Sarcasm Does Not Translate

Yesterday Donald Trump said, “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” I was shocked to hear the Republican candidate for President of the United States making this comment.

Then later in the day Trump told us, “I’m being sarcastic.” Rudy Giuliani reassured us that there was no need to worry by stating, “He was telling a joke.”

Sarcasm and Russia spoken within the same conversation sounded familiar to me. I thought back to the days when my Russian grandmother was living with us.

Baba did not speak English, and my mother did not speak Russian, so the days were long and difficult as those two women had to pass the day in forced silence. Some of the stories I remember were humorous, while others were not.

I recall the day when Mom told us about the difficulty she had as she attempted to change the sheets. It should have been an easy chore, but that day it was not.

Mom climbed the very steep stairs to the two upstairs bedrooms with clean sheets in her arms. After removing the dirty sheets, the telephone rang, so she went downstairs to answer it.

She returned to find the dirty sheets so thoughtfully put back on the bed. Exasperated, Mom pulled off the soiled sheets, and the phone rang again. Baba tried to help, and you guessed it, she put the dirty sheets on once more. She was just trying to pull her weight around the house and was probably confused by my mother’s actions.

The other incident occurred during dinner one night. My mother can be funny, but at times, her jokes can be dripping with sarcasm.

At my house we always ate supper, not dinner, and when Baba was at the table, Mom was always reminding Dad to include his mother in our conversations by acting as an interpreter. With five children at the table, there was always lots of commotion as each one of us tried to talk about our day, often at the same time. Mom was trying to be thoughtful.

This particular evening, my mother turned to Dad and instructed him to tell Baba that “she had a beautiful complexion. Tell her it must be because of the easy life she had led.”

Mom was simply attempting to add some levity to the conversation. Of course she knew of my grandmother’s very difficult life during the war, although I don’t know if she knew that Baba had spent months sleeping in barns, in a train station, and on an unheated train during the coldest winter of the twentieth century.

But Mom was always insistent that my father translate our suppertime discussions, so Dad told her what she said about Baba’s beautiful skin. Well, Baba did not laugh. She was clearly very upset.

My mother was not trying to upset my grandmother. She was very innocently trying to make her Russian mother-in-law smile. She truly did not realize that sarcasm does not easily translate.

As I listened to Donald Trump tell the world that he was just “being sarcastic,” I thought back to that night around the dinner table. Mom did not know how her words would upset my grandmother, but I don’t believe for one minute that Donald Trump was being sarcastic. He knew exactly what he was saying.



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Just One Moment

I just can’t ignore this historical event. I spent one year sharing memories of my life—some as silly as the admission that I once brushed my teeth with Bengay pain relief cream or the fact that I spent many summer days trying to catch birds with a salt shaker. I blogged for three years about my father’s very unusual childhood growing up in the Soviet Union. This week it’s time to step back and be happy for the historical moment unfolding at our feet.

My grandmother was finally able to cast a vote for president when she was twenty-five years old—in 1920—which was when my father was not yet walking.

Among my father’s newspapers I found a newspaper published when I was about to enter eighth grade. A careful look at the employment ads shows that they were separated into what someone determined to be “male/female jobs.” Those were the days when women worked as secretaries and men always ran the show.

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When I went to college in 1973, my plan was to be a math teacher. Perhaps an engineering career would have been a better fit, but it just never occurred to me. No one suggested it; no one planted the idea in my mind because engineering was typically a men’s field at the time.

Now I have lived to see our first black president, and this week, I am watching as the first woman has been nominated to run for President of the United States. While I understand the dislike of Hillary Clinton by some, I do not understand why all women cannot step back and think about how far we have come since that election in 1920 when my grandmother—and all women—were finally allowed to vote. Now my granddaughters can truly grow up believing that they can be anything.

My dream is that for just a moment, all women can put aside politics and be excited for how far we have come. I would hope that if my father was alive today, as the father of three daughters and a grandfather of seven granddaughters, he could appreciate that moment as well. Why not for a least one moment?


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The Dream Not Forgotten

One moment my father was attending school in a small town in New Jersey, when suddenly, his parents announced they would be moving to the Soviet Union before the end of the year. He would be leaving his friends and his familiar surroundings to move to a foreign land. What did Dad think, and what did his siblings think? It didn’t matter. They could not control their destiny. Like all children whose parents move to another state or another country, it was not their decision to make.

The move was motivated by the presumption of jobs in my grandparents’ homeland. Eighteen years after immigrating to the United States, my grandparents dream was crumbling as they realized they could no longer provide for their family.

Dad spoke highly of his Soviet education. He enjoyed his classes and the cultural opportunities of living in Leningrad—a city much grander in size than the town where he was born. He went to the ballet and the opera. College became a reality rather than the impossible dream it had been in New Jersey.

When did he begin to fanaticize about becoming a doctor? Was it when he was walking the halls of his school in New Jersey, or was it during his science classes at Leningrad High School #7? In any case, becoming a doctor was no longer an illusion when he was accepted to the First Leningrad I.P. Pavlov Medical Institute. How exciting that must have been for him, knowing that someday, he would be a doctor.

But I guess it was never meant to be. The price to realizing that dream was Russian citizenship, which Dad refused to pay. His hope of becoming a doctor was dashed at the moment the ultimatum was issued: become a citizen or leave school.

That was the instant when he knew he had to return to New Jersey. My father never had the opportunity to continue his college education again. The closest he came to practicing medicine was when he worked as a medic on a hospital ship during World War II.

He was a loyal employee during his thirty-five years at Allied Chemical working in a small laboratory as a chemist. My mother, who worked as a switchboard operator at an office for a group of physicians, had more interaction with doctors during her career than my father ever did.

Did that make him sad? How often did he think, “If only?” I knew he never forgot because among his photos was a tiny—1 ½” x 3”—picture of my father standing in front of a statue with some friends. The notation written on the back of the photograph was “Leningrad—My School—August 1939.”

Dad at school 1939- edited

He never forgot. I want to live in a world where dreams can come true for everyone, no matter who they are or where they live.

BookCoverPreview - Darker Diary Name


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What’s In That Bag

Thanks to my father’s newspapers, we know what the astronauts ate on the moon (Armstrong and Aldrin-Meal of a Lifetime) and the fact that a lemonade stand was providing cold beverages, for a mere fourteen cents a cup, to all the news media parked on the street. (See Young Entrepreneurs on Neil Armstrong’s Street) How many of us thought of the necessity of packing  drugs for a headache, diarrhea, or a stuffy nose?

According to the July 18 article in the New York Daily News, packed tightly into a 5x5x8 inch pouch were aspirin, Band Aids, and Neosporin. For pain, I found it fascinating to learn that NASA packed two narcotics: Demerol and the now banned Darvon.

For those nights when the astronauts were too excited to sleep, they could open up the Apollo 11 Drugstore and retrieve a Secanol. The Houston Space Center attempted to anticipate all ailments—motion sickness, red eyes, and infections.

Doctors at Mission Control could monitor the heartbeats, fatigue, and respiration from afar. They needed to know if each of the three men had any allergies to any drugs, so they could provide alternatives. They did this by feeding them each drug prior to liftoff.

Sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? I guess there was just not much happening on planet Earth between the day the spacecraft left our planet until the historic day when they landed.

Moon Drugs

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Young Entrepreneurs on Neil Armstrong’s Street

When my children were young and the summer days began to drag, they sometimes looked to me for ideas. I remember at least two occasions when they became little entrepreneurs, setting up a lemonade stand in front of our house and another time, at my parents’ house—the same spot where my business had been located many, many years ago.

During the days between the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16 and the landing four days later, it was clear from the articles in my father’s newspapers that there was little to report.

On the same day we learned about the first meal Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would be having on the moon, the New York Daily News reported about the activities occurring in the Armstrong neighborhood.

It turns out that Mrs. Armstrong was one of the coaches of the El Lago, Texas synchronized swim team, and they were trying to raise money for the girls to travel to Ohio for the national Amateur Athletic Union championship. While Jan Armstrong suggested the girls set up shop on her lawn, the neighbors decided to give the family of the famous astronaut a little space since they were facing a slew of photographers camping out across from the Armstrong house.

I wonder if the young swimmers profited from the publicity. The day the article was written the girls made twenty-five dollars from the sale of the lemonade and ice tea. Perhaps after the big news hit the press, their sales skyrocketed.

Dad was a young boy when the family moved to the Soviet Union in 1931. While I never heard that he sold lemonade in front of his house at 17 Brook Street, I do recall him mentioning that he contributed to the family coffers by caddying at the local golf club.


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Armstrong and Aldrin- Meal of a Lifetime

As I mentioned previously, Dad Collected Stuff, so in honor of the anniversary of the first moon landing this week, I decided to take a peek at his newspapers from that week. Some of the articles and photos are well-known, such as the liftoff

Moon- Liftoff

Photo of Buzz Aldrin, taken by Neil Armstrong, as he climbed down the steps of the lunar module onto the surface of the moon,

Moon- Climbing Down

And the most famous—Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon as the reflection of the American flag and Armstrong are seen in his helmet.

Moon Walk

How many people know what type of culinary delights awaited those first two moon walkers on their spacecraft? Thanks to one of Dad’s newspapers, I am going to share my discovery.

According the article from the New York Daily News on July 18, 1969, the food for this historic mission was much more sophisticated than previous space flights. I don’t think that The News space team, who sampled the same meal to be eaten by Armstrong and Aldrin, agreed, particularly at a cost of $200.

The first moon meal consisted of bacon squares, peaches shaped like a bar of soap, sugar cookie cubes, and pineapple-grapefruit drink. The meals needed be mixed with water, using a water pistol to supply hot or cold water. Yum yum??

I guess that was the price to pay for the awesome privilege of being the first to land on the moon.

Moon- Space Food

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What Would Dad Think

I never knew which political party, if any, my mother or father belonged to or who they voted for in any election. It was just not a conversation I ever recall being discussed around the dinner table. With five children, the comments I recall were, “stop kicking him,” “spill the wine, but not the milk,” and “will you please tell you mother what we are discussing.” (As I mentioned previously, my Russian grandmother never learned to speak English.

My grandfather believed that not being a member of the Communist Party—or any party—kept him and his family safe during their years living in the Soviet Union. Clearly my own father took that advice to heart since he was neither a member of the Democratic or Republican party as far as I know.

While my children were young, we never discussed politics with them. Part of the reason was because we were too busy being harried parents to pay attention to the details of politics, but another was our desire not to influence the opinions of our daughters.

Now that they are adults, and particularly during an election cycle that is impossible to avoid, we have had some very interesting conversations with our adult children. It is interesting to hear their political views which they have formed on their own.

When my children were young—before the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and 24-hour news—they were not exposed to the violence, name-calling, and incivility which is what we see on television today during this presidential election. All I had to worry about was shielding them from television sex and profanity. Did my parents worry about what we saw on television during the years of assassinations and violence in sixties and seventies?

I would love to be able to sit down with my father now—a man who lived in a Communist country and therefore had an interesting perspective on both sides of the political spectrum—and listen to what he would say about the election of 2016.


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