“Let Christine’s sister to get on first,” tells a girl to her friend, taking the city bus in evening. The word sister comes to my ears, they are talking about me and I have gained a Ukrainian family. I am carrying a heavy bag, full of the best autumn village gifts – apples, natural fresh cow milk, cottage cheese and typical potato varenyky. I have a silent hope to be similar to a group of Ukrainian girls, who made with me this journey of three hours in a crowded train from Carpathian mountain villages to Lviv. On Sunday evening train there are men drinking beer and probably not only that, old ladies offering snacks and students trying to read in the sound of mobile phone tunes.
I am coming from Golovecko. It is a mythical word that comes from childhood – grandmother’s stories and envelopes from unreachable country. Yes, there really is one street surrounded by blue painted houses. Cows from nearby houses are calmly walking towards me, followed by one of the neighborhood, today is his turn to be a pastor. The guardians of each yard are watchful geese. Hens are wandering in all the village but each evening they know to return home. And yes, there is the same river and a bridge and the ducklings swimming in it.
I am welcomed with kisses and their arms don’t let me breath, not believing, that a relative from Latvia has come. I must tell how my mum is doing – they remember her as a child – how is aunt Marta (my grandmother’s sister) and her children, what is life in European Latvia…Powerful country woman, cousin of my mother, is standing in the middle of a yard, surrounded by turkeys. She swears that still remembers the way from the station to our home in Latvian city Ogre and tells colorful phrases in Latvian. And I know, I belong here and I always have. I have grown up in this place, never being here. “Your Ukrainian is so nice!” I hear telling. “My granny taught me…”
I visit several houses of my relatives. They have one floor and no more than two rooms with several beds. The kitchen is in a separate building in Ukrainian houses. There is a life in these houses, little children, parents, grandparents… And all together. There is a movement also in a village. Houses are full. Young people who choose to build their life here, autumn is time of weddings. Everybody has a cow or two, some pigs, and hens are obvious. Potatoes are already gathered from a field. Now it’s time for beetroots. But the fields are high in the mountain and reaching it requires power and will, which only a country man can have.
I am eating varenyky with sour cream and watching the room which is not really big. There is a stove in one angle, and a table between two windows on another side. Is this really a place, where granny was born, spend her childhood, shared a peace of bread with brothers and sisters in hard times and slept on a big stove in cold winters? There were times when 3 adults and 10 children were living here… “We sometimes didn’t have much to eat, but it was so exciting to wait for Christmas and Easter,” she was always telling me.
It’s early Sunday morning and we are going to a church, the same as granny did. In a graveyard next to it there are graves of her mother, sister and brother. Sister Katerina came back from Latvia at the age of 81. She wanted to rest in her homeland and the same year came a morning when she didn’t wake up.
It is a simple wooden Greek catholic church, decorated with icons and cloths with Ukrainian ornamentation stitched on. A young priest is leading a Mass, bet prayers and songs are sang by old ladies in flowered headscarfs with bright voices. I am a little child in a bed before sleeping who’s hand is guided by an older hand to make a cross and repeating lord’s Prayer after an elder voice…
My cousin is in 3rd grade of primary school. She is showing me fields and meadows in the mountain, a path to the forest and sulfur spring water. She tells how she goes to pick up berries and I hear so well known dialect words. My granny didn’t finish 3rd grade, because she had to go to pastor cows of others to earn some peace of clothing. I can see her leading cows to high meadows and feel her fear not to let them go to the fields. And I know she went here. And I know she is next to me.