my nose twitching; and rather than the whisper, it was a hearty bellow that chortled out, 'So this is Andrea! ' , 'I think with all that nose twitching, I will call you Myshka; Little Mouse'. Both Dada and Mama laughed, however, Dada would always call me Andrea as would Mama but in moments of tenderness she would call me little angel.
Sensing it was time that I was fed and put to bed, while Dada and Uncle Gregor got down to talking dacha and church business, besides it would not do for me to christen Uncle Gregor's robes on my first visit; that would wait for another time; Mama took me from Uncle Gregor's arms but not before he gave me a parting kiss, this time I thought I would respond but not on his lips; his big nose was as near as I could get without getting tickled.
I can still hear his chortling laugh and his parting words, 'Goodnight Myshka' echoing down the corridor as we left.
I barely remember being carried by Mama to the building that housed the rooms where we would spend the next two nights, besides it was dark now and my eyelids were getting heavy.
I don't remember having anything to eat before I slept but the evidence of waking up not feeling really hungry and the dirty plates on the table showed I must have done.
I know it was early when I woke because Mama had not appeared yet, she would have had the plates cleaned and breakfast prepared.
I could see now that there were indeed two rooms, there were doors at opposite ends. It was not until Mama appeared through one of them, still wearing her night clothes that I knew which led where.
In the dacha we all lived in the one room and where we slept was behind curtains separated from each other and the rest of the single storey dwelling.
The rooms in this place that we were staying were almost as tall and as big as the whole dacha.
The ceiling was flat ,level and painted white and nothing hung from it, unlike the dacha that had to make use of every inch of available space. The walls were painted a pale blue and again void of any of the trappings of life; except for an image of a woman.
I had never seen a painting before.
The bed I slept in last night was pretty much like the one I had at home, except that the sheets were of white linen and the cover was quilted. The pillows were softer too, however , I still preferred my own bed.
Mama said, 'Oh is that you up Andrea', 'did you sleep well?', just as I had finished taking in my surroundings and stretching to rid the last vestiges of sleep. Then adding,' once I am dressed, will you help me with the dishes and make breakfast?'.
I was wondering what kind of magical powers Mama had suddenly been blessed with. We came only enough food for the journey and there certainly was none visible. Moreover, the fire in the hearth was out and definitely not big enough to cook anything on even if there were pots. Not sure that I had inherited those powers all I could do was nod.
My eyes were once again drawn to the picture on the wall and Mama caught my gaze, 'That's your Grandmother, Andrea Tiomisandrikova', looking at my puzzlement, she added, 'Yes little angel she has the same name as you!'. I gazed more intently at the picture than before seeing if I could see any semblance to Dada, I was still none the wiser even when Mama reached into the drawer of the table and brought out a looking glass. I knew what one was but there were very few in the dacha, they were basically seen as objects of vanity, everyone was beautiful in God's eyes.
It was kind of obvious that Mama thought I bore a striking resemblance , otherwise there seemed little point in handing me the looking glass. I took it from her and looked at the reflection gazing back at me. I chuckled with what I imagined I saw.
Since our meeting with Uncle Gregor, I could not get the image of me as being a little mouse out of my head and this morning, seeing my reflection I imagined it to be a mouse in caricature wearing my clothes, Mama asked, 'What's so funny?',' I could hardly say that Grandmother Tiomisandrikova looked nothing like a mouse, so had to divert the conversation, back to the picture, replying , 'why does she look so grumpy?', 'I hope I don't get old looking like that', She beamed back with one of her smiles and started to laugh. She almost came back with an explanation but thought better of it, it would take too long and we had other things to do. With that she went back into the bedroom, where I could hear Dada was rising. Mama returned shortly with a basin of water a cloth and a change of shift.
I slept in the shift I arrived in and was sworn to promise that I would do everything I could to keep my smock as clean as I could , it lay at the bottom of the bed. It was mid -summer so there was no need of other garments. Under and over clothes were kept for winter and a time when it was important to keep ones modesty.
So I washed and dressed as quickly as I could so as not to embarrass Dada or myself. It would be Mama who I would see first, but not before my attention was drawn to the window. I could hear a clip, clop, clip clop, and a trundle that sounded a bit like muffled thunder growing louder as it drew closer. I rushed to the window just as the sight and sound hit the peak of its crescendo, below and passing was a horse drawing a carriage. Its driver wore a funny hat and cloak. I had seen horses before so knew what they were but never a carriage. At first I thought it might hold some goods , just like the passing Oxcarts at home. Then the horse and carriage stopped just a little way up the road and a man got out. He was about to enter the same building that were in, he climbed two steps turned and doffed his hat to the driver then entered. The driver acknowledged in the same way but removing his funny hat entirely to reveal his balding head, before driving off.
Mama saw me at the window and beamed her smile again, knowing full well that my days here would be filled with wonder at each and every new sight and sound that I encountered.
But we had work to do, so I was passed some of the plates and asked to follow her.
I was taught from an early age that when I had chores to do they came first questions came later. So I dutifully followed her to wherever it was we were going.
We did not have to go far; down this corridor turn left then turn right and into what was the biggest Kitchen I would ever see in my life.
So big in fact that the two ladies that were already in it; passed each other on their own chores without bumping in to each other. Once again my jaw dropped, Mama took the plates from me before I could drop them and put them into a stone trough filled with warm water, I know it was warm because she asked me to wash them. At first I was wondering how I was going to manage that when I could barely see the rim of the trough let alone the plates in the water. At that moment one of the ladies brought a milking stool out from a corner where it was hiding and placed it before me in front of the sink, 'Here you are Malyshka' ,'Try this'. Mama fearing a rebuke coming from my tiny form, cause she knew I hated being called baby or little girl, thanked the lady kindly and said in no uncertain terms to me, 'You are not to distract these ladies, they have lots of work to do'. 'Yes Mama', I said dutifully, however, I was already hatching a plan. The kindly lady wore footwear that was tied, and what were the laces dragged perilously close to tripping her. Now what if I were to tie those laces together.
Thinking of the lecture I would get from Dada and having to recite Lord knows how many commandments that I had broken, I thought better of it. I simply cried out to the lady to watch her feet. Looking down she immediately acknowledged the peril she faced and began to tie her laces more securely.
When she rose up, she looked at her friend, saying 'What an adorable little angel'; in total agreement the other looked at Mama and said,' You should be proud to have such a treasure', 'I truly am', Mama replied, looking at me and catching the tell tale glint of mischief in my eye, she beamed her smile only this time it was accompanied by the quizzical expression of the eyes as if saying, 'what's going on in that little mind of yours? '.
We had our breakfast and said cheerio to Dada; he still had his work to do but he would meet up with us later here; in this building that seemed to go on forever; with corridors and turns it was like a rabbit warren. I vowed to myself to keep a tight hold of Mamas hand or I would never be seen again.
He lifted me up and gave me a kiss, not wanting to show that kind of affection to Mama in such a public place, he clasped both Mamas hands and gently kissed them.
Mama took me as best she could to see the sights of the metropolis; even she was fearful of getting lost, so kept to the places she knew.
It was hard to take in, everything was so new to me; soon I grew tired and weary and the novelty was wearing off.
There was one place I dearly loved to see closer and that was the lake, never had I seen so much water in one place. So tugging on Mama's hand I led the way.
It was easy to find because you always saw it either left or right in between the buildings; depending which way you were going. Once there, we sat down on a grassy bank.
The day was growing warm and there was a barmy breeze that wafted now and again taking away the heat. It was truly lovely, no chores to do, no lessons to be learned. Just sit back, take in the air and the scenery; what bliss.
A couple of fishermen were out in boats, drawing in their nets. Swans swam gracefully out in the middle and a flock of angry geese coming up the embankment towards us.
I have never seen Mama act so fast, faster than the time I lost my front teeth, she scooped me up and ran so fast I thought she would surely trip, but looking back I could see that the geese were catching up, 'faster Mama, faster', I shouted in fear. At that moment the geese came to an abrupt halt and we were safe. Exhausted; Mama let out an almighty sigh of relief, then after catching her breath said, 'I think I have just taken 10 years off my life'.
I was not quite sure what she meant by that but when she began chuckling with laughter I began laughing too.
When we met up again with Dada, her cheeks were still flushed by the effort.' Hello' he said , 'and what have you two been up to?, followed quickly by', 'now Anna you know you should not stay out in the sun too long!
Mama and I looked at each other and began to laugh almost to the point of hysteria. Mama knew Dada well enough to know that he hated to be out of what seemed to be a private joke, so told him what had happened. He too began laughing till the whole place seemed to echo with dacha laughter.
Later that afternoon, there seem to be to be a lot of toing and froing around the corridors that linked the Kitchen to the rest of the district authority building. You could hear the hustle bustle from our rooms. I asked Mama and Dada what was happening. I always liked to know what was going on. Half the time that was what got me into trouble. They knew the best thing to do was to tell me the truth otherwise, within moments I would be out there getting the way till an almighty crash would resound round the whole building announcing that fact that 'Andrea Tiomisandrikova' had caused another calamity.
Coming from Dada and said in the sincerest of tones; it would have to be true.
'They are arranging a feast in our honour', he said, ( which was partly true, recognising the fact that Dada had just been made Grabeche of the dacha, that just so happened to coincide with the local founders day ) 'so you must be on your best behaviour', he continued, followed by, ' we may have to leave you alone for a while outside the function hall, but we will leave you with food and drink and pop out to see you every so often'.
Now Dada was putting a lot of faith in this particular 6 year old even if she was his daughter, with an inquisitive disposition inherent in most children of that age.
But once he saw me promise and cross myself in the process he felt assured that for once I would be the little angel named so often by Mama.
A man in a funny suit came, knocked on the door and when Dada opened it; announced, ' they are ready for you Sergey'. I looked furiously at him and thought, Dada was Grabeche now, only Mama calls him Sergey. It was only when Dada slapped him on the back and said thank you, that I realised they were known to each other. Mama and Dada did not seem to mind so why should I make a fuss. We followed the man till eventually he led us to a corridor that opened into a hall through a set of double doors, another set of double doors were at the opposite end, off to the left was a narrower but longer corridor that led to the front of the building, where I could hear the approach of another horse and carriage. Just beyond that and along the wall was a chair and long table that had a wooden beaker and silver plate with some fancy food of one sort or another. The rest of the table was taken up by an enormous flask made of some kind of shiny white metal that had a tap sticking out from the bottom then row upon row of metal and glass beakers and a finally; tier upon tier of sliced yellow fruit.
In the gap between the table and the wall was a big pot that held a plant about the size of a small tree, its brother sat in the corner the other side of the double doors.
Nothing but paintings hung on the wall opposite the table and they were separated by another set of doors.
The floor was like the floor of the church but shinier and hear and there streaked black.
Mama could almost read my thoughts, 'remember now, keep your shoes on' she said before lifting me onto the chair and finally, ' don't forget we are only in there'. That was a double edged remark, meaning if I was troubled then they were not far away and if I was mischievous they would be even closer.
With that; the man in the funny suit opened the doors and shouted, 'Mr & Mrs Tiomisandrikov, Grabeche of the dacha'. Mama and Dada disappeared into the throng and the doors closed behind them. I was all alone.
I ate the funny food that was left on the plate, all except the pile of little black balls; they tasted kind of fishy to me. I screwed my face up and looked in desperation for somewhere to offload the mouthful before I choked. Remembering my promise to Dada, my eyes were drawn to the dark soil of the plant pots. Nobody would see them in there, so quickly spat out the contents, satisfied that the black balls were well and truly hidden. It still left that horrible taste in my mouth but I had eaten all the food and drunk the fruit juice in the beaker. The only thing I saw that bore any resemblance to food was that yellow stuff layered on the tiers, so I grabbed one and stuffed the whole thing in my mouth and began to chew. 'Yuk, yuk, yuk, yuk, yuk', it was even worse that the black balls, my face seemed to contort itself in all directions at the same time. It quickly followed the black balls into the plant pot, only this time not so easily disguised, so I hastily dug a hole in the soil to bury the evidence. At least whatever it was got rid of the taste of whatever it was and soon even its taste was gone.
I sat back on the chair and once again surveyed my surroundings till I got bored. My eyes seemed to be drawn towards the tap on that big flask thingummyjig, now taps usually meant when you turned them liquid came out and I was by this time getting thirsty again.
I went up to the flask and examined the tap from all angles just to assure myself that it indeed a tap. I looked around to see if anyone was watching me before turning the tap just a little, then when nothing happened just a little bit more till sploosh; a steam came gushing out. I quickly turned the tap off but now there was a tell tale puddle on the floor not a large puddle but one that would easily be noticed and knew that I would be blamed for
(justly so ), the 11th commandment was often translated by Grabeche Sorodov as ,'what the eye don't see the heart can't grieve about'. Once again I had to figure out how to get rid of the evidence.
I knew that I had one more change of shift in the morning, so manoeuvred myself into a position where I could use the bottom of my shift to mop up the spill; knowing also that my smock would cover the stain on my shift.
What I did not notice was the portly gentleman with a moustache that almost competed with Uncle Gregor's beard; who just happened to be passing at the same time.
Gazing down at me in this craziest of poses, he smiled and bowed at the same time before walking on in the direction of the exit.
Glad that he had gone, I could see if all of the spill had been mopped up, and it was.
He returned a short time later only this time wearing a cloak and a funny hat , just like the man who entered the building this morning.
I was sitting back on the chair again when he approached me, he smiled opened my hand and placed some coins in it , before doffing his hat and leaving.
Now I had seen coins before and knew also that they had no use in the dacha, so for the moment I was left with the puzzlement of why I was given them in the first place and what would I do with them now I had them. This occupied my thoughts and kept me out of any further trouble till Mama and Dada returned. Whereupon I duly presented my coins to Dada. He looked at me and the coins and said, 'Where on did they come from ?', I could not say that the fat man with the long moustache gave me them just in case the whole story came out, so I simply shrugged my shoulders. he scratched his head for a moment or two, then began a quick search to see if there were any other coins looking about, then he went back into the throng and announced grabbing everyone's attention. 'has anyone lost some roubles'. Satisfied that the true owner of the coins was unlikely to ever come forward he accepted the coins as my first contribution to the dacha's fund.
There was still one mystery to be solved before we left for home and the dacha; where did the light brown stain come from on my bottom of my shift? Mama would remain puzzled as when asked, I gave the same reply as I gave Dada the night before; I just shrugged my shoulders. Mama was even more baffled than Dada, she even checked the sheets of the bed to see if I had an accident during the night. Perhaps one day when I get older I will tell them.
Growing up and coming of age
Shortly after returning from my first Pilgrimage; like all other members of the dacha the same age. I would have to start learning all of the skills needed in order to be a good member of the dacha or for that matter a good wife.
This would take usually from the age of six till your coming of age when you were thirteen.
Of course you would have been adept at most of these skills long before then but this was cumulatively speaking. Some of the skills required you to have the body mass in order to accomplish, so these were the last ones you learned.
Mama was one of the best cooks in the dacha so she was the natural choice for me to learn how to cook and keep house.
The worst part of cooking was the preparation, especially when you had to select a chicken first before killing it ,plucking it, disembowelling it and dress it ready to put on a spit. The worst part of all was when it came to the choice, all sentimentality had to be lost if you wanted to stay alive in the dacha , so it was important that this be instilled at as early an as possible.
I remember getting my first major telling off from Mama when I was clumsy enough to drop an Ox heart onto the Kitchen floor; I half expected it to bounce right up again, but alas all it did was squoosh and quiver then empty the remaining contents of blood on Mama's nice clean floor. The scolding was regardless of the fact it was big, heavy, slippery and my little hands struggled desperately to keep hold of it. She was about to teach me my first lesson in consequences; the scolding was just to draw my attention to the fact that I had done something wrong or did not think things through. I was a quick learner though, because it took me a good few hours to get the floor back to the state it was in before the heart hit the floor.
The trouble was, that; when I received my first scalding from Mama, my heart also hit the floor and tears of hurt started to moisten my eyes. I quickly wiped them with my sleeve, seeing the action Mama beamed back at me in her usual way, saying 'that's my angel take a telling'. God was once more in his kingdom and all was right with the world.
I would continue learning many things from Mama for the rest of my life but that's what mothers are for, isn't it?
When I was about seven I was sent to the weavers dacha, to start learning the art of weaving.
Forgive me if I can't remember the old biddies name or any remarkable features unrelated to what happened, suffice to say she was an affable person with a heart of gold.
Mind you she was well aware of the reputation I brought with me and was in two minds whether she had the tolerance to cope with any mischief.
Mama assured her that I had changed remarkably over the past few months, which was generally speaking true, and with that assurance she was prepared to teach me what she could.
While walking over to the weavers dacha, I saw a friend: a little bit older than I, heading in the same direction.
Apparently, it was decided, that having two students might be best; as the older one might influence and temper the other. I don't think they realised that under certain conditions; she was as bad as I was.
Nevertheless we both entered the dacha; once invited to do so. After making sure that we both knew what we were there for and promising that we would behave we were told to sit on the two chairs close enough to see what was going on but not so close as to get in the way.
We watched intently as the shuttle with weft went back and forth and the warp went up and down, all the while she kept chanting, ' busy hands , busy hands'. I had the suspicion that was for my benefit in reference to the saying ' the devil has work for idle hands'.
While we watched intensely, our heads seemed to follow the course of the shuttle; left to right, right to left.
It became apparent to us that her head stayed absolutely still.
Eventually she stopped to see if we got the general gist of what was happening. As she turned her head towards us; you could not fail to notice that her eyes were crossed and took a moment or two to settle and adjust focus.
She then said, 'alright, I'll show you once more', and began her chant, then sent the shuttle back and forth once more. I was sure that noise of the loom would mask the whisper, so I leant as close to my friend as I could and whispered, 'do you see what weaving has done to her eyes, must be dangerous stuff the is weaving'. With that we both started giggling.
The noise of the loom had no chance of masking that, and Mrs' busy hands' turned round to see what all the giggling was about, she had caught the motion of me leaning over; out the corner of her eye. I was sent to a corner of the room till all the giggling had abated.
When I got home; Mama said to me,' how was your day little angel'. Having to think hard I decided what I should say,' Mama', ' I don't think I'm cut out for this weaving malarkey'.
She was a bit confused, because she could not detect that wicked glint, she needed to reassure herself that I had behaved myself, so said, 'wait there'.
Oops I thought; now I'm for it; I'm going to get a telling for giggling.
Mama walked briskly over to the weavers dacha and chapped on the door, she could hear that the weaver was still at the loom and when there was no reply she chapped again a little louder. This time she heard a voice call her to come in. Mrs 'busy hands' could see Mama out of the corner of her eye. She stopped weaving and turned to Mama. Mama had obviously seen what we had seen and found it difficult to ask if I had behaved myself. It was her reply that started things off, 'apart from a fit of giggling at the start; she has been an angel'.
Mama could hold on no longer, she let out a giggle that was hardly restrained to just that.
Mrs 'busy hands ' said nonchalantly, ' I see that its inherited then'.
Mama appreciated that it was time that she left Mrs 'busy hands' to her weaving. She apologised profusely for giggling and thanked her for her time and teaching me how to weave.
Still expecting to get a telling, I was amazed that Mama came through the door and started to laugh almost to the point of collapse, I quickly ran to get her a chair. She began to calm down , then pulled me towards her, giving me a big hug.
She then went on to explain that Mrs ' busy hands', had an affliction that was not contagious nor caused by weaving. I was not so sure about the last part but it was in our beliefs not to mock the afflicted so we should both serve penitence for that.
I proved to quite adept at weaving; only once did I miss the shuttle and see it go hurtling towards the unknown depths of the dacha to be lost forever; instead; hearing clatter as it hit the bottom of an empty pail. The noise alerting Mrs 'busy hands', she looked over with a smile on her face saying, 'Now I wonder who put that there'. Then she gave me a wink.
Before Mrs' busy hands' could start the process of weaving she needed the wool, flax or cotton thread for the warp and thread to fill the shuttle for the weft.
That's where my next bit of training would come in. I was about to learn the art of spinning yarn. I was not old enough or strong enough to learn how to turn and prepare flax for spinning.
Besides that was best done using the muscle power of the boys and men folk but it was a good thing to learn anyway.
I loved spinning yarn as well as spinning a yarn, but this time my tutorage went without any reports going back to Mama. As every day passed her little angel was growing up; the realisation brought the odd tear to her eye. Other dachas had also noticed the change taking place. Where they used to hide and pretend they were not home when I came to call; they now openly stood to wave or pass the time of day.
I still had my moments though; but the teasing, trickery and jesting was all friendly. From that moment on; the evening air was quiet without the echoing repetition of one or more of the Ten Commandments emanating from the Grabeche's dacha.
Dada and I seemed to be spending less and less time together and with his reluctance to teach me anything; things would only get worse as the burden of our daily lives took us in opposite directions.
One memory does stick in my mind, that harkens me back to the early days:
I was having difficulty sleeping, all day I had been up at the Homesteading dressing wheat for sowing. That involved checking each ear for mould just to make sure that the ears were in peak condition. It was so repetitive that I was still dressing wheat when I got to my bed.
Just as I was about to go off to sleep, I kept hearing this Pheep, silence, then Pheep, silence then Pheep, and so on and so forth. Then I heard Dada muttering during one of the Pheeps, then all of a sudden it stopped. It then began to dawn on me that it was Mama snoring.
I started to giggle, then Dada said ,'Andrea get to sleep'. Which I was only too glad to be able to comply with.
Next morning, while Dada was washing himself with a boll and Mama was preparing breakfast. (a Boll was a sponge moss centre surrounded by a soapwort outer held together with thread; it gave off a lather and had the same effect as soap).
I stopped what I was doing and quizzed Mama, ' Mama, did you leave the kettle on last night?', 'No my angel , why?'. ( Now this was not the kind of kettle that you will be familiar with; ours was more the shape of a small cauldron that had a handle on the side, one on the top, a pouring groove and a lid; when this boiled it made a similar sound to the Pheep heard last night, when the pressure got great enough it would lift the lid till the pressure was released and the process would begin again). Before I could answer Mama; Dada threw the soaking wet boll at me and scored a direct hit. 'Now Andrea you know better than to tease your mother like that', he retorted. Mama unlike Dada new when to let sleeping dogs lay; especially when she saw that glint in my eye and the beginnings of a smile on Dada's face. Later I asked Dada; what it was, he did to stop Mama from snoring. At first he was reluctant to tell me, then he thought of the times when he would be away; and I would be alone to suffer any repetition. 'I gently pinched her nose', 'gently mind you'. 'Ok, right Dada,' I replied; nodding in approval and understanding of the technique.
As the time for our next Pilgrimage approached, there was a definite air of excitement; most of it emanating from me. I was wondering what I might find changed and what I might find new.
Now I was getting older even if it was only a year, it was a year that had seen many changes in me, I was that much taller, I was filling out more and I began to lose those kind of infant traits. Of course one of the biggest changes was my attitude. I was told I still retained a mischievous air about me, but one which I was told on more than one occasion and much to my embarrassment ; was such an adorable trait. I would have preferred to be told that I was now an asset to the dacha.
I would find out whether I would be strong enough to walk without being carried.
It would be unfair for a Grabeche to carry anyone on his shoulders; even if I was his daughter, that was my opinion. It was perhaps the first time I had ever shown consideration and knowing it for what it was; even if it might be wrong or misguided. That was because I had seen Grabeche Sorodov, been carried many times and he was much older than Dada.
The track leading from the dacha followed the river meandering almost due east for 14 miles.
From the dacha to this point the river had shallows, deeper pools and places where the river was shallow enough to make fords with steppingstones. Only where the forest did not encroach on the riverbank and was level enough to build a dacha would you find one. The last one on the east bank of the river marked the boundary of The Dacha and was about 2 miles from our dacha.
On the left bank of the river; the Forest began as the ground sloped gently away from the river. Just beyond the last dacha, on the right bank; the trees began where the flatter parts began the gentle incline away from the river.
After heavy rain and the winter thaw, the path would be almost impossible; so you would need to cross at the nearest Ford to continue your journey.
This happened in many places over the route; so just as the river meandered over its course, so would the pilgrims would meander to and fro across the river as conditions dictated.
Around 14 miles; the main course of the river flowed in a more northerly direction and a tributary on the right flowed in a more easterly direction. All the while; ahead and some way in the distance; two dome like hills showed the pilgrims the direction they should be heading.
The closer you got to these two hills the narrower the river became until it was nothing more than a stream. At the base of the northernmost hill; a track turned into a road of more sturdy construction. This section of road lasted for about a quarter of a mile; then it returned to track once more. This was because that section was vulnerable to flash flood which wiped away anything less permanent. There was no permanent watercourse here; it was just a build up of water from higher up that cascading down once it had reached its critical volume.
You always had this sense that you were walking from one small valley to another small valley; just following the track the way it led eastwards.
You had the sun in front of you till midday then gradually it was at your back till eventually the sun disappeared behind you. At sunset and the period just before; the hue of the sunset was reflected in front of you as the shades change from a golden orange, through all the different shades of red, violets; on the trees and open areas where higher ground and valleys met.
The only tracks or paths on the left or right; with those created by animals. You seldom saw any of the larger creatures that he now inhabited the Urals. Most of them were shy of man, and had every right to be because we are their worst enemy. If you were lucky you might see elk, deer, a lone wolf and maybe even a bear; even so they were generally a fleeting glance as a disappeared into the trees.
One sight that I had seen on many occasions; was that of a fine stag gazing nonchalantly as I passed or went on my way. I'm sure it was the same stag; as I had seen him many times in and around the dacha.
It was a tiring day and we had many stops, but I did manage to walk most of the way without needing to be carried. So I had no misgivings about being carried and I'm sure Dada felt the same; as I felt the tender tweaks as his hands gently gripped my thighs.
You could not see the halfway dacha; until you were almost upon it, as it was just around a bend in the track.
There was very little around the dacha, mind you there was very little need the land around the dacha as it was empty nearly all of the year and was used principally for pilgrims.
Occasionally the oxcart driver would spend overnight or even two or three days should the dacha need repairs.
If you open the door more or less everything inside would be the same as was in every other dacha; a little bit of home from home.
There was a stockpile of ready chopped wood for the fire, a lamp for lighting, bedding and cooking utensils.
We brought enough food for our journey and it was just a case of lighting a fire and preparing a meal.
Tired as I was; I still had plenty to say before finally Mama and Dada, said; "quiet now Andrea! It's time to go to sleep ". Next morning we set off on the next part of our journey. The track twisted and turned going up downhill for most of the until finally we climbed the crest of the last hill taking us down towards the town.
Just as last year; the sound of the choir to the church and on your approach the door would open.
I could not wait for the service to finish to once again have uncle Gregor's whiskers; tickle my nose once more.
His first words to me after greeting Mama and Dada were; "My, oh my, Myshka; look how you've grown! I'll soon have to start calling you bol'shaya mysh'...big mouse", followed closely by his infectious hearty laugh, soon we were all laughing.
I wanted so much to stay with uncle Gregor, but once again Dada's work had to come first.
Uncle Gregor promised me that we would spend all day tomorrow talking. I would never tire of this big man's embrace or the way his whiskered face tickled my nose wherever I tried to kiss him other than his big nose.
Once again it was late evening before we set off to the district buildings where we lodged; but this time I was able to take in more of the route that led us from the church to the building. The road was more like three roads; the largest road was left to the rumbles of the horses and carriages that passed by every so often. The other two roads I imagined were for people; and this was confirmed when we were passed by someone on the other side and later by someone on our side.
The district building was on the same side of the road on which we were travelling, not being able to count; all the building would amount to all the fingers on one hand and one finger of the other.