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There were two children in the family before me, my brother­ Erlich, and my sister Helju. I saw the light of day in the wintertime, on the 24th of February 1925. Hence I am exactly seven years younger than the Estonian Republic .1 The beginning of my life was promising. My aunts came to look me over, bringing the customary cakes and pies, which they ate up themselves, and praised me for being a good boy, the spitting image of my father. I have had to hear the second of these two comments all my life, the first one, unfortunately, not often enough. I did not have much of a chance to enjoy life when trouble came running in from the doors and windows. There were sicknesses, many of them, actually, each one more serious than the next. The illnesses left their mark. I was short as a child. Later I grew to the Estonian (not the Harju) average,2 but I was still the shortest among my brothers. I compensated for my short height by my strength. I am stronger than they are. I have also done more athletics than they have. My first fragmentary memories are from the time when I was about three years old. I was wearing only a shirt, no pants, and was sitting on a bench by the table under the window, looking out. Just at that moment Father, who was repairing the roof, fell off the roof down into the sweetbrier bushes, right under the window. Another time I was standing in the same place and saw how some men seemed to be torturing 1 The independence of the Estonian Republic was declared on 24 February 1918. 2  Popular saying for average height or physique. Voodel Võrk Born 1925 i3 Kirss.indb 285 7/17/09 5:47:45 AM 286 Estonian Life Stories a young horse. They were gelding Ints, with whom I, too, later, had to work in the fields. The story about the bull came later, when I was a little older. My parents were not at home. The bull had pulled up a stake and was running around, dragging his chain. I got ahold of the iron ring at the end of the chain, but could not hold onto the bull. The bull dragged me along a little way behind him. Now I think back with horror, what might have happened if the bull had gotten angry. But he didn’t. He was a good bull, with a kind of grayish hide. When I was seven, maybe eight, another thing happened. It was the time of the summer grain harvest. Father had a certain mowing machine which dropped the grain by bushel loads and before it made its next round, it had to be swept out of the way by hand. Helju and I were gathering the sheaves. Soon the work was too much for me, I just didn’t have the strength. Father promised to tan my hide if I did not do the work. The temperament I had inherited from Father flared, and we got in a serious fight. I told Father that I was going to shoot myself. And I went and did it. I knew where the short-barreled rifle was kept. I took it, crept under the thick fir hedge, leaned the barrel on a fir branch, aimed in the direction of the woods, so that I wouldn’t hit anyone by accident, and fired a shot. I stayed in my hiding place, quiet as a mouse, to see what would happen next. They searched and searched but could not find me. Late at night I ventured out. The others didn’t see me, only Mother, who was of course very happy that her boy was alive. She gave me some food and promised to talk with Father. Father understood that one could not be that strict, and this time the matter was solved without “striped trousers.”3 Father was harsh and impulsive, and I took after him. I do not remember his having any big troubles with mother. If there were any, they were because of us. I never developed a warm relationship with my father, and I do not think the other children did, either. Our mother was a very good person, and helped solve our misunderstandings with Father. When I was two years old, my brother Vetel was born, 5 years later my sister Virve, then my brother Hedi, and...


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