Child's kingdom


   Starting at an early age, the Lemko child was trained by his/her parents to perform useful work for the benefit of the entire family. As soon as a child started to talk, he/she was obligated in the morning and in the evening to repeat after his/her parents the words of a prayer in front of holy icons that hung high on the wall over the dining table. That fourth corner of the Lemko house was the "holier of holies", where the entire family prayed on their knees and where the "daily bread" was consumed, which was honestly earned. Frequently it was the responsibility of a five-year old child to guard chicks, ducklings and goslings in the yard. This chore frequently turned into an interesting occupation, involving throwing pebbles at the audacious magpies or crows which sat on roof-ends or on fences and preyed upon these young creatures. As the goslings grew bigger and were able to feed on the blades of grass by themselves, a young shepherd with a stick in hand led his flock to a river, where in the company of other young shepherds from the neighborhood, he would spend the entire day like this until late fall. The shepherd was given a long lunch break, during which he could take a nap, since he had to be up at sunrise the next morning. During this time the geese would have been herded into a special enclosure or some other appropriate accommodation. However, the main feeding period took place right after lunch and frequently it was necessary to take them far from the village to large wetlands which were referred to as "kameentsee" (pebbles) or to a brook at the upper end of the village. The shepherds took with them their "meryndia" 1 which was later consumed in the company of others, next to a fire. Nevertheless even here these young shepherds had to watch over every goose, like the proverbial eye in the head, because sly foxes preyed upon them. If the shepherd was found to be inattentive he was then punished when he returned home in the evening. Most often young shepherds were divided into two groups: girls and boys who opted to play different games. Girls made various rag-dolls, kneaded out of clay knishes and festive breads and baked them out in the sun. Boys were preoccupied catching fish and craw-fish, ran along ravines, shot arrows at the enemy, played war games, about which they heard from their parents. Boys constructed fortresses out of rocks and tree limbs and destroyed them while fighting the enemy. Occasionally they joined forces and together organized make believe wedding, and at that point, the singing lasted forever. Whether these acts were influenced by the weather or not, nobody knew, nevertheless the elderly folks joked: "Rain is coming, since the goose shepherds are singing". But this turned out not to be a joke, because by the following morning it indeed rained. These were happy childhood years, which we wistfully tell our grandchildren about in a foreign land.

1 food, mostly sandwiches, for consumption when away from home

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Copyright © 1997 Jon W. Madzelan
This Home Page was created on Tuesday, June 17, 1997
Most recent revision Wednesday, January 14, 1998