Before My Memories: Spring 1963

As a child, I had an outstanding memory. I remember some episodes of my life even before my first birthday. And since shortly after my first birthday, I remember more or less “everything,” meaning I remember my life as a stream of events. That was in part because my parents made lots of pictures, and I was often looking at them. 

That been said, that fact that I did not remember the earlier portion of my life, used to frustrate me a lot! I did not remember being in Estonia for the first summer of my life, and the pictures looked so lovely! 

I was born on January 19, 1963, and at that time, mothers in the Soviet Union didn’t yet have the option of staying at home with their babies for the first year of their lives. There was only the so-called “decree.” The name goes back to the early years of the Soviet state when the laws were called “decrees.” The decree which proclaimed the right of the woman to take eight weeks off work before the expected date of birth and eight weeks after went into effect in December 1917. For this whole period, women were paid 100% of their salaries. Later, women were allowed to take four more weeks off, but with no pay. What will happen if they won’t return to work? They would have to quit the job, which in turn will result in “interruption of work history” on their record, and that will negatively affect their state pension in the future.

Continue reading “Before My Memories: Spring 1963”

The Beginning of My Story

Eventually, I will tell here all the stories of the previous generations of our family, which I can remember. But in this post, I wanted to show some pictures from the very beginning of my own life.

I already wrote about my university years and a little bit about what happened after. Now that I look at all I’ve written, I feel like I can’t continue without writing about some personal things. And I am not ready for that yet. So I decided to go back to my beginnings.


These are the first pictures of me, or rather my mom with me. The films were dated March 1963; although I find it hard to believe, there could be so sunny and dry in March in Leningrad. But – I have to believe it. At least, I look pretty much like a two to three months old should look:))

babies were kept swaddled tight
… all the time 🙂

The building was located in a very central part of Leningrad, but nevertheless, the courtyard looked lie you can see on these pictures above.
My father’s family occupied one of the apartments of this building since the late 20s (will try to check the details). The state owned the building, and the family was “assigned” to this apartment.

As I said, that is the first picture of me. At that time, there was still a belief that newborns and small babies should be kept away from the crowd and not be photographed until two or three months old. Also, visitations were limited to close family members. Not everybody owned cameras, and not everybody would take pictures of everyday life, so I am fortunate to have all these films in my possession.

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.

Psychology Studies and Women's Issues in the Soviet Union

Last week, I was interviewed for a project, and one of the questions they asked me was whether I consider myself a feminist and whether I was always that way. And I had to admit that it was not always the case. I started to tell them how I thought about women’s issues when I was still in college, and then remembered that I wanted to write a post about it for quite a while. Here it comes.

During our eighth semester at the University, we had a psychology class. At that time, psychology was all but a forbidden subject in the Soviet Union. There were close to zero books on psychology and close to zero number of specialists. And for all of us, having a psychology class felt a little bit like taking a peek behind the Iron Curtain.
We adored our professor. In our often-not-heated department building, she always came to her lectures in a light-blue suit, somehow not getting frozen to death. She changed into dress shoes before coming to class, while everybody else was walking around in the winter boots. Her lectures were captivating. But the highlights of this class were two lectures on family psychology.

These lectures were not in the curriculum, but professor G. understood that all these young people, married at twenty, were desperate for any information about how to stay together and not to get divorced before graduation.
So she had these two lectures — one for boys and one for girls. I only heard rumors about what she was talking about at the “boys” lecture, but I know what she told the girls. In fact, I attended this lecture twice: the first time a year prematurely, skipping one of my classes, and sneaking in with my older friends.
That’s what she told us. All men say they want smart wives. But what they do not say is that it means “but not smarter than me, of cause!” Thereby, girls, she would continue, when your husband comes home, put your books away immediately, put on a pretty apron, and head to the kitchen!

You don’t believe she could say this? She could, and she did! And even more surprisingly, we all thought: oh, that’s so clever! She is so right! If we want to keep our husbands/boyfriends – that’s what we should do!
She also told us: if you want to have a strong man by you, you need to be a delicate woman! You should be unable to carry anything heavy so that he won’t have any choice but to help you. You should be afraid to enter a dark hallway. You should always how, how helpless you are without his support. There was no question that a wife should always be ready to answer her husband’s sexual needs, and should always say that that’s the best she ever had. And once again, we all thought that this is incredibly smart, and never thought that all she was saying was quite discriminatory toward women.

Why did I think it was alright, I do not know.

I was always taking pride in being able to compete professionally “at men’s level.” When I learned that people were saying I am the smartest female in our class, I thought it was OK. When I was officially ranked five in my class, and officially ranked “the second female,” I also thought it was OK. I knew that in order to compete with men for a position I have to be not just better, but ten times better than men with whom I was competing,

And why I thought it was perfectly fine, I do not know…

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.

Dating and Getting Married While Being a Student in the Soviet Union

When thinking about the past, the most challenging thing for me is trying to remember how I felt about certain concepts, what was “a norm,” and why I believed it was, basically, about what was going on in my head. And I am talking not only about politics, or economics, or the Communist Party, or the foreign countries but about personal relationships as well.

Most of us got married early. Both girls and boys. Now I think that it was mostly because of the difficulties of renting your own space. The “expected behavior” would be something like this. You start dating. You are “official,” when you walk around, hugging each other (your right hand on his waist, his left hand hugging you over your shoulders). You go like this most of the time, inside and outside. Sometimes even during classes. You kiss in public. Then you might, or you might not try to find someplace where you could be more intimate. You do not have your apartment; you live with your parents, who themselves are trying to find a place to be intimate:). Some of your friends may have their parents temporarily away or working late; then, you can use their apartment. Many of us didn’t even have their room; I didn’t.

The is no contraception, except for the calendar method or not letting the sperm in. Even condoms are “deficit.” Abortions are legal, but you need to spend at least one night in the hospital, so your parents would know, and there is no anesthesia. For many of us, getting married was the only option to be in relationships. It’s not like there were no civil unions, but mostly among older people, mostly not the first marriage. As always, there were exceptions, but as I said, a surprising number of my friends were getting married being virgins, girls and boys alike.

There were lots of marriages at nineteen and twenty. When we graduated, most of us were twenty-one or twenty-two, and more than half of us were married, and a considerable portion of those who were married, were pregnant.


Once again, there were several reasons for that. Fist, there was a lack of contraception and a religious belief, that if you abort your first pregnancy, you may never have children. So the idea was that you have a child or two children right away, and then hope for the best or have an abortion, which was multiple. Another reason, specific for college grads, was that you had to work at the place which you were assigned to for three years after your graduation, and they could not fire you during your maternity leave. So if you didn’t like the place, you could have two children and not work at all :), and then try to get to the better place.

Originally I had a very different idea about my future life and marriage, but surprisingly I ended up with the crowd, except for I was far from being a virgin.


I married on December 22, 1984, graduated in June 1985, and Igor was born on September 28, 1985.

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.

Children's Fashions in the 1960s

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation. A young woman asked me what people wore in Russia in the 50s and 60s. She was asking whether the fashions were the same as in the US at the same time, or not. She started to google the images and asked me whether they represented reality.

And I remembered that several years ago, I wrote a blog post about the children’s clothing in the 1960s when I was a child myself. It was so different from the modern kid’s clothes that nowadays, parents will find it hard to believe. 

What a preschool girl in the 1960s would wear indoors:

  • cotton undies which would be up to the waist
  • a waist with elastic garters for stockings
  • cotton stockings
  • drawers
  • a dress
  • an apron with a pocket
  • slippers

Long hair was supposed to be braided neatly, for shorter hair pigtails would be fine, but only if they were really short, not touching the shoulders. Short haircuts were quite common as well.

Boys also wore waists with elastics and stockings; the only difference was that they wouldn’t wear dresses and drawers but instead shirts and short trousers. By my time, boys didn’t wear aprons, although it was not uncommon just ten years before. I am going to consider it gender discrimination 🙂

I hated aprons, because they would cover any pretty dress I would wear. I hated waists, because they had buttons on the back. You can imagine how long it would take to dress and undress even for a five-year-old (and you were supposed to change into your pajamas for a nap). But for the outdoors, it was even worse!

In winter you had to put on:

  1.  Woolen pants
  2. Woolen socks
  3. Valenki with galoshes over them
  4. A fur, of a faux-fur hat, tired under the chin, which you would expect. What you won’t expect that there HAD to be a cotton kerchief (for boys and girls alike). The ends would cross under the chin and tired at the back of your neck. The idea was that there is no chance of any cold air to get to your ears.
  5. A woolen cardigan.
  6. Woolen mittens attached to the elastic ribbon (the ribbon was placed inside the sleeves of your overcoat)
  7. Overcoat, made either of rabbit fur or squirrel fur or woolen cloth with a fur or faux-fur collar.
  8. A woolen scarf.
  9. Optionally – a belt to keep the overcoat closer to the body.

And in preschool, children would go to play outside twice a day!

I do not have any pictures of myself in full gear, but here are two pictures which I copied from 1962 Soviet book about children upbringing

This is a photograph of preschool children playing outside
That picture from the same book shows what I’ve described 🙂

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.

About My First Christmas

Knowing that I was born in January 1963, you might think that my first Christmas was on December 25, 1953. But in fact, my first Christmas happened only in 1996, keep reading to find out why – this is going to be the longest post you ever read in my journal.

Before the October revolution of 1917, Orthodox Christianity was an official religion of the Russian Empire. The Julian Calendar which is two weeks behind the Julian Calendar, was used both in Church and in civic life. 

After the revolution, the Church was separated from the state. Several months later, by a decree of the Revolutionary government, the country was switched to the Julian calendar. Christmas was denounced, along with all religious holidays, and Christmas trees were forbidden. That situation lasted until early 1930 were when the government decided to allow some of the fun to come back. Granted, there should not be any mention of Jesus. All the festivities were reassigned to the New Year celebrations. There was no more Christmas tree; it became a New Year Tree. The Bethlehem star on top became the Red Star. The Grandfather Frost remained more or less the same:). 

Continue reading “About My First Christmas”

Home Movies from the 1970s, Part 3

That is the last of the three digitized movies. It covers the period from summer 1972 to winter 1973. I am nine years old at the beginning and ten at the end. In the beginning, you can see that my front teeth are broken. That was due to an accident at the carnivals when Mom and I were riding a tiny electric car and bumped into another one. At that time, there was no easy way to fix them, and they remained broken until I was nineteen or so.

That summer I was at the same place in Estonia, and I play with the same dog Neron as a year earlier. We went on a trip to see an Orthodox Convent. A cat named Dunia lived in the house where we were renting. Also, I think I’ve visited an exhibit of Rodin’s sculptures because I am trying to present them :).

In the last scenes of this movie, I am already wearing glasses. Mom and I are going cross-country skiing, and most likely, my Grandfather was filming us.

Enjoy 🙂

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.

Home Movies from the 1970s, Part 2

Here is the second movie from the 1970s. It starts in the summer of 1971 and ends in February 1972. 

As I’ve mentioned earlier, good mothers were expected to rent a summer home somewhere “on the fresh air.” Like many other leninradians, my relatives from my father’s side were renting summer houses, or more often, a couple of rooms in a home in Estonia. Saint – Petersburg (back then – Leningrad) is situated very close to the border with Estonia, and from 1940 to 1992, Estonia was a part of the Soviet Union. The Estonian city of Narva was just across the border, and there was a resort Narva-Joesuu, which was renting out almost each and single home during summer. 

We rented a room and a veranda, which served as a kitchen. My great aunt Fania would stay there pretty much all the summer. My aunt Kima, my cousin, and my Mom were there periodically; my uncle Misha and his wife Nadia were renting one more room at the same house. 

  • This movie starts with us going on a tour somewhere nearby, I do not remember where exactly. 
  • Then there is me in a costume of the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley, I read something about here that year. I was so fascinated with her story that I wanted to impersonate her. Most of the costume is assembled from different pieces of adult clothes and jewelry. The wooden sword was made by the younger brother of my cousin’s best friend. I know that it sounds too distant, but they both were around quite often and felt like family members. 
  • The big black dog is a Newfoundland owned by the friends of the family. He was not a purebred and was given away for free. His name was Neron, and I loved him and used each opportunity to stop by the house where he lived and play with him. 
  • “A Musketeer” episode. Traditionally in Russia, both adults and kids would dress up for Sviatki – the time between Christmas and New Year, culminating at the New Year masquerade. Since all religious holidays were forbidden in Russia, the tradition reduced to the New Year masquerades. This costume was constructed for my school New Year’s party, and I wore it at home for the actual New Year celebration. I was eight years old (almost nine) and was at the peak of my musketeers’ fascination. Everybody pitched in for this costume. My great aunt sacrificed her dark blue pure silk dress, the top was used for the jacket, and the skirt made the cloak. One of my great aunt friends lent a dark-blue velvet hat, another friend – some real antique lace collar and cuffs (all to be returned after the holidays :)). Not Brabant, but most likely old Vologda :). The baldric was made of dark blue bookbinding material (acquired by my aunt who worked in the publishing house) and decorated with the pieces of colored foil collected from the chocolate candies consumption:). The feathers on the hat came from two sources: the black one was a real ostrich feather my great aunt owned, and the white one was made of paper by my aunt – that’s when I learned how to make them, and I still can do it on the spot. I think that covers pretty much the whole costume.
  • The figure skating competition. The caption reads: getting ready for the White Olympics 1980. But that time (February 1972) I was nine, and I was taking the figure skating classes for three winters. We rarely got a chance to train inside, so it was always “weather permits.” I loved figure skating (and I still do :)). Our coach arranged for us to have a very close-to-real competition with the obligatory figures to be performed and with your own freestyle program. The competition was graded by three judges. My great aunt hand made the figure-skating dress for me. It was made of dark red wool with the giant grey snowflake on the chest and beautiful patterns on the skirt – and that’s what I wore during this competition.

Enjoy 🙂

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.

Home Movies from 1970s, Part 1

In 1971 my Mom bought a movie camera and started making home movies. We both enjoyed the process a lot. She soon acquired a magnetic board with letters, and we began to add captions to the films.

I do not remember what happened to the movie projector, but it disappeared a long time ago, and I was wondering whether I will ever be able to watch these movies again. Fortunately, nowadays, many companies can digitize your old movies, and several years ago, I sent the first two reels to convert them to mp4. I liked the result, and now that Mom brought several more back, I finally sent them to the same company, and I liked the results even more. 

Today, I am posting the first reel, which covers the time from early spring early summer 1971.

Apparently, if I spent enough time, I should be able to add captions to this movie, but I do not have time neither now, nor in the next several years, so let me just briefly mention what it is about.

The title says “Lialia’s school break.” Lialia was my nickname, and a break was a spring break in the first grade.  Everything was filmed in Saint-Petersburg (back then – Leningrad) and near suburbs.

By episode:

  1. I play with a big doll, which could “walk,” when you hold her by the hand. Her name was Walking Nina.
  2. I am walking around in the city center, close to the Church on Blood, not restored yet back then.
  3. In the Zoo
  4. In the courtyard of my home, playing “classes” on the asphalt.
  5. A canary named Solka. That was an amazing story – one cold November night, he flew inside our apartment when my aunt opened a window leaf for a minute. We tried to find out whether he was a runaway but didn’t succeed. Then we had to buy a cage and some books about canary care:).
  6. Waking at the Strelka – the edge of Vassilievski Island, then on the roof of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress, and then inside the fortress. Then I take a camera and record Mom.
  7. At Strelna, a near suburb. We are there with Mom and Grandpa Fedia, and it’s hilarious how he is trying to help me to climb on a tree, and then helps me to get off, and this all happens three times in a row.
  8. Walking along the Neva River, and then taking a trip on a small boat
  9. In the Alexandrovskiy Park, close to the St. Isaac Cathedral, and by the river again.
  10. Later in spring. Since we see balloons, it should be May 1 or May 2 – we didn’t have balloons on regular days, only for big holidays, and May Day was one of the occasions when kids got balloons. Mom is filming, and I am there together with Mom’s friend Alla and her twin daughters Sveta and Lera. They were three or four years older than me. As a prank, we attach our balloons to the teeth of one of the Griffons on the Neva embankment. 
  11. All of us are back to my house, and we play with a collie puppy in the courtyard (he is not my dog, somebody else’s).
  12. Later in spring, probably mid – May. Mom and I are in Central Recreational Park. First, everybody is casing a squirrel – they are unseen in the city. 
  13. Then – intensive rope-jumping:)
  14. We are visiting an exhibit, which is called “Made in Poland.”

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.

Attending the University: Math-Mech Days

What else were we doing as students except for the studies? There were not many sports. Actually, among nerds it was not cool to do any sports, it was a strong presumption, that only people who can’t use their brain for anything productive, do sports. And the only sport I remember somebody was doing was our gymnastics team. If there were any other, they wouldn’t have any visibility.


There were obligatory political activities. There ere mathematical clubs in schools, which were called YMSCH – Youth Mathematical Schools. They were clubs, after-school activities, but we called them “schools.” And I will write about them at some point.


One of the highlights of student’s life was the Math-Mech Day. I can’t recall now, what was the way of choosing a date for it, but it was some time in spring, far enough from the finals. Later, it was transformed into the Math-Mech Week with different activities every day. But back then, it was not even a day, but just a performance – a student play, written, staged and performed by students, undergrads, grads and postgrads. That was probably the only one informal gathering I can recall from the Soviet era, definitely the only one in the University.

Continue reading “Attending the University: Math-Mech Days”