For a Social Studies class, one of the assignments consisted of interviewing a grandparent. I learned a lot.
I interviewed my grandmother, or babushka, from my mother’s side. She was born in February of 1942. The historical information she provided me with was similar to her husband’s, who was born in 1935. Since my family had already immigrated to the United States in the early 1990’s for religious freedom, we sponsored my grandparents to emigrate from the Ukraine.
My babushka was more than happy to share her experiences. She said life was so different when she was growing up, that she is still in shock over how children are raised today. She lived in a small village where each family had their own garden or farm. The gardens, she said, aren’t the size we see in people’s backyards, but rather about a hectare, or “length of a whole street and the width from the driveway to neighbor’s house”. Converted, this amount equates to 2.5 acres, or the size of at least two football fields. This village was a friendly community where each family cared for each other, helped each other out, and shared products, such as meat from a butchered animal, milk, cheese or breads.
My babushka went to school at the age of seven, and was expected to attend until the age of 13. She said that some villages had more or less schooling, but it depended on the village, the farm-work that needed to be completed, and if a teacher was available. Her village had two sessions: the “early school” from about 9 until 2 P.M., which she attended, and an “afternoon school” from about noon until 5 P.M., which older students or those who weren’t able to attend because of the war were catching up on. If the school day went as planned, my babushka would walk two kilometers home and begin her daily routines. This consisted of working in the garden, which had potatoes, grains, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots and strawberries. This took up a fairly big chunk of the day. Each season had different types of work that needed to be done. A form of agricultural management in the village was a collective farm (kolhoz), where land, equipment, livestock, and seeds were shared. If the collective farm of the village needed help, students would be taken there straight from school, or leave school early, or even omit classes altogether to go work in the farm. Boys and girls were equally expected to pitch in and stronger ones, usually boys, tended to the heavier loads or picking up wheat bushels.
Because farm life was a way of survival, most chores and after-school activities revolved around that. Items harvested were dried, canned, and put away for winter. When my babushka was not working on the farm, she picked berries or mushrooms in the forest or chopped wood. Something that really put things in perspective for me was that washing dishes was not considered a chore, but rather like an in-between activity because it didn’t require as much physical labor. Sunday evening was the time of week to look forward to! My babushka could finally participate in playtime: hide and seek with other children or play catch. In the winter, working on a farm was not very possible, so my babushka spent her time sledding and skating. By the time my babushka was 14, she was employed at the local cafeteria where miners would come have lunch.
In the village where my babushka lived, there was not much time or opportunity for relaxation. She had to help with her family’s garden, the collective farm of the village, and prepare for the 30° F winters. A concluding comment my babushka made was that even though life had been so physically demanding, it was a more meaningful way of life.