About Spirit, Mind and many other things...
Svetlana de Rohan Levashov
Part 1. Childhood. Vol. 1. Awakening
My dad was a magnificent interlocutor, and I was ready to listen to him for hours. Most likely it was his strict attitude toward life, the way he established his priorities and his never changing habit of not getting anything gratis that gave me the impression that I must deserve him too…
I remember very well when, whilst being a child, I hung on his neck when he returned home from his trips, endlessly repeating how I loved him. And he looked at me earnestly and answered: "If you love me, you must not say it but always show me".
These words remained an unwritten law for me forever. Probably, sometimes I failed to "show" it properly, but always I tried to do my best.
As a matter of fact, I owe everything I am now to my father who sculpted the future "me" step by step, never indulging me despite that he loved me selflessly and sincerely. In the most difficult years of my life my father was my "island of peace", where I could return any time, knowing that I would be always welcome there.
He had lived a very difficult and stormy life and wanted to be absolutely sure that I would be able to stand up for myself in any situation, no matter how unfavorable, and that any misfortune could not break me down.
I can say from the bottom of my heart that I vas very lucky to have parents such as mine. If they had been a little bit different, who knows where I would have been now and whether I would have existed at all...
I also think that fate brought them together for a reason, because it seems that they did not have any possibility to meet each other.
My father was born in Siberia, in a very far away city of Kurgan, which was not the place where his family initially dwelt. It was chosen for them by the then "just" Soviet government and was not a subject for a discussion...
So, one wonderful morning my real grandparents were rudely shown the door from their beloved and very beautiful enormous family manor, torn from their usual way of life and thrown into a terrible, dirty and cold carriage which went in the intimidating direction of – Siberia…
Everything about which I shall tell further I gathered using nuggets of information here and there – from memoirs and letters of my relatives who live in France and England and also in Russia and Lithuania. To my huge regret I could do this only many years after my dad’s death.
My grandfather’s sister Alexandra (later – Alexis) Obolensky was exiled with them and the Seriogins – Vasiliy and Anna – voluntarily followed him, because Vasiliy Nikandrovitch was not only my grandfather’s charge d'affaires for many years, but also his closest friend.
Probably one has to be a true FRIEND to have the courage to make a similar choice and go of one’s own free will where they went, because they perfectly knew that they went to meet their own death which regrettably was called Siberia.
I always felt very sorry for our beautiful Siberia – a proud but pitilessly trampled by bolshevist boots, land! Black forces converted it into an intimidating "earthly hell" cursed by people, just like many other things and places. No words would be enough to describe how much suffering, pain, lives and tears this proud but exceedingly exhausted land has absorbed ... Could it be that the "far-sighted revolutionaries" decided to slander and ruin it, choosing exactly this glorious land for their devilish aims, because once it was the heart of our pra-Motherland? In fact Siberia has remained the "cursed" land, where somebody's father, brother, son or even the whole family died, for very many people ever since.
My grandmother who, to my huge regret, I never knew was pregnant with my dad then and bore the journey very poorly, but, certainly, there was no reason to hope for any help...
So, instead of enjoying the quiet rustle of books in the home library or the usual sounds of the pianoforte when she played her favourite works, the young Princess Elena listened to the ominous clatter of wheels which seemed to sternly count off the remaining time of her so fragile life now converted into a real nightmare. She sat on some sacks at a dirty carriage window and continuously looked at the last pitiful signs of the civilization which she loved and knew so well, moving further and further away.
My grandfather’s sister Alexandra managed to escape with the help of some friends when the train stopped at a station. By mutual agreement she had to get (if she were lucky) to France where her family lived then. However, nobody had any idea how she could do it, but it was the only, although vague and of course last, hope which they could not permit themselves to miss being in such a stalemate. Alexandra’s husband Dmitry was in France then and they hoped that he could try to help the grandfather’s family to get out of the nightmare into which life threw them so pitilessly, using the mean hands of people who lost their human look.
When they were conveyed to Kurgan, they were settled in a cold basement with nothing being explained and no questions being answered. In two days some people appeared, saying that they came to "escort" my grand-dad to another "point of destination"... He was treated like a criminal, not allowed to take anything with him and given no explanation of where he was being taken and for how long. Nobody ever saw my grand-dad again.
Some time later an unknown soldier brought a dirty coal sack with my grandfather’s personal things to my grandmother, again explaining nothing, thus killing any hope of seeing him alive.
Thereon there was no information about my grandfather’s fate, as if he had disappeared from the face of the earth leaving no trace and evidence of his being…
The poor Princess Elena’s tormented and exhausted heart refused to accept such terrible loss. She deluged a local staff officer with requests to shed light on the circumstances of her beloved Nicolai’s death, but the "red" officers were blind and deaf to the entreaty of a lonely woman "from the nobility", as they contemptuously called her. For them she was just one of thousands of nameless "numbered" units which meant nothing in their cold and cruel world.
It was a genuine hell with no way back to her kind world where her house, friends and everything to which she was accustomed since her childhood and loved dearly, was... And there was nobody who would help or give the tiniest hope of survival…
The Seriogins tried to remain calm and collected and did their best to cheer up Princess Elena, but she submerged into almost complete numbness deeper and deeper and sometimes could spend days being indifferently-frozen and showing no reaction to her friends’ attempts to save her heart and mind from submerging into the abyss of depression.
There were only two things which could return her into the real world for a short while – when someone started a conversation about her future child or there were any details, even the most insignificant ones, about the supposed death of her beloved Nicolai. She desperately wished to know what had happened and where her husband was or at least where his body was buried (or just left).
Regrettably there is almost no information about the life of these two brave and light people – Elena and Nicolai de Rohan-Hesse-Obolensky, but even those several lines from two letters which Elena wrote to her daughter-in-law Alexandra, miraculously preserved in the family archive of the latter in France, showed how deeply and tenderly Princess Elena loved her missing husband.
There were only a few handwritten sheets of paper left; some lines are impossible to decipher. But even that which could be easily read yells with the deep pain of a human tragedy, hardly understandable and acceptable by those who have not been through it.
April 12, 1927. Extract from the princess Elena’s letter to Alexandra (Alix) Obolensky:
"Today I got very tired. I returned from Siniachikha absolutely broken. The carriages, which are shameful even for cattle, are crammned with people ….......... We stopped in the forest; it smelled so deliciously of mushrooms and strawberries…... It is difficult to believe that the poor souls were killed exactly there! Poor Ellochka (the great princess Elisabeth Fedorovna who was my grand-dad’s relative on the Hesse line) was killed here, in this terrible Staroselimsky mine. This is horrible! My heart cannot accept such a thing. Do you remember we always said on such an occasion: "may the earth rest lightly on you"? Great Goodness, how can such earth rest lightly?!
Oh, Àlix, my dear Alix! How can one possibly get used to such horror? ........................................ ........................................... I am too tired to ask and abase myself. Everything will be absolutely useless, if the Cheka refused to send an inquiry to Alapaevsk.......... I never know where I have to look for him and what they have done to him. I think about his dear face every minute... It’s so terrible to imagine that he lies in some neglected pit or at the bottom of a mine! How is it possible to endure the everyday nightmare, knowing that I will never see him again? My poor Vasiliek (my dad’s name) will never see him too... Where is the limit of their cruelty? And why are they called people?
My dear, kind Alix! I miss you so much! I wish I knew that everything is all right with you and dear Dmitry is with you in these difficult times .................................................... If I had a snippet of hope of finding my beloved Nicolai, I think I would endure everything. My heart apparently learned to live with this terrible loss, but still hurts, because everything is different and empty without him".
May 18, 1927. Extract from the princess Elena’s letter to Alexandra (Àlix) Obolensky:
"Again the same nice doctor came. I cannot convince him that I just have no forces left. He says that I must live for the sake of the little Vasiliok... Is that so? What will he find on this frightful earth, my poor child? ...................................................... The cough recommenced and sometimes I cannot breathe. The doctor leaves some drops all the time, but I am ashamed that I don’t have anything to thank him. .......................................... Sometimes I dream about our favourite room and my pianoforte. My Goodness, how far off all that is! I wonder whether it existed at all. ............................... the cherries in the garden, and our nursemaid, so affectionate and kind; where is all that now? I have no wish to look at............................... (The window?). It is covered with soot and I can see only dirty boots. I hate dampness".
It was extremely damp in the room, which did not become warm even in the summer, and my poor grandmother fell ill of tuberculosis. The stress, starvation and illness did their dirty job and she died giving birth without seeing her baby or having found his father’s grave. Before death she made the Seriogins promise that they would do their best to take her newly-born son to France (if he managed to survive) to the grandfather’s sister. Certainly it was almost "wrong" to promise anything in that wild time, because the Seriogins had no real chance to redeem the promise... However, they did promise her in order to alleviate the last minutes of her young life, so brutally crushed, and to help her soul, exhausted by pain, to leave this cruel world with hope, though quite a vague one... Although the Seriogins knew that they would do everything possible to keep their word given to Elena, at the bottom of their heart they did not believe that some day they could make it a reality…
So, in 1927 in the city of Kurgan a little boy was born in a damp and cold basement. He was Prince Vasiliy Nikolaevich de Rohan-Hesse-Obolensky, Lord of Sanbury – the only son of Duke de Rohan-Hesse-Obolensky and Princess Elena Larina.
He could not know then that he was absolutely alone in this world and that his fragile life now fully depended on good will of a man called Vasiliy Seriogin.
Just as well, the little boy also did not know that his father made him a precious gift – an incredibly "variegated" Family Tree, which his distant ancestors had woven for him, as if preparing the boy beforehand to perform some special and "great" deeds, thus laying on his fragile shoulders an enormous responsibility to those who had zealously woven his "genetic filament" uniting their lives in one strong and proud Tree…
He was a direct descendant of the great Merovingians, born in pain and poverty and surrounded by the death of his relatives and the pitiless cruelty of people who killed them. But it did not change the fact of who this newly-born man truly was.
His amazing dynasty began in the year 300 (!) A.D. with the Merovingian king Ñînan I. (A 4 volume manuscript composed by the famous French genealogist Norigres which is kept in our home library in France confirms this fact). His Family Tree grew and spread out intertwining in its branches such names as Dukes de Rohan of France, Marquises Farnese of Italy, Lords Strafford of England, Russian Princes Dolgoryki, Odoevsky and many others, part of who even the most skilled genealogists in the world – the British ones from the Rîyal College of Arms were unable to trace.They joked that it was the most "international" family tree they ever had to compile.
It seems to me that this "mishmash" did not happen by chance. In fact all so-called noble families had very high-quality genetics which, when mixed correctly, could create a very high-quality genetic foundation for their descendants’ spirits. Fortunately my father was one of those descendants.
Most likely the "international" mixing gave a much better genetic result than a purely "family" one which has been an "unwritten law" for all European noble families for a very long time and very often ended in hereditary haemophilia...
But no matter how "international" my father’s physical foundation was, his SOUL (I can say it with all responsibility) was truly Russian to the end of his life despite all, even the most amazing, genetic combinations.
But let’s come back to Siberia where the "little prince", born in the basement, one fine day became Vasiliy Vasilievich Seriogin, a citizen of the Soviet Union, in order to survive and by unconditional consent of Vasiliy Nikandrovitch Seriogin’s generous and kind heart. He had this name all his conscious life and was buried as such under a tombstone with the inscription "Seriogin’s family" in the little Lithuanian town, Alitus, far from the family castles about which he never heard...
Unfortunately I knew about all that only in 1997 and by that time my dad was not among the living. My cousin Prince Pierre de Rohan-Brissac who had been looking for me for years invited me to Malta and told me who my family and I truly are. I shall tell about it later.
Meanwhile we shall return to the place where in 1927 Anna and Vasiliy Seriogin, the people with kindest hearts, had only one concern – to keep the word they gave to their dead friends and to do their best to take little Vasiliok out of this land "cursed by God and people" into a relatively safe place and later to get him to distant and unknown France... So they began their difficult journey and, on using the help of local connections and friends, took my little dad to Perm where they lived for several years, as far as I know.
The following "wanderings" of the Seriogins seem to me absolutely incomprehensible and seemingly illogical, because I have an impression that they "zig-zagged" all over Russia instead of going right to the place they had to. Certainly, everything was not as simple as it seems to me now and I am quite sure that there were thousands of very serious reasons for their strange itinerary.
Then they came to Moscow (where their very distant relatives lived), later was Vologda, Tambov and the last one was Taldom before their departure from Russia. It took them 15 long and very hard years after my father’s birth to get to the unknown beautiful Lithuania and it was just half way to distant France...
(I am very grateful to the Taldom group of the Russian Public Movement "Renaisance. The Golden Age" and personally to Mr. Vitold Georgievich Shlopak for an unexpected and very pleasant gift. They found facts which confirm that the Seriogins lived there from 1938 to 1942. According to the data, they lived at 2à, Custarnaya str., not far from a school which Vasiliy attended. Anna Fedorovna worked as a typist in the district newspaper "Collectivny Trud (Collective labour)" (now "Zarya (Sunset)") and Vasiliy Nikandrovitch was an accountant in the local enterprise on grain stock "Zagotzerno".)
I think that during their wandering the Seriogins had to catch at any work to survive. Times were severe and naturally, they did not count on anybody's help. The wonderful Obolensky estate remained in the distant and happy past which seemed an incredibly beautiful fairy-tale. The reality was cruel and one had to reckon with it, no matter whether one liked it or not...
The bloody World War II was at its height and to cross the borders was an extremely complicated business.
(I never knew who helped them to cross the front line and how. Most likely, somebody needed very much these three, if they succeeded in accomplishing the thing like this... I am also quite sure that somebody influential and powerful enough helped them; otherwise they could never cross the border in such a difficult time. But no matter how insistently I asked my poor patient grandmother, she always avoided answering this question. Unfortunately, I failed to find out anything about this matter).
One way or another they found themselves in the unknown Lithuania... My grand-dad (I shall call him this, because I knew only him as my grand-dad) became extremely unwell, and they had to stop in Lithuania for a while. This short stop decided their further fate and also the fate of my father and all of my family.
They stopped at the small town of Alitus where they could find accommodation at an acceptable price, because unfortunately, money was a matter of some difficulty for them. And while they "saw how the land lies", they did not notice their being absolutely charmed by the beauty of nature, the cosiness of a little town and the warmth of people, all of which invited them to stay, even for a little while.
Despite the fact that Lithuania already was under the heel of the Nazi "brown plague", it somehow preserved its independent and bellicose spirit which the most fervent servants of communism had failed to kick out of it, which attracted the Seriogins even more than the beauty of the local nature or the hospitality of people. So, they decided to stay "for a while" and it turned out that they stayed there forever. It was 1942 already and the Seriogins compassionately observed the country they liked so much being squeezed by the tentacles of the "brown" octopus of the Nationalsozialismus stronger and stronger... On crossing the front line, they hoped that they could reach France from Lithuania, but the "brown plague" shut the door into the "big world" for them (and thus for my father), this time forever.
But life went on and the Seriogins gradually began to settle down in the new place of dwelling. They again had to look for a job to have some means of existence. Fortunately, one could easily find a job in industrious Lithuania. Therefore, very soon life began to take its normal course and it seemed that everything was again well and quiet...
My dad began to "temporarily" attend Russian school (Russian and Polish schools were not an uncommon thing in Lithuania), which he liked very much and decidedly refused to leave it, because permanent wandering and changing of schools influenced his studies and what was more important – prevented him from having real friends without which it is hard to exist for any normal boy. My grand-dad found quite a good job and had the opportunity to "unburden his heart" in his adored forest at weekends.
And my grandmother had her little new-born son and dreamed of staying in one place for a while, because she did not feel well physically and was extremely tired of the permanent wandering, just as was the whole family.
Several years passed unnoticed. The war ended long ago and life gradually came to normality in all respects. My dad was a diligent pupil and teachers predicted a gold medal for him when he graduated (which he did get).
My grandmother raised her little son enjoying tranquility and grand-dad at last achieved his long awaited dream to become engrossed in his favourite Alitus forest every day.
Thus, everybody was more or less happy and nobody wanted to leave this truly "divine place" and start on a journey again. They decided to give an opportunity to my dad to finish the school he liked so much and my grandmother’s little son Valery to grow up a little more in order to endure a long journey better.
Days ran on unnoticed, months passed, making years, and the Seriogins still lived at the same place, as if forgetting all their promises, which, certainly, was not true. It simply helped them to get used to the thought that maybe they could never keep their word given to Princess Elena... All Siberian horrors were far behind, tranquil everyday life became customary and it sometimes seemed to the Seriogins that no terrible sufferings ever happened, as if they had dreamed them in a forgotten nightmare long ago...
Vasiliy grew, becoming a handsome young man, and it often seemed to his foster-mother that he was her own son, because she truly loved him. My dad called her mother, because he did not know the truth about his birth and loved her strongly in return, like he would love his real mother. He behaved the same way toward my grand-dad, who he called father. He sincerely loved him from the bottom of his heart.
So, everything gradually sorted out and the conversations about distant France became rarer and rarer until one fine day they totally ceased. There was no hope of getting there and most likely the Seriogins decided that it would be better, if nobody re-opened that wound anymore...
Meanwhile my dad graduated from school with honours and entered the Literary Institute by correspondence. He worked as a journalist in "Izvestia (News)" to help the family and dedicated his free time to writing plays for the Russian Drama Theatre of Lithuania.
Everything was all right, except for one very painful problem. My dad was a magnificent speaker (I remember from my earliest years that he indeed had a huge talent for that!). That is why the Komsomol committee of our town did not leave him alone, trying to make him its secretary. My dad objected to it as hard as he could, because he hated the revolution and communism with all his heart and everything that followed from these "teachings" (even without knowing about his origin, because the Seriogins decided not to tell him for the time being)... Naturally, he was a pioneer and a Komsomol member at school, because it was impossible then to enter any higher educational establishment, like institute or university, without it, but he categorically refused to go further than that. Also there was another fact which terrified him: the obligation to participate in punitive expeditions to get, so-called, "forest brothers" who were nobody else but young fellows like my father, whose parents were dispossessed as kulaks, and they hid in the forests fearing to be taken to the far away and intimidating Siberia.
The rule of the Soviet power during several years left no family in Lithuania which had not had at least one member taken to Siberia, and very often it was the whole family that was driven away. Lithuania was a small but very rich country with a magnificent economy and enormous farms, the owners of which began to be called kulaks in the soviet times and the soviet power actively carried out a policy of their dispossession... It was exactly the best Komsomol members who were choosen for these punitive expeditions to show a "contagious example" to others... They were friends and acquaintances of the "forest brothers" who attended the same schools, played together and went with girls to dances... And now somebody's mad will suddenly made them enemies and ordered them to exterminate each other…
He took part just in two expeditions, after one of which only two fellows out of twenty came back home (and my dad appeared to be one of these two), he got terribly drunk and the next day made a written statement where he categorically refused to participate in any similar "action" in the future. The reaction to this did not keep him waiting – he was sacked and lost the job he desperately needed. However, my dad was a truly talented journalist and another newspaper – "Kaunas Pravda" from the nearby town – offered him a job. But he did not stay there too long. A short call "from the top" and my dad lost his new work in the blink of an eye and once again he was politely shown the door. This was how his long war for personal freedom began which I perfectly remembered too.
In the end he had to be the secretary of the Komsomol organization of our town, a position which he quitted several times, handing in his resignation, but it was rejected and he returned to the post. Later he became a member of the Communist party, out of which he also was ignominiously thrown and immediately taken back, because at that time there were not many Russian-speaking excellently-educated people in Lithuania. And my dad, as I’ve mentioned before, was a magnificent lecturer and different towns gladly invited him to give a lecture. The thing was that being far from his "employers" the subjects of his lectures differed from those they wanted him to give and he got additional problems for that too.
I remember that in the time of Andropov’s rule, when I was already a young woman, the men were strongly forbidden to have long hair, which was considered a "capitalist provocation" and (although it sounds today absolutely ridiculous!) the militia had the right to detain them right on the street and to cut long hair by force. It came into practice after one young fellow (his name was Calanta) set fire to himself on the central square of Kaunas – the second largest city of Lithuania (my parents worked there at that time). It was his protest against the suppression of the individual freedom, which frightened the communist bosses and they undertook "intensive measures" to fight against the then "terrorism". Some of those "measures" were most foolish and strengthened the dissatisfaction of all rational people of the Lithuanian republic.
My father, who was a freelance at that time and several times changed his profession, came to party meetings with very long hair (which I can say was absolutely fabulous). The party bosses were enraged and he was thrown out of the party for the third time and in a while was returned again against his will. I witnessed the whole "saga" and when I asked him why he constantly "ran into trouble", he calmly answered:
«This is my life, and it belongs to me. And only I am responsible for how I want to live it. Nobody on earth has any right to impose on me persuasions which I don’t believe, and I don’t want to believe, because I consider them a lie.
This is how I remember my father. It was exactly his conviction of his absolute right to his own life that thousands of times helped me to survive in the most difficult circumstances. He recklessly, I would say maniacally, loved Life! Nevertheless, he would never agree to do a mean act even if his life depended on it.
This was how the life of the young Vasiliy Seriogin was in Lithuania then – on one hand fighting for his personal "freedom" and on the other, writing wonderful verses and dreaming about "feats" (my dad was an incorrigible romantic to the last days of his life!). He did not have any idea who he was in reality and, if we discard the "biting" actions of the local "authorities", I could say that he was quite a happy young man. He did not have a "lady-love" yet, probably because his days were full of work or because he had not yet found his "one and only true one".
But at last fate decided that it was high time for him to stop being a bachelor and turn the wheel of his life toward the "female charm" which appeared exactly the "only and true" for which my dad had waited so persistently.
Her name was Anna (or Ona in Lithuanian) and she was dad’s best friend Ionas (Ivan in Russian) Zhukauskas’s sister. He was invited for the Easter breakfast that "fatal" day. My dad had visited his friend’s place several times, but by a strange whim of fate he never saw her and certainly did not expect that on this spring Easter morning such a stunning surprise would wait for him there...
A brown-eyed dark-haired girl opened the door and in this short instant conquered dad’s romantic heart for the rest of his life.
A little starI was born in the land of snow and cold,
You grew up in the country of blue lakes...
Whilst a boy, I fell in love with a little star –
Light and shining like the morning dew.
Maybe you loved it too,
When in the days of sad bad weather,
You confided your maiden dreams to it,
Like to your closest friend.
Whether the rain poured or a
Snow-storm swept in the field,
We admired our star late into the evening,
Knowing nothing about each other.
It was the best star in the sky.
It shone brighter, lighter and clearer than others...
Whatever I did, wherever I was,
I never forgot about it.
Its radiant light warmed
My blood with hope.
I brought my whole love –
Young, untouched and pure – to you.
The star sang songs about you.
It called me day and night to the endless expanse.
And one April spring evening
It took me to your window.
I gently took your shoulders
And said, happily smiling:
"Not in vain I waited for this meeting,
My darling little star"...
My mother’s parents saw a rich neighbour-teacher as her husband. They liked him very much and thought that he would be absolutely right for her. And my dad’s family was very far from thinking about any wedding, because my grand-dad had been thrown into prison as an "accomplice of the nobility" (they tried to "break" my stubbornly resisting dad) and my grandmother went into a hospital because of the nervous shock and was very sick. My dad was left with a little brother to look after and had to keep the house alone which was not a very simple thing, because the Seriogins lived in a large two-storeyed house (in which later I lived too) with an enormous old orchard around it. Naturally, all that required a lot of work to be properly taken care of.
Three long months passed and my dad and mum, already married, still were dating until my mother by chance came to my dad’s and saw a very touching picture. My father stood in the kitchen in front of the stove and with an unhappy air "filled" a growing amount of pans with the semolina which he cooked for his little brother. But the amount of the "wicked" semolina did not decrease for some reason and my poor dad could not understand why. On doing her best to hide a smile so as not to offend an unlucky "cook", my mum rolled up her sleeves and began to put the mess in order, starting with the indignantly hissing stove completely covered with pans of semolina... Certainly, after that kind of "emergency incident" my mother could not calmly look at such "heart-breaking" male helplessness and decided to move immediately into this territory, still strange and unknown for her.
Although it was not an easy life for her at that time – she worked at the central post-office (to make her living) and every evening went for an access course to prepare for examinations to get into a medical school.
She gave the rest of her forces and time to her exhausted young husband and his family without thinking twice. The house came back to life at once. The kitchen was filled with delicious smells of Lithuanian "zeppelins" which dad’s little brother adored and my father, who had lacked home made food for so long, swallowed in immodest quantity. Everything became more or less normal, except for the absence of my granparents, about whom my poor dad worried so much and missed them terribly all this time. But he had a young beautiful wife, who did her best to relieve his temporary loss and, on looking at his smiling face, one could say that she fully succeeded in that.
Very soon my father’s little brother got used to the new aunt and constantly tailed after her, hoping to get something delicious, or a beautiful evening fairy-tale, which my mother read to him before bedtime.
So, the days calmly passed in the everyday routine, then weeks. My grandmother came back home from the hospital and to her great surprise found a newly-made daughter-in-law... It was too late to change anything and they simply tried to get to know each other better, avoiding undesirable conflicts (which inevitably appear in any new and too close acquaintance). More precisely, they simply adapted to each other, honestly trying to avoid any possible conflicts. I always sincerely pitied that they failed to love each other... They both were (my mother still is) wonderful people and I loved them both very much. But when my grandmother somehow tried to adjust to my mother all the time they lived together, my mother behaved in quite the contrary way and by the end of grandmother’s life sometimes showed too openly her irritation which wounded me deeply, because I was strongly attached to them both and did not like to get, as the saying goes, "between two fires" or take anybody's side.
I could never understand what caused this permanent "quiet" war between these two wonderful women, but apparently there were some very strong reasons for that or maybe they simply were truly "incompatible", as happens quite often to strangers who have to live together. One way or another, I was very sorry for that, because in general it was a very united and faithful family where everybody stood for each other with might and main and survived every misfortune together.
But let’s come back to those days when everything just began and every member of this new family honestly tried to live in peace and friendship. My grand-dad came back home too, but to everybody’s huge regret, his health sharply worsened after the prison. Most likely, it was the long wanderings of the Seriogins about unknown towns and the terrible time in Siberia that did not spare my grandad’s poor heart – microinfarctions followed one after another.
My mother made very good friends with him and tried to help him as much as she could to forget everything bad as quickly as possible, although she had a very tough time herself. In the past months she had managed to pass preparatory and introductory exams in a medical institute, but to her huge regret, her long-awaited dream was not destined to come true for the simple reason that in Lithuania one had to pay for a higher education and my mother’s family, where there were nine children, lacked the financial means for that... That year her still young mother, my other grandmother, who I also have never seen, died because of the consequences of a nervous breakdown which had happened several years previously. She fell sick in war-time, on the day when she knew that there was a strong bombardment of a pioneer camp in the sea town of Palanga and all the surviving children were taken in an unknown direction. Her youngest son, the most beloved of all nine, was among them. He came back home several years later, but regrettably it did not help her much and she went out slowly during the first year of my mother and father’s joint life... My mother’s father – my grand-dad – had to take care of a very big family in which only one daughter – my mother’s sister Domicella was married.
Unfortunately he was a terrible "businessman". Very soon a woollen factory which he owned as my grandmother’s "dowry" was put on the market for debt and my grandmother’s parents did not want to help him anymore, because this was the third time he lost the property they gave them as a gift.
My other grandmother descended from a very rich Lithuanian noble family of the Mitruliavichus, which even after dispossession of the kulaks had enough lands left in their possession. Therefore, when my grandmother married my grandfather (contrary to her parents will) who had nothing, in order to save face her parents presented a large farm and beautiful and spacious house to the newly-weds, which over time my grandfather lost due to his great "commercial" abilities. But because by that time they had five children, my grandmother’s parents could not remain aloof and gave them a second farm with a smaller and not so beautiful house. Regrettably, the second gift soon disappeared too... A small woollen factory was the next and last help from my grandmother’s patient parents. It functioned like a well-oiled machine and could bring a very good profit allowing the family a comfortable living, if managed correctly. However, by that time the misfortunes had affected my grandfather so that he indulged in "hard" liquor and therefore the total ruin of the family did not keep them waiting too long...
It was precisely my grandfather’s careless "economy" that put all his family in a very difficult financial situation, when all the children had to work to maintain themselves and forget about their further education in higher schools or institutes. For this reason, on burying her dreams to become a doctor, my mother went to work at the central post-office, simply because there was a vacant seat at that moment.
So, the life of the young and "old" families of the Seriogins passed in simple everyday chores without any special (good or bad) "adventures".
Almost a year slipped by. My mother was pregnant, expecting her first-born. My dad literally "flew" with happiness and repeated over and over again that it would be a son. He was right – they did have a boy... But the circumstances of his birth were so horrific that even the sickest imagination could not have invented it…
My mother was taken to the hospital on a Christmas day shortly before the New Year. Certainly, everybody worried but none expected any negative consequence because my mother was a young and strong woman with the perfectly developed body of a sportswoman (she went in for gymnastics since being a child) and the general opinion was that she should give birth very easily. But evidently someone there "at the top" vigorously opposed, for some unknown reasons, my mother having a child... What I am going to tell further is far beyond all human concepts of mercy and honour or Hypocratic oath. That night a doctor on duty called Remeika saw that the delivery had complications and decided to call the chief surgeon of the Alitus hospital, doctor Ingeliavitchus who had to leave the festive table to come to the hospital. Naturally, the doctor appeared "a little" tipsy and on hastily examining my mother, decided right away: "Cut open!", apparently wishing to come back as quickly as possible to the New Year celebration he had to interrupt. Nobody on the staff wished to contradict him and my mother was prepared for the operation. And than "interesting" things began to happen which made my long hair stand on end when I heard this part of the story. Ingeliavitchus began the operation and, having applied the lancet on my mother, left her on the operating table! She was anesthetized and could not know what happened around her in that moment. But the nurse who assisted during the operation told her that the doctor was "urgently" called to take care of some "urgent case" and disappeared, leaving my mother cut open on the operating table... One may ask what case could be more "urgent" for a surgeon than two lives that depended fully on him right now and which he left to the mercy of fate so easily?! But this was not all yet. In several seconds the nurse was called from the operating-room, because the surgeon "urgently" needed her help in another case, and when she flatly refused, saying that there was an "open" person on the table, she was told that they would send "somebody else" at once. But nobody ever came…
My mother awakened with the awful pain and, on making a sharp movement, fell from the operating table. The pain was so brutal that she lost consciousness. When the nurse returned from the place she had been sent to the operating-room to check whether everything was all right there, she was absolutely shocked at what she saw there – my bleeding mother lay on the floor with a child falling out of her abdomen... The new-born was dead; my mother was dying too...
It was a terrible crime. It was a most real murder for which those who had committed it must be personally liable. Nevertheless, another "interesting" thing happened. No matter how hard my dad and his family tried to call the surgeon Ingeliavitchus to account, they failed. The hospital said that it was not his fault, because he was called to an "urgent operation" in the same hospital. This was absurd, but no matter how vigorously my father struggled, everything was in vain. In the end he left the "murderers" alone at the insistence of my mother, being glad that at least she was alive. Regrettably, she had to go a long way to be really "alive". When she underwent the second operation (to save her life this time), nobody in the hospital gave her a more than one percent chance of surviving. She spent three months on droppers and had numerous blood transfusions (she still has the list of people who donated their blood to her), but she did not feel better. Then the desperate doctors decided to send her home, "hoping that she will get better much sooner in her own domestic surroundings"! It was an absurdity again, but my worn out dad agreed to absolutely everything, if only to see my mother alive one more time. Therefore, he took her home without strongly objecting.
My mother was so weak that she could not walk for three months... The Seriogins took great pains to nurse her and my dad carried her in his arms when it was needed, and when a tender spring sun began to shine in April, he sat with her in the garden under blooming cherries for hours, trying somehow to bring life back to his extinct "little star"...
But the tender falling cherry petals reminded my mother of the tender and fragile child's life which, so untimely, flew away from her. The thoughts that she could neither see nor bury her child burned her exhausted soul and she was unable to forgive herself for that. In the end this terrible pain developed into serious depression.
At that time the Seriogins tried to avoid conversations about the terrible event despite the fact that the pain of loss still smothered my dad and he could not get out of the gloomy "island of despair" into which the misfortune threw him. There is nothing more frightful in the world than to bury your own child. And my father had to do it alone. He had to bury his little Sonny who he loved so strongly and selflessly, even without having a chance to know him...
I still cannot read without tears these both sad and light lines that my dad wrote to his little son, knowing that he could never say it to him.
To my SonnyMy fair eyed boy!
My joy, my hope!
Don’t go away, my dear,
Don’t leave me!
Get up. Stretch your little hands.
Open your eyes,
My dearest boy,
My gentle Sonny.
Get up and look and listen
To the birds that sing to us,
To the flowers that
Drink the May dew at dawn.
Get up and look, my dear.
Death will wait for you!
Do you see that Sunny May
Lives on graves too?!
Even the earth on graves
Flames with flowers.
So, why did you, my Sonny,
Live so little?
My fair eyed boy!
My joy, my hope!
Don’t go away, my dear,
Don’t leave me!
He named him Alexander, choosing the name on his own, because my mother was in the hospital. When my grandmother offered to help to bury the child, my father refused. He did everything alone from the very beginning to the end. I cannot imagine how much one has to suffer to bury a new-born son and to know at the same time that his beloved wife is dying in the hospital, but my dad endured it all without a single word of reproach to anybody. The only thing he entreated for in his heart was his beloved Annushka coming back to him until this terrible blow would knock her down once and for all and the night would fall on her exhausted brain...
So, my mother came back home and he appeared powerless to help her, not knowing how to take her out of that terrible "dead" state.
The death of little Alexander deeply shocked the Seriogins. It seemed that the sunlight would never come back into this sad home and laughter would never sound there anymore... My mother was still deeply "crushed". Although her young body gradually started getting well, submitting to natural laws, her wounded soul, like a bird that had fluttered off, was still far away and did not hurry to return, being deeply submerged in the ocean of pain despite all dad’s efforts...
But soon, in six months, they had good news – my mother was pregnant again... In the beginning my father was frightened, but on seeing that my mother very quickly began to come back to life, he decided to take the risk, and now everybody waited for the second child with huge impatience. This time they were very careful and tried to protect my mother from any undesirable mischance in every way. Regrettably, it seemed misfortune liked this hospitable door for some reason and it knocked at it again…
The doctors knew the sad story of my mother’s first pregnancy and decided to secure against any contingency and do a Cesarean section before the contractions began (!). It is highly likely they did it too early... One way or another, a girl was born. She was given a name, Marianne, but unfortunately, she did not live long – in three days this fragile, hardly blossoming out life ceased for reasons that nobody knew...
There was a sinister impression that someone strongly objected to my mother giving birth at all... Although she was a physically and genetically strong woman, absolutely fitted for procreation, she was afraid even to think about repeating such a cruel attempt ever.
But a human being is a surprisingly strong creature, capable of enduring much more than he or she would ever imagine... and pain, even the most terrible one (if it does not tear the heart immediately) becomes dull with time and is ousted by hope which always lives in each of us. Therefore in exactly a year, one early December morning the Seriogins had another daughter who was born easily, without any complications and this happy daughter was me... However, it is highly likely that the birth would not have such a happy ending, if everything had happened according to the plan prepared beforehand by our "tender-hearted" doctors. One cold December morning my mother was taken to the hospital before the contractions began in order to again "be sure" that "nothing bad" would happen (!!!)... My father was terribly nervous, being seized with bad presentiments, and rushed about here and there along the long hospital corridor unable to calm down, because they had agreed that this was my mother’s last attempt and, if something happened to the child this time, they were doomed to not having their own children. It was a very hard descision, but my father preferred to see, if not his children, but at least his "little star" alive, instead of burying all his family without a chance of understanding what it truly means to have his family.
To my dad’s huge regret, it was Ingeliavitchus who came to examine my mother. He still was the chief-surgeon of the hospital and it was impossible to escape his "high" attention... On "attentively" examining my mother, he declared that he would come tomorrow at six o'clock in morning to do the next Cesarean section, whereupon my poor dad almost had a heart attack...
About five o'clock in the morning a very pleasant young midwife entered my mother’s ward and to her huge surprise merrily said:
– Come on! Be prepared. Now we are going to give birth!
When my frightened mother asked "What about the doctor? " the midwife calmly looked into her eyes and gently answered that, in her opinion it was high time for my mother to give birth to live (!) children and began to massage my mother’s belly softly and carefully, gradually preparing her for the delivery... And about six o'clock in the morning my mother easily and quickly gave birth to her first live child, which fortunately was me.
– Well, mummy, look at this charming doll! – The midwife exclaimed merrily, bringing the already washed, little and loud bundle to my mother, who was so happy to see her alive and healthy little daughter for the first time that she lost consciousness...
When at six o'clock sharp doctor Ingeliavitchus entered the ward, a wonderful picture appeared before his eyes – a very happy couple lay on the bed – my mother and me, her live new-born daughter. However, instead of rejoicing at such an unexpected happy ending, the doctor went absolutely mad for some reason and darted out into the corridor without saying a word...
We never knew what truly happened to my poor mother’s tragically unusual deliveries. But one thing was absolutely clear – someone did not want any child of my mother’s to come into this world alive. It was also obvious that the one who carefully and reliably guarded me all my life, this time decided to prevent the death of the Seriogins’ child, somehow knowing that this would be the last one in this family…
This was how – with obstacles – my wonderful and unusual life, which my unforeseeable and quite complicated fate had prepared before my birth, began... Or maybe, it was someone who knew then that my life would be needed either for someone or for something and tried very hard in order that I could be born on this earth despite all "insuperable hindrances"...