nthposition online magazine



[ people - september 10 ]

One day, when I was ten, my grandmother, Julia, who was always cheerful but who seemed to have a list of horrific stories, told me that in Hoczew, her village, there was a man named Vladimir who beat a boy with a length of wood so harshly that he fractured the boy's hip all because the poor, hungry boy had entered the man's orchard and eaten an apple.

A week passed, and then two, said my grandmother. And then, in the third week - all of her stories involved threes and thirds - there was an outcry at night from the man's family. "'Help!' They screamed. 'Help! A tree in the orchard fell on Vladimir! It's lying across his chest. He can't breathe! Mother of God, Mary help us!'"

My grandmother laughed as she bent over a basket and took another shirt and began to iron it. "Everyone stood around Vladimir and not a man, not one man, lifted a finger to help him", she said, laughing. "Not even the village priest, Father Homulka, who was bending over and looking into Vladimir's eyes", she said. "Not even the priest who kept his mouth shut until everyone could see that Vladimir was dead, and then, only then, the priest said aloud for everyone to hear, "God watches, and waits!"

"But," I said, "they should have helped the man. Jesus would have helped him". My grandmother looked at me, held the iron straight up in her right hand and said, "Jesus wasn't there! This was God's business!"

When I told my Uncle John about my grandmother's confusing story, he called my grandmother and my uncles and aunts and my mother and father and they met in my grandmother's front room that evening. My grandmother entered the room and sat silently. "You are never," said my uncle, "never, ever to tell any of the children that story again. You told Harold here and you have confused him about the Trinity. You told Eddie, and you convinced him never to go to church again. You told Charlie who imitates Eddie so that the two of them are not going to Mass anymore. Don't ever tell that story again! Do you understand what I am telling you? Are you crazy? Don't do it again! If you do it again, I'll put you in the old ladies home on Pitt Street."

My grandmother looked at me, the informer, and said, struggling to stand, for she was crippled at the hip when fourteen years old, "All right. No more stories. That was the last one. That's all there is. There isn't any more." She turned and, in her terrible twisting walk that always made me turn my face away, left the room and went down to the yard where she sat on an upended milkbox until, late at night, when everyone had returned to their apartments and had fallen asleep, she carefully, step by step, struggled up the stairway to her apartment. I cried listening to her steps, step by step, crying because I had innocently caused her punishment.

Decades later, at a rollicking Ukrainian wedding, when whiskey began to talk, I heard an aged relative talk about Hoczew, their village, and 'Julia', my grandmother, "who", he said, sadly, "had been crippled by her father because she had gone into an apple orchard with a boy late at night. She had caused a terrible rumor disgracing the family, but that was long ago, and times have changed," he said, laughing. "They certainly have changed." "What was the boy's name?" I asked. "Vladimir, I think", he said. "Vladimir".