Untrustworthy Now and Then

When my grandparents decided to leave their New Jersey home and move their family to the Soviet Union, it was a risky decision. Would there really be plenty of job opportunities awaiting them, and how would they be received after having been away from their homeland for so many years?

Diplomatic relations between the two countries had been dissolved by President Truman, so there was no one to protect them. While my grandparents were not American citizens at the time, my father and his siblings were, as well as my grandfather’s brother.

Two years after their arrival, FDR became president, and almost immediately, he sought to reestablish diplomatic relations between the new countries. (Hmm—sounds familiar.Let’s be best friends with the USSR, folks!)

Russia had an unpaid debt to the U.S. which Roosevelt hoped to settle, he wanted the Russians to stop meddling in our domestic affairs, and he wanted assurances that Americans living in the USSR would have their religious and legal rights protected.

This was probably all good news to my grandparents, but could the Russians really be trusted to keep their word? Just turn on the news today and you will have your answer. And as in the past, money was the driving force.

In less than ten years, this agreement would have tragic, personal consequences to one of my father’s siblings. Why would anyone ever believe that a pact with the Russian government would be honored?


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Would Would Dad Think?

My dad never discussed politics with us, at least that is what my now senior mind recalls. We did not sit around the dinner table and have animated discussions about the upcoming elections and he did not voice many opinions regarding the current politicians in office. I did not know if he was a Democrat, Republican, or an Independent.

According to my father, my grandfather advised him to “never join anything,” for he believed that if he had done so, he would have been arrested by the Soviet secret police. Dad could not forget those words even after returning to America.

Still, I am positive that if he were alive today, he would have finally opened up and told us his views on politics. Seeing the coziness between the Soviet president and our current President of the United States, I am confident that he would have been vehemently opposed to such an alliance. He would never have accepted such a friendship after having lost several family members, whose deaths he believed were directly attributed to the policies of Josef Stalin.

Dad would have had no patience to the daily “alt-facts,” and he would have told us they were lies. The older he got, the more open he got with his opinions, and my mother had difficulty silencing him. A classic example was with one of my daughter’s boyfriends, who he believed was out of her life. When the young man walked into my parents’ home, Dad looked at him and said, “I thought we were done with you!”

So every time I hear a discussion of Putin and Trump, I would wonder, “What would Dad think?”

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Skip the Boring if You Want

I was recently lent a book to read by a friend who thought I would enjoy it because it was set in Moscow. It was 466 pages, so it was going to be quite the commitment to read, but I since I was recuperating from surgery, I knew I had plenty of time. The reviews were stellar, so I was excited to dig in and become a fan. However, I was having a very difficult time getting into it, yet I felt compelled to continue. “What is wrong with me,” I thought, because it was becoming more of a chore than an enjoyable read. It took about 200 pages until I my opinion changed, and by the time the book was winding down, I did not want it to end.

Reading that book made me wonder if readers of my book are bored by some of the earlier chapters, which contain a lot of background material and were written to set a tone for what I knew was the juicy stuff coming later. It is like a new television show. Sometimes you need to understand the characters and push through a few episodes before the action begins.

For example, I spent many pages detailing my grandparents early years before their six children were born, followed by the events leading up to their decision to return to Russia. I felt this helped show how desperate they must have felt after having taken such a difficult journey to America and then became part of a community with friends and a home they built.

I wanted the reader to see the six children as typical American kids, who led a simple life playing stickball with their friends, enjoying Halloween pranks, and taking trips into the city with their father. They could have been me.

It was important for me to spend time showing the kids having fun on the ship and the family having a nice vacation in London as a contrast to suddenly moving into a small apartment in a big city in a foreign country.

During one of my earlier drafts, I skipped all of this, partially because I did not know these details until I discovered the diary, but then added these incidents because they helped me understand how they must have felt.

The letters to my father were included because so many people wanted to know how I was able to learn so many details, and while I was writing I was always having conversations with my father in my head. Still, as the person who researched this story, I admit that the best part of the story for me was learning what happened to my father after he got on that train in Moscow headed back to New Jersey across the barren expanses of the Soviet Union. I never knew any of the details about what happened to the family he left behind and how instrumental he was in their return. So I can understand a reader wanting to skip those parts and move on to the action.

That was all part of my decision to self-publish the book, because I wanted total control over the book. Perhaps if I ever write another book—one which is not so personal—I will be more willing to relinquish control. But for this book, I say, skip the parts you find boring and incidental. I admit I occasionally do myself.

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Family History- It Starts with the Wee Ones

Anyone who has read my book or enough of my blog know that my biggest regret is not sitting down with my father and my maternal grandmother to listen to the stories of their childhood memories. If I had spoken to my grandmother, I probably would have known where in Ireland all her relatives originated. My father would have happily answered all my questions about what it was like to grow up in the USSR and hear about his journey home alone at a time when much of the world was already at war.

Today I read a blog about an eighth-grade history teacher in Utah who does a project with his students each year called “My Story in American History.” If only I had had a teacher like him at that age. I am hoping to inspire an interest in family history in my grandchildren by hook or by crook!

Check out what this teacher has been doing:

8th Grade Family History Project: My Story in American History

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All the News That’s Fit to Find

This week I decided to change my subscription to newspapers.com so that I could increase my access to now just under 5000 newspapers spanning a time period from the 1700s until today. Since then, I have been having a grand old time checking out my family as well as my husband’s family. What juicy stories will I dig up, and what will I learn about them that I did not know?

So far, I learned that three of my siblings achieved exemplar grades in high school, each being listed on the high honor rolls in high school. I discovered that another sibling was involved in a war with the town where we were raised when they slapped him with an $8000 sewer bill after he sold his home, and that this same sibling loved to write letters to the editor of the local newspaper. His dog took first place in a tail wagging contest. (I never knew!)

I found the obituaries of my father, Russian grandmother, and several aunts and uncles; the interview with my aunts when they returned from the USSR in 1945; and many, many stories about the wife of a family member who disappeared and later was pronounced dead in a house fire with little evidence except the bones of a woman near the age of the missing woman. This is the story I need to investigate more. It’s too good to let go.

How I wish I had this tool while I was writing my book. With my enhanced subscription, I was able to locate the newspaper my father may have purchased for the mysterious Russian diplomate (Andrei Gromyko or another?) on the day his shipped docked in Honolulu on the morning of June 22, 1945. I now know that the Kamakura Maru did not remain in port for three days like my father had remembered. Instead, it arrived at 8 am and left at 10:00 that night.

The newspaper Dad saw that day confirmed the horrible rumors he had heard while aboard the ship. The headline blasted the chilling news: Nazi, Romanian Armies Cross Russian Frontier.  

 When he left his family the previous month, he never dreamed this could happen because Hitler and Stalin had signed a nonaggression pact two years ago. (Lesson learned was that one should never have trusted Hitler.) So while my father was returning to New Jersey, the rest of his family was trapped in what now becoming a war zone. How frightened and helpless he must have felt!

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Russian, Arabic, or Spanish?

Last week I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post regarding my belief that Americans may want to consider learning to speak the Russian language—at least a few basic words and phrases. This thought was based upon the news of Russia spies infiltrating the United States. I thought I was done with this topic until today, when I turned to some research on my husband’s family.

I learned that his Russian-born uncle was a teacher of the Russian language. The news article I stumbled upon was from a newspaper in Kingston, New York in 1958. Relations were tense between our nation and the Soviet Union. We were in the midst of the Cold War, so I should not have been surprised to read that “study is being encouraged by the federal government” and “two national television programs now carry instruction in Russian.”

Then the Cold War ended, so I wondered what happened to Russian-language studies here at that time. I found an article in the New York Times published in 1992 which stated that the need shifted away from Russian to Arabic. After the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces, it was discovered that there were only eighteen out of three million active-duty soldiers who were fluent in Arabic. Now Arabic classes were what the cool kids on campuses were studying rather than Russian.

Interest in learning Russian has resurged during the past few years, so I guess my post was more accurate than I thought. I guess when kids are choosing their foreign language classes in high school and college, they should let current events help drive their decision.


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Is Blogging in Your Future?

For anyone reading this who is not interested in designing their own website for a blog or a business, today’s post is not for you. In fact, many will find this extremely boring, but I was asked by a follower how to create a blog or a website, so this is my attempt to help provide some guidance. So if you are already a blogger or have no intention of becoming one, I say to you, “Good Bye for now! ” Otherwise, please continue.

I chose WordPress simply because my daughter used it for her business, so I had the ability to pump her for direction and questions. It’s always nice to have an expert to annoy. Here is my attempt to give you step-by-step guidance.

  • Go to https://wordpress.com. At the top, right side of the page, click on “Get Started.” You will be brought to a friendly page: “Hello! Let’s Create Your Site,” where you can choose to “Start with a Blog” or “Start with a Website.”
  • For this tutorial, I am choosing “Start with a Blog.” You can now choose a theme, which is the layout of your blog. Note that you alway have the ability to change if you later decide you do not like your choice.
  • After choosing your theme, you will now need to choose your name. I remember being frustrated when I first did this, because several of my first attempts had already been taken. Be patient and creative. If you don’t want “wordpress” as part of your name, you will need to upgrade to a paid subscription. I did not upgrade until I published my book, at which time I decided that it had a more professional appearance: karenwbobrow.com. However, I felt that for my blogs, having “wordpress” in the URL was a good tradeoff for having a FREE site.
  • Next you will be directed to create your account, which involves simply supplying an email, password, and your name, which will be filled in for you.
  • WordPress will send you a confirmation email. Once you confirm, you will now be able to start posting, although I would suggest that you add some of your personal bells and whistles, beginning with a header photo.
  • On the left side of the page, choose “Header Image.” You may choose several canned photos from WordPress or add one of your own. Follow the prompt to “Add a New Image.” If you want to choose a photo from your own files, you will be directed to “Select Files.” Choose your picture, and then crop to fit. I originally chose a map of the world, but later changed it to a  photo from the National Archives:

  • Next, decide on your title. In this blog, my title is “Do Svidanya Dad.” Hover your cursor over the pencil next to the words “Site Title” and create your own title. Look for “Site Identity” at the top left to change the font and font color of your title via “Fonts” and “Colors and Background.” Play around with this.
  • You can now “Save and Publish” and begin you blog. At this point, you have a very basic blog, but it’s a start. You can fine tune this by adding “widgets.” In this blog, these are on the side and include “Contact Me at,” “Schedule, “Older Posts,” “Recent Posts,” etc. The widgets you will be able to choose is dictated by the Theme you choose.

There is a lot more that you can do to make your blog prettier, but for me, I started with the basics, until I became more comfortable with the process, and then slowly made it fancier.

I would suggest that when logging onto your website to add new posts, I find it easier to work as the administrator. You can access the administrator page in two ways:

  1. Access your page by appending “/wp-admin/” at the end of your URL (https://yourblogname.wordpress.com/wp-admin/)
  2. On the left, topmost corner, click on “My Site,” scroll to the bottom, after “Stats,” “Plan,” “Blog Posts,” “Pages,” etc. Click on the administrator page, and you will see “Posts,” which is where you can add new posts or edit old posts.

Don’t be afraid. I hope that if you try following these steps, you will be able to set up a basic blog. WordPress has a help feature, and there is always our friend Google to help see you through the bumps in the roads which you will experience as a newcomer. Try it. It’s as hard or as easy as you make it.

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