One of the life and death stories my friend Ralph from Estonia told me.
Introduction to Uprooted: The Ralph Kand Story
I met him down on Park Point at the beach (circa 1990). I’d brought my children to the lake to give my wife an evening free from the demands of infants. As the kids played in the sand near the water’s edge I lay on a blanket reading a book in the late evening sun.
At some point I looked up and noticed an old man limping toward me from the parking lot on his way to the water. He grabbed my attention the moment I saw him, somewhat stooped, one leg withered and the second strong and muscular. The old man seemed to glance down at me as he hobbled by but said nothing.
After removing his shirt, he entered the icy waters and like a great sea lion lolled about in the lake, bobbing there inelegantly for near twenty minutes after which he returned to land and picked up his belongings to begin the slow trek back to his car. As he neared me he slowed, then stopped. “You like to read,” he said with that thick tell-tale accent of Eastern Europeans.
“I do,” I said, and we struck up a conversation.
He said he loved libraries when he was growing up. At some point I told him that I was a writer.
“A writer,” he said with surprise. “I’ve been told many times that my life story should be made into a book.”
I could tell he was earnest, so I listened with greater care. He said he’d grown up in Estonia, outside Tallin on the Baltic Sea and was now in his seventies. “Would you like to hear how learning new languages saved my life? Come to my apartment and I will tell you more.”
Ralph Kand was born during Estonia’s War of Liberation on August 7, 1919. As a growing boy he lived with his father, mother and brother on the outskirts of Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia.
When Ralph was three years old he fell off a fence post and broke his hip. As a result he became crippled in his left leg which grew spindly and crooked. The rest of his life he would walk with a limp, and would never run again.
Even so, Ralph was quite determined and worked hard at whatever he put his mind to. When he learned…