Countryside nostalgia and childhood adventures.

I grew up in a fairly small village in Poland. Nowadays it’s more like a suburb of the nearby city, not much of recognizable countryside there, but some 30 years ago there was. People had vegetable gardens, and fruit trees, kept animals: hens, ducks, pigs, an occasional cow – not for sale, for household use, so that we could all have our own veggies, fruits, eggs, meat and/or milk to supplement the unreliable and insufficient supply of these basic products by our glorious communist state. Where now stand rows upon rows of houses and small apartment blocks, there were fields, orchards and meadows as far as the eye could see.

My parents have a garden (not enormous but quite sizeable) and I remember the time when nearly all of it was used to grow edibles – potatoes, beets, carrots, cabbages, tomatoes and various other vegetables. There were several fruit trees – plums, cherries, apples, pears, black and red currant bushes, strawberries, gooseberries. None of it went to waste. We picked them all (and man, did I hate having to do that! especially gooseberries, nasty prickly bushes, you always ended up scratched from head to toes) and made juices, preserves, salads and whatnot to fill the pantry for the cold winter days when nothing grew and the shops and market stalls were as bare as the fields. We also kept hens, ducks and usually a couple of pigs. My folks still grow some edible stuff in their garden, just because they can and it’s nice to have your own produce in season, but the majority of the garden is just a lawn and  flower beds. They’ve kept a few fruit trees (the old cherry that produces the sweetest, most gorgeous white cherries, an equally old plum, with the best plums, some hazelnut trees, raspberry bushes, some grapes but not much more than that) and a few veggie patches at the back. But the building that served as both the henhouse and the pigsty is now empty, turned a into lawn furniture depositoriy. If you’re not a farmer, and can source the meat and eggs locally, there really is no point in keeping livestock. Animals require daily care, it takes up an awful lot of time, means you’re kind of tied up to the place, so if you don’t have to do it, why would you?

But once upon a time, when I was a small and strange little child, these household animals were very much present in my life. I had my little tasks around their care – collecting eggs, feeding them etc, pretty much ever since I can remember.

I also had stupid ideas, encouraged and supplemented by my cousins who used to visit us, especially in summer, frequently staying for weeks at a time and therefore being my most constant playmates and partners in crime. Now, I have got a lot (and I mean A LOT) of first cousins. My dad comes from a large family, and most of them are from his side. But the two that used to visit the most are my cousins from my mum’s side – Peter is a son of her older sister, Magda is a daughter of her younger one. Usually it was one or the other, and that was already enough to deal with, but sometimes they visited at the same time and so the chaos would come in triplicate. We weren’t really much bother to the adults at all, we had our own little world, and games and adventures, and didn’t really want much supervision in that, so we tended to keep out of their way. It’s just that we would get these ideas into our heads, and sometimes the results would become apparent to the grownups… Like when we decided to dig up a moat around the house. We had quite a bit of it done too before we were stopped in our tracks…

I remember one time we decided to hatch a chick from an egg (I believe that was just Magda and myself then). As I was the one familiar with the ways of the hens, I took the leading role. We procured a small plastic bucket, layered inside it various soft cottony, woolly things, nicked an egg from the henhouse, wrapped it up and proceeded to sit on the bucket in turns. It seemed like we were at it for hours, though I’m now fairly certain we got bored after like 30 minutes. Therefore we reasoned that, as the egg is so wonderfully and warmly wrapped up, we don’t really need to sit on it so much. We hid the whole thing in a big thick bush and went on our merry way. I think for a few days we kept excitedly checking if the chick had already hatched (surprisingly it hadn’t) but then forgot all about it and moved on to our next genius plan. This was in summer. The next spring my mum found the bucket with the, by that stage very pungent, egg. She didn’t even ask any questions, really by then she was quite used to discovering the remnants of our puzzling games, and in the larger scale of things, this was really pretty mellow. Certainly nowhere near as disturbing as the large cemetery of deceased spiders, complete with headstones and names (incidentally, we didn’t kill the spiders, we just found dead ones and provided them with back-stories, names and a proper burial, what is wrong with that??).

Another time (I think that was Peter and me, though Magda may have been there as well for that), inspired by bubbles we’d seen someone blowing, we decided to concoct a super-bubbly mixture, to produce the best, biggest, shiniest bubbles possible. Again we grabbed a small plastic bucket (possibly the same one), put some water in it and then we started adding bubbly stuff to it. The beginnings were promising and not unreasonable. We added washing-up liquid, shampoo, soap flakes, detergent and other similar substances. After that we got a bit side-tracked in our reasoning. We were struggling to come up with other stuff that makes bubbles, when someone mentioned the eggs – you know when you beat the egg whites you get this great stiff sort-of-a-foam. Again to the henhouse, and as far as I remember we certainly didn’t bother to separate the white from the yolk, I’m not even sure we cracked the egg, I think we just stuck the whole thing inside, shell and all, and broke it later inside. Somehow, after the addition of the egg, our super bubbly mixture stopped being so bubbly. We thought about it some more, and for some reason figured out that the addition of flour and sugar would fix the state of affairs. So we added those. It didn’t help. And again, I’m not sure if we simply came to our collective wits’ ends and started adding just whatever we could find in hope it would help, or were by that stage scientifically interested in how the whole thing would react to adding further random stuff, but whatever the motivation was, that’s what we did. I don’t remember everything that went into it (sand, cement, juice, you name it) in the end, but the resulting mass looked pretty much like half digested cat vomit in a bucket. Still strangely optimistic we thought that perhaps the only reason why this is not bubbling up is that we need to activate it, perhaps by whisking. No luck. At this point Peter decided to apply centrifugal force. He grabbed the handle of the bucket and with all his might started swinging it around. Eventually, precisely when the bucket was at the highest point, bottom up, the substance held within solely by the aforementioned centrifugal force, the handle fell off. The bucket soared up into the air, our eyes admiring its amazing break for freedom, and then, as all non-flying objects on this earth are wont to do, came back down crashing right at our feet, covering our shoes and legs with the stinky, sticky goo. We didn’t succeed in producing the best bubble-mixture, but we did a damn good job in inventing something impossible to clean off…

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There is still a little bit of a horizon left where I’m from, but not much…

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