Heinar`s Website

                                      My Childhood

 
My childhood is far behind  me now and some of my memories are hazy. Some things I can remember differently, as they really happened. Maybe the past time has added bright shades to these events, but at the same time maybe the sense of reality of an older man can see darker colours there, where it was not bad by a child`s mind. The next memories are only those I may say  really happened. There are some other memories, which consist of separated pictures and memoirs, which I can not add to any event or connect to anything. For this reason I will not tell of those.
 
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As I have said I was born the 18-th of September 1939. in Rakvere, Estonia. First we were living on Voidu street, later in a big flat of 5 rooms on Vene street. Later my parents moved into a smaller flat on Rahvamaja street across the big park from the previous manor named Rahvaaed (Folks Garden). This is the first place I remember. From the bedroom windows was a beautiful view of the ancient castle ruins. Through the windows of the living-room one could see the park with its big lindens. When I was old enough to go out with my friends who were one or two years older, both places were very exciting playgrounds for us. The carefreeness of our parents was understandable, because there was no traffic in that area.

For some reason nor the pond in the park of Rahvaaed,...
 
 
 
... neither fallen caves of the ruins of the castle were  places we liked  to play. But we used to play hide-and-seek among them both. In Spring the surface of the park was covered with squills, which made for a beautiful view.
 
 
 
 
There was a small bandstand in the park and great labyrinth between the walls. It was like it was made just  for us. Later there were some tennis courts, but this was not interesting  and  not many played at that time.
 
Not far from our home was a place we called Trash Forest. What its official name was, I do not know even now, if it ever had a name at all. There were a lot of spring flowers there, like bird-eyes and cowslips. We brought them home by the arm loads. There were a lot of abandoned arms and ammunitions from the last war, but luckily we all were  too young and had no  interest in exploding, so we were saved from the worst. There was a small stream near the house. This also was a good place for playing. Water reached only to our knees, though in some places it was deeper. There was not enough water to swim in though, so to this day I never learned to swim.
 
 
 
My father was working as an architect in the town administration. His office was about 50 meters from home on the other side of the street. Sometimes he took me to his office to show me his colleagues. Actually I think he was showing me to them. My mother was a housewife. Her mother, my grandmother was living in the same house. Her small flat was on the basement floor. I remember very little about her. I just can remember once she took me to the church and another time we went together to buy skimmed milk. When I went with her I had a small wooden truck and the seller put there a little bucket of bluish liquid in it. I had pulled it almost  home, but for some inexplicable reason threw the string off and with the words: "Load heavy!"  ran home. This event gave my grandmother a reason to laugh from the bottom of her heart. According  to my mother, she was a very caring woman, who loved me very much. My grandfather died a long time before my birth.
 
Mother ran the house, because father had a lot of work and besides he was an important sociable person, who´s main activity was drinking with his friends. He was not a drunkard in the meaning of the word, but still there were often heavy quarrels with mother. Once mother sent me to bring him home from the restaurant in the park of Rahvaaed. I did my best, but with no result. When I came home alone, I got a proper beating from mother. I was very offended of course, but later I understood her. Times were stressful and my mother`s nerves were quite tight.

Mother had a lot of knowledge about our household. I thought and I still think, that there was no work she couldn't do. The education she got was much better than they get nowadays, of course, but she did things that were not even taught at school. When we moved in our flat and my father had gone to celebrate our moving, mother put up and connected the ceiling-lamp and the doorbell. Later she told me, that she did not understand, how she could do this. I remember her always doing something in the kitchen or sewing something. Almost all our wardrobe was made by her. Needleworks, she had made were so beautiful that people even now admire them. For some reason I remember her making sausages with my grandmother. How did this taste I do not remember, but taking account of their abilities, there is no doubt it was good.

Our flat was on the ground floor and quite big. It consisted of three rooms, the kitchen, bathroom and toilet. There was a sewer system, but the water pipe coming from under the street was broken and while we  lived there we had to bring water from the well in the yard. In the toilet we had to pour water from a bucket. One can only guess, how much water we had to haul for that. We did not use the bath-tub very often for the same reason. For laundering there was a room on the basement floor with big tub and a scrubbing-board. In the other side of the basement there were woodsheds for the inhabitants. The two-storied house itself was quite a big building with two wings. I never understood how many flats there were, because there were so many entrances. The house was built of wood and obviously the owner had planned to plaster  this, but this work had never been done. Only when we left the house, did that work  begin. There were a lot of children in the house and I never was short of playmates. Children from the neighbor houses were our friends, too. After the WW II, from every quarter came some kind  of "specialists" one of our rooms was confiscated. First there lived a young woman, later an older one . How our family got along with them, I do not remember, but I never saw or heard  any quarrels.
 
Life in that time was much more simple, than now. There were almost no home appliances in my childhood except an electric iron and an electric hot plate. We had an electric kettle, too, which was the reason my father once got mentioned in a local newspaper in his bachelorhood. He had filled the kettle, put it onto a padded stool and went to celebrate with his friends. The kettle did its duty and boiled the pot dry then it began to emit smoke. However neighbors noticed this and called fire-brigade. We had a cutout of that article for a long time. "The flat is on fire, the host is in the restaurant."  We had no radio until my aunt gave us one. Radios were few at that time, because both invaders, Russians and Germans confiscated them. Civilians were not allowed to own radios during the war. Of course they simply forgot to return them when the war was over.

I remember very little about the war. According to my mother there were two German air force officers lodged in our flat. They kindly shared their ration with us. I do not remember anything about this time. I only remember the German honey which tasted good, though it was not the real one. But I remember well the retreat of German troops from Rakvere. My parents planned to leave Estonia and so we prepared for the railway trip to Tallinn and after that to Germany. It was very naive to suppose, that someone was awaiting us with open arms. It is difficult to guess what could happen to us and how could our life would continue. My grandmother was weak and in ill health for this reason she refused to go with us.

We started our trip in September 1944. We got on the train, but at the same time Russian airplanes made the first bombing at the station of Rakvere. The station was hit and caught fire. Russia used incendiary bombs. The station was burning heavily, but we were lucky, because our train which stood only 100 meters from the station was not damaged. We ran from the train to the bomb shelter with other people. The most ironic thing was, that there were no German troops in Rakvere at this time so it was civilians the Russians had bombed like they did many times before and after that.

There were two or three attacks after the first one and it was an hour before we had the courage to climb from the shelter. The station and the train as well were on fire. I do not know why my parents decided not to stay home, but we started the trip to Tallinn (110 km) instead. All our property we had taken with us to the train, stayed there. Partly on foot, partly using every kind of means of transport including a railway hand car we finally arrived to Tallinn. Meanwhile we had another bomb attack in Tapa (50 km from Tallinn) and spent hours behind a jammed door of a shelter. Was I afraid? I do not know. The child has habit of forgetting all unpleasant things. And besides, I did not understand the real danger.

How many days did we travel, where did we sleep, what did we eat, I do not remember, but at last we were In Tallinn. My aunt,  my father`s sister was living in her private house 10 km from the center of Tallinn. I do not know, in which room we lived, but I remember our returning to Rakvere. This time we were with my father. My grandmother died in October 1944 and mother returned to Rakvere earlier to arrange the funeral. So she never saw her mother again after we left Rakvere .

We traveled by train with father, sitting on the rear platform of the carriage. A ragged man, obviously from Russia was with us on the same platform. In Rakvere father climbed down from the carriage, when suddenly the train started to move. I'll never forget the distressed cry from my father as he reached his hands towards me. Our ragged companion reacted very quickly. He seized me and passed me to my father. After five meters the train stopped anyway, so there was no reason for panic. The town was in ruins near the station, but our house and neighborhood was in good condition. Could  we have stayed in Rakvere without this unpleasant trip?  Unfortunately there is no one to ask any more. My parents rest in the Liiva cemetery in Tallinn and have for a long time now. How superficial people are! When it is too late we awake and realize the things we should have asked. Everything that is important we want to know is now gone forever.

Also I remember about the Red Army coming to Rakvere. My father had the task of designing so called triumphal arch and to direct the building of this. It was quite simple, made of planks and decorated with red flags and pictures. I remember those tired men in washed-out shirts arriving to the town. The first troops were Estonians. There was no pompous welcome. Streets were mostly empty. Spirits among citizens were low, because no good could be expected from the Russian invaders. There were a lot of rumors about the crimes against civilians by Russian soldiers.

After soldiers came to town so did a lot of Russians. Onto our playgrounds appeared a great number of ragged boys, who without a break chatted very loudly. We, Estonian boys had a lot of quarrels and fights. Two families arrived into our house, too. One of them spoke Estonian fluently. Obviously they were Estonians living in Russia. The other family were Russians and did not speak Estonian at all. Both families had  boys our age. There were times we were more or less friends, but sometimes they were against us. They did not touch me, because I was the smallest and youngest in our company. Later, when I was already a pupil,  I was going home from school and a bigger Russian girl attacked me , beating me with her school bag, she yelled: "Damned Estonian!" They were taught from the earliest childhood, that we Estonians if not fascists were at least their supporters.

Grown-up people appeared, too. They walked from door to door asking for help. One day when I was home alone, someone knocked at the door. (They could not use the doorbell as they had never seen this before). I opened the door and saw a vagabond-like woman standing in the staircase. I slammed the door immediately and never opened it any more to anyone. This was the worst thing that happened to us. I never heard about crimes, or maybe my parents did not speak of this, when I was with them. I also remember two German prisoners of war, who searching for food sawed and hacked firewood. They were very decent and polite men. There was no camp in Rakvere and they were allowed to spend the day anywhere they liked. My father and mother spoke German fluently, father spoke Russian also.

Everyone was short of food. Like many others we grew two pigs in our woodshed adjusted to a pigsty. I remember their names, too. They were Kutu and Konnu. Mother took care of them, since I was too young for such a responsible task. For killing them my father asked help from an officer, who lived in our house. He did this in very simple way using his gun. This meat sufficed for a long time and we could even sold some of it.

Lines of waiting people in shops were usual. Luckily my mother had time to wait in them. I was old enough to stay home alone. I played with my toys and did not feel lonely. How rich was our food I do not remember, but we did not starve, either. Anyway mother decided to put me to the kindergarten, because there was at least food guaranteed. I can not say, that this was very pleasant for me. I was used to my freedom, but now I had to obey and be disciplined. Nevertheless it was a quite good place. There were some of my old playmates already waiting for me. I met new friends, but never had constant friendships with them. I was there only for one summer. I do not remember anything special, except a required nap after dinner but worst of all taking  cod-liver oil before breakfast
 
 I remember some of the inhabitants of our house. Our neighbors were an Reimann family, who`s mother was a teacher in our school. They had three kids - a boy and two girls. On the second floor there was a Vaarman family. Their son, Evald was the oldest and usually the leader in our games. He had a sister,  but I can not remember anything about her. There was also a Kaaleste family, who`s son, Ants was younger than me, but still ready for anything. There were some more families in our house, the newcomers from Russia with their sons. I have already told you about them. In our neighborhood there  was the house of Rink. Their son, Vello was my best friend. His father was the chief of militia in Rakvere - quite an important man. This was almost all of my acquaintance. Another neighbor was doctor Raatma, but I have forgotten her children`s names.

Our games were quite innocent. We never broke anything or made any other trouble. Most of our time we spent in the park Rahvaaed or climbing in Vallimagi, where the ruins of the castle were. The usual games were hide-and-seek and ball games, though balls were very rare things for us. I remember, that I bought an inner tube ball for 1 ruble and was very unhappy, when it found its sad end on the thorn of an acacia bush in the yard of doctor Raatma. Our favorite games were also any kind of role plays, where everyone presented some famous person and situation. I remember when, after reading a book Names on the Marble Tablet, which told of fighting Estonian schoolboys in the Estonian War of Independence against Russia in 1918, when Estonia got its freedom, I tried to organize a drama myself using my friends, but obviously I was not a good producer. Not one of my friends had never heard of this book, and besides, it was forbidden by Russians. A lot of time we spent in the forest picking flowers. Once with Evald and Vello I made a trip to a village 5-6 km from our home. Our parents did not resist. To the contrary, they supplied us with provision for a journey. In connection with this trip I remember a situation, which made me a bit angry at my father. I had lost a bottle given to me, but father thought that we had smashed it into pieces with stones. It wasn't an accusation, but still I felt bad.

I can not say, that there was no entertainment at that time. There were a lot of foreign movies in our cinemas. I remember especially Indian Tombstone and Rebellion in the Desert, which were either English or American movies. There were some German or Austrian movies, too with a famous Hungarian actress Marika Roekk in the main role. Mother took me always with her and there in the dark hall I imagined to be one of those brave adventurers or gallant heart breakers. I was a bit precocious, because in our big bookshelves, which I remember using very eagerly though  many things were incomprehensible to me, but it did not matter.
 
The same time there was a tour of the theatre Estonia in Rakvere. They played a musical comedy Der Zigeunerprimas (The Gypsy Band Leader, known as Sari and The Gypsy Virtuoso in English  speaking countries)  of Imre Kalman. It was so funny by my mind, that I laughed all the time. When I was in  kindergarten I had a chance to play part in a show on that  same stage. I played a growing birch with 5 or 6 other boys. We were sitting on the floor holding small trees. Besides the local theater showed every Summer open-air performances located behind the theater on the small slope, rehearsals were very exciting for us, children. We never missed one. So we usually had seen all the play before opening night and we knew most of the text. But seeing the same acters and actresses dressed and made up and the stage full of decorations was gripping.

In Winter we used the same slope for skiing. There was a better place for this - steep hills of the Vallimagi, but for our equipment it was too dangerous. One Winter, when my father visited my aunt in Tallinn she gave me skates. I was very happy, indeed, but there was no one, who bothered to teach me in Rakvere and so my aunt`s splendid gift was unused. Instead  we had a fine kick-sled to ride down along the street.

There were two schools in Rakvere at this time - The Secondary School and the Grammar School. The Secondary School was closer and so I started my education there . I was 7, when I went to school. It was a small two-storey wooden building about 1 km from our house. All my friends were there, too. I could read and write already so I had no difficulties, but some of my classmates could not even spell. Our class teacher was an old, gray-haired, strict, but still maternal woman, Gerda Lindma. We all loved her, even the worst lazybones in our class because of her fairness. She never punished anyone with no reason.

We had to keep clean, though there was no soap in the washing room and we had only cold water. Our class teacher made  louse control every week. It was always successful. I had no problem with my head, because my mother was a very clean woman, who kept her household and family very tidy. She bathed me tiresomely often. As I already have told you we had no running water and I was bathed in a small zinc tub in the kitchen. Since there was very often power failure it was very ghostly to be in that tub with the room lit only by one ćandle.

Those power failures were the usual part of the everyday life. It happened very often during our lessons and since no one knew how long they would last we had to sit silently in our desks and wait. Sometimes our lessons finished before power returned. Flashlights were popular among pupils. I had only some kind of very simple one it was nothing to be proud. Later when my father brought me from Tallinn a flashlight with dynamo, I was a center of curiosity. No one had seen that kind of a implement before. There was no street lightning in Rakvere after the war at all. Coming home from school we had to be very careful and watch our steps. Still we never were afraid. We never heard of  any crimes in our area.
 
There were every kind of children in our school. Some of them were much older, because the school was used for German soldiers during the war and so they had to study together with younger children. There were also those who did not get enough food and asked other richer classmates to give them some. There was one boy bigger boy than I who asked me to share my lunch, he was not maliciuos . I did not have much myself, but I could not look at his hungry eyes and so we shared all I had with me. I had a very small appetite and never felt hungry.

Because there were more children than teachers our school held split sessions. One being in the morning and another in the evening. From the very beginning I went to school in the evening and this lasted till the end of my school time. This was not good. I  always had to watch the clock  to make sure I reached school on time.  I finished  the second class with a certificate of commendation, though I was sick quite a bit. I was also selected to be the monitor of the class. This was the duty I never valued.

In the second class we had to show our political awareness. A young pioneer leader came to the classroom and began to enlist us to the pioneer organization. She did not listen to any arguing and all of us were put on the list, me as the monitor of the class first of all. In the ceremonial convocation we all got red neckerchieves and we promised with trembling voices to be ready for something we did not understand ourselves. There was no problem at home, because all who want to manage must go with the flow.

As the best pupil I was the leader of the pioneer detachment. I have never valued any kind of  leadership and because of my  indifference I  sometimes got disapproval from the adult pioneer leader. I was a bit ashamed , but still I was never more eager. Luckily our pioneer leader did not know herself what we had to do. There were some conventions of pioneers, but I can not remember what they were talking about. There was also what was  called Pioneer`s Room in Rakvere. We visited this place once, but as there was complete inactivity the first visit was the last one as well.

Studying was very easy for me. My father and mother never had to check to see if my home works was done. I never asked them for help. Maybe this was one of the reason why I was a bit lazy in my studies  later.

Only later I discovered that our life that seemed to be quite peaceful actually was not peaceful at all. Like almost all families in Estonia we were under a great depression. There was one word, which made people  fear and lose sleep. This word was "deportation". According to what my mother said we had our suitcases packed all the time to avoid packing the last minute. Very often with little reason or no reason at all families were awaken (it happened always at night) and taken out of  their homes. The point of destination was always the same - Siberia. My father had been a member of the Defence League, that was reason enough. Another reason was, that someone was interested in my father`s job. There were two alternatives, either father gives him his job or the long trip to the deepest parts  of Russia. Father chose the first choice and so finished the first period of my life. In 1-st of May 1950. we said good bye to our friends in Rakvere while sitting on our property in the truck we started our trip to Tallinn, which became our home town till the end of our life. We find our new home in my aunt`s house as we had found it during the war.

Now writing those memories I am sitting as the full and equal owner in a small room of this house and remember how my life has gone. Have I lived as I was dreaming? Have I done everything I have planned? Do I make some mark of my excisting in this world? Who knows? And besides, does it have any importance?
 
Tallinn 2006