Happy Mother’s Day to readers, mothers, sons and daughters. In honour of the day, here’s a sample from the closing chapter of Army of Worn Soles, featuriing a mother out of history: Tekla Kuritsa.
Army of Worn Soles is the story of the conscription into the Red Army of a Canadian, my father-in-law, Maurice Bury. It tells of his experience fighting the German invasion called Operation Barbarossa, his capture as a prisoner of war and his escape. At the end, he finds how his mother, a diminutive yet very strong woman, fights the war in her own way.
Out of uniform, out of the army, out of prison, Maurice was now under the command of his mother. Tekla Kuritsa did not allow her son to do anything but rest for a whole month. The harvest over, she paid young local boys to do what remained: manuring fields and fixing fences.
Day by day, Maurice regained weight and strength. At first, he sat in the kitchen, drinking tea and reading newspapers.
Nothing but German-approved propaganda. This paper actually says we Ukrainians are happy to be occupied by Germany.
Idleness quickly lost its allure. Maurice decided to make sure the farm was ready for winter. He started with chopping firewood. Just a half-hour a day, relishing in his ability to split logs with a single blow, chopping and sawing harder, and lasting longer each day.
One evening, Tekla took Maurice to the shed beside the barn for a chore he would find much more enjoyable.
“Is that a still?” he asked. “Mama, are you making vodka?”
“It’s not very good, but the German officers like it,” she said. She set him to work.
Maurice liked the opportunity to concentrate on a task, drawing a spoonful of clear liquor, carefully closing the valve then setting fire to the spoon. If the liquor burned with a blue flame, it was “proof,” good enough for sale.
One evening, Maurice filled six four-litre jugs and put them on a small wagon.
“Good boy,” Tekla said and buttoned her coat. “I’ll take this to the village.”
“To sell to anyone who wants it, of course. But mostly it goes to German officers.”
“It’s getting too late to go out, Mama,” Maurice said. “It’s almost curfew.”
“That’s the time men want to buy vodka,” she said, buttoning her coat.
“It’s too dangerous for a woman out in the evening. Let me go.”
She shook her head. “Maurice, you strong men don’t know how things work in wartime,” she said, patting his cheek. “An old lady out in the evening is much safer than a man. What would the patrols do if they caught you out after curfew?”
“Throw me in jail.”
“They would probably shoot you on the spot, sweetie. But they see an old lady struggling with a heavy wagon, they think of their own mothers.”
“Some of these bastards would just as soon shoot their own mothers.”
“That’s when I sell them some vodka.” She smiled and kissed him.
Maurice watched her pull the wagon to the road until she vanished into the evening gloom. He did not realize he was smiling as he shook his head.
My mother. After all I’ve been through, she’s going to sell cheap liquor to the Germans. She’s the bravest person I’ve ever seen.
About Army of Worn Soles
A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army during World War 2, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion in Operation Barbarossa. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?
Available on Amazon.
Army of Worn Soles is the first book in the Eastern Front trilogy. You can find the other two books on Amazon in e-book or print form.