Children’s Hospitals In The Soviet Union

Some time ago, a fellow blogger mentioned staying in the hospital with her son, who got severe burns. I commented that I remember how I was coming to the children’s hospital every day when Igor had his eyes surgeries. I felt that a short comment was not enough to describe the difference and thought I should write more about this story.

Igor had severe nearsightedness from birth, and when he was four, the ophthalmologist told me he needs scleraplastic surgery. Even now, I can’t tell whether it was necessary. Here in the US, nobody heard about this surgery. But I was told that he absolutely has to have it; otherwise, he may go blind.

Before I proceed, I need to explain several things about hospitals in the Soviet Union. First, the patients would stay for a long period. Here, if you had surgery and no complications and concerns, you will be dismissed in a couple of days to recover at home. Also, you do not need to come to the hospital “in advance.”

However, back in the Soviet Union, a person, regardless of their age, would be admitted a week before the surgery “to get ready.” I am not sure about the rationale behind this practice. Were the doctors afraid of infections? Still, it seems completely unreasonable.

Continue reading “Children’s Hospitals In The Soviet Union”

A Flash Of History

All the letters were dry by yesterday except for about ten or fifteen. I had to through away these because more than 90% of the text was non-readable, and I suspect that after the subsequent inspection, I will have to though away more. 

The process took more time than I could imagine, and this week, it was more difficult than ever to find extra time. I thought that I would at least sort the dry letters by the addressee, but I didn’t have time for that either. I opened and reread some of the letters. Many envelopes appeared sealed because of the moisture, and I had this weird feeling that I open them for the first time.

In addition to the letters, almost all of my diaries were in the same box, so they also suffered some damage. And also, this box contained the Commander map case or tablet (komandirskiy planshet), an object of envy and desire for any kid I knew. Made of the highest quality leather, water, heat, and other elements-resistant, it was the coolest thing you could imagine.

I was given it to play when I was about nine or ten. I had an imaginary country where I was a ruler, and I used this case to carry Very Important Messages.

I was told that it belonged to my grandfather, but back then, I didn’t pay attention. Later I thought that probably that was a family legend because I could not imagine anything of his belongings could survive, especially this particular piece. I remembered that I knew it when I was a kid, but I forgot why. 

After all, there were other military people in our family, and although I kept and treasured this map case, I was sure it belonged to the post-war times.

I also forgot that it had a name tag with the name covered by the leather flap. When I unbuttoned it, it saw my grandfather’s name there!. And then I remembered why I was sure that this map case belonged to him: the paper with the name is sewed it, and you cant replace the name without tearing the tag apart. Now I remembered why I never opened it again after the initial discovery: I could not replace his name with mine 🙂

Anyway, this was surreal. When I told Boris that the case is in remarkably good shape and I do not see any tear even in the parts which are usually worn out, he said: you know, it was not a long time when it was in use… 

July 1966

It has been several months since I last wrote a historical post. I moved and got settled, so there are no more excuses. I am going to continue from where I stopped back in March – summer 1966.

It is summer again, and I live in Sosnovaya Polyana with Baba Ania and Deda Fedia. And once again, most of the pictures are taken by my father. It might be that it was the only time that summer he visited.

My parents were already divorced by then, but I do not remember that something changed drastically in my life. My father was on and off by that time; the late-night fights continued, though less frequently.
I am assuming that it was my father who bought me a bike. A bike had training wheels, and I never learned to ride a regular bike when I was a child. Believe it or not, I only learned to ride a bike in the US after both Vlad and Anna learned it.

But here I am, happy on my four-wheel bike :).

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School Uniforms In The Soviet Union

The other day, mom forwarded to me a video she received from one of her Russian friends. The video was nostalgic in a horrible way. 

The background song declared that the best time in Russian/Soviet history was the 1970s, and the singer wanted to travel in time to get to that moment in history. 

The video featured the girls in the school uniforms with huge bows in their hair, young pioneers in red ties, old-fashioned ice cream, and lots of old propaganda pieces. All together looked pretty horrific, so when mo asked me how I liked it, I had to tell her the truth. Then she would go: well, these girls in uniforms with huge bows weren’t they cute?

I asked her: mom, do you remember the deal with these uniforms?? Most girls hated it because they were out of style or just plain ugly. But there was something else. Can you imagine that we had to wear the same dress for months without washing?!

Yes, you would always get only one dress for the school year. It was made of brown wool so that the dirt won’t be visible. But then, you were not supposed to wash a woolen dress because you would ruin it; you were supposed to take it to the dry cleaners, which would take at least a week. Now that I am thinking about t, t is possible that sometimes we would wash the dress at home, but then t would also be very infrequently.

What I remember clearly is how I was refreshing the dress every Sunday.

First, there was a white collar and white cuffs, which I saw on Sunday evening, and then rip off at the end of the week to hand-wash and iron and sometimes even starch.

We always had pieces of old cotton linen in the house to use for steaming the clothes. I would take one of these pieces, wet it, place it over each underarm part of my dress, and press with a hot iron. This procedure would help to eliminate the smell of sweat. I would also steam the back of the dress, which was always wrinkled from sitting.

Later, the cuffs were dismissed, and the collars were most often made with synthetic lace, so caring for them became easier. When I was in high school, they finally let the aprons go (before that, there was a black apron for every day and a white apron for occasions). 

I forgot all about that underarm business until I saw that video!

My beautiful picture

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Spring 1996

I am trying to figure out the exact time these pictures were taken and can’t figure it out. I know that the year is 1966, but as I’ve already mentioned, I could easily wear the same clothes outside for six months in a row, because that was all I had.

In winter 1965/66 I got a fur coat made of black rabbits fur. That was the most common fur for the children’s winter coats. But it looks like I wore it almost until summer.

The pictures with my mom and I following my father to the tram stop with his skies must be taken in March. In March, there was usually a lot of snow to the north of Leningrad. My father is carrying a rucksack, so he must be going for a multi-day ski trip. All sort of “tourism” or rather hiking was very popular in the 1960s in the Soviet Union, and my mom would complain later that my father would always disappear when she needed his help.

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1965-1966: Discovering Myself

It was one thing that since 1965 I remember my life as a sequence of events. Another thing that happened during the same year was my realization of myself being a person: one of many and unique because this person was me.

Strangely, I was ashamed of these thoughts and never told my mom about them. Also, these thoughts made my head spinning, quite literally. I felt lightheaded when I thought about that for a too long time, and that’s why I was trying to divert my thoughts in some other direction. 

That’s how it would go. It happened most of the time when I was outside, taking a walk with Nanny Katia, and saw other children walking with their parents or nannies. I thought: that’s me, and I have all these thoughts in my head, and now I speak to myself, and also I can see everything and everybody around me. That’s my “inside”, and all my thoughts and impressions and “inside.” But at the same time, on my walk, I meet other children. 

And for me, they are just “other children.” But for each of them, they carry their own worlds inside, and they look at me and see “me” as one of many other children. For each of them, they are the most important thing in the whole world. I imagined how each of these children had their thoughts and had their “I”‘s, and at that moment, my head would start to spin. I would start to repeat in my head: Who “I” am? What it means – “I”? What is “I’? What makes “I”? How come that I have the whole world inside me, and the whole world exists as long as I can see it and touch it? 

I remember that I thought that all these thoughts are wrong, and I should not think them :). And I was trying not to think them, and I never told anybody about them.

Now I am wondering whether all children have such thoughts when they start to form their “I” and distantiate it from the outer world. When they realize when they have their thoughts and that the world exists as long as they can see, feel and touch it.

…. And you know what? Fifty-six years later, it still feels like a miracle: the fact that “I” exist, snd that everything happens with “me.” And I am a participant and an observant at the same time.

Summer/Fall 1965

These photos are from the same films as the ones with Nanny Katia from the previous post. Last week, when I started to look at them closely and to do some minor editing, I realized the strangest thing: there were way more photos of Nanny Katia than I remembered.

I’ve mentioned earlier that my mom didn’t print any photos where I was together with my father. That way, I remembered way less of him than I should have. This film is not an exception. There are several photos of my father and I where we are playing ball. I think, he id trying to teach me some soccer 🙂

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Spring/Early Summer 1965. Nanny Katia

No pictures from the first half of 1965, and once again, some pictures taken in the summer (from late spring to early fall). Once again, I am staying in Sosnovaya Polyana with Baba Ania and Deda Fedya. Mom is still commuting to work, 1.5 hours one way.

A new person is Nanny Katia. Katia was somebody’s relative “from a village.” The peasants’ slavery at collective farms was more or less over, and the peasants were not only allowed but were required to have passports. However, one could not move to another place on their own will, especially from a village to a city. Many of my relatives from my mom’s side still lived “in a village,” not because they wanted to be there. The kolhozniki (“collective farmer”) had neither enough food nor general merchandise available for them even in the mid-sixties, although they were no hunger deaths like in the 20s and 30s. Still, people lacked basics and were looking for opportunities to move to a city – any city.

I just visited my mom, and I asked her when Nanny Katia started to live with us and whether she was there when my father was still around. She said – yes, and she added that Nanny Katia slept on a camp bed which she would set at the End of the Hallway. That would make sense because it would be difficult to set up a cot in our small room. And that means that she didn’t hear what was going on.

I still think that Nanny Katia came to live with us at the beginning of 1965 or the earliest possible – at the end of 1964. She stayed until I started preschool (detskiy sad) in fall 1967.

In Sosnovaya Polyana, and yes, the same jacket
Do not ask me, why a year ago I wore valenki, and a year later – sandals, both time with the same jacket and the same hat.
Here is Nanny Katia, I think she didn’t even turn 18 yet on that picture. I loved her.
Continue reading “Spring/Early Summer 1965. Nanny Katia”

Beginning of 1965

I finished my last “historical” post with the memories of me climbing on the kitchen stool to wash my hands and looking at the sun in the kitchen window. It’s January 1965, and I am two years old. That’s the moment in my life starting from which I remember not just the episodes, but I remember how my life was unfolding as a story. Even though I might not remember some particular details, I remember my life in pretty much the same manner as I remember my adult life. Pushing the stool to the sink and turning on the faucet was a part of the morning routine. Sitting by the large kitchen table covered with vinyl tablecloth was a routine. Nanny Katia appeared in my life later that year, and my previous nannies (Nanny Olya, Nanny Sveta) faded from my memories. Our walks on the English Embankment (which was called the Red Fleet Embankment at that time) were parts of the daily routine as well. 

My parents started to fight almost every night – that was the routine as well. 

I am trying to piece it all together, and I know I should make myself open the box with their letters to restore the chronology of events, but I do not feel like doing it, at least today. Maybe I will return to this post later and edit it. But these night fights should have to be happening before Nanny Katia started to live with us, which means it should have been in the very beginning of 1965. 

I have no idea why my parents thought it’s OK to fight when I was presumably sleeping. I knew better than make any noises and reveal the fact that I was not asleep. But I remember these heated arguments, maybe not every night but quite often. I do not remember whether my father stayed with us at night at that time. I know that it sounds contradictory because I just said that I remember everything from my childhood, but I know that my mom tried hard to erase all memories (at least, all positive memories) of my father. For example, she removed all pictures where my father and I are together from the photo album, except for those where I cry. I found the rest of the pictures when Boris and I scanned the original films. 

I can’t imagine they could think that I am asleep when they yelled at each other, but they pretended so. Also, I do not know why being just two years old I already knew that I should not let them know I am listening. 

I remember these scenes. I was in my crib; I remember peering through the rods, and I remember the night light on the desk and both of them screaming at each other. 

Also, by that time, I knew that mom wanted me to hate my father. And to be honest, I remember when I hated him for my own reasons, not because mom wanted so. I remember sometime in the fall of 1964, we were on a walk together, and I wet my pants. By cultural standards of that time, babies older than 12 months were expected to use the potty most of the time and have only occasional accidents. When a child started walking, they were not wearing diapers anymore, and the accidents were visible. 

I was 20 or 21 months old, and I wet my pants outside, and those were nice red pants. My father got angry and spanked me. I remember occasional accidents which happened in my mom’s presence. She never scolded me; she just laughed it off. Later, I read about these accidents in her diaries, and I know she didn’t think it was a big deal. Anyway, that’s the only instance I remember I was mad at my father. In all other cases, I just knew my mother wanted me to hate him and that when she asked me whether I wanted to have a father, I was supposed to say that I don’t.  

These questions would happen in the later years; in 1965, nobody asked me what I wanted.

I do not remember being particularly scared by these late-night fights, and I do not remember having any nightmares. And during the day, life was normal. 

Another frequent thing from the same time: climbing these stairs inside our apartment. Because of the ceilings’ height on each floor, I had to climb about 9.5 meters (30 feet) up, and the steps were stip. I only had a stroller for a very short time. Since I started walking, the expectations were that I could walk by myself almost everywhere. I remember being jealous when I saw other small children in the strollers on the streets because I was often very tired b=coming back from the walks with my mom or nanny. And then, I had to climb these stairs! That’s one of my worst memories of my early childhood. I would stay by the door and cry and won’t step on the stairs, and my mom would get mad and start to yell at me. 

I think it’s enough of the sad episodes from my early childhood, mainly because, once again, I didn’t think about them as making me a miserable child. That was just life like other children had…

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.