Interview with Salme and Maire on 22-nd of February 2012
Discussion at the cafè of elderly house. The cafè is closed for book inventory. Background sounds are formed by counting of euro coins. The chaplain of elderly house is also present and all the participants keep up the discussion, ask questions from each other. Salme (96) was born, raised and living in countryside of Central-Estonia. Her childhood memories are based on the first republic of Estonia. Maire (66) was born, raised and living in Tartu. She has memories from the period after II WW. A rough translation of the interview:
Salme: I am the 9-th child in family, i had younger brothers-sisters, i played with them. I had a small brother, a small sister, 2 years between one, 4 years between the other, so i was playing with them and the older ones did schoolwork. They already made me write and read, when i was 4 years old. We didn`t have much toys. We went out with the cattle already in May, then we could cut branches of willow trees. We used to play garden, we used to play sheperds as we were sheperds. I am an engrained countrygirl, but now here i can live in the city. Then we used to cut cows out of wood, i used to have a knife, a pocket knife, so we did the garden, a timber garden. So were we, children, playing. We didn´t have any toys bought from shop, we were not that wealthy, i was still the 9-th child in family. Childhood was a beautiful time and a nice life and…
Maire: I am indeed an engrained Tartu citizen. I was born, raised and living in one and the same house, until it was reimbursed to its former owner. After this i also lived there for a while. And then i got my own flat, that was two years ago. And almost two years im living here. So i went away fromm that house. So long time i`ve been living in Tartu. Wooden house, a gorgeous mansion. Reimbursed to its former owner, so i started to feel myself as stranger.
But i was born in the end of the war. I don`t have anything to speak about my toys. We had a telephone, because of my father`s job. I was such a wall-telephone, with huge bells. Then my father and mother let us play so, that i could lift the phone tub up and put down again, we couldn`t touch it more. But i remember my first phone number: 44 62. I really wonder that i still remember it. Then the time of school began. It was all in Tartu, in one school until 8-th grade, then in Treffner and then in the university. But out of toys in that age the telephone was one thing, but there was also a doll – made of cellophane. It was a product of our comb factory. Without any clothes. Me and my sister then tried to make some clothes to cover it, as much as we could. It was one of our toys, but we had also games to play. We played hopscotch in the yard. Lines were drawn on sand, we were jumping there and, according to rules, the one, who stepped on lines, fell out of game. We also played dodgeball. And bounced the ball against the wall of our house, that displeased people living in the house, because it was quite noisy. Also there was threat that the ball breaks a window and such things also happened. Sledge was my toy. We had a hill, we used to live under the hill. There we could sledge. In that time all the gardens were surrounded by barbed wire. So, when we were sledging, it was inevitable, that we reached the wire. Then in the evening our mother had to work on our pants. We couldn`t afford new ones, so the old ones had to be repaired. But she was never angry on us. Just took the pants, darned, washed and in the morning we put them on again. If not, we had other pair of pants, similar. My mother was a housewife, so life was comfortable, father went to work. Father`s tools were covered with grime. He would have let us, but we as girls didn`t find those things appropriate to play with. Father was a chimney sweeper. He had a lot of experience about Tartu and other things. It was time after the war, i was born in 1945.
Were you also wandering around the city?
Maire: Oh yes. With my father we used to go to Raadi. H ehad nice memories about the national museum. The city was in ruins, as all the river bank. We looked around in that area. Father had been living there and from some ruins we found pieces of porcelain, etc. It was also a game for me. I remember that the house that now is in the square on the edge of Vabaduse avenue. If you come from Kaarsild, it`s to the left. It had towers, i guess it was a house for dwelling, but it was demolished. Then it was rebuilt without the towers. And also market hall was built. By Matteus. The house of Estonian Bank. We were also seeing that. To such houses my father used to bring me. And those bridges in Toome. He also spoke about them. When the new Victory Bridge was built, Tartu changed a lot. The Horse Bridge was demolished, it was made of wood and it couldn`t carry more than a horse and a rook. But still smaller cars drove over, heavier had to go over Luunja, there was a bigger bridge. And then the Victory Bridge, where cars could drive. Then came Kaarsild and it was a big change. Students started to use it. And we had the tribune. We were marching in front of it, in October Parade. Now it`s gone, all such things are gone, unfortunately, i think. Those things could have found another function, rebuilt for something else. But of course its inevitable.
So as a child you were more in touch with the city?
Maire: Yes, i was a city kid. But all the summers i spent in grandma`s house. It was a golden life.
There was everything different, different friends, etc?
Maire: No, i didn`t have much friends. There were not much families with kids, there were more elderly people, those, who had kids, i didn`t know.
There were not many kids after war?!
Maire: Yes, not many. I remember only old people, who my grandmother visited to talk or to bring milk. We had bread days, we went to bring bread, people baked their own bread. It`s Tarvastu, Mustla now. It was beautiful in my grandmother`s place. There were four chicken and one rooster. Chicken were fed every morning by hand. There was also a swine, but it was kept until Christmas.
You were a country child, your childhood was completely different, comparing to Maire`s?!
Salme: Oh, it`s not possible to compare at all. I had a knife, could do things with wood, could make a horse, cows, i was a country child indeed. Mother was the only daughter in farm. Father had four borthers and one sister. Father was a grown up already, when his mother died. Then father went to work in another farm. Married the daughter and got the farm. Father was dark, with curly hair, mother was blonde. When my father died, a brother of mine got the heritage. I was 10 years old, when we moved away from Türi, father bought land in Imavere, from a Baltic German. There was no house. But there was schoolhouse, the mansion. Estonian government took everything away from Baltic Germans. This Baltic German was a bank director in Põltsamaa, in 1939, he left Estonia after Hitler`s call. Father built up the house and we lived there, we had our herd, we had the mansion fields. I saw those people working for Germans („moonakad“). There was not many children, but a school with 180 children. I lived in the heart of mansion, 500 steps to schoolhouse.
What did you play when keeping the herd? Did you have to leave school earlier to look after the cattle?
Salme: There was no place for keeping cattle, only fields. But we could rent such land from the state and cows were brought there in springtime. But before there was no such land, father bought the heart of mansion, the mansion house was taken away and turned into school. The Baltic German was given only two rooms and a kitchen there, so he left to Põltsamaa.
What about dolls of your childhood?
Salme: There were no dolls. Maybe only those made of wood. My sister, two years older than me, a pretty girl, she had rich godmother, who gave her a nice dress. I was envious that i didn`t have such.
But did you see any dolls in other families?
Salme: There was a family with chidren far away, there we were playing, i remember i fell into a pile of glass. Then ran home quickly and my mother cured me.
Children used to have their games that they played, while looking after cattle…
Salme: Well, what games do you have there, when you are chasing the cows. There were no other sheperds, but there were „moonakad“, living in small low houses.
What kind of dreams did you have?
Salme: I had dreams, when i was a bit older. Then i wanted to become a schoolteacher and actress.
Why didn`t you become one?
Salme: Well, i couldn`t, there was no money. Father died young, i wasn`t even 15. Mother alone kept the farm with older brothers.
Did you use to draw in your childhood?
Salme: Yes, i made houses and nature pictures. Teacher took my pictures, so they were in a way recognized. But it didn`t develop anywhere.
Maire: I did all my duties in drawing class. I used to draw houses, nature, as we had a nature teacher, who brought us there. And drawing teacher was strong – an artist.
What did you use for drawing?
Salme: We didn`t have color pencils in that time, then there were colors, in pots. Watercolors. We used brushes. There was also the black pencil, the same we used to do schoolworks, mathematics. But no color pencils, those came later.
Maire: For example, i started with color pencils. Watercolors came later. How history has changed. Color pencils were in 6-set, my first ones, that father bought me. Then there was a 12-set, not more, it was maximum. And then came the watercolors.
What kind of presents were given to children in that time?
Salme: Presents were like that – in Christmas, mother made peppercakes, she was a good baker. Parents went to church in New Year`s Eve and put the peppercakes in the basket on top of a closet. But we, the children, stayed home, i was a great climber and i climbed on the closet to get the peppercakes. We never got enough. We only got a piece of meat in dinner, potatos as much as we wanted, but in case of meat always a small piece for everyone.
Any birthday gifts?
Salme: No such thing didn`t exist, i don`t even know that i have a birthday. There was no birthday at all.
Maire: Well, i don`t remember, maybe Christmas were similar, that peppercakes were made at home and christmastree as brought. Father always brought it. Then some kind of decorations, bought from shop, but not much. And foods and drinks… Father and mother were no church-people, they didn`t go there. We feasted at home, by the table, but during Christmas. Also during Russian Christmas, but during Christmas Santa Claus came. He didn`t bring us anything, asked to read a poem, i don`t even remember if we got something from him or not. I was a great candy-eater, so maybe i got a candy. There was a candy called „purgilörts“. It was sold in big jars, they were pillow-shaped, covered with sugar, jam inside. Those i wanted, so probably i got them.
In your case it seems that children were not spoiled at all. The gifts were practical, if there were any at all. And rather for Christmas than for birthdays.
Salme: Yes, we didn`t have such manner t omake gifts.
Maire: Our family was a bit wealthier because of father`s work, but it was all spent… Everything burned inside, parents moved to an empty flat. There they started to buy new furniture, left behind by Germans. From those who sold it… We had a piano, it was bought for my sister, who had talent, but she didn`t like it and didn`t want to become a musician. I couldn`t play at all and had no interest aswell.
So your dreams were not related with things, but rather with future?
Salme: Yes, and they couldn`t be. In the winter you are at school, in summer keeping the cattle… Chasing cows, when they started to run, you had to watch out not to get smashed.
Maire: We both were from unwealthy families, then such things couldn`t be demanded.
You saw the drawings from the exhibition of ERM and you have experience with contemporary children. What do you think about the changes of world during last 20 years?
Maire: Pictures are better, if there are materials to make them of.
But what about the content?
Maire: Well, that`s depending on person, the skills in drawing and fantasy. But fantasy is nowadays wider, because children can see more. They have been in places, with cars, with parents, travelled around, seen more.
But are those fantasies in this case, maybe these are rather memories? Fantasy comes, when you imagine things that you have never experienced…
Maire: I don`t know. If he went to drive around with car yesterday and today draws a car with four wheels.. What is it then?
Did you have some kind of fantasies, when you were wandering around the ruins of Tartu and you, when keeping your cattle?
Salme: We played a lot of ball, we had sports square by the manion, there were young people together, playing ball. Or running around. There was a park, the mansion house was inside of the park. Many young people going together.
Often, when a child is alone, he starts to imagine things. I remember myself creating colofrul worlds in my mind, when the outside was boring and empty, somewhere in the middle of city or in a forest…
Maire: I was never alone, we had a lot of children in the yard. From every family there, and in the yard we met. From morning to evening we played ball, talked. When i went to sleep in the evening, i was so tired that i fell asleep at once, after my head reached the pillow. But we had no toys. If you thought something out yourself, then maybe…
So, today the children have richer life?
Maire: Much more richer.
Is it good?
Maire: No, it`s not. For example, if they have had such things (notes at her mobile phone) already five… Why do they need it? I have had two of those, and im as old as i am. And third one is here, the old one of other people. And i have lived my life like this, as old as i am. But, when i hear young people talking that they need the newest one to make and show pictures… Im so old that i can`t respect it. We didn`t have anything like this, we didn`t even know how to desire this. Didn`t know that such things would exist. I went to work, i had a typewriter, a bit fancier than others were given, it was an achievement.
Salme: In old times there was no telephone at home. In our case, our phone calls came to the mansion house, then somebody called us and we went there to answer. All newspapers and post also came to mansion house. If you lived in the heart of mansion, life was like that.
Maire: We got our telephone because of father`s work. It was such work that required telephone, that`s why.
Telephone was also your toy as you said…
Maire: It was a toy that much as father allowed us to lift it and put back. My sister`s son built a new house and let the phone renovated and put on the wall. If one would renovate it completely, you could also use it. But nowadays there are no such lines existing… But to me it`s extremely interesting.
Interviews were performed as part of artistic intervention (by Katariina Hillo (FIN), Susanna Jurvanen (FIN), Piotr Gąsiorowski (POL), Tanel Rander (EST)) to exhibition "BUYING FEVER: CONSUMER CULTURE IN 1990s-2000s ESTONIA" of Estonian National Museum in Tartu. The intervention was part of Interdisciplinary Media, Performance and Community Practice project GROUND4, organized by MoKS Centre for Social and Art Practices.