I just received very exciting news: I’ve been “Freshly Pressed!” If you’re not a wordpress.com blogger yourself, you may think that I’ve gone mad, so let me explain. Being “freshly pressed” has nothing to do with any industrial process or making juice (at my age, I may not have much juice left in me anyway :)). All it means is that the WordPress.com editors chose one of my posts to be featured in their daily collection of most interesting posts. This is an honor, and it also means that many more people will “discover” me and my blog.
When I first began blogging, I really wanted this to happen – and fast, too. I talked to other bloggers and I looked at the wordpress.com recommendations, which were all like this: write often, preferably every day. Yet I quickly realized that I’m just not cut out for that. For one thing, what would I write about every day? My life is not that exciting, and I don’t have any special skills the world is waiting for me to reveal. Besides, the Internet is already filled with posts (including pictures) about dirty dishes sitting in a sink waiting to be washed, cups of coffee waiting to be drunk, and other mundane objects and events from bloggers’ everyday lives.
Things like that may be inspirational for certain people, and some of these posts are actually very good. But for me to get inspired, something unusual has to happen, like birds crashing into our windows, strange dreams invading my subconsciousness, a letter from Michelle Obama (are you intrigued? — a post about that is coming, stay tuned :)), traveling — that kind of thing. So, early on, I realized that blogging fame is not achievable for me, and therefore, I proceeded at my own pace – writing mostly once a month and mostly about things that give me pleasure or cause me distress.
And what do you know–two years later, it came! Which I found very surprising. Do not take me wrong. I am happy to be recognized (who wouldn’t be?), but I did not do – or write — anything differently. So, why now? Why at all?
When I was very young, I believed that life must be fair. Well, that didn’t last long, as life taught its lessons. Later I believed that one can control the future merely by planning for it. That, of course, had to be corrected, too. Now, I believe that life is unpredictable, and if you stick it out, you may actually get rewarded. Or not. You never know. The safest bet is to do what brings you joy — or solace. And that is a reward in itself.
©Svetlana Grobman. All Rights Reserved
There is a picture on my desk – my husband, in white shirt and dark suit, stands next to August Rodin’s statue depicting young lovers locked in a passionate embrace. That picture was taken in Paris seventeen years ago. Just recently, I put another one next to it, a picture of my grandchildren looking out from the Eiffel Tower.
The first time my husband and I went out, he wore a bright blue raincoat and Russian-Army-style high boots. He offered no excuse for the flashy raincoat, but the boots, I soon found out, were supposed to show me how much he admired my culture, and so, I decided to give him another chance.
Things did work out between us, and half a year later, I found myself planning our honeymoon in Paris. The first thing on my agenda was letting him know that the boots were not going with us, nor would they be welcomed in our house afterwards. As for the raincoat, there was no time to find a substitute for it, and since the weather forecast for Paris was rainy, I had to put up with it.
I know what you think — a honeymoon in Paris sounds both indulgent and clichéd. Well, the only excuse I can offer is that I was already forty-five, and that trip to France was going to be my second overseas adventure – the first being my immigration from Moscow, Russia, to Columbia, MO.
It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been living in this country for 23 years. For some time now, I’ve been thinking about commemorating this fact. Yet, so far, nothing original has come to my mind but publishing a brief chronicle of my years here. After all, Marco Polo wrote about his travels, Thoreau wrote about his pond, and I my (illustrated) diary. I hope you like it 🙂
July 19, 1990
Arrived in Columbia, Missouri. A group of people in shorts met us at the local airport — presumably, our sponsors. They don’t speak Russian and I don’t speak English, so it’s hard to know for sure.
July 4, 1990
Americans are celebrating their independence. I’ve never studied American history, so I’m not quite sure from whom. The temperature is 41 degrees Celsius. They measure everything in Fahrenheit, and my thermometer reads 105 – which makes me feel even worse.
August 18, 1990
A small tornado hit the town. Nobody got killed, but several houses lost their roofs. Some people say that we may have an earthquake here soon, too. Reconsidering my coming here. As bad as it was in Russia, we never had either one!
September 6, 1990
No Russian-speaking engineers needed. Had two choices: going to work for Merry Maids or a nursing home. Chose the latter. Now, I’m a nurse’s aide working the third shift. Which is good — the residents sleep and nobody speaks English.
October 31, 1990
A neighbor with two children dressed in black cloaks came to the door looking for candy. They didn’t look hungry, so I’m very suspicious. After they left, I looked outside – the street was full of children searching for sweets. Apparently, they have shortages in America, too.
November 22, 1990
Got invited to a Thanksgiving dinner. The food was baked turkey and red potatoes. Even in Russia, where red was very popular, potatoes were white! I skipped the potatoes and ate the turkey that was stuffed with bread. That way, I suppose, they can feed more people.
December 25, 1990
American Christmas comes before New Year’s. In Russia, it came after, and nobody celebrated it.
Learned some English phrases, quit the nursing home, and got a job at a public library shelving books – that way I do not have to talk to anybody, although one young woman did ask me where the restroom was. It was just around the corner, but I panicked and gestured towards the reference desk.
What a language! Half of the words have multiple meanings, while the other half sound the same but mean different things. Besides, no matter how I twist my tongue, I can’t roar the American “r,” or hiss their “the.” My “think” comes out as “sink,” and even when I say “Hi,” people ask where I’m from.
American expressions are weird, too. When did they ever see “raining cats and dogs”? And what about “give a leg up.” Why would I lift my leg if somebody needs a ride home? Also, “it costs an arm and a leg.” We never paid with our limbs! Yesterday somebody said, “I dropped the ball.” I looked. No ball. What did she drop? Where?
Got promoted to the Front Desk. Understand about 25%. Today, a patron asked about groundhogs. I knew “ground” and also “hogs,” so I sent him to a grocery store. Expect to be fired every day.
Started reading books in English. Also, made my first “Library will close in fifteen minutes” announcement. Everybody left immediately — including some staff. They said that it “sounded scary.”
Decided to go back to school and get a Library Science degree. Went to the local University and filled out an application. Spelled “Library” just fine but not “Sience.” Got a funny look from the admission staff.
Took the GRE. Scored 95% on Math and 15% on English — confused “hair” with “hare,” “tale” with “tail,” “wonder” with “wander,” “desert” with “dessert,” and “whipping” with “weeping.” Passed anyway — they counted the average.
Going to school part time, working at the library full-time – now at the reference desk. Yesterday, a nice-looking gray-haired lady asked me about whales. I took her to the animal section. Who knew she was going to Wales? No time to eat. Lost five pounds.
Became a naturalized American citizen. At work, a patron asked how to “dress” a deer. I said, “Do you mean clothes or stuffing?” Another patron wanted pictures of a stagecoach. I knew “stage” and “coach” (like coaches in sports) but couldn’t imagine them together and had to ask for help. Lost another five pounds.
Last semester. Preparing for the Comprehensive Exam and dating an American. Ran out of “I was sick” excuses and told my professor that my paper was late because I was getting married. He understood. Not sure what I’ll tell him next time. Maybe, “I’m getting divorced”? Lost five more pounds.
Got my Master’s degree! Voted for Clinton and he won. Also, received a marriage proposal. I don’t know about that, but it felt good.
Was promoted to a reference librarian – doubled the salary and the fear of being fired. Married the American, too! Now I speak English 24/7. Gained five pounds.
My husband does a great job of correcting my English — especially when we argue. Also, dreamt in English for the first time. Is that what happens when you marry an American citizen? Gained five more pounds.
A guy wearing a “lion” cloth tried to enter the library today. As soon as I got home, I described the event to my husband. He was very surprised — not with the guy, but with the cloth. Then he said, “Did you mean “loin?” Gained five more pounds.
We moved to a house by the edge of the woods [see a story about that later]. Now, I’m spending all my free time landscaping our yard. Lost five pounds.
Deer ate everything I planted. We voted for Al Gore, but he lost.
Summer 2001 Tried new plants, and so did the deer. The plants are gone; the deer are still around.
Found one kind of bush that the deer don’t like. Planted them everywhere.
Went bird watching with my husband. Saw 3 ducks, 5 geese, and one woodpecker – all of which live in our neighborhood, too. Put up a bird feeder in the back yard, so we don’t have to drive anywhere.
No bird feeder survives. We keep losing them to the deer, raccoons, and squirrels. Voted for John Kerry and he lost, too.
Deer destroyed everything, again, so no landscaping is needed. Used my free time to write about the deer eating my “lushes” plants and sent it to the local newspaper. The story got published, although they replaced “lushes” with “lush.”
Now, we are having moles and “aunts” problems. Wrote about that, too. My husband read my story and said, “I think you meant ‘ants.’”
Continue writing. This time, I wrote how my husband and I “tied the nut” eleven years ago, and how “exiting” that was. Showed it to my husband. After he stopped laughing, he suggested replacing “nut” with “knot” and “exiting” with “exciting.”
Wrote an essay about what life was like in Russia, especially for Jews. The essay got published in The Christian Science Monitor, and I got my first fan letter. Opened it with shaking hands … and read that the only thing missing in my life now was “converting to Christianity.”
Spend all my free time writing. No time for working in the yard, watching movies, and even weighing myself. Is that what it means to be a writer? Here you have it: twenty-three years in 1250 words 🙂
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
Several month ago, my husband’s aunt died, and we drove to Kentucky to attend the funeral. It was a cool but sunny November day – not sad enough for the occasion but also not too depressing to make one feel that life is meaningless. Aunt Anne would’ve liked it, too; she used to enjoy spending time outside — playing golf or going out on a pontoon boat. She was from the category about which people say, “they don’t make them like that anymore:” tall, active, with a decisive expression and an equally decisive mind – a piece of which she never hesitated to share with you. She was also a long-standing Democrat (who knew there are Democrats in Kentucky?!), and in fact, she voted by absentee ballot from her hospital bed several days before her death.
There were many people at the funeral, and a Baptist minister, a middle-aged stocky man, gave a nice eulogy, obviously designed to make those left behind feel better. (Well, he did say that God grieves when a Christian dies, which made me, a Jew, wonder about my situation.) Afterwards, women from the church provided a potluck lunch, giving the grieving family a chance to talk with people they don’t see often and reminisce about the past. Not having seen the Kentucky relatives for a while, I couldn’t help notice that those I remembered as early middle-aged looked quite a bit older, and those I remembered as kids looked mature – some of them already parents on their own, and it was good to see this never-ending renewal, as it was sad to think about the never-ending departure. After the service, the minister continued his vigil, cheering teary-eyed family members and greeting out-of-town relatives. He had the mild manners of a good Southerner and the soft touch of a person who officiates at baptisms and weddings as well as funerals. At the end, he approached us, too — asked for our names and where we came from, and then said, “What church do you go to?”
Being the only non-Christian there, I felt slightly uncomfortable with this question, so I mumbled under my breath, “Well, I’m Jewish,” hoping to end the conversation. But, to my amazement, my husband suddenly said, “We go to a synagogue.”
We do?! – I almost said loudly but stopped myself just in time. The thing is that I go to synagogue on the High Holidays only, which amounts to one or two visits a year — depending on my willingness to suffer through the long sermons the main topic of which is trying to shame those in the audience for not coming more often. As for my husband (who is not Jewish!), he joins me only if I threaten him with passing all that suffering on to him — which usually works once a year. In any case, after I got over my husband’s surprising statement, I started inconspicuously pulling him by the sleeve, for the only thing I expected next was an attempt to save us by immediate conversion, so a quick retreat was in order. Yet I was wrong. Instead of proselytizing or banishing us from the holy grounds, the minister, without missing a beat, broke into a monologue about his days in divinity school and his experiences with learning Hebrew and Greek.
On our way home, I kept thinking about Aunt Anne, what a strong person she was, and how she always knew what she wanted — even for her funeral. Then my thoughts shifted to my eventual departure. At first, I contemplated whether I want to be buried in the ground, according to the Jewish tradition, or cremated. Then I realized that I have a bigger problem on my hands – where would my funeral take place? In America? I have only one close relative here – my husband. In Israel? My parents and sister live there, but a Jewish burial has to take place within hours, which, logistically, would not be possible. Also, the last time I talked to my mother about this subject, she said that she wants to be buried in Moscow, next to her parents! And if my mother is not buried in Israel, why would I go there? As for Russia, that is the last place on earth where I want to rest. It was bad enough to live there for 39 years; there’s no way I’d go back dead or alive! Now, I had just one option left – London, which my daughter made her home. Yet I quickly discarded that idea, too, for my daughter has enough things to do while working, going to school, and raising my two grandchildren.
Not finding any solution, I gradually dozed off — still searching even in my dreams. When I woke up, the sky was turning dark and we were already in Illinois — yet another place I would cross without leaving a trace. I straightened up in my seat, looked at the rapidly disappearing lights, and, suddenly, it came to me – what does it matter what happens afterward? As long as I live a good and honest life.