Translated in English by Ulvi Haagensen
I was woken by some kind of clattering–whistling din. I hadn’t yet opened my eyes, I hadn’t yet become conscious, when through my sleep I realised – the combines! I couldn’t possibly be wrong, that noise is unmistakable. I flung the blanket off and dashed to the window. The combines! I yelled and rushed into the kitchen, from the kitchen into the yard shouting “The combines! The combines!”
They came from the direction of Esna and there were many, many. I could manage nothing more than stare avidly at them and hoarsely gasp “Combines!”
They turned from the Ugari turn off into the barley behind our house! Yes! They all turned, one after the other. Today they’re going to cut the barley behind our house! I was already behind the barn and all I could see was combines – those big, red, powerful, majestic, proud, beautiful combines! Shivering with excitement and agitation I eyed them voraciously. I wanted to run towards them, to touch them with my hand, to take them all into my lap, to embrace them – but they were too far of. They were too heavy and too big. So I just stared at them, my mouth dropped open, and I gasped, unable to utter a word. All I could think was combines! combines! At long last!
Only then did I return to my senses and I calmed down. I saw that I had run outside barefoot wearing only my shirt. I cast one last covetous glance in the direction of the combines and scampered back inside. Grandmother and Grandfather were both in the kitchen. It was a few minutes past ten and Grandmother was setting dishes on the table for breakfast.
“Well! What happened to you?” Grandfather was surprised, “Have a bad dream did you?”
“The combines came,” I answered, “they’re going to start cutting here, now behind the hedge.”
To that Grandfather didn’t reply but continued to sit on the wood box arranging his footrags on the rail above the range to dry.
“Where are you stuffing those?” scolded Grandmother, who was clattering with knives and forks some distance away, “My rissoles are there! That’s right! Go on put your rags on the rissoles. Go on!”
“Don’t whinge!” replied Grandfather.
“Well don’t put them there!”
“I’m not putting them! They’re not even touching.”
“Yeah! Maybe you’d like to put your boots in the bowl of sauce? That would finish it off nicely!”
“You want that? Well I will!”
“Well go on!”
Grandfather gestured dismissively and disappeared into the other room.
“See! Jaak, that’s the kind of pig your Grandfather is. No, not a pig but a totally filthy hog. But listen we have to eat fast, Uncle Mihkel is coming today. Good Lord! it’s already after ten! How is it that we’re eating so late today? Quick, come and eat! You too old man!”
For me, the fact that Uncle Mihkel was coming was without doubt a long awaited event, but the appearance of the combines now overshadowed everything. I didn’t even have much of an appetite and in my case this was really unusual.
“When’s he coming?” I asked.
“Should be here already. I wonder if something has happened?” worried Grandmother, as she glanced at the clock.
I hadn’t yet finished eating when Muki began barking outside.
Well this surely is Mihkel, thought Grandmother.
And indeed it was Uncle Mihkel! His voice resonated over the entire yard as he greeted the people of the house. Uncle Mihkel is a stern and loud man, so it’s no surprise that his voice is stern and loud. After a long absence he had decided to come to see the folk of Kaaruka, and here he stood. Otherwise he lives with Aunty Kadi in Tootsi and is a mechanic in some kind of pumping station.
Tootsi is a strange place not far from Pärnu where everything is within arms reach. For example if you want to go to the shop – Please help yourself! Just a hundred metres from your door, or to the library – a hundred metres in the other direction. The canteen? The cinema? The bus station? You’re welcome! It’s right there. No great trudging through the town.
Aunty Kadi works in the briquette factory as a bookkeeper but apparently it’s a busy time at work and so she couldn’t come this time, but had to stay on her own in Tootsi.
Even though Mihkel is stern and loud he isn’t terrifying at all. Where a joke is needed he’ll crack one, where laughter is needed he’ll laugh. And when someone needs to be put in their place or a harsh word is needed then Uncle Mihkel doesn’t think long and hard about it but will dish that out too. That’s the kind of man Uncle Mihkel is.
Now Grandfather said, “Ah! Good that you came. The yard is full of wood and it all wants sawing in a hurry.”
“Aha!” said Uncle Mihkel, “We’ll deal with that wood in a jiffy.”
“But first we’ll eat,” said Grandmother, “And after that we can do the wood.”
“Say! I am a wee bit peckish,” admitted Mihkel, “I brought something edible along too. Me, I’m too dim to think of it – but Kadi, she did.
“Oh! You shouldn’t have,” rebuffed Grandmother, bringing a fourth plate to the table, “Don’t you worry about us now. See that you manage yourselves. Listen Boy! Move over a bit.”
“I’ve already finished, thanks. I’ll go outside now,” I answered and slurped the last of my barley coffee.
The combines hadn’t yet driven onto the field, but were waiting together in a bunch, all eight of them and two lorries, until the dew on the grass was quite dry. The sound of hammer blows against sheet metal could be heard. No doubt one of the drivers was tinkering with his machine, just in case, so there’d be no hassles during the precious work hours. I knew that driving onto the field was a question of minutes. The day was fine, beautifully sunny and the wind moderate. The sky was covered with white-grey fine-weather clouds, the air warm like an August day. I climbed onto the roof of the sheep shed and watched intently how the combines stood on the edge of the field and prepared for the workday ahead. I was grabbed by an inexplicable sense of enjoyment, an indescribable bewitchment.
Aaah! The first combine roared. Above the gigantic machine appeared a black smoke and that thing in the front began to rotate.
And the first combine began to move. Another roar! The next combine began to move, then the third and the fourth! One after the other the majestic giants started up from the edge of the field and accompanied by rumbling and whining plunged into the golden billowing barley. The pistons, axles and gears rattled and whistled. Evenly spaced apart they separated from one another at a steady pace and the rumble died down. Eight combines drove off leaving a gleaming furrow of chaff behind them. The tension subsided. Once again I calmly breathed in and out, in and out. Slowly and with measured steps I climbed down from the roof of the sheep shed.
Now in the kitchen Mihkel says, “Well! Let’s go and make the saw sing.”
“I’ll come and help,” I said.
Mihkel answered “You’re coming to help anyway. Värni, you know we have to collect the gooseberries for wine, before they start to drop from the bushes.”
“Yippee!” I rejoiced.
But Grandmother wasn’t sure, “Hey Mihkel! A little boy to saw wood?”
“Look, they’re not some great big logs you know,” reassured Grandfather.
“And he’s no longer little,” added Mihkel, “At his age I was already…”
“Yes, yes,” said Grandmother.
“Let’s go and get the saw then,” said Grandfather.
The saw was at the neighbours. A big and powerful circular saw, like they are. It was the neighbour’s saw, and that’s why it was in their shed. But the neighbour’s Juku was Grandfathers brother and a brother wouldn’t deny his own brother the use of his saw.
Mihkel raised the saw up with a crowbar and I rode down on the two-wheeled barrow. Grandfather and Juku stood by and watched.
“Come and eat lunch with me,” invited Juku, “I’ve got the beer all made.” He poked with his stick at something in the sawdust. I knew that if there was anyone in the area whose beer was as good and as strong as that of my Grandfather’s then it was my Grandfathers brother Tuigani’s Juku.
“Natürlich,” answered Mihkel hauling the saw. Grandfather and I pushed from behind, and then we were in business.
Having reached the wood stack Mihkel took the saws’ cord and attached it to the power pole. This electricity, which comes straight from the pole is free because it doesn’t hum through the meter. Think, how much power is used in such a job, and anyway attaching the cord to the pole is easier than to anywhere else – you unscrew the cover, fiddle a bit and there, you’re ready.
It’s always a bit scary when the saw starts up. But then you get used to it almost straight away. Actually there’s nothing to be scared of. You don’t need to stick your hand in front of the saw blade. Only you shouldn’t be wearing anything that hangs or dangles – that’s when you might have an accident.
Grandfather then found a bucket and a stool, and went and squatted in the bushes. Even Grandmother was in the garden, collecting apples for jam. Now everyone was busy – there aren’t any lazybones in our family!
Crrr-shhhh-fffff, the saw gathered speed. Mihkel took up his position by the trestle and I already dragged the first log closer.
About and hour later Mihkel stopped the saw to haul it further on a bit. I leant against a broad fir tree log and admired our handiwork. Grandmother came and brought us homemade cordial. “You didn’t put sugar in did you?” enquired Mihkel warily. When working, Mihkel wants things really sour. “Hardly at all,” answered Grandmother and filled her apron with firewood. Glug-glug-glug Mihkel gulped – aah! – and passed the jug to me.
We continued sawing.