A fairy tale
Itzik Kipnis was born in 1896 in Slovechne, Ukraine, 150 kilometers northwest of Kiev. He grew up in a family of tanners and worked in local tanneries until 1920, when the Slovechne tanners’ union sent him to study in Kiev. There he began writing children’s stories. His writing includes literature for adults, including a historical novella, Khadoshim un teg (Months and Days), and a two-volume memoir, Mayn shtetele sloveshne (My Shtetl Slovechne). His writing frequently had political overtones, and he was confined in a prison camp from 1949 until 1956, after the death of Stalin.
“Der blinder” (“The Blind Man”) is from A ber iz gefloygn (A Bear Took Flight), a collection of four stories by Kipnis published in 1924. This is the least supernatural story in the collection; still, it is not far off from the fancifulness and wonder of Andersen’s and the Grimms’ classic fairy tales.
There was a wife in a village who didn’t have any children. Her husband was a blind man who always went around through the villages begging, and Sundays and holidays he came home. When he came home, his wife yelled at him and was angry the whole Sunday or the whole holiday. The blind man’s holidays were all ruined holidays. But he was a good man; he kept silent, drew his cap near, and waited until the holiday was over, and then he took his sack and his walking stick and went away through the villages.
The blind man came home for a holiday once with one sack of wheat meal and one of barley, his harp hanging at his side. He felt his way with his cane, and he was very happy. Then his wife came out of the door and began to scream loudly and curse. The blind man was disgraced in front of the neighbors, and he could no longer remain silent.
He said, “I have passed through all of the villages and have not encountered such an angry woman. Tell me, why do you curse so? I have brought you meal, of both wheat and barley, and money in my handkerchief.”
“I need a child. All of our neighbors have children, and I don’t!”
“And where am I supposed to get one for you?”
“Steal a child and bring it to me—it’s not my concern!”
“I do not need your money,” she said. “I do not need your meal—I need a child. All of our neighbors have children, and I don’t!”
“And where am I supposed to get one for you?” The blind man was ashamed.
“Steal a child and bring it to me—it’s not my concern!”
The blind man went away through the villages and thought perhaps she was right. He would steal a child from somewhere. Someone who had a bunch would have one less.
He walked and walked. A boy was herding sheep in a field. The blind man sat down on a stone and began to play his harp. The sheep hastened to the blind man. The boy was very little. The blind man called to him: “Boy, boy, who is there here in the field?”
“No one,” said the boy. “Only my sheep and I.”
“Boy, boy,” said the blind man. “Come and get in my sack so I can bring you to my wife.”
“I will not go,” said the boy.
“Because I am still very little, and I am one of my mama’s. If I don’t come home, she won’t know what to think.”
“Right,” said the blind man. “Lead your sheep where you will.” And he went along farther.
A little girl was sitting and tending geese. The blind man couldn’t see. He said: “Who are you—a boy or a girl?”
“And what is your name?”
“Will you get in my sack, Eydele? I want to bring you to my wife.”
“I will not go.”
“Why won’t you come?”
“Because I am still very little and one of my mama’s. If I don’t come home, she won’t know what to think.”
It was no use. The blind man left for home with an empty sack.
His wife saw him coming empty-handed, went out to meet him with a stick, and said, “You better not come in, if you don’t want me to split your head open.”
The blind man started off again.
He walked and walked, passing through many towns and little villages, and no one wanted to give him a child.
One person said, “I am needed.”
A second said, “We have no other children here.”
A third said, “If you go away, blind man, we won’t throw you in jail.”
The blind man went away into the woods and sat down on a little hill and began to cry about what had become of him. And as he cried his eyes broke out into a warm well of tears, and he saw a shine before him.
He could see there was a forest.
He saw a bear walking, and riding upon the bear was an old man, a cold man, with a long beard braided up into braids, and he was scowling: “Blind man, you have no children! Blind man, you have no children!”
The blind man went into a rage. And he was blind no longer. He grabbed a stick and struck the old, cold man, who flew down off of the bear and rolled away. The blind man climbed upon the bear; he threw his sacks one to one side and one to the other side and let the bear roam free. Away and away, the bear led the blind man to a cave. The blind man went into the cave and saw little children sitting there crying. He asked them, “What are you doing here, children?”
These children, they related, “We have no father, nor mother. The old, cold man with a long beard braided up into braids imprisoned us here and will not let us out.”
The blind man began to open the cave and said: “Whosoever wishes to may come and follow me.”
The boys left, following the blind man, and the bear accompanied them to the village.
Someone informed the wife. She went out to meet them with great joy, received the blind man with the children, and led them right into the house, and then she made a feast for the village. No one wanted to believe that the blind man could now see. So they seated the children around the table for him, let the bear roam, and began to ask him:
“Which boy is this?”
“A blond one.”
“And which one is this?”
“And where is the bear?”
“He is walking there.”
When they saw that it was true, they began to rejoice and celebrate in the feast.
My grandfather was an old person, a hundred years old and perhaps yet more. He brought a sled as a present for the bear. He was there at the feast of the great guest, the bear.
Born in Petoskey, Michigan, in 1978, Joshua Snider has been studying Germanic languages since the age of sixteen. He reads all fifteen official modern written Germanic languages and is fluent in English, German, Dutch/Flemish, and Swedish. His Mennonite grandparents’ native tongue was Pennsylvania German, a language that is not dissimilar to Litvak Yiddish. Snider, who also has Native American family, has translated and published a comparative Algonquian grammar from Dutch and has published a Meskwaki (Fox) dictionary for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., through his own Mundart Press, which is dedicated to producing language-learning materials for marginalized and endangered languages. He is currently translating the Kipnis novel Khadoshim un teg and is working on a Blackfoot grammar. He lives in Petoskey with his wife, Sarah, and son, Declan.