Part 3 (Travel)
I never felt I had enough time with my mother. She was either working at work or writing at home. She also went away on business trips – sometimes to exotic places like the Russian middle east (Georgia and possibly Armenia). She would bring exciting things home like tangerines and lemons. She also went on vacations to resorts in places like Sochi.
My father went to Sochi once in a while too. Sochi has a subtropical climate so they could go during winter. One had to have a governmental permission in order to go to these places, My mother was a senior scientific worker and also had TB so she was able to go to these places.
The Russians of the intelligentsia class often took vacations without their spouses. Twice in the winter my mother went to Sosnovka (Pine Village) which was especially for TB patients. We still have a photo from one of these trips. She had enthusiastic stories about her time there participating in theatricals and other activities. My mother was popular and had many male admirers. My father liked that and was proud of her.
Click on images to enlarge.
Photo from Sosnovka, 1940
Sochi is marked on the map. Kiev is at the top right and Georgia at the lower left. Click to enlarge. Maps from Google Maps.
Over sixty localities in Russia are named Sosnovka. Polina may have been visiting what is now a resort called “Sosnovka Holiday Village” east of St Petersburg. It’s quite a distance from Kiev.
Health Resorts for Kids
My mother tried to get me the government assignment for a summer camp or a resort. I dreamt about going to a summer camp but I never got a chance, I think I was supposed to go once but I got sick. I was sick often, especially in the winter.
It was common to apply for a puteovka, a voucher that would permit you or to your child to go some place. A lot of kids went but you had to qualify and you have to apply. People who were poor and less educated didn’t know how to do it. As usual it was not an egalitarian society. Some of the people who are not educated are very intelligent and know how to navigate the system, but an average person without some knowledge from outside – it’s not that easy.
Twice I was able to go to a health resort. I had all these childhood diseases and I was underweight but I didn’t have anything serious or anything that I didn’t grow out of. I guess because of my mother being under a TB watch they were more responsive to me. At the resort they tried to build you up.
The first time I went I was seven and I was sent to a resort near Kherson on the Sea of Azov. To get there we took a steamer. My mother found out that another girl was going to the same place. I went with her and her mother since my parents couldn’t take me. (Kherson is not very near the Sea of Azov - at least a 3 hour bus ride. My mother remembers having to take a bus from Kherson to the resort but we can't confirm it was on the Sea of Azov.)
It was a wonderful adventure, spending three days on a steamer floating down the Dnieper river. I remember trying to fish. The locks at Dnipropetrovsk made such an impression on me that I never forgot them.
The resort was wonderful. I remember the shore line – there was no sand. There were tiny shells that I used to make necklaces. Unfortunately I got sick (probably a fever and sore throat) and couldn’t go into the water. I loved water since I was born. So did Bobbi even though she didn’t know how to swim very well. She used to say, “You’d think we were a duck in our former life." To me, summer was being in the water, swimming in the Dnieper River and all of that.
At the resort there were also games. But in the afternoon you had to take a rest. In a camp you were doing something all day but here there was a rest time when you had to rest.
My mother came to get me for the return trip and we went by train. Now I think I may not remember everything correctly. I think my mother took me there on a steamer and I came back with the strangers on a train. My mother used to tell a story about how she worried that I would be upset when she left me. To her surprise I happily got on the bus that picked us up at the port and was too busy talking with other campers to wave goodbye.
This postage stamp with a picture of the dam and locks at Dnipropetrovsk is from Valentin Shugaevsky's stamp collection.
Modern day road trip from Kiev to Kherson. Odessa is also at the bottom. Map from Google Maps. Click to enlarge.
When I was nine I was sent to Odessa for one month. I remember this trip much better. I loved the Black Sea and swam as much as possible. There was a health improvement program there which included salt baths, mud baths, exercises and too much food. We were weighed every week. I remember hating the food and loving everything else. Little did I know that in two years I would be constantly hungry and constantly looking for food.
Chernigov (Chernihiv) / Leningrad / Grandparents
Chernigov is the city in Ukraine where Rena's father was from and where her grandmother still lived. There are important archeological sights nearby and Rena's father was in charge of a museum there before he moved to Kiev. Rena's maternal grandparents lived in Leningrad (now St Petersburg).
Did you ever go to Chernigov?
No, and I regret it. We didn’t travel as much and I may not have had the opportunity. My grandmother (father’s mother) visited with us at least once a year and she stayed a length of time – maybe more than a month or something like that. I just don’t remember that far back. And I don’t remember if she came just before the war or not. Things changed in 1939 so I may not have seen her since before then. But we never went [to Chernigov] to visit her.
I remember my grandmother as being tall and strict. My mother was the opposite with me. She didn’t really spoil me but, for example, I could climb on her lap. I couldn’t just spontaneously do it with my grandmother.
I was happy when she left, but I felt guilty about my feelings. When I was about four or so, my mother said I have to say something nice to her about coming back and so forth, and so I said, “I’m sorry you’re leaving. Who’s going to cook for us.” And she was furious. My parents thought it was funny and told the story many times.
She was proud of her station.
Oh yes. She was very proud of her station in life and that she was from the gentry and that she had servants. But obviously she supervised the cooking and knew how to cook. She was well known by her neighbors as a gourmet cook. A lot of the recipes my mother made were from her and I still use some of the same methods. They were from French cooking – like making soup with vegetables sautéed in butter, making good broth, and knowing how to make roux.
When I was nine, I had the chance to go to Leningrad with my mother and it is my own fault I didn’t go. I was a timid child and to me that was a big undertaking.
I don’t know why I was so timid. I guess I just didn’t want to go and leave school and so forth. So I never got to know my grandfather (Bobbi’s father).
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, came to us twice. She was wonderful and I still remember her. One time was when I had whooping cough and she took care of me. I might have been as old as seven, or maybe six. I remember her sewing clothes for my doll. Later I began to see the resemblance between her and my mother.
Chernigov (marked on the map) is about 150 km (90 miles) from Kiev. St Petersburg is at the top of the map.
Map from Google Maps.