My mother Julia Alexandronowna Pollak, was born 28.5.1892 on Rostov Don. Both her parents were not young; she was the youngest child of four. Her sister, Marusia, was ten years older and her two brothers were in their twenties. Being an unexpected addition to the family, she was given plenty of love and all that money could buy. She grew, more or less, as a single child with adoring parents.
Accordingly to what mother told me, she was a perfect child who was never punished and did not have to be reprimanded. Somehow I never did believe it, but who knows? Maybe she was an exceptional child or perhaps her parents were very permissive.
She was sent to an exclusive girls’ boarding school where she did extremely well, being very ambitious. I saw her matriculation certificate: she was excellent in Russian, French, German, History and Geography, very good in all remaining subjects, except arithmetic (or was it maths?) and painting, where she was considered just good.
She did not see much of her sister and brothers, as the brothers were already independent and living in different cities and her sister was attending university. As Julia’s mother was ailing, she had T.B., Julia spent most of her school holidays with her mother in either Switzerland or some European Spa.
My mother admitted to only one act of disobedience – she tried to raise white mice in the drawer of her school desk! The mice were confiscated and she was not allowed to attend the theatre, which she loved so much, for a whole term.
Looking at old school photos I see a good looking girl in a huge white apron, which was part of her uniform, tightly secured around a very small waist.
When she finished school and was presented to society she had plenty of admirers (they were not called boyfriends). I don’t know if at this stage she was presented at court or only after she was married. She liked boys but none in particular. She loved balls, beautiful dresses, dancing as much as possible with handsome men and, of course, she loved flirting.
One night in September 1912 she went to the grand ball, properly chaperoned of course. Early in the evening a good looking man with a beard caught her eye. He had a look of self-assurance, seemed unpretentious and moved bearing himself very well. Julia asked who he was and was told that he was a very eligible bachelor in a high position, well off, but not to pin her hopes on him as he had so far avoided getting engaged. Rumour had it that he was probably looking for someone who would be suitable not only here in Petersburg but also on his far away farm. Julia replied:
“I will be dancing with him tonight.”
Julia came home that evening and announced that she was really in love and would marry Adolf Wojtkiewicz She added that she would prefer to get married soon and that she did not intend to ever live on a farm, either here or far away.
Despite an age difference of twenty odd years, it was a happy marriage. She was good looking, always in a good mood, ready to laugh at the smallest provocation. She loved entertaining and learned quickly what was expected of her.
She admired his position, she loved to mix in circles where most belonged to a group who could be listed in ‘Who’s Who’. She never lived on a farm, as she disliked farms and all that went with them. She was a good and loyal wife, not only in the good times but also when times became hard. She was a very devoted wife and when Adolf became old, she looked after him to the best of her abilities.
My father, Adolf Wojtkiewicz was born in August 1872. In my opinion he had a very good and healthy childhood. Living on a well-to-do and well-run farm, there were very few taboos for him. He was nursed by a wet nurse and afterwards the same woman kept her eye on him and her own son.
Already as a toddler he was allowed to run free in the large yard as there were always children and grown ups coming and going who could take care in case he should hurt himself. When he became older he was allowed to roam as much as he liked. He always had company as on such a farm there were always plenty of children of different age groups.
There were some rules. One of them: he had to be clean, dressed and even wear shoes for the evening meal after sunset. This meal he had with his mother and sometimes his brother too. He had to bow his head for the prayer before the meal, he had to have good table manners, he had to know which cutlery and which glasses to use. He was even allowed to take part in the conversation, although the general opinion was that children should be seen but not heard. He was not allowed to use bad language nor to speak slang.
He had to wash before meals and, when it was warm, this was performed in the yard under the pump, where all the labourers had to wash too, and from where the water was brought for the animals.
All other meals he could have when and where he pleased. Mostly he had them not in the house proper, but in the big kitchen where all the labourers and all the children had theirs too. It was a very large kitchen with an earthen floor, benches along wide pinewood tables. The tables were white as they were scrubbed every day with some special homemade soap, probably lye. If he was late for a meal it did not matter, as the cook liked him and would give him something special or some leftovers.
Most of his time he spent with the cowherds and the stable youths. He loved the big forest and the river Dubisa. He was allowed to fight and the children were allowed to hit but not with sticks or stones; that was taboo. Another taboo was not to take young chicks out the nest, eggs – yes – chicks – no.
He was allowed to go swimming and riding at a very early age. The elder boys taught him to swim as they taught other young boys. A few halter necks were joined together and an elder boy who was sitting on a horse, bareback of course, holding one end and the other end was fastened round the learners waist or under the armpits. There were a few planks which led over the river near a bend to allow people to take a short cut without going to the bridge proper. From this little bridge the boy was thrown down into the stream and then hauled up towards the bank. The elder boy was usually very careful in fastening the rope, it was his responsibility and should something go wrong, he would be belted to remember all his life. The river, although not wide and usually not too deep, had many eddies. These caused whirlpools. When Adolf was about six he wanted to try and swim through an eddy. He bribed the elder boy with lollies to let him have a try. Nothing went really wrong, only it took too long to drag Adolf back, as the boy was without a horse. Adolf vomited a lot and after that he did not like to go anywhere where it was deep. I never saw father swimming where he could not reach the bottom.
Next year he started his education. A tutor was engaged and new taboos were added. In all matters concerning learning the teacher had to be obeyed without question. Homework had to be done before Adolf could go roaming. He also had to be dressed and washed, although shoes could be omitted.
He must have had a good teachers as he enjoyed his lessons, except calligraphy, although he got good marks when at school. I still have a copy of his calligraphy lessons from when he was at school.
Sunday was different. Already before breakfast Adolf had to be dressed, including shoes, and attend prayers held in the largest room. All farmhands were welcome, but none were forced to come. Sometimes they all went to Lenkiele where there was a chapel and mass was often celebrated by a priest.
Adolf liked to spend money on his comfort and also to impress people; he also liked beautiful things. He was lucky that he could afford it, although basically he was not a spoiled man, and when times changed he was quite happy in rather primitive surroundings.
Mother had a miscarriage in 1914 after sliding down the stair banister when seven months pregnant. Seeing father coming up the stairs, she became frightened of father, as Adolf had forbidden this kind of fun during pregnancy. She faltered and slipped, falling down the rest of the stairs. She was ill for a while but recovered completely and I was born two years later. (17th April 1916).
In Russia the Revolution was approaching and in Europe World War One was in progress.
The Tsar regime started to lose ground. The Tsar’s family were all killed, also most of his close relatives. The Tsar’s adherents, aristocracy and elite had to flee. It affected us: Father was imprisoned in 1918 by the revolutionists for belonging to the suspect ‘educated’ class.
Whilst my Father was in prison mother took me to her father’s place, grandpop Alexander’s, who had a big house in Novorosysk on the Black Sea.
Whilst in Novorosysk my Mother, Julia, became an actress because as such she was allowed unrestricted accommodation and also felt safer , as there was less risk for them to be imprisoned, even if she did belonged to the group of people who should have, by now, been eliminated in the revolution.
Mother was able to secure a whole two-storey house for us where we all lived together; my mother Julia, her father Alexander, her sister, who was married to a doctor, and their boy of five.
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