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  • Near the end of her life in the 1940s, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth Lipman Pincus wrote a memoir of her childhood through her marriage in 1904. In this third part she describes meeting Tartar neighbors in southern Russia and going to primary school there, 1885 to 1888.

    Continued from Good Trips and Bad Trips

    Clinch of Cultures

    Our neighbors in Orenburg were mostly all Tartars - the men tall, swarthy, dressed in native costumes with large turbans on their heads; they also wore large fur headpieces in the hottest weather; their boots were made of fine kid and they always wore leather slippers over them as they could not enter their homes or places of worship Unless they discarded their slippers at the entrance. There were carpets on the floors of even the poorest homes, for they had no chairs or tables but ate on the floors, sitting cross-legged. The women wore long veils covering their faces as they could not go about uncovered after the age of thirteen.

    Our landlord, a wealthy Tartar, Was very charitable. There were many occasions when streams of people were being fed in our yard. Whole sheep were roasted out-doors and large kettles of soup were constantly boiling. (not at all like the bread lines of the present day.) During the Fast. periods, which lasted a month – fasting all day and eating at night – many people came for miles and were fed generously. Their favorite drink was "Koumiss", mare's milk.

    0n one particular occasion, the marriage of the daughter of the house, these feasts lasted for more than two weeks, and though the crowds were particularly large no one left empty handed. This wedding stands out clearly in my memory, as it was very impressive. We were all invited to the feast in the house. Large rooms richly furnished and carpeted with the most gorgeous Persian or Orienta1 rugs; beautiful linen cloths spread over the rugs; rich foods and vines in abundance; guests attired in colorful and costly raiment sitting cross-legged and feasting for hours. At the conclusion of the meal each guest was handed a basket of dainties to take home which one dared not refuse. There were music and dancing. The bride heavily veiled and gorgeously dressed in silk, embroidered gown, her long hair hanging in long braids ornamented with jewels and gold coins, moved among the guests meekly followed by the groom. I was about six years old at the time but this scene is before my eyes as if it were but yesterday.

    We children used to love to go to the market place on days when the caravans used to arrive from Turkestan and the far East – the camels laden with heavy packs containing rich silks, embroideries, carpets, and the most delicious fruits, nuts, and candles. I can still feel the thrill of it all, and wish I could go there some day to live those scenes over again.

    I do not remember the exact year when I entered school in Orenburg. I must have been not more than five years old. However, I recall the fact that all the girls dressed alike – dark brown woolen dresses, white collars and cuffs, and white aprons. The seats in the classrooms were long benches which were stationery and graduated 1ike seats in a theatre gallery. The brightest pupils sat on the front benches, the dullest way on top. I strove hard to keep my place in front. Our educa-tion was very thorough and I believe I learned more in the first years of schooling in Russia than an average child learns here in five years. At the age of sev¬en I was studying history, geography, arithmetic, 1anguages, etc.

    Right here I recall one heart-breaking experience, which, however, proved to be lasting lesson in honesty. History was the hardest subject for me then, as I had to memorize pages and pages of dry facts and dates. I always feared the moment when I would be called on to recite. Sure enough – the fatal hour arrived; the lesson was on "Peter the Great"; when my name was called I dropped the open book on the floor beside me and stood up shakily; as I recited I looked down several times and the teacher. noticing that something was wrong, walked over and found the cause of my apparent inattention. I was severely reprimanded end sent to the top – a disgrace for one who was usually at the head of the class. How bitterly I cried: The lesson of "honesty is the best policy" was deeply impressed on me then.

    Continued in Steppes to America

    A PDF of the complete memoir is available here.

    @image: A Tartar wedding procession from an old book
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