My mama visited for a couple of weeks in October. As we drove back from the road trip South, in the Valley, the boring part, I asked, randomly, if grandpa Sasha, her father, went to college. Grandpa died while mama was pregnant with me, so I didn’t get to meet him. Heard this and that about him, but not much since I’ve grown up.
Here is what she told me.
After the war, grandpa Sasha, then 25, applied to the University, (St. Petersburg State, my Alma mater) the Department of History. He was not admitted, so he stayed in the military.
Grandpa was intelligent and a war veteran. The family speculates that he wasn’t accepted to the University, because his father, my great-grandfather, Vasiliy, was “un-kulakized”, arrsted (twice), and shot in the Ufa prison in 1940. Years later, the family discovered that both times he was arrested after being delated by his own less successful brother, Alexey. Vasiliy’s farm was leveled, and a school was built on the lot. My mama saw the building when she, as a 3 or 4 year old, visited family in Arkhangelskoye, near Ufa, but of course she didn’t hear the whole story then.
(While looking for a translation of the word “kulak“, I discovered that was a legitimate English word, so I’ll leave the research to my readers. I calqued “un-kulakize” to mean “repress a kulak and forcefully expropriate his possessions”.)
Grandpa didn’t study at the Department of History, but he was always interested in history and philosophy, and helped my mama (generously, I suspect) with philosophy papers when she was in college. She almost got into trouble once when a professor was impressed with her paper so much that he wanted to discuss it with her, and she had little clue or interest.
Years before that, in 1955, when mama was 4 and uncle a baby, grandpa went to the military academy for just one year (after all, he had already been through the war, starting with the Finnish war). When he returned, he refused to go to Hungary to help suppress the revolution there.
In 1961, Khrushchev cut down the active military. Grandfather was cut out. The family speculates, that was because of Hungary. He went to work for a security organization of sorts (more research needed ❓ ).
My babushka, mama’s mother, had to start working too. Until then, it wasn’t comme il faut for an officer’s wife to work. Officer’s wives promenaded in pink coats and voilettes. Babushka retrained to become an economist, and worked as such until her retirement. She barely got in 20 years of service necessary to earn a decent pension. Well, decent until the whole thing collapsed in 1991, but that’s a different story.
There isn’t one way to end this. I marvel at the family history weaved into the twentieth century history. I think of grandpa Sasha whom I’ve never met, when I read history or philosophy. I imagine my family, their trials, their choices, their simple human resilience, as removed as I am from them in time and space, being in some small but important sense close to me.
I am planning more posts about my mama’s visit, so watch this space, but don’t hold your breath