Desert Tale

Number 7, Volume 2

A Life Like Mine

One day in my very young youth, probably when I was four, on a sunny day on a farm in Blairgowrie, Scotland, I was playing on a haystack. I wish I were so young at heart again! This is my thought every time I turn on the dreadful news these days. I still see myself when I drift into nostalgia, escaping the mess in Washington, on top of that golden haystack looking up at the odd shapes of the white puffy clouds dancing in the blue summer sky. Sliding down the haystack and scaring the life out of the squawking chickens, I did not have a care in my childish world. No one told me an evil Holocaust had just finished, and that London was digging itself out of the rubble of Nazi bombs; and that thousands of wee children like me had been transported on trains from London to Scotland for their safety; and that thousands of innocent Jewish children had also been transported on trains but to concentration camps and to their untimely death.

Growing up on a farm taught me to love animals. I would chase the chickens, climb up the wooden fence and talk to the coos, and play in the mud with the piglets, and was forcefully rushed to a hot bath by my mother shouting: “just look at you!”

A year later I found myself in school in Buenos Aires, not understanding a word my Spanish teacher was saying, so I would drift off into a world of make-believe. Not the least bit interested in a language I could not understand I would fantasize I was riding a horse named “Relámpago,” (Lightning.) I would grab him by his mane and off we would ride as fast as his legs would carry him. Under the trees we would fly onto the green pampas until we were both out of breath. He had been a race horse in his youth but now put out to pasture. There was no need for a saddle as I rode bareback. It was then I developed my love for freedom with the wind blowing in my flushed face.

“¿Alicia, estás prestando atención?”

“Perdón Señorita Torres.” I would ask forgiveness re-entering the crude reality of dull conjugation of irregular Spanish verbs. “Sorry, Miss Torres, I was not paying attention.”

Mother decided it would be best to remove me from that local school and place me in a parochial school run by French nuns. They would make a young lady out of me and less of a tomboy. I was to learn French, etiquette, and needlepoint. All of which I considered impracticable. She also insisted I play with my little neighbours Beatriz and Yolanda to learn to speak Spanish. But since I was always the one in charge, they learned more English than I did Spanish. I even taught them some bad Polish words that the French nuns could not understand, so we walked around the halls openly pronouncing them until a horrified Polish priest called me in to the office. My punishment was to attend Mass both on Saturdays and Sundays.  

By now, I was nicknamed “Terremoto,” (Earthquake) and I had no idea why. All I had done was steal a rose from a neighbour’s garden and place it in my inkwell during a boring math class. When Sister Dorata asked me if it was for her, I honestly said no, it was for me because I liked the sweet smell. When she smacked me across the knuckles with her ruler, I called her “Sister Diabla” (Devil) and was instantly sent to chapel to kneel on the wooden bench to say several Hail Mary’s in French. When I saw a dead nun in an open coffin in the dark chapel surrounded by four white candles giving her face a ghost-like appearance I knew she was haunting me. I screamed at the top of my voice which echoed through the archways bringing the priest running. The nuns were glad to see the back of my navy-blue uniform. I told my mother that wild horses could not drag me back to that insensitive institution. 

I was hastily placed in a private British school where my mother taught English, under the threat of excommunication from the family if I even thought of misbehaving. Speaking the Queen’s English, Castilian Spanish, broken French and parrot Polish, I grew up in a happy environment in the Polish community in Buenos Aires. We also socialized with the English. We did not however, mix with the Germans, or the Argentines.

The Nazi Germans had paid Perón in gold bouillon for his protection, but the Poles had turned over Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi SS Obersturmbannfürer, the architect of the Holocaust, to the Jewish community, who in turn contacted Mossad, who secretly kidnapped him and sent him to Israel for trial and hanging.

Life was good in Argentina in those days after the Holocaust in Europe. We had plenty of food, music, laughter and freedom. I grew up with maids, so I never learned to cook.

The only boys I knew at the age of fifteen were the Mormon missionaries who knocked on our front door. I had been trained not to open it, but to look through the small window for the purpose of knowing who needed our attention or money. Gypsies dripping in gold chains and teeth came around begging for money, and if you did not give it to them after an argument about the benefits of an honest day’s work, they would curse you in Spanish and place a Romanian hex on your family.

My parents would always invite the Americans in for a free dinner on Thursdays, my mother’s attitude was that the nice boys were so far away from home, and my stepdad wanted to ask them all about the political situation in the States. Like most Poles, we had made application to emigrate to Canada. But after living in freezing Scotland mother was “not too keen about living in the snow.”

In my teens, I had devoured Summerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, all of Mickey Spillane’s detective stories, and read Martin Fierro in prose, Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes in Castilian Spanish, and mandatory reading La Razón de Mi Vida, by Eva Perón. It was not until a year later when I was attending Blackness school in Dundee, that my cousin George pompously informed me that Perón was a “dictator.”

“He is?” I had no idea. I rather enjoyed listening to the moaning histrionics on the radio from Evita about how she lived only for her “beloved Juancito” – the reason for her life, and his loyal unions. It is amazing how travelling opens one’s eyes, learning the most fascinating useless information. Reading the Buenos Aires Herald I learned Evita was despised by the British both there and in England. She was accused openly of robbing from the rich to distribute to the poor, thus securing more votes for her husband’s presidential re-election. She groaned on the radio, being a trained actress, how she would make a great vice president of the country she loved with every fibre of her heart. She moved a Latin nation to tears, even my mother cried at listening to how she was forced to relinquish her phony nomination of the vice-presidency due to ill health.

Although the staged farce was entertaining to watch, the reality was that I had to dodge bullets from the civil war in the streets to take the train home. Our electricity would be turned off in the middle of dinner as we scrambled to light candles. The unions would call for one strike after another and even the buses would not run, so I had to depend upon my strong runner’s legs to walk miles home from school, while my poor mother was a nervous wreck not knowing whether or not I lay dead in a park. So it was the stories the Mormon boys told us about Utah and civility of their country that convinced my parents to choose USA over Canada; but Australia was a close second. We had waited nine years for our visas to emigrate to the USA. We did not just walk across the border as they do now, because my family believed in honesty, honour, dignity, hard work, and laws. 

I had been taught to think on my feet, not to trust anyone, and keep a tight social circle with only Europeans of our own milieu. A Polish writer, a bit of a dipsomaniac, once showed up on a Saturday with a live chicken under his arm for dinner. He wanted to make sure the wine was red, the bread crisp, and the chicken fresh. For all his antics, my dad could not beat him at Poker. Then there was the displaced Polish family from a noble name who opened a millinery store called The Hatbox, and whose members drove trucks for a living, who visited us on Sundays after church. My dad’s bridge partners were usually ex-combatants from the Polish forces who played ‘till two o’clock in the morning drinking Sello Verde or Sello Rojo brandy or Jerez de la Frontera.

They were an elite group who followed the code of knightly conduct with their chivalry by clicking their heels and kissing the hand of a lady. When they did this with me, I curtsied. Formality was still expected at the Polish Club, “Dom Polski,” where stories about Poland’s greatest triumph were taught to us about the battle for the relief of Vienna, when on the 12th of August 1683, King Sobieski rode at the head of an army of 70,000 Poles, against the Muslim forces of Kara Mustapha. The great army of Islam having been defeated found their foothold in Europe had crumbled.     

Life in Argentina was a round of parties at the British country club, tangos, milongas, steaks, and siestas, until political chaos when the Peronistas were putting society doyennes in prison with the prostitutes because Evita could not convince them to send money to her charities, which mostly consisted of her emeralds, diamonds, and trips to French couturiers. She had grown up dirt poor and was adamant about brutally forcing the oligarchs to pay for her bad luck.  

A life like mine annoys most people. They go to their monotonous jobs every day, clean house, thump on keyboards, pay bills, resolve annoying problems, and are lucky to get away for two weeks of holidays. They cannot get off the exhausting economic treadmill which a capitalist society demands. I have never let money control me. I was determined that I would not join the rat race routine.

I firmly believe that birds of a feather flock together. All I have to do is to look out my window to see that the quail do not mix with the doves. They do not eat together nor socialize together. They stay with their own kind. And I feel people are the same. They feel more comfortable with their own ilk. Why would the Muslims want to impose Sharia law onto our society? Those of us raised Roman Catholics, or Mormons, or Protestants, or Jews, are not interested in their culture, or lack of it. Yet more wars have been fought over religion than any other subject.

I have lived under a monarchy, a dictatorship, communism and a republic, and have learned that most people just want to exist with their families in peace. Thank God and thank American blood, I did not have to live under Nazism. I could never live under Sharia law as I don’t think I could live being told what to think or do. I will always have that rebellious side of me protecting my free spirit.

LIVE FREE OR DIE! That is my motto. Or was it General John Stark, who first said “Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst Evil,” in a toast in 1809?  

I think I will always be the little girl in the haystack despite what destiny chooses for me. To feel the warm breeze in my face, the rush of a running horse beneath me, the delight of getting down in the earth with animals, and rebelling against injustice – that is what propels me to be a writer. Nobody owns me, I can write the truth.

Alinka Zyrmont