Knoshing Around the World

My recent trip to Washington, DC was like attending an international food festival. My husband and I began in Korea, and by the end of the weekend, we had visited eateries representing Venezuela, China, the Middle East, and Russia. Looking back on our choices, those all represented hot spots in the news of late, but that was not intentional.

I was most excited to dine at the Russian restaurant—conveniently located less than a mile from the White House and one block from the famous Mayflower Hotel. (I encourage you to Google “Mayflower Hotel Russians” and you’ll see what I mean.)

You would think the fact that my father had lived in Russia for ten years would have made me familiar with the cuisine of his people, but that was not the case at all. The only time I ever went to a Russian restaurant was when we accompanied Dad and his cousin, Misha, to a restaurant in New York City, where I believe I feasted on Chicken Kiev and mashed potatoes.  I ordered the same for old times’ sake.

I always have a glass of wine with dinner, but it I felt it would be wrong not to order some sort of vodka-based drink in a Russian restaurant. I ordered a strawberry-infused vodka cocktail. Delicious!

Within seconds of opening my menu, a wave of emotion swept over me and I began to cry. I don’t know why, but after spending so much time writing my book about my father’s years living in the USSR, being in a place I knew he would have loved just caused those tear ducts to open and begin to flow.

There were plenty of Russian-speaking patrons slurping their borscht and sipping vodka, and the bar was showing Russian cartoons. It was cozy, and the bathroom was decorated with Russian newspapers, which added to the ambience.

While my meal was not my favorite on our food tour around the world, the atmosphere affected my soul the most.


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An Unexpected Contact

For those of you who have read this blog and possibly my book, you know that I spent a lot of time researching the story of my family’s years in Russia beginning in 1931. I did my best to be accurate, but have always known there may be mistakes, and there are still many missing pieces to this tragic tale.

I was recently surprised to be contacted by a woman who was a cousin of the man my aunt Nancy married while in Russia. She stumbled upon this blog while researching her family. This woman filled in a few pieces of the story as told by my aunt’s mother-in-law, Susanna.

I do not recall many details of her story about the war.  Only that they ran from city to city.  Aunt Susanna said that she was with her daughter Vera and son Walter trying to escape the coming Nazi’s bombing.  During the bombing she and Walter were separated from Vera. Vera had gone on before them in a vehicle if I recall correctly. 

So this may have solved a mystery in the family diary.

When my father’s family hurriedly evacuated the city of Novgorod the day before German forces attacked the city, the diary said “Family stayed in a barn- 7 in number.” That number seven never made sense because I could only account for five people: my grandparents and three aunts. Several letters from the State Department indicated that my uncle Pete had taken the family belongings and left by boat. One letter in particular was addressed to Uncle Pete and my aunt’s husband, which is what led me to believe they had left together.

However, a month after leaving Novgorod, there was a mysterious paragraph written in Russian:

September 19- They bombed Kiev and announced to us that the war had begun. Peacetime has come to any end. It is time for us to part. I promise to be faithful to you to the end. But be careful with my feelings.

The wheels of the rail cars clack as the train speeds on like an arrow. I am in the rail car. You are waving to me from the platform. One year will go by. I will meet you again. We will be together and will be happy then.

My new theory, based upon this very sorrowful note, along with the information from Susanna, is that the seven people staying in the barn may have included Susanna and her son, Waldemar—my aunt’s husband. Perhaps he stayed with her until the train came and then joined his sister Vera, my Uncle Pete, and Pete’s wife, Nona.

I do not know if my aunt ever saw her husband again.

Boarding Train

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Home at Last

My family recently had our old 8mm home movies digitized, so I have been spending the weekend traveling down memory lane. Among the hours of films were many I had seen, some I had forgotten, and many I never knew existed, such as the hard-to-see movies of my wedding. The interior shots were primarily a blur of back except when someone kindly lit up the scene with a flash of a camera. Most of the exterior films were the opposite—so bright that most of the movie was as white as the driven snow.

It was therefore with great apprehension that I played the video of the homecoming of my father’s mother—Baba as she was known to all of her grandchildren. I am happy to report that the film of Baba’s arrival at the airport that January day in 1957 was extraordinarily clear considering the age of the film.

After a quick view of an airplane, the focus was on her smiling face, which was heavily worn by her very painful and heartbreaking life. She was greeted by my father and, well, I just won’t provide any names lest I spoil the story for anyone who has not yet read it!

Knowing what I learned while researching and writing this story, I can’t imagine the relief and joy she must have felt after having been gone from America for so long (26 years) interspersed by the sadness regarding the loved ones she left behind. Thus the tears, smiles, and laughter all wound into 39 brief seconds.

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Please Let Freedom Ring for All

I grew up in a very apolitical home. My mother was too busy raising five children as well as having a job outside the home, and my father was advised by his father to never join any political organizations. Living in the Soviet Union, Dad was aware of the dangers of speaking negatively about anyone in power, so we never had lively political conversations at dinner time. It was more like, “He hit me,” or “Whatever you do, don’t spill the wine!”

Most of my siblings are definitely more vocal politically than either of our parents, but I am careful about voicing my opinions about what is happening in our country because I generally avoid confrontations.

However, the pardon of the racist sheriff from Arizona has made my blood boil. I read about the targeted immigration raids and traffic stops, and the harsh treatment of prisoners under his watch. The inmates were given moldy bread and rotten fruit to eat, forced to sleep outside in tents with oppressive summertime temperatures, and in the winter, heat was used sparingly. Warm clothing was not an option.

This reminded me of the arrest of my father’s sister as she was headed to the American Embassy in the Soviet Union. The charge was “violation of passport regulations.” She was sentenced to imprisonment for one year. The conditions in those prisons was abysmal.

Our family always knew this story, but I always thought, “But that happened in Russia in 1942. It would never happen here, and surely it would not be condoned.”

My daughter told me that she threw her phone across the couch when she heard the news of the pardon—by the President of the United States—of the man responsible for the terror in Arizona targeted toward the Latino community. I felt sick to my stomach.

Each day, I watch the news and wonder how much worse can it get? What is happening to our “Sweet Land of Liberty?” What would Dad think?

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Josef Stalin Trivia

As I was flipping through the pages of my baby book in search of an idea for my other blog, Mommymeanderings, I found a copy of Stars and Stripes, which is a newspaper focused on the U.S. Armed Forces. I then decided that it’s time for Do Svidanya Dad to make a brief reappearance.

On the back page, just below the fold, I found a fascinating story titled “Sons of Stalin, Blum Shared German Cell.” It turned out that the son of the infamous leader of the Soviet Union and the son of the Prime Minister of France were cellmates during World War II.

Stalin’s son had joined the Soviet Army after the invasion of his country by Germany—the invasion which my father learned about when he arrived in Honolulu en route back to America. Stalin’s son was taken prisoner just one month later, which Stalin considered to be a traitorous act. “There are no prisoners of war, only traitors.” (Nice guy!)

In researching this incident, I learned that the families of such prisoners of war were treated quite harshly. After her husband’s arrest, Stalin’s daughter-in-law was arrested and sent off to a Soviet gulag, where she remained until Stalin finally secured her arrest.

What I found most interesting about the article in Stars and Stripes was that the son’s name was Jakob Dzhugashvili, not Jakob Stalin. Apparently, Dzhugashvili was Stalin’s birth name. Stalin was his revolutionary name, which means “man of steel.” Maybe everyone else knew that fact, but it was news to me.

As far as I am concerned, the only “man of steel” to ever live was Superman. I would never consider that to be an appropriate name for Josef Stalin!


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Timeout/Scale Back

I need to slow down and stop trying to continue down so many different paths before I crash and burn. Although it is technically springtime in the Northern Hemisphere, here in the Southeastern United States, it is definitely summertime. The kids are out of school, the temperatures are in the nineties, the days are long, and the grass and plants are begging for more water as they all wilt in the afternoon sun.

Since I was a kid, this has always been the time of year to relax and smell the roses. That is not what I have been doing, and I don’t like it. I have been trying to keep up with my two blogs, plan my summer vacation, play with the grandkids, finish redoing my mother’s photo albums, assemble a family cookbook, and write another book. Oh yes, then there is my book club. I am behind on that. (And there is always the laundry to do and toilets to clean.)

So I am cutting back on my blogs, particularly Do Svidanya Dad, since I have been tossing around the idea of turning Mommymeanderings into a book—something along the lines of Mommymeanderings: Where the Hell Did the Years Go? For anyone not familiar with my second blog, it the rambling memories and observations of a Baby boomer—me—as told to my three grown children.

After struggling to write my father’s story, I decided that perhaps my own children and grandchildren would someday be interested in learning what it was like growing up in a smalltown in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. I wrote the kind of stories I wish my own parents and grandparents had written about or told to me.

I began the blog shortly after hitting a very difficult-to-accept milestone birthday: #60!   I sprinkled in stories of my own parents and grandparents, and I am hoping that these tales will give my daughters and their children a personal history of how much the world has changed, as well as how much it is still the same.

Enough stories are written for a book, but I am still continuing that blog. It is now a matter of choosing which ones to include and how to organize it in a cohesive format. Then I will decide whether to publish it just for them or to allow for the possibility that others outside my family may be interested. I am uncertain at this time.

Do Svidanya Dad will still drop by on occasion, but for now, I need to work on these other projects and also have a little summer fun.

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International Giveaway Mailing Shocker

I have never mailed any international packages, so today’s trip to the UPS store was a real eye-opener. This mailing was related to my recent Goodreads Giveaway.

The winners of my first Giveaway were both U.S. citizens. This time, I learned that one book would be off to neighboring Georgia, while the second was going to Canada. I liked both locales, since my father had spent time in Georgia during the war, and Canada was a country he had never visited. So symbolically, Dad was off to our Northern neighbor.

I carefully composed a short message to each winner, and wrapped and addressed the two packages. Having mailed my book before, I knew the cost to mail within the states was minimal, but I had no idea what the cost to Canada would be.

The first surprise was that for International mailings, UPS required the recipient’s telephone number. “Okay,” I told my friendly store manager. “I’ll be back.”

Before leaving the store, I asked him to find out the price to mail my book to Canada. We were both shocked to learn that it would be over twenty dollars! Wow! “Perhaps you should research the cost to mail it direct from the publisher,” he advised.

The difference was huge: $6.99 direct from Amazon versus $20 if shipped by me. Lesson learned. (The price via US Mail was still pricey, albeit cheaper than UPS.)

So now I have a book with a message to a person in Canada which will stay in my house here, while that Canadian reader will receive the book without my little words of wisdom to her.

Oh well. I tried, but I had to be practical, and I never promised an autographed copy. It’s a good thing nobody in Australia won!

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