Tarzier Memoirs

Part I   Old Latvia


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 pile?”

“Yes, yes,” I answered impatiently. “It looks like a big axe.”

“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 tongue.”

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
Riga circa 1910


Life on the Farm

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