Part I Old
I SEE RIGA (not!)
When Robert says that our brother Osvalds had a mean streak, he is probably
thinking of the time Osvalds showed me Riga. It was a cold winter day.
The folks had just returned from a trip to the big city, where they had
taken bales of flax to sell. Those trips took a couple of weeks in those
days, and when they came back, everybody wanted to hear all about their
adventure. On this occasion, the stories went on for hours. It was all
horseless carriages and shop windows with silks of all colors and drinking
glasses made of colored crystal, and people all over the place, wearing
furs and jewelry and fancy leather shoes. Osvalds noticed my flapping
ears and wide eyes. He took me aside and whispered, “Peteris, do
you want to see Riga?”
“Yes! Yes!” I shot back. Why did he even bother to ask!
He went on: “Do you really,
really want to see Riga?”
“I do! I do,” I was jumping up and down by now.
“Then, if you really want to see Riga, you go outside to the firewood.
You know the big log splitter that is stuck on a log next to the wood
“Yes, yes,” I answered impatiently. “It looks like a
“Well, pay attention, then. All you need to do is to put your tongue
on the log splitter, on the metal, you know, and you will see Riga. Guaranteed.
Just be very sure your tongue is wet. It doesn’t work with a dry
I almost didn’t do it. He had played tricks on me before. But as
the sun set and everybody still sat around the oil lamp with tales of
the big city, curiosity won. They could talk about it, but I could do
better. It was almost dark when I snuck out of the house. The ice crunched
under my Pastalas. There was the log splitter, like Osvalds said, jammed
partway into a large log. I bent down and stuck my wet tongue to the metal.
It was very cold. The cold was so intense that I forgot about Riga in
an instant, especially when I realized with horror that my tongue and
the axe had become one piece. I couldn’t move, and I was ashamed
to yell for help and get scolded for my stupidity. So that’s how
I ripped off a layer of my tongue. It felt like it had been scalded with
boiling water. I crept back into the house and curled up in the corner
next to the kiln, choking back tears, the taste of blood turning my stomach.
My parents went out to check out the axe, and sure enough there was a
piece of my tongue stuck on the side of it. They tried to comfort me,
but Osvalds rubbed it in some more:
“Peter, did you see Riga for sure?”
I cursed him the best I knew how, blood and saliva oozing from my swollen
tongue. I even used the Latvian f— word saved for very special occasions.
Robert helped, too. Osvalds had given us a good reason to get even, and
after that we persecuted him like gnats around a cow's eyes.
Riga circa 1910
on the Farm
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