Hrabina of Hunterdon

When he spoke to Mama, Paul the Polish Guy” used the word “Hrabina”.  We boys gave him that name because he spoke only Polish and most of the time to Mama.  He probably knew a few English words and more Yiddish ones, but never spoke them.  He was the best hired hand Papa ever had on our New Jersey chicken farm in Hunterdon County.

Paul undoubtedly was the strongest man I have ever known.  He could throw a 100 lb sack of feed up on each shoulder and walk away with them.  While he walked and spoke slowly, he never had a day off except for when the Kingwood Township Volunteer Fire Department had two annual fundraising days.

The first event was when three young women a brunette, a blonde and a redhead were brought down from Easton, Pennsylvania.  The volunteer fire fighters were charged two dollars.  The girls got a dollar and the other buck went to paying off the secondhand fire engine.

Mama never let Papa become a volunteer fireman at the Baptistown Firehouse despite his constant comment that, “If nobody would volunteer there would be no one to put out a fire if one of our chicken coops caught on fire.”

I remember these conversations.  Mama always had the same answer.  “Loz di goyem geyen tsu di kurves.  Paul darf hobn a meydl vayl er iz a goy.” (Let the Gentiles go to the whores.  Paul needs a girl because he is a Gentile.)

During those times, we young boys did not know what “kurves” (whores) were, but got the general idea that they weren’t nice girls.

The other fundraiser for the Kingwood Township Volunteer Fire Department was definitely a family affair.  It was an old-fashioned carnival and we all went. 

Of all the events we boys watched, ringing the bell was by far our favorite.  It consisted of a tall tower with a bell on top.  You would hit a lever with a sledgehammer and that would send the steel ball up the shaft.  If the ball reached the top, it would ring the bell.

Many farm boys tried and only a very few could reach the top and ring the bell.  The prize was a doll that they gave to their admiring, on-looking girlfriend.  It was different with Paul.  He could swing the sledgehammer with either hand and the steel ball swiftly climbed to the top.

After a short while, the man running the concession permitted Paul to try just once, allowing the winning of merely one doll.  This attempt was allowed only after it seemed that no one could hit the bell.  At that time, Paul was called over and the crowd swelled quickly around him.