LEMON FOR TEA ("a-VOS'-ka") There were five of us–mom, dad, granny, my sister and I.
This simple shopping bag, "a-VOS'-ka," was in his pocket every time he stepped out of the house. He had a special way of folding it, very precisely and accurately, as he did everything else. My sister and I would wait for his returns from the store, eager to see what was in the avos'ka–potatoes for the kitchen or apples and cookies for us. Or a lemon. For the tea.
She had pale skin, freckles, and was called Ryzhik, the redhead. By the time I was born, she had already lost the red in her hair, but I got all of her features. Even the nickname Ryzhik, which I was called in school. Now, as I am loosing the redness of my hair, I am gradually gaining her movements, gestures, and habits; and the resemblance between us is becoming more pronounceable.
Originally from a small provincial village, she moved to the big city and raised three daughters by herself, working odd jobs all over town. On this old photo, she stands among the country-side's wellness sanatorium crew members–tiny, young, and funny-looking in her oversized chefís hat. We never knew her like this. For my sister and I, she was a classical "BA-bush-ka"–old, small and kind, always wearing a simple kerchief over her head. She could hardly read or write, but her pirogis with cabbage were the best.
Gagarin and Sputnik. They were on everyone's mind and in every child's drawing. Like in this one, my sister's, from the early 1960ís. It was easy to draw a Sputnik–just a circle and three lines sticking out, the antennas. We drew it on every piece of paper we could find around the house. On the back of this illustration, mom's handwriting reads: "Ira (my sister) wants this drawing to be sent directly to Yuri Gagarin." I guess we didn't have his address.
Red was not my favorite color for most of my life. I avoided it in my clothes and in my art. In Soviet Russia, it was an active element of communist propaganda. A weapon. The youth had to wear a red Pioneer tie to school every day, representing a personal piece of the national flag, which we were expected to cherish as a symbol of the Proletariat Revolution. Luckily, with time, it lost its political meaning and became just a part of the school uniform. My very first Pioneer tie survived through all these years, and now, it even feels nice to hold in the hand.