‘Living history lesson’ with miss Stanisława Rybińska Part I


It was weird Why it’s interesting for someone? How was it when I was going to school… What else? How was it during the occupation… How was it after liberation… and how it was before the war I don’t mind. Greetings to the participants of the project ‘Let me tell you a story’. Toys? If I sewed them myself then I could play. There was a doll sewn from a cloth, with a small potato as a head. That’s how it was sewn. It had drawn eyes, a nose and a smiley face. I also made a doll myself. It was a little bigger doll. The doll needed hair. I didn’t have any so I took scissors. My mother had a silk scarf with such pretty tassels. I cut them and sewed as the doll’s hair. I hid the scarf at the bottom of the trunk. But my mother took it out and saw what I had done. Oh, she was yelling at me then. I also had a baby carriage that my brother carved for me. From wood, from some sticks but it fell apart quickly. Once my mother bought me a small, rubber doll. I was playing with it and I wanted to put it on the stove lid and the doll burned because it was made of rubber. So that’s how I was playing. Later, when I grew bigger, I was told to graze geese. My mother released those gees to the meadow. I watched the geese but there was a poppy growing near the meadow. I picked the poppy leaves, fed the geese with them and I was very pleased that the geese ate their fill because when a goose is full, it has a long and thick sack-like neck. And I was so happy because of that. The gees sat in the meadow. I looked at them later and it turned out they are lying with stretched necks. If I moved them with my leg, they wouldn’t move at all so I made a noise. they just got drunk with that ‘makowiny’ (poppy). My sister had two small children. When the older one was born I was 6 years old. I was told to take care of that child because everyone else was in the field but I wanted to play with other kids. I’ve heard some women talking that when you give a poppy-head to a child, he sleeps well. So I went to the garden and picked some dry poppy-heads. I brewed it like a tea in a small mug. Then I gave it to my sister’s children and they fell asleep so I could play happily. I didn’t pour the tea out of that mug, just left it there. My mom saw that kids were sleeping and didn’t wake up for a long time. Mom realized that there is a poppy tea in the mug, then asked me ‘What have you done?’ First, I was hit with a rag by my mother, then by my sister… then by my father, and they all beat me one after the other for that poppy tea. Who had a phone then? If you wanted to call, you went to the post office. But who could you call? If everyone was at home, there was no one to call. The radio was… how can I say this? Radio was a long pole placed on the barn, and another on the house. And there was also antenna which went to the window and there was a thing that would open and close. The actual radio was really small, just a little box. There was some kind of crystal inside that radio, something like a black stone with a needle. And you were searching for the channel with that needle. For example if you wanted to search for Warsaw you could do it. So you just put the needle there, right? You put the needle there, sometimes randomly, and if you aimed at Warsaw you got Warsaw but you needed to search for it first. There were also headphones in the set. And later when the Germans came, they took away all these radios, but my father hid our radio in a sheaf. But later we were threshing grain, my father forgot which sheaf it was and the radio had threshed in the machine. At the beginning when the Germans came we were using the radio for about half a year If Germans asked what it was we answered that it was a lightning rod. But as soon as Germans realized it was a radio, they started to take away these radios we were not allowed to have them. There wasn’t much work before the war. In this region there only was a cement factory and a big junction station. So people worked in that cement factory and at the railway station. The rest was farmers, nobody was making money on the side. People didn’t go to the shop as often as nowadays. When it was autumn and grains were already threshed, people made shopping to prepare for winter and in spring they made shopping for the summer From here it was 14 km to Chełm (Town in Lubelskie region of Poland) If they wanted to buy more they were going on a cart and sometimes, if there was a need they were going by train to Chełm. They were buying a greatcoat, some shoes, whatever they needed. Material for the dress, that was for the winter. And in the spring they were buying things for the spring. For the winter you had one pair of boots, not two pairs, only one that you were wearing for the whole winter. And for the summer – dress shoes. When we were going to church, we were holding shoes and walked barefoot so our feet were chafing we put on the shoes in the church and took them off when going back home. We wanted to use them for the whole summer so they needed to look pretty in the church. It was cold in the morning, there was dew when cows were released and peed, we were standing there to make our feet warm. What time did you graze the cows? The meadow was close so not so early, around 6 am. I used to graze cows as a child. Later there was typical countryside work: grain and potato harvest. We were harvesting potatoes for the whole week because we were going from one neighbor to another. When we finished in our field we went to our neighbor and to the next one until we finished. Our village wasn’t big, 14 houses. It was a settlement with 50 meters between houses, not house by house. So the harvest took us 14 days. People were also threshing with a machine. It wasn’t like nowadays when every farmer has their own machine. There was only one rented for some time. We were almost blinded by this dust from that machine. And they brought string to a reaper-binder and they were such huge rolls of this string and it was artificial, not from hemp. One boy from our village had stolen that roll. It was so shiny, elastic, so we split the string into 4 and knitted skirts out of it. 4 girls sat down, each had a piece of string, we were rolling it into balls and made a skirt. When the Germans came there was nothing to buy so we had to scare something up by ourselves I made such skirts and also a sweater, a kind of suit; but it wasn’t white, it was rather rather gray. I bought a paint and painted it dark red. It came out really pretty. I put it on for the church. On the way back it started to rain and I had my legs all in that red paint. How did they meet? My father came to the village, met my mother and then they got married People didn’t date much at that time. He saw the girl two times and then there was a wedding. Mother was a beautiful woman so she appealed to my father. My mother was 16 when she got married, then my sister was also 16, and my mother became a grandmother when she was 34 years old. At the parties. But what parties? There was some old man playing violin. The other was playing drums and we were dancing if you had dress shoes it was a waste to wear them for the party because they would get destroyed We had clogs and we were pounding the floor while dancing. We had a neighbor, a talented boy who was making clogs for us. On the top we put some strips or something and that’s how we were wearing these clogs. It was a tough time before the war, it wasn’t like now when everyone has 5 pairs of shoes both for the summer and for the winter We had one pair for the summer and one for the winter. Later, when the Germans came and occupation started, then we didn’t have anything. We had to scare up some clothes. My sister once went to Warsaw and bought me brown leather shoes on the lard. On the lard? It was called like that, a kind of sole. It wasn’t a leather, we didn’t know what it was so we called it lard. So I had these brown shoes; and I bought some yarn somewhere maybe in the shop, but not a lot; and I made a turtleneck, the same as I made for you. That turtleneck, a piece of sweater as here – just the cuffs. And I sewed on the same cuffs to my old socks so that they were green at the bottom, that green part was poking out. When I went to the shop, the clerk said: ‘you have such a nice sweater’. I was hoping that she would not pull my sleeve. So you’ve got that yarn from Warsaw, right? I don’t remember where I bought it, maybe it was from Warsaw. Many people from Warsaw were coming here to buy flour. There was hunger in Warsaw so they were coming here for shopping and they were bringing various items. We were buying from them too. The train station was close and Warsaw wasn’t that far away. Once I made myself a ‘pilot’s style’ hat. Those hats were fashionable at that time so I made it from yarn and it was very pretty. Even my sister said it was pretty. She was going to go to Chełm (town in Lubelskie region); but we had an argue in the evening I don’t remember about what, just a family argue. She was going to take my hat to Chełm. But I got up at night, destroyed the hat and left a ball of yarn on the table. I teased her so that she didn’t go. I got hit with an apron by my grandmother for what I’ve done because it was her who ruled in our house. She cooked, she ruled the house. My wedding? How could it look like? They bought a sausage, no, they killed a pig, made sausage, cooked ‘bigos’, baked a cake and that was the whole wedding. There was no vodka there? No vodka? There was vodka, moonshine not vodka; a bit of vodka and a bit of moonshine. My wedding was in November so it was already cold. But when there were summer weddings in the village, there was always a lot of kids around. There were such old ladies there, giving a tray full of cakes to these children and the kids were so happy. It was cold and raining, a gloomy weather. White dress and a veil. Just a normal, simple dress. We met after the liberation, in 1947. Everyone had to give a compulsory quota of grains to the state. It was some amount per hectare, I don’t remember exactly. So the army came to us and militia and they asked my father why he’s not giving the quota. But he didn’t give it because our grain wasn’t threshed yet. So my father said that he had nobody to work with because at that time my brother was in the army I was alone with my father, three of us at home, so he couldn’t manage. So my future husband said ‘can’t you marry your daughter off’? I said ‘nobody wants me so who can I marry?’ He asked ‘how come?’ I said ‘marry me then’ and he replied ‘I will’. So that’s how we met and he married me eventually. We met in August and in November we got married. When the war started I had books prepared to go to school. It was around 10, I don’t remember, before noon anyway, when I saw 3 planes. First it was 3, then again 3 and again 3; I remember as it was today that there were 9 planes. They wanted to scare people or what? Sometimes, there was such a raid 2-3 times. Per day? Yes And later people were running away from Warsaw and from outside Warsaw. Everyone was running away to the East.

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