Real people Real Experiences

In Dubious Honor of Karl Marx’ Birthday…or…Escaping Tsarist Russia Before the Bogeyman Cometh: Part One.

My mother’s mother was born in Moscow, Russia in 1898. Her family moved to St Petersberg a few years later when her father was appointed Superintendant of the Tzar’s Military Academy. The position also entailed serving as Commander of
the Palace Guard.

My Great-Grandfather was from a family with a long history in the Russian military, several Generals and Admirals gathering around the table at holiday time. His favorite brother was Commander of the Battleship Potemkin.

My Grandmother and her sister had a St Bernard named Druzhok,
as opposed to the Wolfhounds owned by their father, which he would take with him on his annual holiday…hunting Siberian Tiger on foot, armed with a knife and revolver, in the Siberian Taiga. He reportedly spent many a night hunkered down in a tree, with a tiger pacing below.

The sisters would read together by candle-light, often in the toilet-closet…much to their father’s annoyance. One night they were reading Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, when the candle went out. Horrors and terrors!

Holidays were a seemingly endless procession of Students, Faculty, Officers, and Priests paying their respects to their Commandant. Plates were piled high, with many bottles of vodka consumed. Fortunately, the household included a cook, who my grandmother remembered simply as “Cook”.

In my childhood I remember her
and mom trying for years to replicate Cook’s recipe for “Blini” – the cornerstone of the “Maslinitsa” feast kicking off Lent preceeding Easter.

Naturally, the sketchy details of the recipie consisted of so many tea glasses of flour, so many silver teaspoons of sugar, a few coffee cups of water, and a couple of soup spoons of yeast. It took a few cycles of inedible (4 dozen) blini before a workable proportion was arrived at. The process was even more horrific arriving to a presentable and edible Kulich (traditional Easter bread), not to mention Pas-ha, a rich, pressed cheese desert.

It would have been easier if my grandmother had been inclined toward the kitchen. Unfortunately, she and her sister, by virtue of their social standing, were slated to attend the prestigious Smolensk Institute in preparation for becoming “Ladies
in waiting” to the Imperial Court.

I recall her stories of her schooling…she could play piano, embroider, was fluent in Russian, German, French, Italian, and Latin. She could converse on any “Classical” subject, and had a passing exposure to contemporary literature. She was also skilled in “Parlor” card games (which would come in handy in the near future).

In 1917, her sister was at home recovering from an appedectomy. She was at school, when her father’s Butler, a soldier of a junior rank, arrived with a message from her father. The message was: “Get out by any means possible. Take what gold
you have. Go south, it seems to be safest. We will meet you in Odessa”.

To be continued……..

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