So, this week I am going to continue the story of my Grandfather with another conversation between myself and my significant other. It takes place as we explore his house. I have also included pictures of the area from prior visits.
Nikopol … The house
We awoke early this morning, so a driver we had reserved could take us from Zaporozhe to Nikopol. I thought we needed to spend at least two days maybe three retracing his footsteps and telling Cait the stories that I had grown up with. I love the drive out to the small city. Along the side of the gravel roads cows, goats and donkeys are tied to stakes so they can ‘trim’ the tall grasses. If one can leave early enough or late enough for that matter one can see the sun rise and set. The sun is spectacular as you go through farm country. In late August the grain is tall and radiates a glorious golden color.
The grain has that soft ticklish feel to it as you run your hand over the tiny beads. If it is early in the morning there is still fresh dew that collects on the palm of your hand. The kernels twinkle in the early morning sunshine. The grain like at home in Manitoba has that sweet smell to it. After one passes the grain fields, there is a bridge that one must pass over in order to get to Nikopol. Nikopol is a port city. The depth of the river allows for many large freighters to come in from the Crimean Sea.
As we reach the bridge Cait brings me back to reality.
“When did your family move here? Cait asks.
“My family moved into a small two room house, a stones throw away from the Dnieper River in 1933. They stayed in Nikopol until they left Ukraine in 1943.” I respond.
“What are we going to see first?”
“I think we will start with the house, and then go from there…”
“The house is smaller than I remember.” I say. We enter through a caved in wall on the side of the house. The brick wall lies in a heap of red rubble. “This room was the main room, it had a coal stove, a table and a bench. Every morning it was my Opa’s responsibility to gather coal. All eight of them slept here. When Hans got married he moved out and moved across the street with his wife Maria. Anna and Lisa were the next to get married and move out. Anna eventually moved to a village just outside the city and Tanta Lisa moved to Poland with her second husband.”
“Second?” Cait asks.
“She married early, I think she was a romantic like my Opa. Her second was the Russian Soldier who died in combat.”
“You know who else is a romantic.” Cait responds.
“Yah a hopeless one.” I say. Cait smiles and squeezes my hand. “The small room back here”. I pause as Cait follows me through the debris. “This room was rented out to a young Jewish family. My Opa says the mother made the most amazing fruit pies. When the Germans arrived in 1941 the family fled to a hideaway two cities over. I am not sure whatever happened to them.” Cait is quiet and for a second we just stand in the room. As we exit the house I can hear someone shouting
I look to the left and see an old man approaching us.
“Who is that? Cait asks.
I smile. “That is Nicolai.”
“A childhood friend of my Opa’s.” Cait looks at me.
“Really how old is he?”
I laugh, “Old.”
“Nicolai its me Misha, Harry’s grandson.” I stop talking mid sentence because I realize that Nicolai doesn’t understand a word I am saying. As he reaches a small fence a smile crosses his face.
“Mikhail!” Nicolai yells.
“So he does remember me.” I say shaking his hand. Through a series of hand gestures I introduce Cait.
“Strasvitch” she says. He grabs her arms and gives her a big kiss on both cheeks.” Cait laughs at this stranger’s introduction, she is surprised, but her smile tells me she is entertained. For some reason I can’t imagine Nicolai’s appearance of his grey slicked back hair, thick grey stubble, white t shirt stained yellow and his sweatpants that are held up with a shoe lace has changed much over the decades.
“Are you picking up anything he is saying?” Cait asks as Nicolai continues rambling on.
“Not a word.” I respond.
Nicolai spats a few more words and I wave signaling that we have to carry on.
We hop the small fence and stand back to take a picture of the crumbling house. The vegetation has wrapped itself around the fence. Mull berry trees at the front of the house have begun to grow into the roof. There is also a thick layer of moss that has grown over the thatched roof. The side where the wall has caved in has caused the house to shift to the right. Cait hands me the camera and walks gingerly toward the house. She stands, still her back to me. She bends down picks up a red brick and puts it into her bag. She turns and smiles at me. I love that smile, it centers me. We begin to walk down the gravel road away from the city centre, the river to our right.
“So Nicolai was a neighborhood friend?” Cait asks.
“Yah he has lived in that house behind my Opa’s all his life.” Cait’s fingers slip into mine.
“Can you show me where Opa and his friends played soccer?” Cait continues.
“Absolutely, you know sometimes I have dreams of that place, being there with him, or anywhere here for that matter. Every time the dream is the same, we walk the fields or the streets and talk…