Jacek Skyrzypczynski is an extraordinary man who lives an extraordinary life, one most of us only dream of. His moiness–aka our Editor-in-Chief Thornton Sully–speaks of the pleasure of working with Jacek on several projects, having met him at the Wroclaw writers’ group hosted by AWwYP associate editor Ben Angel.
And before we start! I would like to remind everyone that the contest deadline has been EXTENDED TO NOVEMBER 15TH, 2021! Please e-mail your entries to Thorn so we can continue to post them as they come!
Without further ado, please enjoy,
Christmas in Wronowo
by Jacek Skyrzypczynski
I am now 12, working from dusk to down with horses – plowing soil, hauling logs and pulling the carts. This allows me to bring my grandma a small allotment of flour, potatoes and milk from which she manages to make gratifying meals – or they taste so because I am so hungry. In fact, I am constantly hungry for all the five and a half years of war – we simply don’t get enough food. I am also cold because I don’t have the right clothes. My jacket sleeves are short by 3 inches or so. My boots have open holes and cracked soles.
Still, we are better off than people living in the city. We do have a small garden beside our tiny hut where we grow vegetables and even keep chickens. Compared to what is going on in the cities – fear, hunger and public executions – it is a good, simple, calm life.
It doesn’t last. In the fall of 1940, we are kicked out and moved to a small, cold cell in an old farm building. I manage to take only our sheets, an ax, kerosene lamp, water bucket and a few cooking pots. The garden is lost too. We have to start anew, from scratch, with not much at hand.
As we are moving in, the room walls are covered with half an inch sheet of ice. Like other winters during the war, this winter is snowy, windy and cold – up to – 30 degrees Celsius. One day, when I get back from work, my grandma asks me to get some firewood from the nearby forest. It is December 22, the longest night of the year.
So I go out into the winter dark, illuminated only by the glow of the half-moon on the snow because the huts have no light. On my way, I get a bold idea: to get us a Christmas tree. I know it is forbidden to cut trees, but I really miss Christmas we used to have. I miss sitting by a chimney, watching the fire flicker and the bomblets glittering on the finely decorated tree. I miss that special kind of warmth created by having such a tree at home and a whole family together. I miss it so much that I am willing to trespass the occupiers’ law.
Finding the right tree takes some time – and there is a problem – hard and deep snowpack. Frenzied with fear and excitement, I dig into the frozen snow to uncover the trunk of a small spruce tree. Here it is, finally! Yet, its trunk is also as hard as ice. I try to bend the tree to break it, but that doesn’t work. The kitchen knife I brought for cutting breaks in half. About 3 hours have passed since I left my grandma. Time to go back – empty-handed. I look at the tree one more time, heartbroken. No, no! – changing my technique, I try again. Boom! – It gives up with a loud crack.
Overjoyed, I start retracing my steps repeating to myself: quiet! quiet!
OK, I am halfway back; I nearly made it. I imagine my grandma’s face turning from worry to joy as she sees me with the tree after such a long wait. I see her saying: What a surprise, my boy! – and I become so proud, proud as I have never been before. I want to be proud so badly that I shiver from that thought.
Just then, I am spotted by a property guard. Go chase him! – his three large dogs fly after the scent of me. Dear God, I am done. – I reckon as I see them coming. No, I am not. Not yet – I back off, fighting the vicious dogs with my tree and falling on the icy ground several times. The dogs, for some reason, focus on the tree, not on me. I get into the steep-walled ditch, breaking the ice on its bottom, my feet slogging in the mud. The dogs are put-off by something – not sure what it is – maybe the smell of the mud? They give up.
Exhausted and mudded-up but victorious, I step into our dwelling. Grandma, I brought us a Christmas tree!
She looks at me from toes to head, opens her mouth slowly, and says kindly:
Thank you for bringing the firewood; I just wanted to start cooking. Please cut it into short pieces.
I can’t believe what she is saying – cut up the Christmas tree?
Then I look at the tree. Most of the green branches are gone. It looks like a piece of wood – indeed.
My soul deflates, my body withers as I slump onto the floor sad, then sadder. So much effort for nothing.
I look at my grandma with utter unhappiness.
But she, but she… I can’t believe it!
She starts singing, singing fully outloud.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, Hallelujah! God is great! God is Great!
She sings louder and louder, smiling and dancing rounds.
She seems so connected: to God, to this place, and to me.
My disappointment disappears. I get up and start the fire.
As the flames catch the wood, I feel wild exuberance.
I feel the intense, human warmth that I was fantasizing about in the forest.
I am proud of grandma for all her beauty and courage. So proud!
I am proud of the two of us, of our strength and resilience.
Finally, I feel what I wanted to feel so desperately.
Grandma is now sitting still, with a saintly quietness, taking in the wonder of the moment. I lift my lowered head to look into her eyes, for the first time this evening, overcoming the remnants of my shame. I see sparks of fire in them – a warm, inviting glow of her spirit. Enticed and surrendered, I get onto her lap and curl into her soft body. Her arms embrace my tired bones, her heart takes me to the heavens – hugging me softly until I fall into a deep sleep.
* * * *
Jacek is NO stranger to AWWYP! Please have a look at his 3-part interview with Ben Angel here:
Jacek’s work, Expedition to the Peak of Your Dreams, tells compelling stories of personal struggles taking place in the mountains. Through these experiences and by delving deep into the human spirit, Jacek steadily lifts the reader’s belief in themselves, their resolve, and their courage to achieve their own dreams. Set up during the author’s youth behind the Iron Curtain, in the Himalayas, and during his service on Outward Bound Canada expeditions, his published manuscript unveils step-by-step what a human can do when they’re in love with the mountains and human soul.
Purchase his book here: