My grandmother had never thrown away bread and was very afraid of any governmental changes. In her house, one could find many bags with bread in the most unexpected places. Here is a stove bag with breadcrumbs. There are sweet crackers in the corner behind the wardrobe, and small crackers in the kitchen behind the cupboard. When the bread was getting moldy, she cut it and dried it.
We wondered why did she need that bread?! We persuaded, “Come on, grandma, well, here’s fresh, crunchy bread, it’s soft, eat this one!” She said, “That’s for you kids, eat with pleasure, and I’ve got some here”… It seems that not a single crumb or a grain has been lost in her house, if she did not eat it herself ‒ she fed the birds on the farm. In her house there always should have been bread, and if there was no bread, that meant hunger. Hunger is horror, terrible horror, indescribable horror. “What can I tell you about the Holodomor. At that time we both had a good harvest of potatoes and beans, and I barely sorted all that. And then it was scary, mom swelled, dad’s swelled, Ivan couldn’t walk anymore, and then spring came, and there were plants in the yard, so sweet there were so many of them, and mom had closed the doors to the house because people were dying of greenery. Oh, what else can I tell you… Come here, I baked some pies.” My grandmother had never thrown away bread. She did not know how to bake “few” pies, she baked them huge and so many, for everyone. The only time she screamed at me was when I said that the bread was bad. In her opinion, there could not be bad bread.
Any change in power she took as a terrible nightmare. When I asked her, “Grandma, did you cry when Stalin died?” And she told me she was crying, and when Brezhnev died, she cried too, and when those Soviet leaders died, she cried. And when there was a referendum, the grandmother also cried, and when they first elected Kuchma, she complained, “Oh, what will happen, children…” and cried.
For a long time I couldn’t understand why to hide the bags with last year’s bread around the house, why does she cry? According to my grandmother, everyone who came to power in her memory was a monster and everyone took bloody sacrifice. At the time of the Holodomor, she was only 11 years old, a teenager. Her life began from pain and fear, Holodomor, war, post-war hunger, workdays, slave labor, for the markings in the report card, two children, corn Khrushchev’s bread, with which one could “hammer the nails”, total deficiencies in everything. She got a terrible and difficult life, filled with monsters, who took a bloody sacrifice. And in order to survive, bread, an ordinary product made of flour, was transformed into a deity. Nobody looked at the wheat like people of her generation did, no one smiled on the harvest, no one touched sourdough the way they did. For them, it was not food, it was a real deity. They were taught to worship every bit of it.
Grandma died in a dream. But before that, she lost her mind. And in that emptiness, the old monsters came back to life. At night, she could wake me up and said, “Come, we should hide the beans because NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs ‒ translator’s note) would come, then we would die.” Or at dinner, for a moment she could lose sight of a piece of bread and cry with childish tears to me, “Oh mom, there’s no bread.”
Every year I put a candle on the window… And it’s not about being fashionable, or just because, it’s about memory. It’s about terrible and important memory, not to forget the price of each piece of bread, to know the price of history, to know the price of human life. The candle is about my grandmother, and about her brother, grandfather Ivan, and about grandfather Kyrylo, who never even became a teenager, because he couldn’t live through to see that green spring… This is my personal one “never again”!