Jan 18 / Aija Moon

1916: Shepherd days

Anna 1931

They started from the age of six with shepherding pigs in the yard or along the lanes where other animals were guided to the pastures. There was a fence on both sides so my sister Alvine and I just stood at each end of the lane. Time went very slowly, we had to do it for two hours.
Next came the shepherding of cows and sheep. I don’t know if it was the same in other parts of Latvia as it was where we were. There were five farms with their buildings close together: Andulas, Digaini, Naglas, Vecvagari, and Zvirbuli. In the middle there was a road only for those properties with a fence along both sides so that the animals could graze along it and be directed to the pastures. The pastures started beyond Andulas. The pastures were common property from ancient times, so all the animals were herded together. The field was a square of about 1 ½ kilometres each side, mostly swampy with some water in places like small lakes. The grass was very coarse and the animals did not like it much. When the five farm animals were combined there were 50-60 cows and 200 sheep. Also, there were five shepherds, usually boys. That is where one learned how to get into trouble. There were some fights with the bigger boys teaching discipline to the younger, first-year beginners. It was the younger ones that got all the hard work – if the animals were going in the wrong direction they had to get them back. The older ones played cards or did their own thing. The younger ones couldn’t complain, it was like the Mafia of today. It was surprising how the animals, on returning to the farms in the evening, each knew to turn into their own yard. At first the calves and lambs would have to be guided. In the spring when the animals were first let out, the older cows, like people, chose a leader. The strongest took on the leadership and got respect. If the battle for leadership got dangerous, the shepherds had to separate them with a whip.

Jan 19 / Aija Moon

1917: Gugenieki School

During 1917-1918 I remember playing war with snowballs at school; reds (communists) versus whites. During this time there was no knowledge of the terrors of the communists, they were considered as saviours from the German oppression. The school was 4-5 kilometers from our place. Three of us from the family went to school: myself, Alvine, and Arturs. In good weather we would walk home. In bad weather and in winter we would stay the night. There was sleeping accommodation upstairs on straw mattresses so close together that they touched. One end of the building was for boys and the other for girls. In the middle there was a dining room, also divided for boys and girls. The main food was rye bread with butter or smoked bacon. For breakfast we would get hot water for coffee or tea. For dinner, potatoes were boiled in a large pot. Each person’s lot was tied in a net with a named string hanging out of the pot. The school’s helper checked the parcels to see if they were cooked, and those that were ready he would put on a shelf. Usually we got them when they were already cold. There was no communal food.
In the evenings after dinner for two hours, those that stayed at school went to one large class and did their homework under a teacher’s supervision and with the light from a petrol lamp. There were four teachers, each with a class. It was a Catholic school because the surrounding district was Catholic. There were only 6-7 students who were not Catholic. The Catholic Church was also nearby. A priest taught religion, and I usually stayed in class so that I could learn all the Catholic teachings. The priest would check the students for their knowledge of the texts. Because I was the only non-Catholic in the class I was not asked anything, but I often would whisper the answers when other students did not know.
After the First World War there was a great shortage of teachers and country schools only went to fourth year. If you wanted to finish all six years you had to go to the district school in Aizpute.

Jan 20 / Aija Moon

1918: Aizpute School

To get into the school you had to do a test in mathematics and the Latvian language. I passed this test and started fifth grade. I lived with my other uncle, Gusta, who had come from Russia. In Russia he had been the manager of an estate for a Russian boss. He was very nervous. In Aizpute he had opened a shop dealing leather for clog uppers or moccasins. In his free time he also made moccasins and clogs, which he sold in the shop. There was a large room with a stove, in which I cooked my own food. I remember cooking milk soup with dumplings, or a meat soup. Most of the time I boiled water to make herb tea, without sugar of course. The usual food was fried pork and rye bread. The food was brought from Digaini every two weeks. There was no electricity in my room. I would use a small petrol lamp with paper around it to reduce the glare. I did not even have a friend; I was very lonely.

After the war there was no set syllabus so the lessons were set by each teacher’s initiative and each teacher thought their subject was the most important. As such, the standard was forced very high. Languages also had to be learned: Latvian, Russian, German, and we also started English. The most difficult for me was Russian because the inspector’s Russian wife was the teacher and she did not speak Latvian. Nonetheless, I achieved a very high standard in the end. The other students at Aizpute had learned Russian in fourth year, so I had to catch up. There were stories, pages long, that I had to read, repeat, and write from memory. I learned by memorizing it all word-by-word. I was studying until twelve o’clock every night because I was determined to get at least mid-range marks. My clothes were very thin and I did not even have an overcoat or woollen jumper, so I had to run to school.
My uncle Gusts started to go queer. He did not keep his shop open and was walking the streets talking incoherently that some woman, pretending to be a friend, had cheated him of a large sum of money. He was put in a mental hospital in Riga from which he never returned.

At school I made friends with Zanis Stalis from Aizputne. His family were renting a couple of rooms and a kitchen. My next school year was much better. I went to live with Zanis. I paid no rent as I shared a room with him. Some food was supplied from the farm and I ate much better. Also, I was not so lonely. Zanis had a sister, Alvine, who liked fun and was very ticklish.
I finished school with good marks in 1924 and had great hopes of going on, particularly I wanted to get into a technical school. There was such a technical college in Liepaja, 70 kilometres from Digaini. I wanted to qualify as an engineer. At the end of the school year my oldest brother promised me that I could go.