Jep’s Place is a vivid account of growing up during The Great Depression on a hardscrabble farm in a family of 13 children of former sharecropping Polish immigrants. The isolated farm at the end of a dirt road has no electricity, telephone or running water. The drafty farmhouse is often heated only by a kitchen woodstove. The children’s bedrooms have no heat. The fire in the kitchen stove dies during the night, and frost forms on the children’s bedroom ceilings. Water left on the stove in a tea kettle, to prime the hand pump, often freezes during the night.
The account includes his father’s debacle with a moonshine still and home brew operation during prohibition, memories of Cossacks and hair breadth escapes, the trek of the author’s mother across Europe during WWI, through the fighting, with a two year old child, stowing away on a Dutch freighter to reach New York, surviving the influenza pandemic that kills her husband, leaving her with a six year old, a two year old and pregnant—no money, no job and no family to help. She marries a widower with three children. They have seven more children. A zany woman with no training, who claims to know all about birthing babies, delivers five of the seven additional children, including the author.
The barn burns, a hurricane carries away buildings, a sister nearly dies of a ruptured appendix, and another dies a mysterious death. At ten, the author rides a mowing machine, unable to reach the foot rest and falls onto the cutter bar. His father gives him the job of taking firewood away from the whirling blade of a saw rig. He narrowly escapes from blood poisoning after slashing his wrist cords on a window pane.
Polish is spoken at home and he learns English in first grade. He loses a permanent front tooth after a bully pounds his mouth. Later, he nearly massacres the schoolyard bullies in a blind rage. He stands up to his strict father, who tries to send him to reform school.
His father takes the older girls out of school, as young as 13, to work as housekeepers and nannies. His older brothers quit school and run away. He attends a prestigious prep school as a day student, against his father’s wishes. By age 12 he’s buying all his own clothes. He earns money working on farms, for the highway department, with a railroad section gang, in a paper mill, and trading used cars. At age 17, he quits school, joins the Army and becomes a paratrooper, gets a GED, is honorably discharged and graduates from high school, prep school and college.
Parzych portrays farm life with humor and love, as well as sadness. He relates stories of making pets of calves, pigeons, circus pigs and other farm animals that are later killed, often beheaded amidst torrents of blood. He recognizes that he was strong minded and his parents did the best they could during trying times, under difficult conditions.