Illustration to “An Easter Gift” by Anthony Kubek.
In Narodny povísti i stichi, tom 1 (1922).
“An Easter Gift”
By Emil Kubek
Have you ever seen “a yard of the nations?”
Many of them are to be found on the outskirts of large American cities on a thoroughfare which is neither street nor avenue but an alley. It needs but a glimpse to tell what class of people are living there. For the romantic souls who compose the yard about which I am going to write, there is a lumber yard, the boards of which are occupied from springtime until late in the fall by those optimistic philosophers of the American land, known to the inhabitants as “bums.”
Trains pass the yard every hour, by day and by night – passenger and freight, black diamond and milk express. The earth trembles under their heavy loads and the inhabitants of the yard of nations are in danger of losing their hearing bye and bye.
You don’t find much light between the houses in the yard for the sunshine cannot break through. Light by night is furnished the inhabitants by two small lights placed on the street by an honest-to-goodness borough council. Even this small amount of light is needful, especially after pay-day – and for the denizens of lumber yard.
The lumber yard affords a trysting place for sweethearts who come from as far away as East Centre street to speak about the greater things of life, here among the sleepers. Neither moonshine nor electric lights bother them here. Even the dogs of the neighborhood keep quiet for they know the visitors. A more ideal place for the children of cupid you cannot imagine.
From afar you will know everyone who resides in the yard even though it be for only three months. You will know them even in church. The church goers from the alley don’t know how to whisper or to speak in low tones. Because of the noise made by the trains they are accustomed to loud speaking and cannot break the habit. When other people feel it is incumbent to whisper, they almost shout.
In the yard of the nations live eight families, close together, like so many sardines in a box. There are really eight and a half families for our Fedor Bistrica, we might consider a half-family. To place eight and one half families on one lot is no easy task even for Second Alley. But Mr. McMuch is a smart fellow and knows how to accommodate them. They pay, therefore, two dollars less than is demanded for a cleaner place, and that is very important.
The nationalities in the yard represent nearly all of Europe. One family is Polish, one Lithuanian, another Greek, one Serbian, another Slovak, one Niger and two are Italian families. The heads of these families – one from Lombardy and the other from Sicily – married sisters, after much quarreling, and now fail to recognize each other as fellow countrymen.
In the yard you will find thirty-six children of varying ages. In Niger’s family there are seven children. Sometimes entire families are fighting together.
In the two Italian families there are twelve children. Quite often all are fighting at once excepting those in the laps of their mothers. Children do not go to parents to arbitrate their disputes because more often than not a whipping comes from that quarter. Sometimes the disputes of the neighborhood were brought to the Squire’s office for adjustment but that official became perplexed by the babel of tongues and was compelled to disperse them because all talked at once.
Fedor Bistrica was the only one who did not mix himself in the quarrels of the international yard. He did not have any right to the privilege, for Fedor had neither wife nor children, neither did he pay full rent. He was the inveterate enemy of all the women and also of the children. Not for the world would he talk to a woman.
Now that I have told that much about Fedor it is my duty to explain the reason for his animosity toward women and children, even though he should bring me to the squire’s office.
Fedor is — years old but looks ten years older. Healthy, robust, but always full of sorrow, a sorrow which has plucked at his heart ever since that day he came to America twenty-three years ago. He recalls the days of his youth in that little village in the Carpathians where he was born. What a jolly and happy youngster he was. Always singing in the fields whether ploughing or using the sickle. At the dances he was first. Many a girl felt happy when he spoke to her. He was a good son, too.
Even the parish priest was very much interested in Fedor and desired to send him to the higher schools.
“Vasil,” he said to Fedor’s father, “you have the money to send your son to school. Some day he may become a priest.”
“Thank you, Father,” Vasil would reply, “but I am of the opinion that to be a farmer is no less important than to be a priest. I would rather see him a conscientious, common, every-day man than educated and without conscience.”
Vasil, Fedor’s father, though a young man, had much property and only two children. Besides Fedor there was a daughter, Nastja, two years younger than Fedor.
“My property I will leave to my son, Fedor,” Vasil would often say. “My father left it to me and I will leave it to Fedor to take as good care of it as I have taken.” Fedor’s mother was of the same mind as her husband and Fedor prepared for the life of a farmer on his own land.
This love of the land you will find in the heart of every Rusyn and Fedor was no exception.
Vasil Bistrica was looked upon as the most honest man in the village. He never looked for honors and when his neighbors elected him a justice of the peace he felt called upon to decline the honor. In the church he was a faithful worker and held the office of president of the church council. Every one in the village loved him but his most intimate friends were his neighbors, the Mitrims.
Fedor was a regular visitor at the Mitrims’ homestead where there was a daughter, beautiful and charming. Three years younger than Fedor you saw them in each other’s company at every opportunity. They journeyed to their school together and when the brooks were high with the spring rains Fedor would always carry his companion over the water. In the winter, when the snows were deep, it was Fedor who broke the path and it was he who always found the early spring flowers. In the summertime both drove the herds to pasture and if a sudden storm came up, it was Fedor’s coat that protected the girl from the raindrops.
If other boys attempted to tease Martusja, it was Fedor who came forward as her protector and, on one occasion, when a boy pushed Martusja in the brook, it was Fedor who held her tormentor’s head under water until he cried for mercy even though the other boy was three years older than Fedor. At the dance, the other boys always looked to Fedor for permission before they claimed a dance with Martusja whose glance always sought Fedor’s eyes before assenting.
In the beautiful fruit garden that belonged to Fedor’s father the nightingale daily sang during the long summer months and Fedor learned the art of imitating birds. His warbled bird songs always brought Martusja to his side. The whole village knew and wagged its collective head saying they were created for each other. Even their parents gave silent assent and though the two lovers never spoke of their love one could not think of life without the other.
Fedor was twenty when he received the summons that made him a member of the Hussars. When the day came that he was to leave home to enter upon his new life it bought with it the parting with Martusja. Fedor asked for no promise neither was there one given for Fedor’s faith in Martusja was as deep-rooted as the mountains. She would be waiting for him when he again returned to take his old occupation.
There were few letters exchanged between sweethearts for letter writing in their country is not as common as it is in the new world. Intervals of two and three months elapsed between letters but in each Fedor inquired about the Mitrim family and asked how they did and it was understood at home in that his solicitude was for Martusja.
After the first year Fedor was granted a furlough and he came home, bringing with him a silk handkerchief and a ring with a red stone, which gifts were for his sweetheart. To the simple folks of the village the gifts signified the formal betrothal. This being understood, it was noticed that after Fedor’s return to army life he always made mention of Martusja by name in his letters. For while there is no written law, either clerical or secular, on the matter of what constitutes a betrothal, certain customs have been adopted to which are given all the force of law. Fedor felt justified in feeling that Martusja belonged to him.
Letters came from his betrothed now and Fedor counted the days that intervened until the time he should be released from army life. But finally the interval between letters from home lengthened and Fedor could not understand. Becoming impatient he wrote to his parents and asked them to explain the long silence. When no answer came he wrote to the parish priest and inquired whether his parents were living or dead. He did not mention the name of Martusja but the priest understood. Fedor’s father was called to the parsonage.
“Vasil, why don’t you write to Fedor?” “Why, Father, he will be home in six months and then he shall see for himself what has happened. You know it was not our fault.”
“It is so,” the priest replied, “but anyhow you should write.”
“Will you be so kind as to write, Father?” Vasil inquired, “I fear to write what my boy should know.”
“Good Vasil, I will write. For who knows but longing may overcome Fedor who may desert the army to see his beloved Martusja.”
“It may so happen,” replied Vasil, “be so good as to write and console him.”
The pastor’s message to Fedor was brief. It read, “Thank God, all at your home all are well; when you come home you shall see for yourself.”
Finally the day came that brought Fedor’s release from the army. From the hilltop he saw his native village in the distance. As he drew closer he made out his old home and the home of the Mitrims nearby. His heart beat faster and faster as the realization came that soon he should see his Martusja. He neared the mill which was owned by Jurko, the boy, whom in their school days he had choked because he teased Martusja. In front of the mill stood a woman but as he came in view she entered the mill. His heart gave a bound as he fancied a resemblance to his beloved. He would have entered the mill to inquire but for his old enmity of Jurko.
Entering the grounds that surrounded his old homestead he came on his father with a scythe in his hand. “Glory be to Jesus,” was Fedor’s greeting to his father who, not expecting his son’s arrival, trembled as with fear. When he could recover his breath he shouted, “Mother, our Fedor is home.” The mother heard and running from the house soon had her boy clasped in her arms, kissing him again and again. Then came the meeting of brother and sister the latter clasping Fedor in her arms and showering him with kisses.
It was after the family party had gathered in the house that Fedor was told the story of the happenings during his absence.
When Fedor had returned after his furlough, Jurko, whose parents had died, leaving him in possession of the mill, began to visit the Mitrim homestead. To Martusja he showed the many beautiful things left him by his parents including a number of golden ducats. He formally requested the girl’s parents for her hand in marriage. The mother of the girl told Jurko of Fedor who would claim her as his wife when released from army duty.
“Fedor?” said Jurko in contempt, “why Fedor couldn’t give his wife even a good living on his six eights piece of land. Look at my fields, my mill. My wife would not need to go to the fields to work. She would not be required even to prepare a meal as such work would he done by my servants.”
While Jurko was speaking Martusja’s mother could not take her eyes from the gold laying on the table. Its glitter seemed to fascinate her and steal hear heart. As from afar she heard the words of Jurko who was saying, “You will have everything you want. When you want flour you shall come to my mill and carry away what you want.”
With these fair promises ringing in her ears the mother started to sing the praises of Jurko to her daughter. “O, Jurko, it would be good for her in your house. She would be better off than in the house of my husband for I had never much of anything but work.”
Jurko saw his advantage and when not observed slipped several of the golden ducats into the hands of Martusja’s mother. The feel of the gold brought the woman to his side. “She will be yours, so God help me,” she whispered in the ear of Jurko.
After this the mother began at every opportunity to sing the praises of Jurko to her daughter who was told how happy she would be in the home of the miller. When Martusja refused to give her consent to the match her mother beat her. Peace had fled from the once happy home and Martusja fled to Fedor’s mother for consolation. “Fedor will be home in a short time,” she told the girl. Seeing this, Martusja’s mother began to quarrel with Fedor’s parents and made such a scene that the villagers came to look on.
To Martusja she offered the alternative of marriage with Jurko or a mother’s curse. “I will curse you until the flesh falls from your bones and even the earth will give up your bones.”
The parish priest was informed and summoned Martusja’s mother to the rectory. To him the woman gave only a defiant answer. “It is not your business – she is not your daughter.”
Jurko pressed his suit by presenting the mother with money and fine linens on every possible occasion. After Easter he sent to men to the Mitrims home to ask the hand of Martusja in marriage. The father of the girl gave them an answer in the negative before they sat down to the table. The girl’s mother, however, went from the house to seek Martusja whom she dragged into the presence of the men by the hair and promised the callers that she should be Jurko’s.
With the formalities settled by the mother, Martusja went unwillingly to the church and only half-heartedly answered the questions put by the priest. Wedding festivities were held in the mill but the bride’s father and sisters were absent.
After the wedding Martusja did not live in the luxury promised by Jurko. He dismissed the servants and she was compelled to work alone. His mother-in-law was chased from his home when she called him to task for neglecting his promises. From that time on Martusja was a changed woman who shunned the village, not even attending church services. She rarely spoke and avoided all her old acquaintances.
When all these happenings had been related to Fedor he arose from the table, his face ashen white and haggard, and made as if to leave the house. Mother and sister clung to him and begged him not to go out into the night. Their entreaties prevailed and Fedor remained in the home.
Early the next morning he approached his father and requested that he be given enough money to pay his passage to America.
“To America?” the father repeated sorrowfully.
“Yes,” replied Fedor, “I cannot stay any longer in this village and you surely do not want to see me go to prison.”
“Remain here until we finish the work in the fields,” the father requested.
“No, I must go,” his son answered.
“Wait, then, until I raise enough money for your trip,” the father replied.
On the third day from that conversation Fedor vanished taking with him only a few articles of clothing. His father had expected that Fedor would forget his love affair and had postponed complying with his request for money until Fedor had time to get over the effects of his great disappointment.
Fedor told no person of his plans nor had he gone through the formality of leave taking. Family and friends looked for his early return and only feared he might attempt to harm Jurko who had stolen his betrothed.
When Fedor left home he had with him a few crowns which brought him to the nearest city. Here he obtained work on a railroad and money earned paid his way to Prussia where he remained to months earning the money to pay for a passage to America, the land of promise.
On his arrival in New York he was offered employment by a western farmer and for twelve long years he worked as a farm laborer in a western state. After the farmer died, Fedor came east and obtained work on a farm in Pennsylvania. One day he was sent to the nearest town to purchase some things for the farm and while walking along the street overheard two men conversing in the Rusyn language. Seventeen years had elapsed since he had heard a word spoken in his mother tongue and he almost cried from happiness. He followed the men who entered a church and Fedor decided to enter, seating himself in a rear pew. He saw that everything in the church was similar to what he had seen in the church in his native village even the iconostasis and flags. Only the people were different being better dressed than those who attended the village church.
The services began and he saw at once that they were the same as those at which he had so often assisted in the homeland. He noticed that while there were many women present only a few men were in attendance and he was reminded that it was not Sunday. It must be some holiday, thought Fedor, and the men are working. What festival was being celebrated he could not even guess for his long residence among American Protestants had caused him to forget the dates of church holidays.
All during the services his thoughts wandered homeward. He thought of his parents, his sister, and of Martusja, his first love. And although he tried hard to forget thoughts came unbidden to his mind. Where were they all? Were his parents still alive? Was Martusja happy in the home she had made with Jurko? Tears started to stream down his face, and sobs half stifled shook his frame.
The man next to him in the pew noted his sorrow but refrained from asking him any questions until the services had ended. At the church door he looked into the face of Fedor and recognized him. “You, Fedor?” Fedor made an attempt to pass his inquisitor but the man barred his way. “Don’t you know me, Fedor? My name is Peter; we played together and went to school together. Come, let us go where we can talk without being disturbed.”
Peter began to talk about the happenings in the village. When Fedor disappeared everybody thought he would attempt to do some bodily harm to Jurko who had taken his Martusja. Jurko began to worry and took to drink. In one of his drunken spells he was struck by the mill wheel and killed. He left everything to Martusja who remained alone at the mill after his death allowing no one to visit her not even her mother. Martusja finally pined away and went on a sick-bed from which she never arose. Before she died she requested Fedor’s sister, Nastja, who had married, to convey word to Fedor if he was ever located that she had been faithful to him until death.
To Fedor she left the mill and all her belongings even though the villagers all believed him dead long since.
Peter also told of the death of Fedor’s parents and related how Martusja’s mother was found cold in death on the grave of the daughter she had so cruelly wronged.
Fedor listened to his companion in silence while his heart grew heavy as news of loved ones was told. His anger toward the woman he had loved and lost was gone and was turned on himself.
Why hadn’t he listened to his father and remained at home? In two or three months life would have had a different outlook. But he thought of his feelings toward Jurko. Even after all these years fierce hatred of the man who had robbed him of his boyhood sweetheart came unbidden to his heart.
Peter glanced at the drawn face of the man and grew afraid. He broke the silence by saying, “Do you know, Fedor, in a few months I am returning to the old village. It is time I should see it again after four long years. Suppose we go together?”
“What for, Peter? I have nothing there, now.”
“To claim the mill and the money left you by Martusja.”
“That money does not belong to me and besides it is cursed.”
“Come if only to see your old home,” pleaded Peter.
“You are right,” Fedor said finally, “I will come to you, Peter, and make the necessary preparations.”
Fedor inquired as to the dwelling place of Peter and in two days came to meet him. Both went together to the consulate where a testament was drawn up in which Fedor directed that his father’s property be given to his sister, Nastja. The property left him by Martusja he directed should be sold and the money realized from the sale should go toward erecting a monument on her grave, the balance to go to the church and to the poor of his village.
From that day onward Peter lost all track of Fedor.
Fedor Bistrica came to our town and rented rooms in a Second Alley basement. He was a quiet man who seldom spoke and mingled but little with the neighbors. His visits to the saloons where the men of the neighborhood congregated were infrequent and he made but few acquaintances. His monthly dues he, himself, brought to the church as if to forestall a visit from the collectors.
His room in the basement was poorly furnished, the furnishings including a bed, small cook stove, table and trunk. Despite his humble surroundings and lonely life, Fedor did not fall into any careless, bachelor ways. Everything about his abode was neat and clean. His working clothes and other wearing apparel he washed during his leisure hours and what needed extra starching he had sent to the laundry. His frugal meals were cooked over the stove in his kitchen and thus he pursued the even tenor of his way.
It was early that the neighbors noted that the lonely bachelor avoided women and children and Fedor was content that it was so because he had come to believe that he hated both. When the people who resided on the upper floors were not fighting among themselves they were playing various musical instruments. When Fedor tired of the noise he made for the hills if it were summertime or took long walks on unfrequented streets when the weather got cold.
One day Fedor noticed unusual activity about the home of his neighbors, the Italians, and he learned that they were moving. That night he speculated on what kind of neighbors the new tenants might prove to be. He soon learned that a young couple with a little girl of about three years had taken up residence in the house. Fedor noted that the couple displayed more than the accustomed amount of affection. Every morning, before departing for work, husband and wife exchanged a parting kiss and when the child was present he could hear her childish treble lisp a “Goodbye, Papa.” In the evening he heard sounds of merriment coming from the home and on occasions when all sat outdoors he noted other signs of love and contentment which might not be so apparent to eyes less observant than his and it seemed to him as if the happy family took pains to conceal their happiness from an envious world.
At such times Fedor was wont to glance about his own lonely home and ask himself whether it was possible for others to feel so much happiness when he was compelled to endure only sorrow and misery.
On occasions when Fedor heard words spoken in his own tongue he always made an effort to avoid the speakers. However, one day he heard the young husband in the room above him address his wife as “Martusja, my heart and my life.” The roar of a passing train drowned out the rest of the sentence. “Martusja!” What memories that aroused in the heart of the lonely man. He had noted that the husband spoke the name caressingly as he himself might have spoken it in the old days to his Martusja. How long ago those days seemed now.
The old sorrow again came gnawing at his heart. Had he only listened to the advice of his father. But, then, what if he had met and revenged himself on Jurko? How he might have been living how with his Martusja and their children. He again became envious of the whole world and as scraps of conversation again came to him from the upper floor he put on his hat and coat and went out.
The months passed and Fedor noted that the child on the floor above seldom cried as is the way with children. He felt that the little one was too happy. His envy continued and he carefully avoided the happy couple.
Easter time drew near and the warm, beautiful days of spring came again. Fedor had been working on the night shift and had just finished his breakfast. He noticed the young wife depart from her home apparently on a shopping trip to a nearby shore. He heard her promise the little girl to buy some nice things at the store and saw her stoop and kiss the child. The sight caused a tug at his heartstrings and he mentally resolved to seek new quarters.
Fedor was about to open the door when he heard a timid knocking on the panel. He opened the door and saw standing on the threshold, smiling up at him, the neighbor’s little girl. The child walked into the room confident of a welcome and the astonished man permitted her to do as much as she pleased. It was his first visitor since he had come to live there.
The child took a piece of bread from the table and began munching it. Turning her gaze on Fedor she inquired, “Uncle, did you have breakfast?” Fedor gave the child his watch to play with and after examining it and listening to its “tick-tick” she opened the door. “Bye-bye, Uncle” she said, as she backed out of the door, throwing him kisses all the while.
Tears came to Fedor’s eyes. “I must leave here” he muttered to himself.
Two days later he again heard the knocking on his door and this time he knew it was his little visitor again demanding admittance.
It was raining and Fedor decided he must admit the child. This time she came with one shoe and one stocking in her hand and in her childish way demanding that Uncle put on “my shoe and stocking.” After warming the shoe and stocking at the kitchen fire, Fedor took her in his lap and put them on. The little girl told him that her name was Helen, that her mother had gone to the store to buy her Easter eggs and candy. She put her little arms around Fedor’s neck and was saying, “I love you, Uncle” when the door opened and Fedor saw Helen’s mother in the doorway.
The mother did not know Fedor other than to hear the neighbors say that he was a queer fellow who never speaks nor visits anybody. She became confused and not knowing what language to address her queer neighbor made excuses in poor English and took away little Helen who turned and said, “Bye-bye, Uncle.”
Fedor, after they had left, felt angry with himself and with his neighbors of the upper floor. However, he could feel the agreeable warmness of the child’s kisses which secretly pleased him. But Fedor was determined he should continue as a hermit and put on his hat and coat deciding to look for other living quarters. Finding suitable quarters for a bachelor was not an easy task and Fedor returned home without having accomplished it. He decided that his door would remain closed even to little Helen.
On the Friday before Palm Sunday Fedor was making a fire in his stove as the day was cold and damp. Again he heard the knocking on the door but he steeled himself to ignore the invitation contained in that knock. The child began to pound on the door and when it didn’t open he heard sobbing. Then he heard Helen’s mother descend the steps and heard her say, “Dearie Mine, why did you go out on such a day without stockings or shoes? You will catch cold.”
Fedor felt ashamed for having been so cruel as to refuse the child admittance. He would be at fault if the little girl did catch cold and die. The poor little girl who loved him and who never did anything wrong. Am I a Christian? he asked himself. Even a dog would be permitted to come in the house on such a day. His only consoling thought was that the young mother might not have known he was at home.
That evening he heard the step of the husband as he returned from work and as he entered the door he heard the wife say, “Our child is ill, go right away for a doctor.” Later he heard husband and doctor arrive.
On Palm Sunday he attended church services but could hardly wait for the end of the service. He went directly home although it was a beautiful day and remained in the house the entire day. He noted that the doctor came twice to see Helen. He felt miserable and the next day decided to remain away from work. He took a walk on the main street and noticed that the stores were crowded and that Easter bunnies and candy were displayed in the windows. As if driven by an unseen hand he went into a store and purchased the largest Easter bunny he could find and returned home.
About noon time he determined he could stand it no longer and would see his little sick friend. Taking the box with the bunny he entered the home of this neighbors. The kitchen was deserted but in the next room was a little white bed upon which Helen was lying. At her side were the anxious and sorrowful parents. “Glory be to Jesus Christ” was Fedor’s greeting as he entered the sick room. Both parents stood up and looked at Fedor who felt their looks might have been directed at their child’s murderer. After a moment, Nikola, Helen’s father, responded to the greeting, “Forever, Amen” and then inquired, “Are you Rusyn?” Fedor understood their former silence and said, “I came to see Helen, if you do not object?”
“May the Lord pay you for your kindness – the child loves you and asks for “Uncle.” After Nikola shook Fedor’s hand the visitor felt better and thought, “They do not know it is my fault that the child is ill.”
“Tonight comes the crisis in her illness,” they told Fedor. Even then the little patient babbled in her fever, “Mother,” “Father,” “Uncle,” “Open.” Fedor felt conscience-stricken that he had not opened the door for the child. He took the box containing the Easter bunny and Easter egg. “Helen, dear, see what your uncle brought you, a white bunny and Easter egg. The child opened her eyes and recognized him with a warm smile. She took the bunny and the egg and turning over fell into a deep sleep. The mother rejoiced for the doctor had said after a sleep the worst would be over. She, in her gratitude, took Fedor’s hand and kissed it. He advised the parents to seek some rest saying he would watch over the child until morning. Both thanked him and sought a much-needed rest. Fedor’s vigil continued for two nights and when he saw that all danger had passed he again returned to his own room. When he arose in the evening Nikola came to his door, “Helen is up and playing and wants to see you; can you come up for a few minutes? Fedor came quickly and when Helen saw him she cried, “Uncle, Uncle, here is the Easter bunny and the egg” and came to sit in his lap. “Wait, Helen, dear,” said the mother, “I must give uncle some supper. You will not refuse, Mister? She did not even know his name. “We do not even know the name of our benefactor,” Nikola said, “You must excuse the meal. This being the last week of Lent we have no meat,” the woman explained. All took their places at the table and Helen asked to be seated near Uncle.
After the meal little Helen was put to bed and in a few minutes was sound asleep.
“We were married in the old country,” the wife explained to Fedor. “Nikola worked for many years on the parson’s property. Our parents were not in favor of the marriage so we decided to come to America. My mother’s brother is here somewhere in America but although we have advertised in the newspapers we cannot find him.”
A thought came leaping to Fedor’s mind. “Is it long since your uncle came to America?” “About twenty-five years since” she answered. “Are you not from Poland?” asked Fedor gazing intently into the woman’s eyes. “How do you know?” asked both at once, wonderingly.
“You are the daughter of Nastja Bistrica?” Fedor could not stand it any longer and he buried his face in his hands and wept.
Martha knew now who he was and taking his hands she looked him full in the face and inquired, “Uncle?”
After a short pause Fedor looked heavenward and said, “O how merciful is the Lord. He has performed a miracle that I might know and find myself.”
Walking to the beside of the child he took little Helen’s hands and kissed them as if they were the hands of an angel.
Translated by Louis Sanjek.
- Rev. Emil Kubek, “An Easter Gift,” trans. Rev. L. Sanjek, Record American (March 23-25, 1921): 1.
- Emilij A. Kubek, “Paschal’nyj dar,” Narodny povísti i stichi, tom 1 (Scranton: OBRANA, 1922), 114-147.
- Rev. Emil Kubek, “An Easter Gift,” trans. Rev. L. Sanjek, Record American (March 23-25, 1921): 1.
“An Easter Gift” (“Paschal’nyj dar”) was published in the first volume of Kubek’s collected works Popular Stories and Verses in 1922. Rev. Louis Sanjek’s translation appeared in three installments in the Mahanoy City Record American on March 23, 24, and 25, 1921. (See Slovak Lutheran Church for more information on Louis Sanjek.)
Sanjek’s translation makes a number of cuts, edits, and additions to Kubek’s Carpatho-Rusyn text. For example, Sanjek adds the chapter divisions, condenses a few sections, and eliminates some peripheral dialogues. These sections have not been restored in this transcription. There are three moments when Kubek makes explicit reference to Fedor’s ethnicity as a Carpatho-Rusyn, but Sanjek translates “rusin” as “Russian” (see notes). These sections have been corrected in this transcription of the text. A few minor typographical, punctuation, and overt translation errors in the 1921 text have also been silently corrected. ––NK
Have you ever seen “a yard of the nations?” While Kubek’s narrator does specifically address his readers a number of times throughout the story, he does not in the first sentence, which reads: “Internacional’nyj yard, jakich množestvo v predmíst’ach amerikanskich horodov, ležit v street’í…ale, hde tam, to ani ne street, ani ne avenu, no second alley.” In other words, Sanjek’s translation registers the different audiences of a Rusyn- and English-language text; a Carpatho-Rusyn readership would have understood the setting since so many of the Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants were living in similar neighborhoods whereas the American readership of Mahanoy City may not have ventured to the West End. (See West Railroad Street for more information about the ethnic composition of Mahanoy City.)
The lumber yard affords a trysting place for sweethearts who come from as far away as East Centre street to speak about the greater things of life, here among the sleepers. Main Street divides Mahanoy City into the West End (primarily a Slavic and Eastern European neighborhood) and the East End (primarily an Anglo-Saxon neighborhood). That young lovers would travel “from as far away as East Centre” street indicates that they are choosing a remote area of the city for the sake of privacy for their trysts where they would not be recognized.
This love of the land you will find in the heart of every Rusyn and Fedor was no exception. Kubek’s text reads: “Tu l’ubov našeho Rusina, k rodnoj hrud’í, a krasna hordost’ usilovnaho hospodarja, umnoživšoho svoju otcovsčinu tak, jak Vasil’ ju umnožil.” Throughout the 1921 text, Sanjek translates “rusin” as “Russian,” which has been corrected here. See also: “One day he was sent to the nearest town to purchase some things for the farm and while walking along the street overheard two men conversing in the Rusyn (russki) language” and “After a moment, Nikola, Helen’s father, responded to the greeting, “Forever, Amen” and then inquired, “Are you Rusyn (rusin)?”
Despite his humble surroundings and lonely life, Fedor did not fall into any careless, bachelor ways. This sentence is absent in the 1922 text.
One day Fedor noticed unusual activity about the home of his neighbors, the Italians, and he learned that they were moving. A different reason is given in the 1922 text for the arrival of Nikola, Martusja, and Helen. In Kubek’s text, the neighbors complained that the African-American family played music and danced too loudly and demanded that they leave. Therefore, “the black family had to move out (vymufovatisja). Peace came to the yard.”
“Are you not from Poland?” . . . In the 1922 text, Kubek does not specify the country but instead gives the specific village of Dol’ny Pol’any (Ty ne s Dol’nych Pol’an?). This village is likely fictional but would have evoked in the minds of a Carpatho-Rusyn reader the villages of Dolina (Gorlice District) or Dolina (Sanok District), both of which are in Poland.