This Father’s Day I’ll be remembering my Dad, but even more I’ll be thinking of my mom, whose 86th birthday it would’ve been. B. and I just returned from a tremendous journey to Russia, to visit Mom’s sister Natasha, and my cousins. The repressive Soviet regime of earlier times, my mother’s schizophrenia, and the ever-frailer health of both my mom and aunt conspired to separate them for nearly 50 years. After a 1969 visit, my aunt never saw her sister again. She took my mother’s death very hard.
Being with Natasha felt to me like coming home. Hearing the Russian language spoken every day heightened this feeling. I was aware of the words signifying their defined meanings, as well as being my mother tongue; and I felt as if I were living in the current moment, as well as the deeper undercurrents of my mother’s family history. Natasha said: “You are like my daughter.” I went with her, and her son and daughter-in-law to their dacha (country cottage that my grandfather built at age 70) and attached garden plot, where they lived side by side with nature. Here the mai-zhuk, May-beetles, crawled across our hands and flew through the air. Solovei, nightingales, and voron, crows, called in the iva, or willow. Small lyagushki (frogs) crawled into the new prud (pond) that my relatives installed in honor of my mom.
The rain poured down that night like it had to make up for lost time. We sat with my cousin Slava, his wife Sveta, and their neighbors around an outdoor dinner table sheltered from the elements. The power was out due to the raging thunderstorm. Candles illuminated the table laden with grilled meat, fresh ukrop – dill, koriandr – cilantro, petrushka – parsley, luk – onion, and hren – horseradish, from their garden, and wine and vodka. A fire burned in the kastyor, or fire pit. We toasted to our meeting, to love, friendship and relatives, dostiprimechatelstvo – hospitality, and rodina-mat’ – homeland or Motherland. Slavik said, “we sit like Druids around the fire,” as the grom thundered and molniy crackled and lit up the sky. We toasted our grandparents, our fathers, and finally, we toasted our mothers.