Memories of Māra Graustiņa

Memories of Māra Graustiņa

The memoir begins with Māra Graustiņa’s (1937) first years of life in the “rich Ulmanis era”, allowing the reader to gradually enter into the past experienced by the author’s parents and grandparents.

Alongside Māra’s memories of the harsh political repressions against her family and military activities during the 1940s and 50s, she also depicts scenes of daily life in the household: “On the ration cards was written, for example, 100 grams of butter, 200 grams of sausage. For the whole family to be able to butter their bread, the butter was “extended” with something, for example by mixing in grated carrots. There were also soap vouchers, and the soap had to be conserved. Father put the soap on a warm wall mūrītis [a wood heated wall or bench] in his office to dry; then they would be used up more slowly.”

Beginning primary school in Jaunrauna in 1943 takes a special place in the author’s story; she was wearing ‘wool socks’ on her feet, because she had no proper shoes at the time. She describes daily life at school in the 1940s—games, lessons, housekeeping responsibilities, their modest circumstances, and communication with Russian and German soldiers occupied Latvia in the Second World War.

The autobiographical narrative continues with daily life and family housekeeping in post-war Latvia, in which the author remembers gathering berries for food and threshing work parties that concluded with a joint meal and singing, and political repressions against family and close relatives.

The documented memories also reflect the subsequent Soviet years—family members working on the collective farm, the ‘blats’ system [an informal exchange of goods, services, connections, etc.. to get ahead—a system of corruption during the Soviet era], Soviet security officers showing interest in the family, as well as her experience of travelling post the Iron Curtain to Scotland in 1965, where “we could not behave or dress conspicuously, or exhibit to wonder or delight”.

Māra’s story begins a new act with her study years, experience of working as a teacher in Burtnieki, and later teaching English at the Foreign Language Faculty of the Riga Polytechnic Institute, as well as the “winds of change” in the 1980s and life in newly independent Latvia in the 1990s.

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