Shavuos eve I asked my mother, may she rest in peace, if I could go by myself behind the town to pull up and bring home greens for Shavuos.
And my mother let me go behind the town to pull up and bring home greens for Shavuos. May she have for that a brilliant paradise.
A trip can only be called true if it is made by a person himself, without friends, without any interruption. I am all alone, a free little bird in the great wide world; over me is the great blue yarmulke which we call “sky”; and for me alone the day-queen – which we call “sun” – lights up. For my sake alone have they gathered here, in the free field, all these singers, with all the whistlers, with all the grasshoppers; and for my sake alone gathered the fragrant rose, and spread out the tall, yellow sunflower, covering and sprinkling the whole broad field with the grace of gentle nature. No one presses me. No one blocks me, no one sees me except God, and I can do whatever I want. If I want – I sing a nice “kevakoras” [phrase from the High Holiday cantorial piece “unesane toykef”]. If I want – I shout in a crazy way and strain my throat. If I want – I put up my hand like a shofar and blow a “great tekiyo” or play a trumpet. If I want – I roll around, just as I am, upon the green grass, and wallow all around like a young colt. Who will try to influence me and to whom do I listen? I am free! I am free!
The day was so warm, the sun so nice, the sky so fair, the field so green, the grass so fresh, and my heart was so jaunty, and I felt so good, that I completely forgot that here I'm a wild stranger. I came here to pluck greens for Shavuos, but I pretended to be a ruler, a prince. And the entire field as far as I can see, with everything in the field, including the great blue piece of sky – all this belongs to me. I am the sole master of it all. And I can act as I please – and nobody else. And like a ruler who owns everything and he has command over all, I began to want to show off regime, my strength and my might – all that I can do all that I desire ...
First of all, the tall stalk with that yellow hat does not appeal to me (the sunflower) which acquires all of a sudden in my sight the appearance of an enemy, a kind of “Goliath the Philistine”. And all these other plants, with stalks and without stalks (beans and string beans) these are pure enemies, these are the Philistines who settled themselves here on my land – who asked for them? And those low ones, the fat ones with the green fur hats, sitting so densely, right on the ground (cabbage), – what are these fur hats doing here? They will just get drunk and do me a misfortune. Let them get buried in the ground – I don’t need them! And angry thoughts, wild instincts awake within me. A queer feeling of revenge grabs me through and through. I begin to be vengeful toward these enemies – and with what a vengeance!
I had to take tools with me to pluck greens for Shavuos: a small knife with two blades, and a sword, albeit wooden, still sharp. This particular sword remained with me from Lag B’Omer. And though I had gone to war with the rest of my friends behind the city, nevertheless I can swear to you (you can believe me without an oath) that not a single drop of blood was spilled. That was a weapon of the type the military carries in peacetime. There is indeed, so to speak, no sign of war, it's quiet and calm all around. But nonetheless, just because, for the sake of peace, swords, rifles, artillery guns, cannons, horses, soldiers, all sit ready – let's hope we won't need them, as my Aunt Ethel used to say while she cooked raspberries [a home remedy].
It is known all over the world that in a time of war, you try to aim at the senior officer; it's still better to get the general, if we can; then the soldiers will naturally fall like straw. Therefore you will not be surprised that I first attacked “Goliath the Philistine”, striking him a hearty blow with my sword on his head with the yellow hat, and a few substantial blows on his behind. And the villain was laid at full length before my feet. After him, I knocked down a substantial number of robust villains, tore the sticks from their hands and scattered them to the devil. And the thick low ones with the green hats I dealt with differently: Those I could, I removed their hats, and the others I trampled with my feet, made of them an everlasting devastation.
During war, when the blood gets hot and you enter an ecstatic state, you hack away without letup. When we are spilling blood, we lose ourselves, and we do not know where in the world we are. Then we honor no elders, we consider no weak woman, we have no mercy on small children, and blood, blood spills like water... As I fell upon the enemy, I had never before felt such anger and such ardor, as I did after the first few good strokes that I parceled out to the enemy; The more I fought, the more inflamed I got. I kept urging myself on, and got so immersed in the task, in such an ecstasy, in such outrage that whatever came before my eyes – I trashed, cut up entirely, and more than anything, it was the “youngsters” who suffered, The young watermelons, little squash with thick tummies, the little, tiny cucumbers which crawling out of green tendrils with yellow dimples, - they infuriated me with their silence and their coolness; and I let them have it so they would always remember me: I chopped little heads, cut up bellies, tore them in half, shredded them into little pieces, beat them up, killed, bludgeoned them to death ― let me suffer evil if I can figure out where such a ferocity came from upon me! I dug up poor blameless potatoes nestled deep in the ground, and I let them know rebuke: you can't hide from me! ...
I tore out young garlic and green onions by the root, radishes flew like stuffed cabbage. But may God punish me if I partook of even a small piece of radish. Because I remember full well the words in the Megillah: “but they set no hand on the booty,” Jews did not rob ... So every time the evil spirit came upon me and incited me to enjoy an onion or sample a garlic, the verse from the Megillah came to me in opposition with these words with their musical accents and with the melody; “but they set no hand on the booty,” And I did not cease striking, chopping, shredding, damaging, killing and cutting up into small pieces, young and old, small and big, poor and rich, without a bit of pity.
In fact, I imagined that I heard their yelling, with their crying, with their begging, but should it bother me! Remarkable! I, who couldn't watch how they slaughter a chick, how they hit a cat, how they hurt a dog, how they whip a horse, how could I be such a tyrant, a brute?! ... Revenge! ... So as if drunk I kept shouting - Revenge! I will get even with you for Jewish blood! I will repay you for Jerusalem, and for Betar, and for the Jews in Spain and Portugal, and for the Jews in Morocco, and also for our own in Uman [Ukraine] of yore and in other places today. And for the Jewish scrolls of the Law that they tore up, and for the ... Ay! Ay! Ay! Help! Rescue! Who's grabbing my ears? ...
Two blows from behind and a pair of double-eight slaps in front sobered me up on the spot, and I saw before me a familiar person, whom I could swear was Ohrim the gardener.
Ohrim the gardener had long since kept a melon patch behind our town. That is, he had a tenth measure of ground, and he raised a garden there. He planted watermelons and cantaloupes, cucumbers, potatoes, onions and garlic, and all sorts of greens. And from this he had a nice business. How did I know Ohrim? Because he had dealings with us, that is to say, he used to borrow money from my mother every Passover eve, and around the time of Sukkos he would start to repay the loan. Mother use to write the account on the back page of a thick prayer book (her entire bookkeeping was there). Off to the side she established a place for Ohrim's separate account, headed by large letters: Account of the Gentile Ohrim.
And after that went the accounts: “From Ohrim a kerbl [Ukrainian currency]. From Ohrim another kerbl. From Ohrim two kerbls. For Ohrim half a kerbl. From Ohrim a small sack of potatoes.” And so on ... and although my mother was a woman, not a rich one, a widow with children, and lived from interest on loans, still, she never charged interest from Ohrim even once: He would pay us from the produce from his garden, sometimes more, sometimes less. – We never fought with him.
When there was a good harvest he himself would pour for us a full cellar of potatoes, with cucumbers enough for a whole winter; and if not, he used to ask my mother:
― не вибачай, бо не вродило! That means, don't take offense, Abe's wife, but it didn't flourish! And mother would forgive him this time and have him promise that, God willing, next year he wouldn't be piggish about it. In fact she used to tell him with these exact words:
Глядишь, Охріму-серце, як Бог даст на той год щоб ти не був свиня! ...
― добре [Good!], Abe's wife, добре! he would answer, and he would keep his word: He always brought us the first green onions and the first young garlic. The first young potatoes with the first green cucumbers were always for us, rather than for the rich people. And not once only did I hear our neighbors complain that it wasn't so bad for the widow as she made it seem. “See now, they're bringing her all sorts of goods.” Of course, I reported this immediately to my mother. My mother cursed them out: Salt in their eyes, stone in their hearts! Whoever begrudges me, should himself have nothing! Let them have my own luck next year!
Of course, I repeated at once what my mother had wished for them to the neighbors ... and of course for such words they were out to “kill and destroy” [quote from the book of Esther] my mother, and they called her such a name that I was embarrassed to hear ... Of course, that grieved me, so I reported it at once to my mother. My mother honored me with two slaps, and told me to stop distributing Purim gifts back and forth ... the slaps made me cry, and the words “Purim gifts” pecked at my brain: I didn't understand why she would use the term “Purim gifts”.
It used to be a holiday for me when I would catch sight of Ohrim in the distance with his great boots, and with the thick, white, warm woolen sweater that he wore summer and winter. Seeing Ohrim coming, I knew he was carrying full tarp of garden stuff, and I used to run to the kitchen and report the news that Ohrim was coming.
In general I have to admit that between me and Ohrim there was a kind of hidden affection, a fondness that we couldn't describe in words. We almost never spoke to each other; first of all because I didn't understand his language, and he didn't understand my language. (That is, I understood him, but a plague if he understood me!). And secondly I was ashamed: Such a big Ohrim --- how can one speak with him? So I had to come to my mother to be our interpreter.
―-- Mother, ask him why he doesn't bring me any sour cherries.
―-- Where should he get sour cherries for you? Sour cherries don't grow in a melon patch.
―-- Why aren't there sour cherries in a melon patch?
―-- Because sour cherry trees don't grow in a melon patch.
―-- Why don't sour cherry trees grow in a melon patch?
―-- Why, why, why – you are like a gentile girl in a veil – responds mother, and hands out another slap.
―-- Abe's wife! Не бий дитина! [Don't hit the kid!] Ohrim says to her and takes up my cause.
Such a gentile was Ohrim. And now I'm in his hands.
You can figure out that it must have happened this way: Ohrim, when he arrived and saw for himself such a devastation of his melon patch, at first must not have understand what was going on. Seeing a soul such as I, working with the sword on all sides, Ohrim must have thought who knows what: an evil spirit, a sprite, an affliction, – and certainly he crossed himself several times. Only after that, as he came closer and saw that it was a Jewish lad doing the work so faithfully with only a wooden sword, he grabbed me by my ear, which he did so heartily that it pulled me down to the ground. I began to cry out, not in my normal voice:
Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! Who is pulling my ear?
Only much later, after the real blows and after the true slaps that Ohrim meted out to me, did our eyes meet and we recognized each other. We were both overcome, left speechless. – Abe's kid – Ohrim cried out and crossed himself, and began to consider the damage that I had caused him. He examined each bed and each piece of land. It grabbed him by his heart so much that it brought tears to his eyes. He stood opposite me, gathered both hands on his stomach, and asked me only one word:
― За що? That means, why do I deserve this? ...
Only then did I figure out what kind of wedding celebration I had caused, and whom I had so caused such terrible damage. And I asked myself: “Why? Why?”
― ходим [Let's go!] – Ohrim says to me, and takes me by the hand. I bend down to the ground out of fear; I think right now he will make scrambled eggs out of me. But Ohrim doesn't bother me; he only holds me fast by my hand, but so tightly that my eyes are popping out of my head. He leads me home to my mother, tells her everything, and hands me over to her ...
Shall I tell you what I got from my mother? Should I describe her fear and her anger with hand wringing when Ohrim told her in great detail the entire catastrophe I had made for him in his melon patch? Ohrim was not lazy; he took the stick and showed my mother how I had worked here and there on all sides, He showed her how I chopped and shredded, and stuck, and stamped with my feet. He showed how I dug the potatoes out of the ground. and the tendrils of the cucumbers, just recently sprouted cucumbers ... And why? And how come?
― За що, Abe's wife, за що? ...
Ohrim could talk no more, apparently due to the tears in his throat.
I must tell you the utter truth, children: I would rather have been slapped by Ohrim's hands, than have what I got from my mother before Shavuos, and from the Rabbi after Shavuos ... not to mention the shaming that I got a whole round year from my school friends who saddled me with a proper nickname: “gardener”, “Joey the gardener”! This pretty name remained with me for ages, almost up to my wedding.
And that's how I gathered greens for Shavuos.