From the files of Bay State Correctional Center, Norfolk, Massachusetts, Personal Statement of Bernice Chaplik, October 30, 1987:
I did not like America
. I still
do not like America. It is a loud, rude
country, with children who are willful
. Not like my sweet Edvard. But it became necessary to make the move. Lithuania
is a beautiful country, but questions were being asked. You would think that no one would begrudge an old woman a few simple joy
s, but no. That is the problem with this modern world
. There is no respect for the old
anymore. No respect for professional skill
It was hard enough in Vilnius
. The people are simple and good, but they are old-fashioned
. They think their meat
must only be cut by a man
. "A woman does not have the strength to cut meat. Women are too weak
, and it is a job only for the strong
." Pfah. For years, my grandmother and even my mother
killed the chicken
s at our home. What is it that requires more strength to kill a pig
or a goat
or a cow
than to kill a chicken? There is nothing. You stop the animal from moving, and you put a knife
in. Anyone could do it, even the weak.
But I was never weak. I was always strong. My mother and father taught me about strength. Father
always taught me to be strong and not to cry out
, no matter what. But Mother taught me another kind of strength. She taught me that sometimes you cannot be the strongest in body
, but you can be strong of mind
and use that strong mind to catch your oppressor at his weakest. So you can make yourself stronger. "Your father was stronger than both of us, Bernice," she would tell me. "But now he is in the ground
. So who is stronger now?" And she would laugh
But they have both been in the ground for many years. And I am still alive.
It came time to make my way, so I decided I would be a butcher
. I had learned so much about the craft from Father and Mother both, and I had not learned what many of the girls my age had, in finding and winning a man to care for them. What did I care? These girls were weak, with their primp
ing and sew
ing. So I took my money from the farm
and opened my own shop in the town. Oh, how they complained. "I will not trade there. Dragunos is a proper butcher, and he is a man, after all." But they changed their tune when the banker's daughter
was found hanging from one of Dragunos' hook
s, I can tell you that.
Things were comfortable for me after that, but it was not the end of my troubles in Vilnius. The war
caused great difficulties for all of us. Meat became scarce, and always were soldier
s in the town making demands. One of these soldiers came to me once and made demands. It had been many years since I'd had the attentions of a man, but he was stronger than me. His mind was weak, however, and he thought I would just weep
like a girl after he'd been with me.
Killing a man is not much different than killing a pig. And I knew much about killing pigs.
But you know how it is during war
, yes? Many people die, certainly, but many just disappear
, especially soldiers. Fighting a war is hard work, and many soldiers will slip away from their comrades and try to make it home. Or they will be captured by the enemy
and never seen again.
Families in Vilnius wanted meat with their meals, and in time, I was able to provide for them again.
In time, the war ended, and as if it were a gift from God
Himself, I had my little Edvard. They would call him a special
child now, and he was
a special child, always I knew this. Oh, he was willful sometimes, as all children can be, but a mother knows how to discipline
. At first, he did not like the cage
, but I told him I was doing it because I loved him, and I think he accepted it. In time, I think he learned to prefer the cage to a bed, so I put him there every night, where I knew he would be safe
and where he would not get into any mischief
But others did not love my Edvard as much. The children were cruel
to him, and some even said he was curse
d by God because his mother was a butcher and did not have a husband. Even the adults said this, and they said it proved that I was unfit
and weak. Vilnius was still a chaotic
place after the war, and many people, especially many children, were kidnapped by bandit
s and Russian
s and were never seen again.
You have had veal
before, yes? I discovered a taste for veal after the war.
Oh, but I always kept Edvard safe and happy
. He was a special child, and his mind was not as strong as many others, but he had a gift for growing things in his garden
. We didn't have enough land for a farm, but Edvard kept a beautiful garden for me. He grew potato
es and rosebush
es for me, but when he discovered how large he could grow a pumpkin
--well, never had I seen him so happy and excited. Within only a few seasons, he was growing the largest pumpkins Vilnius had ever seen. It was a good time for us. Edvard was happy, and I was happy, and we had much meat on our table.
But the good times
never last forever. I grew too old to be a butcher, but we still needed food for our table, and people started asking question
s. They said Edvard and I should leave town or there would be trouble
. So we went. We moved to America, where they say it is the land of the free
. It is the land of the noisy
and the expensive
, I will tell you that, and there is certainly nothing free about it. We had to settle for an old house that was falling to pieces, but it was large, and it had a good basement
where I could work. Thank God above for that much.
I had thought maybe we should live quiet
ly and simply, and we did for a while. No one seemed to pay attention to us, but then Edvard planted a new crop of pumpkins, and the neighborhood
children all began to loiter
around the house, as if they were just flaunt
ing themselves. And they were all frail
, weak, and spoiled
, not at all like people back home, like they had never worked hard in their life, and I hadn't had a good plate of veal or blood sausage
The first one, the girl, was easy. I invited her inside for some of my chocolate chip cookie
s, then offered to show her my playroom
in the basement. And she didn't even complain
until after I had her in one of the cages. She barely even raised her voice when I cut her--just a sigh
, and she was gone. It took me two days to clean and dress
her properly. Hard work, yes? But a bit of good seasoning
... Finest pork stew
I'd made in ages, and you may be assured that I have made some of the best pork stews anywhere.
The first boy took a little work, but weak-minded
children can be brought off-guard
with a few quiet little tricks. They think they can help an old woman when she is calling, "Oh, little boy, can you help me, can you help me? I've hurt my leg so. Oh, I can't move it. Here, little one, hold me upright." Then a quick knock in the head. A bit too hard, though, and I had to work fast to get him cut up and canned before the meat went bad.
And then came the blonde girl. Always running around and jumping and acting loud. Pretending she was strong when she was just a child
, weaker than any adult. She was bothering my Edvard when I came up behind her. Edvard actually tried to help her escape
. What is this world coming to when a son will turn against his own mother? He fell and struck his head, and I considered letting that be his only punishment
, but an unruly
child must be disciplined, and I made him sleep in his cage without supper
that night. As for the girl, well, she was a crude
one. She made that rude gesture at me, and I thought, well, I'll teach this one a lesson, and I cut that finger
off for her! Let's see her make that little sign again, yes?
After that, the heartless swine
took my baby away from me, carted him off to the jail like a dog. I hated it, but it had to be done. He'd been getting weaker, and I had been worrying that I might have to discipline him a great deal more strongly. A mother hates having to think of doing that to her only child, and I decided that the police
were a more merciful
alternative. Still, I was half mad from grief
, and I think that was why my own thinking weakened enough to invite the other boy inside. Or perhaps I thought another disappearance
would make them set Edvard free. Who can say, I'm so old, I'd forget my head if it had not been sewn on by God. But letting the boy inside was a mistake
--he was the most horrible
of them all! Did you know he struck me in the head with a jar
? Struck me in the head! Children in the country just do not respect their elder
s the way they should. Their parents let them watch too much TV
, yes? It makes them all mad.
You have the rest in your files, yes? Why they would put an old woman
in a place like this for so many years, I cannot say. But you know, after all of it is said and done, what I regret
the most is this: I'll die in this American prison, never getting to eat a good meal
again. That is what I regret the most.
Bernice Chaplik died on January 7, 1988, and was buried by the State of Massachusetts on the grounds of the Bay State Correctional Center.