A Necessary Sacrifice

Michael Lovitt
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Written by Michael Lovitt, aged 13 (a story about my Grandfather Jiří, when he was 10 years old in the 1950’s)

Finally, the summer holidays had started. Jiří was woken up by a very loud sound coming from a nearby coal mine. He wished he were at the countryside, so he could get away from the noisy, crowded, and polluted city of Ostrava. He just needed some fresh air. Suddenly he remembered he was going to see his wonderful grandparents, who owned a farm in a small town called Těmice in the south of Moravia.

Jiří’s mother was angry that he had not packed his bag yet and started shouting at him, so he grabbed everything he needed and shoved it in a bag. Half an hour later Jiří and his mother were ready to leave for the train station. He was extremely excited to see his grandparents and was also looking forward to spending time with the local children, who he had become friends with during his last few visits.

The train ride was not too exciting, Jiří spent most of it figuring out what he would do, while he was staying at his grandparents’ farm. He also thought about what had changed since he had last been to his grandparent’s farm.

Temnice village | Photo: archive of Jiří Pavlíček,  Michael Lovitt

Finally, the train arrived at the station where Jiří and his mother got off, they immediately spotted his grandfather waiting outside the station with his cow cart. Jiří said goodbye to his mother and joined his grandfather.

When they arrived at Jiří’s grandparents’ farm, he had a warm welcome from his grandmother, who had prepared a lovely meal for their arrival. During lunch Jiří and his grandparents caught up on everything that happened during the time that they hadn’t seen each other. His grandfather quietly mentioned to Jiří’s grandmother, that yet another farmer had handed over his property to the collectivization organisation. Jiří didn’t really know much about the organisation, but he knew that his grandfather was very much against it. This had been a profoundly serious topic in the family, for his grandfather didn’t want to hand over his property and Jiří couldn’t blame him. This was his grandfather’s life and the farm had been in the family for generations. But the communists would not let Jiří’s uncle John pursue his studies and they didn’t want to let his aunt Mary get a job unless his grandfather handed over his property. So now many people in the family wanted his grandfather to hand over his property for the benefits it would give them.

After lunch, his grandfather went to work on the field and his grandmother went to milk the cows. Jiří ran to the football pitch, which was near to his grandparents’ farm. From a distance he saw that there were children on the pitch already, which made him excited. When he got to the pitch everyone welcomed him since they had not seen him in quite a long time. There were ten boys altogether including Jiří, so it was perfect for a five-a-side match. Once they split into two teams, they started to play and had a very even match, but with a bit of luck from a late own goal Jiří’s team won. Once they finished playing, they left, each of them heading in a different direction

Michael Lovitt in the studio | Photo: Radio Prague International

When Jiří got to his grandparents’ farm, he was happy to see that dinner was served. When his grandfather came into the kitchen Jiří saw that his grandfather was completely worn out from his day’s work. They all enjoyed their well-deserved meal.

The next day wasn’t as fun as the first - once Jiří had finished eating his breakfast he had to help his grandmother with milking the cows, collecting the eggs that the chickens had laid and helping with the other farm animals. After lunch he relaxed and created his own bull fight with the baby calf.

Later in the afternoon his grandfather asked him to help him with harvesting and collecting the last bit of wheat. This sounded quite intriguing at first but as soon as they started Jiří realized what hard labour this is. His grandfather showed him how to use a scythe to properly harvest the wheat. Luckily, there wasn’t much wheat left because his grandfather had already harvested the rest. During the process, the two seldom spoke. The hour and a half of harvesting the wheat felt like an eternity for Jiří and he could not imagine how his grandfather could do things like this all year. Once they finished, they really needed a rest and after Jiří had a bite to eat, went straight to bed.

from the left: Johana Trejtnar,  Rade Meech-Tatić,  Michael Lovitt and Amelie Piper | Photo: Radio Prague International

The next morning Jiří woke up quite late. He found his grandmother in the barn taking care of the pigs and cows. He asked her if he could be of any help and she told him to hold the tail of one of the cows, while she milked it. The cows would wag their tail to make the annoying flies go away but by doing this they would also endanger the person milking the cow. Once the first cow was milked Jiří and his grandmother moved onto the second one. This time he tried to milk the cow and his grandmother held its tail. It was very tough for Jiří to milk it properly so in the end his grandmother took over. After they had finished milking the cows, Jiří took a bucket and went to get some water from the well, which lay quite near the barn. After bringing the water he helped his grandmother make lunch. Even though it wasn’t the most eventful or exciting morning, he liked it because he got closer to the farm, and he could experience why the farm meant so much to his grandparents.

Jiří’s grandfather didn’t show up for lunch, so Jiří was curious where he was. His grandmother told him that the collectivization organisation had told him to go to the municipal office she also mentioned that usually when they asked a farmer to go to the municipal office; someone from the organisation would explain all the benefits of giving your land to the system and would try to convince the farmer to give his property to them. Jiří’s grandmother also said that his grandfather had already been their numerous times.

Michael Lovitt | Photo: Radio Prague International

In the afternoon one of the local children, who Jiří was friends with came to the farm. He asked Jiří if he wanted to join him and a couple of the other boys to watch a blacksmith working, which Jiří happily agreed to. The blacksmith worked close to Jiří’s grandparents’ farm and one of the local boys was the son of the blacksmith. All the boys were interested in the blacksmith’s work. At one moment the blacksmith gave Jiří a hard stare and mysteriously asked him how his grandfather was doing. Jiří, surprised by this sudden interest of the blacksmith, told the blacksmith that all was well with his grandfather.

Once they got a bit bored a daughter of a greengrocer invited all the children to come play a make-believe shop in her father’s greenhouse. Then they played lots of other games before they decided to call it a day. Jiří really enjoyed the afternoon and was sad that it had to end.

Even though Jiří got back to the farm quite late his grandmother was happy to see that he came back before dark but still his grandfather was nowhere to be seen. Jiří had a couple slices of bread with butter and a glass of water before he decided he wanted to go to bed. Just as he was about to say goodnight to his grandmother, his grandfather came through the kitchen door.

He banged the door behind him, which startled Jiří. He started swearing and shouting about the collectivization organisation and the communist regime, which made Jiří’s grandmother really upset. Then his grandfather told Jiří’s grandmother that he can’t accept this regime anymore. That taking land from the farmers of Czechoslovakia is over the top and that they should know that eventually people will stop being okay with this. Jiří’s grandmother started crying and, in a voice, full of agony told his grandfather that he has no choice anymore, he must give them the farm. If he carries on like this the whole family won’t be allowed to pursue their jobs or use the new political system to their advantage. She told him, that she knows how much the farm means to him and how much it means to her, but this is for the best. He will have less work and less things to worry about. With this his grandmother went to bed. Jiří was shocked from the whole situation because he had never seen such emotion from his grandparents.

Michael Lovitt | Photo: Radio Prague International

Jiří’s grandfather leaned on the kitchen dresser, he opened a cupboard and took out a shot glass. He poured plum brandy into the glass. His hand was shaking as he grabbed the glass, uneasily looked at it for a second and then drank it. A minute or so later he turned to Jiří and told him to go to sleep. Jiří left his grandfather alone. This had been a lot to process for a 10-year-old boy, who as most children of his age, didn’t understand everything to its full extent. He fell asleep deep in thought.

The next few days Jiří spent mostly with his friends from the town and helping his grandmother with taking care of the farm. Emotions were calm, with Jiří’s grandparents not really talking to each other unless it was somehow connected to the farm.

On the day before Jiří went back to Ostrava, his grandfather was called back to the municipal office and Jiří wondered what would happen when his grandfather came back. From all the things that could happen he knew one thing; it wouldn’t be any good.

Jiří would be leaving early in the morning the next day, so he decided to say farewell to all the local children. He also said goodbye to all the farm animals. When Jiří finished packing his bags he went into the barn, where he saw his grandmother. She asked him about his day and he told her that it was great and that he really enjoyed spending time with the other children, but he still felt down from the intense argument that his grandparents had.

Just as Jiří’s grandmother was about to tell him that he shouldn’t worry about it, he and his grandmother could see the hunched figure of Jiří’s grandfather walking across the farm towards the barn. They could both see how sad he was. His eyes were full of tears. Once he was inside the barn, he sat on a small haystack. Jiří’s grandmother asked him what happened at the municipal office, and he told her that they forced him to hand over his land and threatened him with a gun to his head. He said that he had no other option. Then he laughed that at least there would be less work for him to do – Jiří could see all his grandfather’s pain in that laugh. Deep down Jiří knew that his grandfather wanted the best for his family, and in this case, he did the best thing for his family but one of the worst for himself. His grandmother, now also in tears, went over to his grandfather and gave him a big warm hug.

Giving the farm away scarred Jiří’s grandfather for the rest of his life…

Author: Michael Lovitt
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