‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hochesh Chai?

That's the new punch line around here. You see, while we were staying in St Pete, the girls had to spend quite a bit more time at Alex's mother's house than I did. She must have asked me fifty times an hour if I wanted tea ( "Hochesh Chai?") but the girls got it even worse. So now Anya thinks it's an absolute riot to sneak up on us a-la-Svetlana Mikhailovna and whisper in our ear in her best old woman impression --" HOCHESH CHAI?"

I wish I had a photo of Svetlana Mikhailovna to show you, but she refused. She really was quite the character and, despite the altercation with the girls,  I really enjoyed our time with her. I do have some photos of her apartment, though. It was like walking through a movie set for a 1940s Russian film. I LOVED it.
It was a two room apartment, and we three stayed in the main room. A grandfather clock reminded us of our vanishing hours in perfect half-hourly fashion, using a voice like Big Ben. He literally scared us awake on the hour. The funniest part of that is that the first night he was silent. Svetlana -Mikhailovna set it to go off on the half-hour after the girls annoyed her. Now that's a woman after my own heart!
The bathroom was circa 1939, I'd guess. It had the most amazing contraption attached to it to heat the water. A giant metal box with a square hole in it, where you could catch a peak of a gas flame. When you turned the hot water handle -- BOOM! -- you heard a big bang and flames lit up the entire box. Nastia refused to take a bath at all, out of principle, but I took one every morning -- and kind of revelled in the fact that I was risking my life to be clean. 

Nastia and Anya slept on the pullout couch, and I slept in a chair that unfolded. It must have been 100 years old. Very cool. 

Svetlana-Mikhailovna brought out the worst in the girls, but it was very cute. She held them to the old-school standard, and they hated that. She asked them every day why they weren't in school, when they would get some job skills, when they would dress 'not like a crazy person.'  Nastia fought back in words, Anya tried to kill her with kindness. But she loved me. I seem to be the kind of person that elderly people really love. I'm polite , I give them the respect they deserve, and I love to hear their life stories.

Svetlana Mikhailovna (in Russia, one must use the patronymic name out of respect) spent a whole night trying to tell me her life story. From the bits I could understand, it was fascinating. She had lived in this very apartment since birth. Eighty years in the same home. Can you imagine the changes she has witnessed right out her front windows? She was a surgeon, and only retired two years ago. She is a staunch atheist, and we had a very interesting almost-conversation about my belief in God. Wish my Russian were better.

Cool Mask she had hanging over her desk.

The night before we left, she talked to me for hours at her kitchen table over tea, and then asked me if I would write her from America and tell her about my life. "We can be letter-friends, but don't tell my son." She said, " He wouldn't approve."

As the girls and I walked to the door to leave on Sunday, she pulled me aside and handed me her address on a slip of paper. " You may visit me anytime. Just not those girls. They belong in the crazy house."

I smiled and hugged her and went on my way, with her son, to the airport. I will surely write you from America, Svetlana Mikhailovna. Wish life afforded me more time to sit with you.


  1. HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! I love old people! I have this image of her with a thousand layers of wrinkles, stooped, gnarled, and mean as a snake.....but with a heart of gold. Reminds me of my grandfather! I so wish you had a picture. Hey, how do you think she would react if I showed up with my 4 kids, or my soon to be maybe 6 kids?? She would definitely pronounce ME crazy as well! hahahaha. This post just made me laugh.

  2. Oh my gosh, those pictures! You are living such an adventure. You're all still in my prayers.

  3. Amazing, so back to the real world, Kemerovo, I suppose. Really that place is wildly cool! Thanks for the photos.

  4. Great post. Thanks for sharing. She sounds like an interesting person to have spent time with. I love older people like that, so interesting. Hope you are home safe now.

  5. What a *delightful* player on the worlds stage... I'm glad you have her

  6. i will never ever ever forget nastia telling me "she is part-time crazy." i told her, "she can't be as BAD as you're making out..."

    amidst how stressed i was with the situation when Nas skyped me, THAT made me laugh so hard. i'll use it often. part time crazy.

  7. I love your heart for people, Keri. Thanks for this wonderful little glimpse into your life recently! I am with you--LOVE the decor. I would definitely stay there if given the opportunity! And funny--I like older people too, and love their stories (and photographs). Suddenly this post makes me miss my own two grandmothers. : )

    I am so sorry for the horrible, terrible incident that left you caught far from your girls, knowing they were not safe--and am so glad that all was smoothed over enough for you all to end the visit so nicely. Even for Anya to find something humorous about it!

  8. Hochesh Chai?

    (in case no one else has asked you for the past 10 minutes)

  9. Sounds like quite the character - I bet I'd like her too.

  10. What a riot!! She sounds like a great character for a book! (Hint, hint!!)

  11. THAT is the dwelling of my dreams. THAT is where I should live. I've known it from the day of my birth....never feeling "at home" anywhere.

    Why, oh why am I in a house in south Lansing? When that should be my apartment...... I'm really confused about it.


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