When I was a child, I went to my grandma’s village every summer. In contrast to the heavy confines of the city, this little village in the middle of Ukraine sat vast, quiet, boundless and free. The doors of the houses were open all day, lace curtains attached to the door frames, moving back and forth with the winds, inviting people in, keeping flies out.
Endless gardens wrapped around houses boasted beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, but mainly potatoes -- as far as you could see -- lines of potatoes, reminding everyone of the backbreaking harvest time when the spade would dig under each plant, the golden goodies cleaned and thrown into burlap sacks, to be stored in cellars for cold winters.
The place was magical -- I’d spend all my days outside instead of being cooped up in a small city apartment. I’d run barefoot on the soft, rich black soil, pull the water from the well hole, hearing it splashing as I’d lift the bucket up. In the afternoons I’d drink a quart of raw milk in one sitting and dip some freshly baked bread into a bowl of thick sour cream for a snack.
My grandma had a large garden with countless bushes of raspberry, gooseberry, black and red currant, tall pear, walnut, apple and cherry trees. I remember picking a handful of sweet raspberries and stuffing them in my mouth as I walked from her house to the gate. Dozens of them would pop in my mouth at the same time. I’d close my eyes, savor them, then go back -- just one more time...
The grass, green and luscious, called me to explore. Mowing was never a big hit there, but once a month grandpa would sharpen his ancient scythe and cut down the long and unruly overgrowth.
My favorite spot was a pile of long and heavy logs stacked up under a tree, where I’d spread my grandma’s old vatnik, get my book and read. Like the trees surrounding me, vatniks, the padded coats, never seemed to break. Worn in the bitter cold and then spread as mattresses in the summer, they soaked in the smells of sun and rain, food cooked over open fires, herbs and mushrooms picked in the woods, and the people who owned them.
Somewhere in the middle of my reading I’d put the book down, turn over on my back, look at the sky and let my mind drift along with the fluffy white clouds. I remember the sky looking vast and deep, the tree leaves hiding some sun, the wind playing with the leaves, letting stray sun rays into my eyes.
We wonder sometimes if we should take our kids to the loud and noisy amusement parks for vacations. We want to keep them busy with artificial exploration of concrete malls and entertainment industries. We bend ourselves backwards to keep them from being bored.
Following flashy commercials, we believe that quiet and reflective off-times are a thing of the past, that the kids today need Mickey Mouse magic and can’t benefit from reading a book, basking in the sun and eating picnic food under oak trees.
Yet when I look back, my best memories of freedom, growth and fulfillment is what I found there, in my grandma’s garden, surrounded by tall trees and berry bushes, reading my book and looking at the floating clouds.