When I was six weeks old, the
family got ready to give me religion. They loaded up the droshka for the
trip to the Lutheran church in Tirza, a few kilometers from our farm.
Karlis Gruniers, some sort of uncle twice removed, came along as godfather.
A nasty bug came along with the official welcome into the Lutheran church.
Mother was no longer nursing me, supposedly because I had a mouth infection.
She had brought along a bottle of fresh milk from the farm to feed me
through the day and into the evening. But as they entered the vestry,
the bottle fell on the floor and broke. So much for my lunch.
After the ceremony, the christening
party naturally had to go down the hill to a pub to celebrate. To keep
me quiet, they fed me milk bought at the inn. Maybe it was spoiled, in
those days before refrigeration. At any rate, I was close to death until
fall. Everybody expected me to die—it was only a matter of time.
But when Mother came in after a day of threshing grain and leaned over
the crib, my little body still emitted signs of life. Father then sent
my big brother Osvalds to Ranka, about 12 kilometers from our home, to
consult the apothecary, who served as doctor for the countryside. In those
days, the apothecary mixed up his medication from various powders and
potions in large glass jars. He gave Osvalds a gray colored powder, to
be mixed with milk and fed to me. To everyone’s delight, an hour
after receiving the medication I opened mouth and eyes and from that moment
on recovered steadily. I have never been seriously ill in my life since.**
Milk straight from the cow was
one of the pleasures of my childhood. It didn’t take much begging--Father
would look up from the pail and point the udder toward my mouth and give
me a squirt of sweet, warm milk. I also drank the cream that rose to the
top of the pitcher. We had never seen a big city, but we didn’t
need to. We were happy in the Predeli land.
One time I gashed my hand cutting
bamboo. I needed a fishing pole to catch fish like my brothers, so I took
a knife from Father’s tool chest and snuck over to the bamboo clump
behind the ponds. Well, the bamboo was tough and slippery, and the knife
very sharp. I squeezed the cut as hard as I could—I thought my body
was going to empty out like a punctured balloon—and ran off to hide
in the woods, feeling stupid and afraid of the spanking I deserved. When
it got dark, I curled up in the hole of a dead tree trunk for warmth.
I watched owls fly over the field, and the trees above me looked like
black ghosts. I shivered and gritted my teeth, tears and snot drying to
a crust on my face, while people called my name. Our dog Mizers was the
one who sniffed me out. It was good to come home to a hot supper. They
were glad I was alive after all! They wrapped me in blankets to carry
me home. Mother gave me a cup of steaming hot chocolate, bandaged my hand,
and forgot to scold me for having caused so much trouble.
the child that is given up for dead only to recover almost miraculously
by last-minute intervention, is a recurring theme in family lore. I heard
two different stories about an early illness that nearly took my life.
Only a few months old, I was at death’s door from diarrhea and dehydration.
Mother had surrendered her baby to God and wrapped me in a clean blanket
to die in peace. Next day, she told me, I bounced back good as new, thanks
to prayers and faith. My father Pedro (the Peteris who wrote this piece)
remembered a different version of the story: when Mother gave up on me,
he sought help at the local pharmacy, bought medication, and saved my
life. Robert tells essentially the same tale about Janis, his eldest son—see
story in Part III, Building a Family—MT