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My parents were country children from south Estonia. My mother was born in 1864 near Otepää, my father in 1861 in Sangaste. Both were the children of manor servants.1 Since they were the children of poor parents, both of them had hard lives, and as small children they had to work in the summer as herders. As they grew older they helped their parents with household work. Later, when she was 20, my mother had the good fortune to get work as a kitchen hand at the Vidrike estate. Fate brought my parents together, and they married in 1892. Mother was 28 years old at the time, father 31. Because of the hard economic circumstances in the country, they were forced to move, and they chose Tartu for their new home. There were better prospects for finding work in town, and father became a bricklayer. Later he began keeping a stall at the market. A first son was born to my mother in 1893. Because of the child she could no longer go out to work, but she earned extra money at home by washing clothes for the gentlefolk.2 Little by little my parents began to settle themselves in a rented apartment. A year and a half later a second child was born—a daughter. They did not stop there— every year or two a new child was born into the family, five sons in all. After that, children began dying, first a little daughter, then two tiny sons. The cause of death was catching cold. Mother would help Father 1  Manor servants—worked on the local Baltic German seigneurial estate. 2  Saksad, German folks. This is somewhat euphemistic. What is meant is Baltic German middle class city dwellers. Tuuli Jaik Born 1910 i3 Kirss.indb 57 7/17/09 5:47:27 AM 58 Estonian Life Stories out at the market, and while she was away, the older children took the younger ones outside, and did not dress them for cold weather. Yet even when she was 45, Mother gave birth to a stillborn daughter. A gypsy woman had told my mother: “You will have one more daughter!” And that was what happened. I was born on the 6th of May 1910 according to the old calendar, on a flag-draped state holiday, sharing a birthday with Tsar Nicholas II. So four children remained to my parents—three older sons and me, the apple of their eye. When I was born, my mother was 46 years old, my oldest brother 17. He even scolded my mother, as I was the eighth child already. In those days a large number of city folks lived in crowded conditions . A single room and kitchen on one end had to fit five or six poor people. In the room there were usually two beds, a wardrobe in front of one, and a cloth curtain in front of the other one. There were also a table, a few benches or chairs, and a chest of drawers for clothing. On the wall was a coat rack. One corner of the room was used as a kitchen. There was a large stove there, in the hollow of which was a small cooking range for preparing food. Water had to be brought from a well, and dirty water was taken out to the refuse hole. There was an outhouse in the yard. A chimneyless petroleum lamp or an oil lamp, called a “snotnose ” (tattnina) gave light when it was dark. This was just the kind of apartment we lived in during my early childhood. As my brothers grew up, they began to leave home. We had an auntie in St. Petersburg; she was a kitchen hand for wealthy folks there. One after the other the boys went to live with their aunt in Petersburg. She supported them and gave advice as to what to do next. All of my brothers became factory workers and lived on their own. Then came the year 1914. This was the end of peaceful living, for the First World War began. My two oldest brothers were mobilized into the Tsar’s army; the youngest was left alone to work in a foreign city. Just before the boys left home, my father stopped working as a bricklayer in Tartu and started keeping a corner store, located at the corner of Kesk and Lootuse Street. We had three rented rooms there: a shop-room, a living room, and a bread room. It...


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