DOWN ON THE FARM
from Dreams and Realty
by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm
They walked along, the three of them - two Ukrainians and the a Pole - their knapsacks, sling over their shoulder. They were heading for Lethbridge. People had told them it was a day's hike. So they'd set off together, to keep each other company, although they hardly talked at all. Each was lost in his own thoughts.
They passed through a settlement. They were thirsty. There was a well but they didn't have a cup or pail to draw from it. They knocked on a door for a long time. Finally they heard someone shouting. Through the window they could see an angry woman, yelling at them. They didn't understand a word, but they knew she wanted them to take off.
In her yard they found a rusty old can. They used it to draw water from the well and managed to satisfy their thirst. The water was crystal clear and cool.
They walked on, reaching their destination by nightfall. Exhausted, sleepy, they spent the night in a stable.
In the morning the Ukrainians whispered something to each other and set off in search of work. Adam waited. When the Ukrainians hadn't returned after several hours, he knew they had found work.
He went outside and slowly walked around. It was not a big town. He didn't know what to do himself. He saw a farm worker with a long, up-turned moustache and a sack on his back. He asked the man. "Are you Polish?".
"Yes. Are you?"
"Yes, I'm Polish too".
They shook hands. The stranger introduced himself.
"My name is Jan Czop. I'm from outside Rzeszow. I used to have a job here but it ended. I worked on a vegetable farm. I had to do everything on my knees. I used to put rubber pads around them. Mud like you've never seen. My muscles hurt so bad. I couldn't move. But I got used to it. Except that the job ended. The farmer shut down his whole operation. I'm on my way to the city. Maybe I'll find my lucky star there. They say it's easier in a city. Come on, we can go together".
"No, I want to try my luck on a farm first".
"Then I really feel sorry for you. You'll starve out here. You'll never get a job. It's mostly Ukrainians that live out here. They don't like Poles. Do you know any languages beside Polish?".
"That's good. Tell them you're Russian and you'll do okay".
He wished Adam luck and said goodbye.
Adam wandered around for a few more hours. He didn't stop anybody else. Tired, he sat down by the road and rested. He didn't know what to do next.
A shiny, brand new car pulled up beside him. A young, well-dressed man got out. He looked at Adam and said:
"Are you looking for work? What are you?".
"Good. I'll hire you for the whole summer. You'll get a dollar fifty per hour, plus room and board. At harvest time you'll get even more".
They got into car. The farmer said he was a Canadian of Ukrainian origin, born and raised in Alberta. He liked the area around Lethbridge: most of the inhabitants were like him, of Ukrainian background.
After some thirty miles they turned off the main road. At the end of the side road, Adam saw a large modern house with farm buildings all around it. They got out of the car. The farmer led him into the house, where he introduced Adam to his wife. Everything was very clean, tidy.
They ate supper. The farmer talked about his former employees.
"I'm glad you're Russian. I used to have a couple of Ukrainians. I had lots of problems with them. I don't hire Poles at all, they're the worst of the lot".
Adam swallowed hard. He looked out the window and asked:
"Who lives around here?".
"One Ukrainian and two Frenchmen".
He thanked them for supper, went to his room and fell asleep.
In the morning, after breakfast, the farmer took him around the property. He showed Adam the stable, the cows, the horses. There were four horses inside, the rest were wild, out in the field. "Horses as big as dragons", thought Adam.
"Talk loud to them, call them by their names. Now I'll show you the chicken coop". The farmer stopped outside the door and knocked three times. "A nut", thought Adam.
"Make sure you do that every time. Knock three times, and best cough a bit, too".
"He's making fun of me", Adam said to himself.
He was pleased with his work and learned to like it. It didn't seem too hard, nor was there too much of it. In time he learned that animals had to be treated well. This impressed him. In Poland, he remembered, horses were only spoken to with whips. Here he began to realize that the more you talk to a horse, the more it understands. He learned that it should be struck only when it gets stubborn and refuses to obey commands. And when the chicken coop door was opened suddenly, the chickens got frightened and flew madly about, sometimes even trampling each other. But when he knocked first, they knew he was coming in and remained calm.
He liked this Canadian way of farming.
Five weeks passed. One Sunday Adam was out in the yard. He saw a one-horse buggy approaching with a stranger at the reins. Adam opened the gate for him. The stranger stopped the horse and climbed down from the buggy. He spoke to Adam in Russian. "Good day, my friend."
"Good day, Sir", replied Adam.
"My name is Aleksy Czarnovy. I'm Russian, just like you. I was a sailor in the Tsar's fleet. I escaped from Russia to Poland, then made my way over here. I was told you left Russia recently. So I came to get some information from you".
Adam felt himself blush. He started to say something, stopped and remained silent.
Aleksy stood quietly for a while, then patted Adam on the shoulder.
"Well, yes... I see, you're a Pole. I get it."
Aleksy went in to see the farmer. They spoke for a long time. Adam was all set to be fired. But no, the Russian didn't give him away. For the time being, he was safe.
Adam received mail from Poland. His parents confirmed receipt of the money he sent them regularly to pay off the loan for his trip to Canada. They sent their blessing as well.
Once he left a letter on the table and went out to the horses. After an hour he returned, leading one of the horses on a rope. He saw the farmer stamping about furiously, something he'd never done before. He strode up to Adam.
"So, you're Polish?!".
"Yes, I'm Polish! Here, take this rope. Thanks for your generosity. I've had it!".
The farmer stood there confused. For some time he didn't speak. Finally he said, "If my father comes over, I'll give him a piece of my mind and throw him out. He told me Poles were no good. But you've been here two months and I see everything is fine. Don't leave. Stay, I'll pay you more. You're worth it".
They shook hands.
Adam settled in. He stopped worrying about being Polish, about getting caught and having to look for a new job. Word that he was Polish spread and people began to look on him with mistrust. The neighbor's four-year-old son was so afraid of him, he would flee at the very slight of Adam. The boy had been warned that if he did something wrong, "the Pole would come and take him away".
But life on the farm was very pleasant. The farmer paid Adam well.
* * *
Harvest time. Lots of work. From early morning until late at night. It was heavy going, but the farmer paid six dollars a day. out in the fields huge steam-driven machines did the threshing. Six carts carried in the sheaves of grain. Adam was provided with three wagons and three helpers. One of them obviously disliked him and saw him just as an immigrant taking a good job away from Canadians.
Adam ignored him. One day, part of the crew was finishing the meal that had been brought out to the field. The farmer had just berated an employee for working too slowly. It happened to be the man who hated Adam. This time he spoke out loud:
"I can't wait to let you have it in the teeth".
Adam stopped eating. He put on a pair of gloves, the hard ones used for work in the field.
"Let's have it out. Now."
The Canadian reluctantly stood up. They began to box. Adam, a large strong fellow, immediately got the upper hand. His opponent fell, his face covered with blood.
There was a huge ruckus. A policeman arrived and looked over the beaten Canadian as his wounds were being dressed. The officer listened to the witness. Finally he turned to Adam:
"Don't ever beat up anybody like that again. you could kill someone".
The policeman left. A story about Adam made the rounds of the neighborhood: "Don't tangle with "Pilsudski". He's a fighter". The nickname, a reference to the Polish national hero, known for his anti-Russian stance, stuck.
Winter came. By November there had already been a heavy snowfall. The temperature fell to forty below zero. An old man, dark and skinny, drove up to the farm. He shook from the cold. Adam helped him down from his buggy. The man swore alternately in French and English. He took off his jacket; underneath, he wore a soft wool sweater. Jacket in hand, the man headed down toward the river, swearing continually. Adam followed him, afraid he might drown himself. The old man stopped over a hole in the ice, dipped his suit coat in the water, held it there, then pulled it out. After repeating the action several times, he broke the ice on the suit coat and put it back on. Then he beat his arms around his body.
"Now I'll be warmer", he said.
Adam learned later that a frozen jacket keeps out the wind and the cold.
Winter ended, Adam had been on the farm almost a year. He was longing to move on, to explore the territory. He met a couple of Poles who described life in a big city to him. for a dollar, one of them "educated" him in the art of riding trains for free: train schedules from across Canada, where the trains stop and for how long, where they take on water, where the police are most lenient. Adam even received a map from the well informed Pole.
He was longing for a holiday. They were all well-dressed, in a festive mood. Adam avoided their company. During supper the farmer summoned him and asked:
"Why didn't you come earlier?".
"I'm ashamed. A plain laborer among all these gentle folk. In the old country a laborer didn't eat with company, not even with his masters"...
The farmer laughed.
"This is Canada. We were poor once. Then our lucky stars shone down on us and now we're well off, we've got enough of everything. There will be golden opportunities in your future, too. You'll get yours someday".
A week later, Adam set out to find his own lucky star. He left the farm and headed for the city.
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