I’ve been in Russia for the last week meeting my boyfriend’s family, and his grandfather is super cool. He just turned 75, but he is as spry and sassy as anyone half his age. He works all day as an engineer at factory of some kind, where he has worked for the last 50 years at least, straight on through the collapse of the USSR. He graduated from the most prestigious engineering program in Russia and was appointed to his position by the Soviet government. He’s kept his job this long by both being the best and purposely not telling anyone else how to do it.
His whole face crinkles around his eyes when he smiles and he has the most dramatic, eloquent, dignified gestures. He drank vodka like a champ from shot glasses that held at least five normal-sized shots in the most theatrical way possible, and revealed he makes his own vodka but couldn’t give us a “vodka making machine” because he “only has one left.”
He saw me writing in my journal and immediately began quizzing me on my credentials – what was my grade in English in school? How many Russian poets can I quote? When he found out I couldn’t quote any, he gave me a solid lecture on how great Pushkin was and how I need to study him to be a good writer, and then sang me a song.
Then I found out he writes poetry himself, and has even had his poetry published multiple times. He’s written beautiful poems about his whole family, about each of his daughters and his wife. He told me a bunch of Russian fairy tales and terribly dirty jokes. He took any sharp thing anyone said to him or to each other and turned it into a little song. He asked for the specifics of Naz’s job with, “What is your rank?”
He is a proud Russian, and a great example of the warmth, humor, and depth of the Russian people. He opened his home to me and made me feel included and welcome, even though we had to translate everything either of us said through my boyfriend and I represent a long-time adversary of Russia. He’s a great man and deserves a hearty happy birthday, or С днем рождения! in Russian, from wherever you are.
(I read this to my boyfriend’s mom and aunt before publishing, and they said that everyone likes America now, and also that they noticed I didn’t say anything about them opening their homes and making me feel welcome. I said that of course I feel that way about them too, and I was just being specific to Viktor because it was about him and it was his birthday, and they said that they forgive me, “but they will never forget it.” So let me take this moment to state, once and for all, that the whole family made me feel exceedingly welcome, the food was new and delicious, I felt pampered and included the whole time, and I can’t wait to visit again.)
Here is one of Viktor’s poems written about his granddaughter. Unfortunately much of the eloquence and lyricism is lost in translation, but it is sweet and beautiful nonetheless:
Our Nastyulya (cute form of the name Anastasia) is already 20
How fast the time goes ahead
Mother should start worrying
Daughter is going to university
And it would be fine if she’d just go to one
Then you could understand
I can say certainly – accounting is the force
What else would you desire?
But that’s not enough for her – in addition
She wants to become a lawyer
Let me clear my ears
Not sure I will still be able to understand though
To go into two universities
Accounting and law, learn everything
Is like a clever joke in a local commercial [tuta]
Is the trying to become a professor?
Though still difficult with math
Changing different measurements may be hard
Will you say it is a bit scary?
Then come to our summerhouse!
There you can compare debit and credit
Fix the handle for the shovel
And hear birds singing
And find right ways
And here coo-coo bird will help you
Count the mounds where the plants are
In which you as an exercise
Planted dill – going to wait for it
Big successes in universities [I wish you]
Big harvests in summerhouse [I wish you]
Which you will help us gather
As long as you remember the way there
Just hope you have enough health
And just enough sleep at night
There will not be too little time during the day
For everything – studying and coming to us!