My brother and I went to visit mom and dad yesterday for dinner. The conversation often dives into the deeply philosophical and comes up for air in the absurd mix of my brother’s romantic escapades, the difference between two kinds of French cheese or wine or women and everything in between. Most of it is carried out in four different versions of the Russian language, invented over the past 15 years by each of us. My version is perhaps the saddest. It’s a weak gazelle dragging its hooves behind the pack. I can glimpse the irony and melancholy of the words from the other three, but myself can’t generate anything. Instead I take the role of Hemingway, assigned the task of inspiring a perception of wisdom by using as few words as possible.
We talked about my dad’s mom as a young girl during the second World War, and my dad’s early childhood. I won’t mention any details except to say that life was hard. And it occurred to me as I returned home that my dad has seen a gradual increase in apartment size from the day he was born to today, from one tiny room holding 5 people to today where not only he, but each of his children, enjoy the vast possibilities of having a separate kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.
The story of life in the Soviet Union in the 20th century for most people was that of poverty. I grew up knee deep in it, but was sheltered from it by the care of my parents. My biggest concerns in childhood were the harassment by my older brother, the kissing of girls, and the fact that my soccer skills were far inferior to those of the guys older than me. I am forever grateful for that. And while I believe my parents are most proud of having brought us to America and all the opportunities that come with that, I am most thankful for the happy childhood they gave me and my brother amid the chaos and challenges of the life in the Soviet Union.