What’s in a name?
Act Two: Christmas in Kaczyka
by Stan Faryna
This is a continuation of the story that I had originally written for Betsy Cross’ genealogy writing contest. Click the linked text to read Act One of What’s in a name?
If you would like me to continue writing about Henry’s story, I need 10 comments asking me to do so. [grin]
Myself, I continue to recover from Salmonella. It’s a rough recovery. There were complications. It may take a month or two until I’m feeling like my old self, says the doctor.
There was another loud knock. Startled, Henry dropped the axe to the floor.
He had been sharpening the axe as he had planned to chop firewood for Mrs. Popovich. Right after his second shift in the salt mine.
His cousin, Tomasz, came in, joyfully humming the old Polish Christmas carol, God is Born.
On Tomasz’s arm was a beautiful, dark haired Romanian girl. 34-26-32. A doll face with big blue eyes. She blushed when she saw Henry – tall, blonde hair, blue eyes, strong, and handsome.
Her eyes grew large at the sight of Henry’s manhood. And larger when she noticed two gold rings glittering from a chain around Henry’s neck.
Tomasz whispered in her ear. “Jesus! Ain’t Henry a handsome man. My cousin Henry! Ain’t he just?! And what a beautiful cock too!
“MERRY CHRISTMAS, HENRY!” Tomasz grabbed Henry and gave him a big hug and they exchanged a kiss on each cheek.
“Merry Christmas, Tomasz.”
“The Jew money-changer, Benzona, wants to know if he is to send your week’s pay and Christmas bonus back home.”
“Benjamin. His name is Benjamin,” Henry replied and gave Tomasz the money.
“And don’t call him, Benzona, when you speak with him…”
“Jew lover!” Tomasz replied with a big smile. Tomasz and the Romanian girl laughed out loud and went out as quick as they had come in.
Henry grabbed his pants from the clothes line strung high across the room. Then he sat on the wood stool that he had made himself. He wrapped his feet in cloth and pulled his boots on. He got up, pulled a wool sweater over his head, and stuffed a piece of stale bread into his pocket.
Uriasz peeped out from under his furry, sheep skin blanket. From the other side of the room, Moise yawned.
“Is it time?” Uriasz asked.
Henry looked at the silver pocket watch. It was 4 pm.
“You have an hour still,” Henry answered and left the room. Outside the boarding house, Kaczyka was covered with a blanket of snow two feet deep. Kaczyka (Cacica in Romanian) is a small Romanian village set amid the hills of Bucovina. Henry started toward the salt mine.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS, HENRY!” enthusiastically shouted Mrs. Popovich, the 70 year old Romanian widow who ran the boarding house. She wore a red handkerchief wrapped around her head. Her dress was as white as the snow.
Mrs. Popovich was taking an armload of firewood from a man in a horse-pulled wagon. The horse’s blinders were decorated with red ribbons and brass bells. Henry took the wood from Mrs. Popovich, returned to the house, and started again his walk to the mine.
“Thank you. And don’t be late for dinner! I’m making pierogies especially for you, Henry! Pierogies is Polish food!” Mrs. Popovich shouted as Henry went his way.
Henry waved in acknowledgement. His stomach growled.
Henry went inside the mine house and down the first 100 steps into the mine. At the bottom of the steps was the crypt church. It was called the crypt because many of those who attended the services would have their funeral there. In the walls of salt rock, carved angels watched over them. Some said those angels watched with expressions of expectation.
A man that Henry didn’t recognize had finished lighting 100 small, thin candles. Henry looked at what the man had done with quiet curiosity.
“They are prayers for my son. 100 candles for 100 years of good health, good friends, and God’s blessings,” explained the man in a language that Henry did not know.
The man realized that he had not been understood, so he unfolded a pencil drawn picture of a baby boy. Henry understood at once. Because Henry was a father too. Tears came to his eyes.
One day Henry would light 100 candles for his son. When he could afford it. But now all he had to offer to God was the prayers on his lips. What money he made now would go home to feed his family.
Henry kneeled on the cold, salt rock floor of the crypt church and began the rosary prayer.
“Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is inheaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
As Henry recited the joyful mysteries of the rosary, his thoughts were of his wife and son.
He remembered Ania’s pregnancy. Ania was just like heaven. That’s how her smile made him feel. Heaven. How her laugh ringed in him. How her golden hair smelled of linden flowers and lavendar. Ania was a beautiful woman; he enjoyed her beauty, and he especially enjoyed her beauty in her pregnancy.
When John was born, it was a great joy for Henry.
Henry had married late in life at 35. Though Henry was a handsome man, it took him many years of hard work to pay to lease the land that his mother and father had worked as tenant laborers. Five hectares was his for 50 years. He might even buy the land one day and give it to his children. That was the plan. He wanted that his children could go to school and have a better life. John would read great books, write letters, and make arithmetic.
Tears fell from his blue eyes. Things were different now. Honest, hard work cannot overcome the greater designs and intentions of powerful and rich men. Nor those conceived in heaven or hell. Uriasz put his hand on Henry’s shoulder as the Mass ceremony started. They gave each other peace and took communion together.
Just as the Mass finished, Moise joined them with his caged canary. Together, they went deeper into the mine together.
“The black-haired whore from Moldova stole all of my money!” Bogdan was drunk again. Henry, Uriasz, and Moise laughed at him as they drove picks into the wall at the end of their shaft.
“She has big, beautiful eyes,” said Uriasz.
“Really? I didn’t notice! How did you?” said Bogdan with surprise.
They all laughed again.
“What are you laughing about, Jew?” Bogdan angrily shouted to Moise.
“Did you know that in my village, we beat all the filthy Jews on Christmas day!”
“SHUT UP! You drink too much!” Uriasz roared at Bogdan.
“Every man is entitled to a glass of wine. After that glass of wine, he becomes another man – a man who is entitled to a glass of wine!”
Bogdan paused and grinned.
“It’s the same for whores,” he added.
Moise quietly shook his head in disapproval.
“The Jew thinks he’s better than me because he can read and he has a bird that sings! But if he’s so smart, why is he digging the rock salt with us?! A clever Jew, you’d think, would have something better to do.”
“All of us are laughing at you because a different woman runs off with your money every week!” said Henry.
Bogdan ignored Henry’s insinuations and cursed Moise under his breath. Then he took a gulp of palinka from a flask and started to hum a Romanian Christmas carol.
“What are your plans for tonight?” Moise asked Henry and Uriasz. “Midnight Mass. Oh – Mrs. Popovich is making pierogies,” said Henry. “Why?”
“My father and Mother are coming from Bucharest. They’ll be stopping at Hanul Ancutei for a few days. They’ll have chickens and lambs roasted for their table. But this han make the best sarmala. It’s with ground beef. The beef and rice are wrapped in linden leaves picked in the spring! It’s boiled in wine in a black clay pot,” Moise explained with great enthusiam.
“It’s a feast fit for kings!” he added.
“When do we go?!” exclaimed Uriasz.
“I hired a driver to take us at 2am,” Moise said with a grin and winked at Uriasz. We’ll eat the pierogies and be on our way! The wagon was cheaper after midnight too!
Between their conversation, picks cracking rock salt and Bogdan’s humming, they couldn’t hear the creaking of the timbers in the shaft supports. Suddenly, the ceiling gave way and sealed them in their shaft and darkness.
“God damn Jew!” Bogdan cussed.
“What does Moise have to do with it?” Henry asked angrily.
“They killed Christ! All Jews are cursed, don’t you know?” Bogdan spat. God damn it, why did I have to be stuck in a salt mine with a Jew!”
“Like Christ matters to you with all your drinking, whoring, and thieving!” Henry replied.
“I’m just saying that all Jews are cursed and good for nothing!” Bogdan shouted back at Henry.
“Christ was a Jew,” replied Uriasz gruffly.
“Huh?” snorted Bogdan.
“Christ was a Jew! You Orthodox don’t know anything! You never read the Bible” Uriasz spat.
“Reading the bible is a sin!” Bogdan replied matter-of-factly. “I suppose your fancy Italian Pope forgot to mention that only priests can read the bible! Otherwise, the devil gets inside of your mind! Or maybe you Poles are too dumb to know better.
Now listen carefully…
Because I’m going to kill the God damned Jew and then we’ll all be ok. I’m going to save us from this devil’s trap. You’ll see! I’m the best friend you’ll ever know. They’ll dig us out. But they won’t dig us out until the Jew is dead!”
Bogdan started to move around in the darkness. They could hear him stumble along.
In the dark, Moise bumped into Henry. Henry put his arm around Moise. He wouldn’t let Bogdan do Moise harm. Moise understood.
“Where are you my little Jew?” Bogdan whispered as he tried to feel his way through the darkness.
“Where art thou?
“O cowardly and cunning Jew!” Bogdan’s hands blindly grabbed Henry’s face.
“IS IT YOU, JEW?”
“NO!” Henry shouted as he grabbed one of Bogdan’s hands and brought it to the floor and smashed it with his pick handle.
“What did you do that for!” Bogdan hollered out between curses.
“STAY CALM!” shouted Henry. “Or I’ll break your face the same way.”
Bogdan cradled his smashed hand in the dark.
“O Jew, you shall surely pay. A pound of flesh for my pound of broken hand…” mumbled Bogdan to himself.
“O Jew… I’ll find you. The Devil waits with payment and postage too. Yes, I know, I know. The Devil jews me. One Jew. For three Christian Gentiles!
If the Devil values the vermin, his reward should be more. For what is the weight of the life of one Jew? Or the weight of one good and dead Jew? But only ever a good Jew when a dead Jew! Indeed, The Devil jews me!”
“What are you saying there!” groaned Uriasz. “You’re buzzing like so many mosquitoes around the summer evening’s pillow! SHUT UP!”
“GOD DAMN YOU, JEW!” Bogdan cursed. You have made all my friends turn against me! Just you wait and see who laughs last!
Judas swung by the neck from an olive tree…”
Bogdan took another gulp of palinka and fell asleep. …
“What are you thinking about?” Uriasz asked Henry and Moise after hours passed in silence and darkness.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” whispered Moise who was half asleep.
“I killed a man,” said Henry.
“What?” exclaimed Uriasz.
“I beheaded a man,” replied Henry.
“WHAT?!” exclaimed Moise.
“I came home one day and found him tearing off her clothes,” explained Henry. “Three months ago.”
“Her lover?” asked Moise.
“No. It was the landlord.”
Moise and Uriasz sighed.
“His family is rich and powerful. I’m wanted for murder. That’s why I came to Kaczyka with my cousin Tomasz. Tomasz, he had debts he couldn’t pay. We knew people who had come to Kaczyka to work in the mine and they sent money home through a doctor’s family. Jewish.
Anyway, I wanted you to know. I didn’t want to keep secrets from you. Because you’ve been good friends. You stood by my side these past three months.”
“There is a need for complete honesty among friends,” Henry continued. “These three months have been good months. Because of you two and Tomasz. I thank God for your friendship. Thank you, Moise and Uriasz. Thank you…”
Henry breathed with great labor.
“You killed a man and you had your reasons, Henry. That doesn’t change my estimation of you. In my opinion, you’re a saint,” whispered Uriasz.
“Aye,” Moise whispered in agreement.
“So the saint is a murderer?” asked Bogdan.
“I wonder if there is a reward?,” he whispered to himself.
“MIND YOUR OWN GOD DAMNED BUSINESS!” Uriasz shouted at Bogdan.
“I’m cold, my hand hurts like hell, and I’m starving to death,” Bogdan whined.
“I’m going to eat the Jew’s canary.”
“STAY CALM! It’s only been a few hours,” said Uriasz.
In fact, it had been a day. Or a little more.
“I’m going to eat the Jew’s fucking canary.”
Moise was quiet, his back was leaned against Henry’s back. Never feed a troll, his father had often said.
“I’M GOING TO EAT THE JEW’S FUCKING CANARY. Or I’ll kill the God damn Jew!” Bogdan took his last gulp of palinka. The brandy burned his parched lips and swollen tongue.
“By heaven or hell, but I don’t care which. I swear that I’m going to die in peace,” said Uriasz.
There was a scuffle in the darkness. Uriasz held Bogdan with a rag stuffed in his mouth and covering his nose.
Bogdan struggled for a minute or more.
“Help me drag Bogdan over by the cave-in. We’ll cover him with some rocks. Like the cave-in had brought rock down on him and killed him,” whispered Uriasz.
Henry and Moise made their way blindly to Uriasz and Bogdan’s body. They dragged the body to where the shaft had caved in. Then they covered the body with rocks. They had difficulty breathing. Every effort was exhausting.
When they had finished, they went back to where they had been working. They felt safer there. They sat together, back to back, in silence. Moise shook the canary cage. The canary didn’t make a sound. Their eye lids were heavy.
“I’ll see you in hell, brothers,” whispered Uriasz. “And don’t forget I like red-heads and big boned – if you get there a few minutes before me…”
“It is a blessing to die among comrades,” Moise whispered as he fell asleep. “God has dealt kindly with us…”
Henry blinked in agreement (it’s all he could do) and closed his eyes.
He dreamed of Christmas past.
Five year old John was riding the rocking horse that Henry had made for him. Henry and Ania were peeling potatoes.
“I’m thankful, Ania,” he said gently. “I’m thankful for you and John.” Ania smiled and Henry felt his heart full.
“I love you,” she said with a smile so sweet. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
End of Act Two
Read Act Seven.
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25 December 2011