Did you catch the story in the Globe this morning about mushroom hunters? The photo on the front was of a Grafton guy, Vladimir Gubenko “a self-proclaimed amateur mycologist,” and it’s worth checking out the online version just to see the video, which was shot right here in Grafton.
I have a soft spot for mushroom hunters. When I was covering Gardner, I was sent to do a feature on this colorful guy in Templeton whose hobby was mushroom gathering. He was especially busy in the fall, and his basement was just filled with boxes of the things, which he’d give to friends and occasionally sell to local restaurants.
He was easily one of the most fascinating people I’d ever met. The son of Polish immigrants, he was taught all about flora and fauna by his father. He would have had a happy, nondescript life in Templeton if it wasn’t for World War II. He joined up as soon as he was able and soon found himself part of the crew of a bomber.
He was shot down over Stutgartt, Germany and was the only member of his crew to make it out alive because, he believed, he was the only one blown clear of the plane. He ended up stuck on a church steeple and a crowd gathered to tear him apart before some German soldiers intervened. The officer who interrogated him, he recalled, was Harvard-educated and chatted with him about life back in Massachusetts.
He spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war. He was able to keep himself alive, he said, by remembering his father’s teachings about edible mushrooms and plants. He kept his mind active by embroidering the scene of his bomber’s last moments on a handkerchief, bartering with other prisoners for different colored threads from their clothes and metal for a crude needle and embroidery hoops. The handkerchief, carried with him “in ways I’d rather not talk about” through the entire war, had pride of place, framed, on his living room wall.
His last months of the war were spent on an extended death march, foraging for food when he could and hoping his captors wouldn’t shoot him for faltering as they had done to so many other prisoners. One day, they marched over a hill and were greeted with a line of American tanks. His countrymen urged him to eat a chocolate bar which, he said “was just as sweet coming back up and it was going down.”
I loved this guy. He was such an odd duck. He found a Hen of the Woods once, a giant mushroom, and attempted to register it to vote. Throughout my time in Gardner, he’d periodically just show up at the paper bearing news tips and gifts — a loaf of black Russian bread, an arrowhead he’d found in the woods, a piece of amethyst geode.
All of this, of course, has nothing to do with Grafton, but it’s Saturday and I felt like writing about my mushroom man.