Alexander Parfentsov

GENTLE HEDGEHOGS

I was not born in the United States. My childhood was not the same as others. I did not grow up in an awful environment; my mother and I were actually in a good position in life for our circumstances. My mother and I grew up alone together; my father passed away when I was an infant. It was not easy for my mom, but she did the best she could raising me. I was always close to my mother.

I would visit my grandparents from my father’s side with Mom every few months and we would stay a while. We would go with my half-sister when we visited. Our grandparents lived near a little village in the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine. It was beautiful there; their house was surrounded by forests and so much greenery. We would always visit during the changing of seasons; leaves were either falling from the trees or new leaves stemmed from them. The leaves were falling this season. We would take the train to go out of town; the ride lasted more than an hour. It was nice sitting with my mother looking out the window, watching the beautiful blur of the colored trees go by. It was simply comforting.

When we arrived, my grandmother would hold my sister and me for such a long time. For an old woman, she was very strong. She would cause our lungs to release every bit of oxygen they could hold. It was somewhat embarrassing, but my sister and I never minded much. My grandfather would smile and take us into the house to change so we could go out into the woods. He was a calm old man. He would never let us sit down when visiting him; he almost had an equal amount of energy as we did. During our absence my grandmother and mother would speak at the old oak dining table; their conversations would last for hours. They always had a lot to say to each other during each visit. We never wanted to bother them when they spoke.

My grandfather would always take my sister and me past all the gardens they had and we would head out into the wilderness to go catch a few little hedgehogs. It is humorous when I think of it now: why were we catching hedgehogs? It was such an odd thing to do. I never knew why he had a fondness for those little spiked balls, but we would bring them back in our thick cowhide jackets to show our grandma and my mom. We had to carry them carefully; the hedgehogs were gentle in my country, but the needles still had the capability to prick your fingers. When we would go out to catch them, we would make sure to bring milk with us. The little dark hedgehogs would follow us just to get a sip, it was never hard to find them. It was honestly a marvel. By the end of the day, we would have two or three on the dark red oak porch waddling around with white milk dripping from their dark little snouts. I did not understand my grandfather’s fondness for them, but I knew I was slowly obtaining it, too.

Mom would come out and sit with me on the dark floor. She looked young then. She was caring, beautiful, smart, and responsible. I was always grateful to have her, especially because I did not grow up with a father. I would get up as soon as she sat down and pick up one of the little hedgehogs to give to her. She would smile and take it. I always remember exactly what we would talk about; the conversation always began with “I have such a special young man.”

That conversation is one I could never forget; it shaped my morals and values. I always felt actions should exceed words, but those words should never be hollow when spoken. Empty words are something I do not accept. I always tried to make sure I thought before I spoke. I knew if I said something to purposely hurt someone and I did not mean it. I would greatly regret that. I knew if I said I would do something and never have done the actions I spoke of that I would regret that just as much.

I remember the hedgehogs. They were delicate even though they had the potential to hurt us when we held them. I always thought they were so kind to us because we treated them with the same kindness. I knew if I stomped my feet, they would become frightened. It would be the same as if they stuck their needles up; I would be frightened, too. I had to treat them properly to be treated with the same kindness. I took that to heart; if I treated someone properly, I would expect the same treatment back. I always hoped for the best in people, but of course expected the worst. I know I would not want to be near a hostile hedgehog and the same goes for a hostile person.

As a child, it is hard to differentiate what matters from what does not. I will always remember the hard times my mother and I went through. I know I could never forget sitting on the dark oak floor in autumn with my mother, as a very young child, holding a hedgehog, listening to her speak to me.

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