In almost every photograph of my mother taken when she was a child, she was by the sea. Sometimes she beamed right into the camera, posing as if she was on the stage. In my favorite, she giggles entirely to herself, clutching her seashells as her polka dot dress balloons in the breeze. Her tiny body casts a huge shadow across the sand. Caught by the photographer, her arms extended, she leaned into her unsteady steps in cream buckled shoes—a bundle of blond innocence in motion by the seaside.
Days before England declared war against Germany, families stubbornly trekked down to the East Anglian beachfront, not knowing how long the memories of what could be their final holiday for some time would have to last. Less than a month before Prime Minister Chamberlain laid down the gauntlet, my mother and her family, like other families, spent their last few days by the sea at West Runton, a seaside resort on the north Norfolk coast.
This is the way I picture my mother’s last holiday by the sea. The salty breeze had nearly chased a sluggish cold from my mother’s chest, and she, anxious to enjoy the waning days of the summer sea, absorbed the wind, the sunlight, and the beach. For hours, she sat mesmerized by bobbing sailboats the size of milk cartons dwarfed by miles of ocean. Oblivious to the cheerful voices soaring over the radio, she waited patiently in the warmth for her mother to unpack the picnic basket full of cucumber, tomato, and beef sandwiches, sliced apples, and orange sponge cake.
Pinched strains of organ music drifted between the sculpted legs of winking ceramic horses on the carousel, each rotation a kaleidoscopic blur. Children clamored at the skirts of their mothers, begging for a turn on the merry-go-round, its colors bright against the faltering sky. Mothers glanced at each other, waiting for the first handbag to open. The women knew that the first days of war were around the calendar’s corner. An unspoken signal passed faintly between the young women. Purses clasped shut. “Look at the sea darling and the seagulls diving into the water to pluck a fish for their midday dinner. Soon we shall have a picnic on the beach,” one mother tried in vain to turn her child’s attention away from the silent ponies.
Along the East Anglian beachfront, holiday visitors rented huts along the boardwalk. Shelves piled with swimsuits and towels, picnic baskets and thermoses, puzzles and toys, books, and straw hats burst at the seams. Children trimmed sandcastles with smooth pebbles worn by centuries’ waves. The men poured over crossword puzzles, listening to cricket games broadcast over portable radios. Women engaged in animated conversations swapped sandwiches back and forth across blankets.
Next door to my grandmother’s beach hut, a man named Dr. Ware, also from Bury St. Edmunds, stared intently at his radio. With his discarded crossword beside him, he gazed hopelessly at sea, watching the children chase each other through the sand and the foam. Turning to my grandmother, he declared, “There is going to be a war. Let’s go home.”
Vulnerable since before the Napoleonic Wars and during Elizabeth I, the East Anglian coastline was a primary target for invasion by Hitler, especially after the fall of the Netherlands and Belgium in 1940. Coastal stretches of pebbled and sandy beaches, emptied of holiday visitors, resembled a prison yard. Tentacles of eight-foot-high, barbed wire barricades slithered along the coast for miles to impede invasion and along the coast of southern England; the areas of Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Dover earned the unsavory title of Hell’s Corner.
That August day, word spread across blankets and over picnic hampers, along the shoreline, and through the line of beach huts. Within hours, my mother’s family left for home. At age three, my mother glimpsed her first image of war from a train window. Passing through the Norwich station, the train slowed long enough for her to see hundreds of sobbing young children, crammed shoulder to shoulder, reluctantly listening to Red Cross workers. London’s children, shepherded into lines matching their destination tags, were being evacuated to the country, away from the bombing, away from their families. My mother saw children like her huddled together with their name tags and gas mask boxes swaying around their necks through plate glass. The government had issued gas masks months before, and evacuation waves were escalating. My mother remembers the gas masks made the children look like miniature elephants, their noses shifting and swinging with each step.
Arriving home from West Runton, my mother and grandmother returned to find two little girls, and their mother from Bethel Green had been billeted with the family. Though the three evacuees had traveled only seventy miles from London to Bury St. Edmunds, the country surroundings and the absence of noisy red Double Decker busses and black taxicabs unnerved the East End children; many children arriving in the English countryside during the evacuation waves had never seen a cow or a sheep before their journey.
After introductions, the mothers agreed to consider boundaries dividing the house between the two families. Routines for preparing meals, quietly arranged by the two young mothers, go unnoticed by the children. My mother’s family retreated to the back of the house, the East End family to the front rooms, only meeting in the evenings around the wireless to listen to news about the war.
September 3, 1939. A Sunday morning. Gardens, spared by an early frost, still bloomed. The air carried summer winds inland from the sea. The shipping forecast predicted steady waters and a cloudless sky. Great Britain declared war against Germany. The women around my mother sipped cups of rationed tea in West Road’s front room, listening to Prime Minister Chamberlain’s declaration of war against Germany on the wireless.
France and the Netherlands had fallen to the German invasion within days, and now only eighteen miles of the English Channel separated the French coast from England.
When the church bells rang, the circle of women around my mother wept. The thundering church bells, silenced by government order, would ring again only if England faced invasion or if the war was over.
A disembodied voice of the radio commentator, church bells fading into the crackling wireless, and the sound of her mother crying, this was the soundtrack of war my mother always remembered.
The pain in my left knee is so unbearable that my joint buckles when I try to walk. For the past six days, I have watched hundreds of other riders succumb to injuries, weary muscles, and the blistering heat, but now, after nearly a week on a bike ride to raise money for local HIV/AIDS hospices, I cannot stand on my leg without wincing. I lie down on the immaculate lawn of an anonymous suburban Chicago home and reach into my backpack for the Advil, washing four capsules down with warm, lime Gatorade.
Mobile medical crews hover like grounded helicopters waiting to pounce. If I am too far from the finish line in central Chicago, one of these crews will radio ahead, and my bike and I will be loaded on one of the flatbed trailers rolling past me.
The deadline is 2:00 p.m. It is 11:00 a.m. I am forty miles from the finish line.
Each passing flatbed truck renews my resolve to bike every remaining mile. Yet, I know that more than my knee is collapsing in suburban Illinois. In a maze of twisting roads and cornfields, I have painfully acknowledged that the career I have built in politics is one I no longer wanted. Drawn to anyone stained with a history of suffering like my parents, I wondered if my work had been nothing more than a feeble attempt to assuage my own anguish over the residual effects of my family’s narrative.
The commitment that had once been genuine crumbled with each passing mile, and by the time I had reached the eastern Wisconsin border, I doubted my integrity completely.
I might have chosen a different path. On the eve of my graduation from college, my British journalism professor, a quiet mentor who would later die tragically from lung cancer at the age of 62 a few years after I graduated from college, tried to persuade me to get a job writing instead of as a union organizer.
During the last week of class of my senior year, on an afternoon that portended long, lazy summer days ahead, he and I walked across the lush, green college campus lawn towards the parking lot of the college’s fine arts building after having coffee together.
“So, you are going off to Mississippi then to Montana, is it, to work for a union? Are you sure that you have made the right decision? There are many ways to make a difference in this world, Anna, besides being a professional activist. Many heartaches go unrecorded, and political policies remain unchanged because no one understands how the decisions made affect people. In this country. In Africa and Europe. In South America. On every continent,” he mused in his clipped British accent, leaning against his car.
“Yes, that’s why I am so excited to be making some real change in this country, especially since I am going to spend the summer in rural Mississippi working for a civil rights group before going to Montana,” I said with a vaguely false conviction.
“Life has not changed in the South, Anna; in fact, life is almost the same as it was in the 60s. People are poor and disenfranchised, neglected by those who have the power to make a difference, but Anna, we also need witnesses to history, not just people to try and often fail to make a change. If no one is there to witness how the human condition unfolds, problems go unrecorded and, worse yet, unresolved. You are such a good writer, Anna. I am afraid that you will be worn out chasing cause after cause when you are thirty. Writing allows you to step back, reflect, debate, consider. It would help if you wrote,” he said emphatically. “Think about it.” Squinting at me in the brilliant afternoon, he moved to open his car door.
I never saw my professor again.
I did not want to be a witness. A witness was all I had been in my life, I thought angrily. A witness to my father’s anger and loss witnessed my mother’s loneliness living in a country that was not her own. Let someone else be the bloody witness. Besides, politics is what I did. Politics is what I knew. Wasn’t it?
Indeed, weeks before the ride, ten years after my college graduation, I had solicited dozens of opinions from others about graduate school options. People in my orbit pointedly steered me towards law schools or MBA and public policy master’s programs. Yet, my journalism professor’s advice nagged at me.
The last dose of advice I swallowed came during breakfast with a professional colleague. Between bites of pancakes, my friend was resolute in her opinion. “All your experience in politics will go to waste if you don’t focus your academic interests in the same direction. People look to you as a leader, and a graduate degree in your field will only solidify your position.”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t feel right to me. I want to write….” I had answered, my unsteady words quelled by the clatter of dishes and requests for coffee. Something, or rather, someone’s opinion, had nagged me for months.
Though I had ignored my journalism professor’s sage advice to write, I wondered whether he had been right with each turn of the pedals. Somewhere along the line, I had abandoned what my heart had always wanted – to write – and what it had always needed to understand – my history. Surely the prospect of going to school to study creative writing was not a Herculean effort?
My journalism professor had envisaged my eventual disintegration. His declaration, like my family’s history, had certainly pursued me like a panther tracking its prey across every state border I crossed. An hour passed before I guardedly begin to stretch my knee.
I swallow more Advil. With trepidation, I climb on my bike, forcing myself to concentrate on the brilliant blue sky and the acres of horse farms sprawling in front of me. I count telegraph poles marked with the ride’s crimson ribbons for miles. Once I reach the Chicago city limits, the pain in my knee has evaporated, and my decision was made.
https://www.annasochocky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/64b591_f5d0c988b9f744b88429b5afe0d6ae477Emv2.jpg17331158Anna Sochockyhttps://www.annasochocky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Anna-Sochocky-Logo.pngAnna Sochocky2020-02-14 14:52:342021-07-29 13:00:01Pedaling away from the past
On the three-day drive, I was imbued with the fantasy of making a mark on the terrors still rocking the south, just like the volunteers of Freedom Summer. Channeling Martin Luther King, Jr’s letter from a Birmingham jail, I was a true believer. Mile upon mile sped by me as I drove through the Midwest’s familiar cornfields until the fields turned to cotton. Sharecropper shacks with pieces of tin hanging askew and doors cast open to the southern heat scattered the roads. The button-shaped cotton hung delicately in the breeze. After two days of driving, I found myself perched on the rolling Mississippi Delta.
Entering Lexington, located in one of the United States’ most impoverished counties, I made my first mistake. I was lost. Slowing my car to a near stop, I asked a young African-American kid for directions to the house I would call home for a few months. He signaled that he was not only deaf and mute but really, he was afraid of my white face. I gave a weak wave and drove away, embarrassed and equally scared.
As the legendary civil rights leader Bob Moses, who led bright-eyed, northern white college students into the rancid belly of the south, said, “When you’re not in Mississippi, it’s not real, and when you’re there, the rest of the world isn’t real.”
Not much had changed since 1964, as I soon discovered.
I parked on the grass outside my assigned housing. No sidewalks. Broken screen doors flapping in the wind. Next door to the house, an aged black woman sat rocking in her chair and nodded once, but before I could respond, the door to my appointed house swung open, and Jay, one of my new roommates, stood on the porch grinning.
“You must be Anna,” he said in an accent that had pooled his Boston roots with his southern exposure into one fluid tone.
And so my summer in the American south began, a summer that many years later is a compilation of random, potent images. Playing games of spades with the neighborhood children and their uncles long into the damp and humid Mississippi nights. Drinking peach-flavored wine coolers with the Franciscan nuns who lived down the street. The week before I arrived, a shotgun blast had torn their front window into splinters, punishment for their work with the same civil rights organization that paid me.
Friday and Saturday nights found me dancing and grinding to rap’s early sounds in roadside juke joints. Open to anyone bringing their bottles of liquor, the mixers provided.
I read Heinrich Böll that summer, the book a gift from Jay’s girlfriend, Sal, an English radical who had picketed with the mineworkers during Margaret Thatcher’s rise. Jay and Sal’s friends Doug and Deidre came from England later in the summer for a few weeks. Most nights, Doug drank himself to sleep, perhaps because the history that hadn’t faded was too much to see firsthand or maybe because his fierce and sharp political wit meant nothing in the segregated south.
A handful of black and white photos record catfish fries with the men and women I came to know and love, men who skinned the scales off the fish before tossing the carcasses into boiling vats of oil, and women who hid the extra Scotch bottle from their husbands and lovers. Catfish and scotch were the only items on the Mississippi menu.
Rural Organizing and Cultural Center staff catfish fry, Lexington, Mississippi.
Mostly, vignettes of conversation and laughter appear and fade.
Sal standing firm before the town’s white election judges in the shadow of a New York Times reporter sent to cover the Federally mandated election, an outgrowth of a redistricting plan to counter decades of gerrymandering. The quiet voice of an eighty-year-old black woman insisting that she put her ballot in the box to vote as Sal and Jay, Doug and Deidre, and I stand ready to pounce if the woman is denied. Staged arguments between the neighbor kids and challenges over games of cards mixed with the gospel and R & B and George Michael, the only Caucasian artist the disc jockeys on the local radio station, WLTD, played.
And then there was a five-year-old little girl named Lee Lee.
Sharp, like a tack, Lee Lee, the daughter of one of the organization’s community leaders, already had a jaundiced eye of the world. The arrival of outsiders in Lexington failed to impress her. Still, from the beginning, Lee Lee melted the hearts of everyone she encountered, strangers and family alike. With carefully woven braids that her mother, Norzella, pulled and twisted each morning, Lee Lee announced her arrival, her tiny frame with each hand glued to her hips. Lee Lee may have been bossy and engagingly irritable at times, but she was still a child stung by the tragedy of racism.
“Why do white folks hate black folks so much, Anna?” she asked me one day. “You don’t hate black folks. Jay and Sal and Doug and Deidre don’t hate us. Why do people like the man in the grocery store hate us?” Lee Lee’s usually bright eyes clouded over, and her infectious giggle fell silent.
“I don’t know, darling. I don’t know,” I said, scooping her up in my arms as I had done so many times before. Burying my face in her braids, I bit my lip too hard.
On the morning I left Lexington, the heavens opened. Rain rivers rushed along the roads, turning parched earth to mud. The cockerel that crowed at all hours of the day and night outside my bedroom window stayed still. Jay and I loaded my bags in my station wagon and were soaked from the moment we stepped off the porch. Reports of tornado-ripe conditions peppered WLTD’s airwaves. First gray, then black, then green, then black again, the sky rolled and curled. Scampering back in the house, I hugged Sal and Deidre with promises to write. Doug was asleep, still in the early morning haze of alcohol from the night before. One more stop to make before I headed north.
As I drove up to the house, Norzella stood on her porch, watching the torrential rain. Seeing my car, Lee Lee bounded out of the house shouting over the thunder and leaped into my wet arms.
“Anna. Why do you have to leave? You can stay. Anna. Stay,” she said as if she scolded an errant puppy.
“Lee Lee. You’re soaking wet. Let’s go stand on your porch and get out of this rain.”
I stepped onto the porch and met Norzella’s eye for a moment. Both of us knew that this goodbye would not go smoothly.
“Lee Lee, sweetheart, I have to go now.” I gently set her down on the porch, but as I go to hug Norzella, Lee Lee lunged towards my legs and wrapped her arms around my soaked jeans.
“No! No! I won’t let you go!”
With each wail, her grip tightened. Soaked and sobbing, I bent down to hug the little girl who, while wise beyond her years, was inconsolable. I stroked her damp beaded braids. “Come on, darling. I don’t want to go, but I have to leave. You know that.”
Alternately crying and hiccupping, Lee Lee’s rage soared. “Then don’t,” she wailed. Always resourceful, Lee Lee grabbed onto my hands and pushed her tiny fingernails into my palms until spots of blood poked through my skin – my Mississippi stigmata.
In my rearview mirror, I kept my eyes on Lee Lee tightly wrapped up in her mother’s arms in the rain. A few miles outside of town, I saw an accident by the side of the road and pulled over. The mother and father stood in the rain, inspecting the damage on the fender. Their Sunday clothes were ruined. The man’s head was bleeding.
I shouted to him over the rain, asking him if I should drive back into town to find an ambulance. The mother turned away and climbed back in the car, where three sobbing, frightened children sat in the back seat.
“Follow me back into town to the hospital, sir. You are bleeding,” I shouted over the thunder to no avail.
Not wanting to be seen talking to a white woman, he backed away from me, climbed in the car, and floored the accelerator, tearing up the road. An offer of aid did not matter.
Mississippi was still Mississippi.
I left again, but this time I wept all the way to Nashville.
In last week’s blog post, I wrote that perhaps death was the great equalizer. Yet, class and gender once segregated the commonality of death between rich and poor, men and women.
The Victorian Age, marked by good manners, industrial and technological advancements, the widening chasm between rich and poor, and that pesky ‘woman question’ wrote its chapter in the book of mourning etiquette, too.
A complex set of rules, guided by one’s station in life, dictated appropriate mourning behavior and rituals. In the house, clocks would be stopped and reset to the deceased’s exact time of death. Mirrors covered with black crepe prevented the deceased spirit from being trapped in the glass. To prevent the devil’s possession of anyone still living, photographs were turned over.
Superstition may have guided a household; mourning between the genders was segregated by fashion and behavior. A woman’s funereal clobber, comprised of black clothing meant to conceal a body’s shape and a veil of black crepe, became known as ‘widow’s weeds.’ Mourning jewelry rose to prominence in the upper class. People often wore a cameo brooch or a locket designed to hold a lock of the deceased hair.
The dictates of appropriate mourning behavior did not end with the content of one’s wardrobe, however. Widows were expected to not only wear their mourning ensemble for at least two years and up to four years and were discouraged from entering society for twelve months. During a widow’s mourning period, clothing restrictions were relaxed at six or nine-month increments, effectively ensuring the grieving woman lived as a hostage to her grief.
Anyone who has had to plan a funeral for a loved one understands that death is a business. Caskets and urns, florists, and stationary are not contemporary choices of grieving. Indeed, the Victorians may have originated the entire industry! Money and status plays have always been central to how a passing is marked and a person recognized.
However, fashion, behavior, and money may not be the preeminent influence on one’s approach to mourning. The Victorians may have been Christians, but deep in the cultural bloodstream beats a Pagan’s heart, too.
Indeed, superstition weighed heavily on behavior as much if not more than social mores. I leave you with a handful of superstitions to ponder, courtesy of the Victorian age!
Never wear anything to a funeral, especially shoes.
Stop the clock in a death room, or you will have bad luck.
If you don’t hold your breath when going by a graveyard, you will not be buried.
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In the early evening, the apartment complex maintenance man steers his mower over the lawn under my window, the blinds tipping in and out from the slight breeze. The smell of the freshly clipped grass blends into the sound of the blades moving backward and forwards across the earth until the gardener accidentally scrapes against one of the concrete window wells. The trees outside splash shadows on the floor; the white carpet is my sea. I sit on top of blue and white striped sheets. The thin, summer comforter sprinkled with exaggerated and recurring images of Raggedy Ann and Andy, tulips, and rabbits carrying baskets of flowers.
With great effort, I pull my wooden toy wagon over to the edge of the mattress. The cream wagon is on wheels that often lock like one of the carts my mother maneuvers between the fruit and vegetable aisles at the grocery store. The wheels squeak so I cannot pull too hard or risk alerting my mother to my project. When the wagon is close enough to my bed, and I can reach into it from my perch, I survey its contents.
I have to decide which toys to save.
Luckily, my bed floats in water, but the toy wagon, I know, will sink to the bottom of the sea once I have retrieved my favorites. Those I do not choose will be lost. Once I select the lucky ones, I will push the wagon away from my bed with my tiny feet and set it adrift.
Nearly every summer afternoon, I played this game when I was supposed to be taking a nap. Teddy, my favorite bear, is not sure if he likes this game or not. He does not want to imagine being lost at sea.
“Will anyone find us,” my cherished companion whimpers surveying the wagon’s pile of toys beside the bed.
“Yes,” I whisper, stroking his soft fur behind his worn ears. “A sailor will find us, and we shall be safe, and then we shall have tea. Don’t worry,” I assure him. “Let’s decide which toys to save so we can play with them when we are rescued.”
Carefully, I begin pulling my toys out of the wooden chest, examining each one before stacking my most treasured ones on the bedspread. I will save all the stuffed animals first. I will not save the plastic rings that stack like doughnuts on a pointed bar. I will save the round puzzle with a picture of a miniature doll’s village painted on wooden pieces that my grandmother gave me.
I do not think I can save my battery-operated yellow dog even though she is wearing a red ribbon around her neck and white tufts of hair sprout from her head and paws. I adore this barking dog and the way she marches as she yelps when I wind her up, but she is too heavy and cannot be saved. I am immeasurably sad about this loss and resolve to save her the next time I play this game.
The caterpillar, each plastic segment decorated with a red dot inside yellow ones, is also awkward to keep. The wind-up clock plays Frére Jacques and may keep us company in the dark when we float at sea, so I carefully lay it on the bed next to my pillow. I retrieve a stuffed bunny from underneath a second puzzle, thankful that I have found him to join the other animals on the bed. By the time I finish sorting through my toy chest, the bedspread is nearly covered with puzzles and books, stuffed animals, and coloring books. It may be some time before the sailor finds Teddy and me, so we have to be prepared for many days at sea.
Finally, I retrieve my red purse that opens like a fish’s mouth and empties its meager contents on the bedspread in front of my crossed spindly legs. I count out the worn and tarnished coins: 15 pence and one quarter. Maybe that will be enough for Teddy and me to survive when we are rescued. I don’t know. I look at my wares arranged in neat piles in front of me and decide that I cannot leave my barking dog behind after all. I rescue her from the toy wagon before pushing it away from the edge of my bed.
I do not tell anyone about my little game, not my friends at school, not the neighbor brothers, Kendall or Willis, not my mother. I am not convinced anyone would understand my rationale for such a sad fantasy.
This precious, dark secret belongs only to me.
I do not have to choose between my toys stacked untidily in my wagon. I do not have to leave my barking yellow dog behind or my brightly painted caterpillar. If I wanted to, I could save all my toys and hoist them onto my imaginary life preserver. I am not lost at sea, nor do I think I ever will be. Still, each summer afternoon when my mother closes the bedroom door, this fantasy, with all its sinister gloom, yet curiously vast solace returns, and once again, I am marooned.
Maybe I will lie down and close my eyes. I will be safe on my bed. My toys will be safe, too, I repeat to myself as my eyes begin to droop and the hard edges of the toy wagon begin to soften. I imagine the waves lapping up against my mattress, and I snuggle down deep into the soft sheets. This bed is my home and my universe. Maybe being marooned would not be so bad, I conclude; before my thoughts become scrambled before I fall asleep dreaming, I am drifting alone in the middle of a great blue sea.
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After the funeral and the memorial, after delivering twenty boxes of clothes and kitchen wares to the local domestic violence shelter, and before the task of stripping the walls of my mother’s apartment of her coveted ‘art gallery’ of English scenes of memory, one morning I fled the four walls that had cosseted me in high school to seek sanctuary from my grief.
I fled to a local book store.
Wandering the aisles of self-help tomes, the titles of which made me cringe, I read the spines of various books on how to manage grief. Workbooks outlined Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief, posing the question, how do you know if you are progressing? Texts outline how belief in God was the only path to recovering from acute sadness. One or two admonishing the reader to dig down and focus on survival alone.
Needless to say, my place of sanctuary transposed into four walls of dread until I located one book tucked in the corner of the ‘grief shelf,’ a manuscript that flew in the face of the conventional view of grieving, encapsulated in the mantra of five stages, suggesting that the only option any of us have when a loved one dies is to accept and endure. In other words, get over it, and mind you do so quickly.
The book that became my solace and a reminder of not only my inner strength to not only accept and endure but learn how to thrive again is The Other Side of Sadness: What New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss.
Author George A. Bonanno guides the reader through topics both honest and uncomfortable for some to acknowledge, each one pointing to the central tenet of resiliency.
After my mother died and after the initial few months of death’s aftermath, yes, feelings of loss overtook me sometimes, but also a recognition that my life was now my own and not lived in the shadow of her history or my father’s life.
While eight months later, grief resurfaced, I understood that the decisions I made regarding my mother’s estate were mine to make. No eyebrow would raise in doubt. No sigh would undermine my confidence in knowing that it was the correct decision to leave my job and focus on my writing. I did not have to explain my shift in priorities or defend choices to anyone, even myself.
After clearing my mother’s apartment, my husband and I drove back a sixteen-foot truck half full of my mother’s things. I had to be ruthless. I gave most of my mother’s belongings to friends or charity shops. Parting with her artwork, commemorative Royal wedding mugs, English cottage sculptures, and jewelry stymied me. Yet, over time, the presence of ‘motherabilia’ suffocated my ability to move up a generation.
Last Saturday, I said goodbye to the remainder of the ‘motherabilia’ at a local flea market.
Among the items that brought joy to others were: 44 pairs of earrings; 13 watches; 82 silver and gold necklace chains with about 24 different charms; 59 rings; 12 commemorative Royal Family wedding mugs; and 11 porcelain boxes.
Some readers may find the term ‘motherabilia’ and the act of selling off a parent’s effects churlish. In my case, I discovered that keeping the most meaningful items instead of cramming others into boxes that never see the light of day imbues good memories of my mother. I saved and still enjoy many of her books. Others I donated to a local library for the quarterly book sale. This act would please my mother, I know. All of my mother’s bookmarks receive regular attention and use, too.
We build our lives around objects through the decades, but sometimes ridding ourselves of symbols of another’s life is the only way to the other side of sadness for good.
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I did not need CT results to view a life interrupted. The evidence met me when I turned the key in my mother’s apartment’s lock for thirty years and entered.
A handwritten grocery list for the week hung from a magnet on the refrigerator. In my adolescent bedroom, wrapped presents without name tags but labeled with tiny yellow post-it notes instead lined the floor. Addressed but unwritten Christmas cards to friends and family remained where she had left them in neatly stacked piles next to sheets of international stamps on the dining room table.
The dust ruffle, unmoved since the last morning she made the bed, gathered in all the right places along the floor. A lavender scent lingered on her pillows. Tucked under the one closest to her bedroom door, a book she was reading at the time of her stroke suggested a life still being lived. A change of clothes, neatly piled on the chair by her desk, would never be worn again. Organization resonated with each list, in the stillness of each object, in each room.
Nothing had changed. Everything had changed.
As evening hours ticked into another day, I frantically culled and filed, sorted, and discarded objects, letters, and magazines often over ‘dinners’ of sherry and bowls of nuts and crackers that remained uneaten. Most nights, I wandered through the apartment, absently entering and exiting each room, and mentally sifted through my mother’s belongings to save and pack, which to give away or discard. I silently categorized the paintings on the wall she had collected with care. I debated whether to keep the china figurines of a nurse and a woman dressed in hunt attire. I packed paperweights on the unplayed piano, along with assorted mementos from my grandmother’s house in England.
Once upon a time, my mother’s job was to sort through her own family’s belongings. Diligently she sorted linens and china from bustles and pearls, emptying each drawer and wardrobe of cardigans, cotton nightgowns, handkerchiefs, and blouses. There were blankets and comforters, cast iron pots, and crystal vases to sort through. My mother saved the candlesticks from the front room mantelpiece, my grandmother’s silver hairbrush, comb, and dimpled mirror, the brass turtle and maiden handbell from the sitting room, Shetland wool throws, the hand-carved mahogany bellows from the front hall, and a small collection of books by the Bronte sisters. She found brand new sweaters from a woolen shop in Scotland in an old cedar trunk, still sealed in the original plastic bags.
Sixteen years later, these hints of her family home blended into my mother’s apartment. The hand-carved wooden bellows hung in her hallway, retired from duty, silent and breathless. The mahogany chest of drawers stored her winter sweaters and the local telephone book. My grandmother’s silver hairbrush, comb, and mirror laid on the dresser, unused.
I don’t live in the past, yet, I was still trying to measure the beauty of lost articles, too.
From room to room, I wandered, plucking random objects infused with invisible memory my mother and I both understood, hers perhaps more indelible like a scar, mine skating on the surface like a blemish. Objects I lived with through high school and college, and still, others that my mother added after I left home, I recognized. Others that appeared during the years when I tried to put my own life in order are ones in which no memory resonated for me. No perception of security echoed in my fingertips when I held an unfamiliar vase or a silver salt savor. Instead, my hand stroked objects like worry beads, desperately attempting to drive the pit of impending loss away from my mind.
With a routine, I savagely carved through a maze of sleep deprivation and grief; slowly, I dismantled my mother’s life. My mother never returned to her apartment to live, the four walls she once called home.
Mounds of paper I handled with aplomb, but the thought of stripping the walls bare and folding and stacking sweaters still smelling of her hair and perfume crippled me. I moved without focus, hunting through one drawer – boxes and garbage bags beside me – before leaving the room and starting another unfocused search for what I did not know in another room.
One night, I shuffled into my mother’s bedroom and surveyed the contents on her bed’s surface. Decades of annuity and investment records, brown-edged deeds to overseas properties, crisp cream bank statements, tax filings dating back to my father’s death thirty years ago crowded the corners of the floral duvet. A colony of her American and British passports, my father’s too, as well as my own, jumbled our collective web of identity. To sleep in my mother’s bedroom seemed sacrilegious, but to clear her past seemed like I defiled my mother’s waning life, too.
Nothing had changed. Everything had changed.
https://www.annasochocky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/64b591_e8aca3538cdb4275b3238693cde347077Emv2.jpg373500Anna Sochockyhttps://www.annasochocky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Anna-Sochocky-Logo.pngAnna Sochocky2020-02-14 14:51:552021-07-29 12:54:48A life interrupted
When I was alive, I was like a house haunted by the spirits of all I lost in the war, the faces of my family never leaving me, even while I slept. I walked out of the camps and into your mother’s arms. Yes, your mother’s love was strong enough to assuage the memories I carried, but still, I could not relinquish the hold the war held on my soul. After you were born, your mother and I moved to the States to live thousands of miles away from the soil I had known as a child and a young man, far away from the countries I knew during the war, but still, I could not escape this haunting. This haunting became my silence.
I tried to race the war like a young boy attempts to outrun a train on horseback, galloping through fields, gripping the reins and the saddle, dangerously close to losing his balance. The young boy realizes it is dangerous to try to beat the train, for the horse could shy at the sudden whistle throwing him into the train’s path or underneath the animal’s striking hooves. But the boy ignores all the warnings his mother gives him. The child believes that one day his horse will run faster than the train, its strides will be longer, its muzzle passing the driver angrily waving at him from the train window. I was this young boy.
You must understand, I could not give in to my grief that morning when my family’s world fell away when I stood helplessly by as my brother lay in the dirt covered in blood. I was a doctor, but I could not save him. I blamed myself for this. No, there was nothing I could have done, but you see, I believed that God would come into my thoughts quietly, tell me how to stop the bleeding, but He did not, He could not. These are the horrible deeds of men, ones they choose when they turn away from their faith.
I desperately did not want you to know these terrible things borne into my memory so many years ago. You were an innocent child. I could not allow you to know such sorrow; I wanted to protect you from my painful history. I also knew that I could not bear to hear my own voice telling these stories, for I believe I would have been driven behind the walls of insanity. Medicine and my promise to my brother kept me from falling into this abyss of despair, the belief that I would one day outrun the war like the young boy and his horse. I had no choice but to be silent, to take my revenge against the war by trying to heal men like my brother, men I could save.
My darling daughter, I believe the soul moves naturally towards life as one looks into the sky at night for comfort and towards the sun to feel the heat on one’s face in the morning. To be faced with death is to meet unrelenting despair, one that you cannot control, you cannot reverse, you cannot change. Death is as permanent as abiding as heaven’s stars. After the war, my soul knew I had no other choice but to give my life to medicine. Each one of my patients became a man I could not treat in the camps, their faces ones I remembered losing during the war. Each one was a man I swore to save while the commander stood over me, pointing a gun at a sick man’s temples. Each death became my brother, and each time I grieved. I prayed that these men too ill to live would go peacefully, for their family’s well-being as well as their own. Their sons and daughters, wives and sisters, their families deserved a quiet, gentle passing, one my brother did not have. Understand, I mourned my patients because I could not mourn my family, these acts I took to sustain another man’s life or simply to make him a little more comfortable as he began drifting towards his own death, were affirmations of my brother’s spirit.
What does it mean to be a witness and survive? I have seen you scribble this question with your pencil, tracing the letters over and over. I have left you to ask this question, along with many others. I honestly did not expect you to grow into these questions with such an obsession. I assumed that I would live long enough so that I could have answered all your questions when you were old enough to understand. I am curious…would you have been so driven to know these answers if I had lived, if I had filled in absences I left behind for you? No matter. Yes, I was a witness. I survived. For me, this meant I was always to be an exile, living in a foreign land. I could never return to my home. Italy, England, America – all of these countries my heart would never own.
I was also an exile in spirit. My stories were too terrible to be believed by those who have never looked down the barrel of a gun isolated me. The war, my survival, forced me inside my own mind until all I understood was my own silence.
I never meant for you to carry this silence with you. I wept in the knowledge you absorbed my silence when I tried so hard in life to shield you from such sadness. I do not want you to be the young boy on the horse, foolishly trying to pass the train. I do not want you to become like me, believing you can fill the absences inside yourself with work and persistent brooding. Place your faith in your writing, in the pages that free you from the sadness life visits upon you, from the chaos you feel, from the restlessness you have inherited from me. Place your faith in the words you read and write in the words that do not lie to you. Do not think you can outrun the train because you cannot.
This is the letter I wish I had written to you when I still lived, the one you deserved to have all these years. I would have left you this letter rather than all my silence, but I did not because I loved you too much.
Your loving Father
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You remind me of my brother. You are fierce as he was determined to push your way through any obstacle, impassioned to stand up for what you believe is right. I know he would have been a good uncle to you, Anna. I know, too, that it is not only the absence of a photograph of my brother that frustrates you but that you hunger for the story of his death. I shall tell you.
This day I cannot release from my soul, even in death. It is the early morning. In my memory, I see the color of the sky, the military jeeps barreling onto the family farm, and the confrontation with the Nazi soldiers. Leaning against the door of the house, hands shifting deep within his trouser pockets, the face of his watch barely visible above the seam, my older brother speaks in hushed tones with me, my father, and our grandfather about the approaching advance of the Germans and days of hunger our family will surely know.
He fishes out a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket and studies the price estimates for wheat, potatoes, beets, and rye. Each week he travels into Kyiv to bargain with the merchants hauling sheaths and bushels in an open wagon behind the family’s team of horses. He bargains but does not settle lightly—his business acumen is not merely talent but a necessity. There will be enough food if we are careful, he surmises.
Days before, I returned to the farm after escaping the Soviet internment camp. Newspaper headlines foretold the German army’s advances. I had left the farm in the hands of my brother, a man more devoted to the blackened wetness of earth between his fingers than scientific pursuits. In my absence, the land had seeped into every crevice, every pore of my brother’s frame until only human breath separated this man from the soil.
I am not worried about food. All of us have been hungry before and will be again. Though I worry about my parents and my sister, my brother’s future concerns me the most. My brother is not only a professor of agriculture; he is also a leader in the Ukrainian resistance movement. His life is in danger because of his politics.
– The Nazis will come for you if you do not leave the farm and go into hiding, I tell him.
My brother answers my criticism with his own retort:
– Serhij, we have no choice. We must fight the Nazis. These men are agents of the devil. First, Stalin killed our people, now Hitler’s armies think that they will take all that remains of our country, our land. I will be safe. You worry too much.
Between his fingers, my brother rolls tobacco, sealing the edges of the paper with a warm spit before handing the cigarette to me and turning to go to the barn to meet Michael, our family’s young farmhand. On this bitter morning, Michael and my brother begin to tend the horse team before collecting the eggs and milking the cow. The sweet fragrance of hay mingles with the warmth of animal breath, yet, the sky has turned against us early this year. Already that morning, Michael and my brother have ventured into the nearby fields to assess the damage of an early frost, to salvage enough to sell so we may eat.
The sound of staccato shots fired into the air is the first and only warning that Nazi soldiers have come. My mother and sister scream and huddle together, sobbing, their wailing drowning out the wind. I rush outside with my father to find my brother standing in the center of a swarm of young soldiers.
The unit commander, inches from me, orders me to produce birth certificates and land deeds. I counter him, demanding that he provide his own military identification. I am stalling, trying the distract the soldier’s attention away from my brother.
The hollow frame of my father sways on the porch. He taps his cane on the floorboards. His balding head sharpens his features. He is aging and feeble. My sister shrinks behind our grandfather. Mother’s raspy breath quickens. Over the commander’s shoulder, I see Michael’s frame peeking around the barn door. I shake my head to deter his advance.
The ring of Nazis closes in around my brother. Suddenly, my brother storms towards the commander, demanding the soldiers leave his family’s farm. The officer and my brother scream so loudly, their words are unintelligible. Pointing to the soldiers, my brother gestures vigorously towards the road. Sweat beads surface on his graying temples.
The commander makes the first move, drawing a pistol from his breast pocket, slowly backing away and extending his arm, the blunt end of the firearm grazing my brother’s cotton shirt. Silence. Jeep engines hum. Father’s cane stops.
– You are a dirty Ukrainian spy. This land belongs to Hitler now!
I watch my brother’s eyes move slowly, clockwise, before resting on the lines of my face.
– This land belongs to Ukraine! You are thieves and criminals, all of you!
– This is Germany’s land! Say it in the name of Hitler. This is Germany’s soil. Say it! If you don’t say it in the name of Hitler, someone will die. Who of your family shall I kill? Who? Your mother, your sister, your brother? Or perhaps I shoot you.
My brother draws his breath slowly before speaking, again turning towards me, knowing that this will be his last defense, then faces the German commander.
I have risen at dawn to coax weary horses to work in blistering heat and unmerciful cold. My hands are callused, my fingertips numb from the icy tentacles of winter. First, the Bolsheviks came to take our land, then you arrive, but it belongs to neither of you. This land belongs to Ukraine.- I harvest this earth, plant corn, and wheat from seed. Call me a spy if you like. Shoot me if you will. This land will never belong to Germany. I will not betray my family. I will never betray my country. Never!
Never. As the last word seeped from my brother’s lips, he collapses in a spray of gunfire, the commander’s bullet the first to pierce his breast. He lies writhing, a crimson stream of blood arching through the parched earth. His crisp cotton shirt, a maze of powder burns, slowly rises and falls in rhythm with his stilted breathing. He mutters, raises his fist towards the commander. Pieces of his watch crystal lay next to his wounded body, shattered by the preciseness of the bullet. I know that his only regret is that his family must watch him die.
I go to my dying brother and kneel beside him, pausing to listen to his faltering breaths. Our grandfather administers the last rites. I grip my brother’s hand, telling him the pain will soon stop—his breathing halts. I place my hand on his forehead, gently closing his eyes. My brother is in the hands of God.
Now you know the story I refused to tell you because my love for you has always been helpless.
Your loving father
https://www.annasochocky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/64b591_f1d36dec59da465f874b27a0244419277Emv2.gif420640Anna Sochockyhttps://www.annasochocky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Anna-Sochocky-Logo.pngAnna Sochocky2020-02-14 14:29:012021-07-29 13:07:33When a father’s love is helpless
These are the few truths about my life before the war, truths I wish I had told you long ago before it was too late…
I was born in 1910 on land once claimed by the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. My birth certificate did not survive the years I spent in captivity. My Alien Registration papers were given to me by the British after the war list my birthplace as Brody, Poland. Still, you must realize that the people of Brody and the surrounding countryside always considered the area, Galicia – western Ukraine. This land, my land, was one of many masters – the Ottoman Empire, the Cossacks, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the Polish after the fall of the Tsar, and eventually the Germans and the Soviets War II. Despite shifting boundaries, my family and millions of other Ukrainians like us held fast to our heritage and the land we called Ukraina – borderland.
My birth came during the silence of winter when the cold moon poured light upon my body. In the year of Leo Tolstoy’s death, I entered the world under the benediction of this writer’s last prayer, a lament. “Struggle on relentless, true heart. Only the iniquitous will perish. He who suffered to the end will be saved,” as if the poets told of my birth, conspired to bless me with these stubborn words of faith to carry with me all the years of my life.
I was born during a time when priests wore golden brocade robes and jeweled miters, and the poor kissed wooden icons carved from abandoned scrap. Homes smelled of bread and leather. Nearly everything was made from iron and wood. I grew into a culture where farmers, poets, and priests lived the closest to heaven. Why? Because food from the land kept us alive. Poetry nourished our hearts. And faith assuaged our fears. Land, literature, and faith; this is the Holy Trinity of needful things for Ukrainians, my dear child. The land was most important to my family because it had been lost so many times before, and without land, there would not be any grain to bake bread.
Verse is a solace for those like you, Anna, a solace for whom bread or belief is never enough.
I came of age speaking several languages, including German, knowledge that would be painfully helpful to me later in my life when I was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Our family spoke German when our servants served the meals and moved silently through the house. Your grandfather, my father, practiced law while my grandfather ministered to others’ spiritual needs as a Greek Orthodox priest. Yes, we were a family of means, well educated; some would say we were part of the Ukrainian intelligentsia. How we lived our lives made us targets of all political persuasions on the left and the right.
For many years, I lived on the farm that my family cultivated for generations learning reverence for the fertility and the vastness of the land. Against the backdrop of history, I learned to read, wept bitterly after falling from my horse, painted Ukrainian Easter eggs in the spring with my sister, and prayed for my family’s good health at Christmas.
I remember when the Bolshevik revolutionaries spread their violence across the Eastern European landscape. I was seven years old. Stripping churches of art and helping themselves to the Old Masters in the Hermitage Museum, the Communists destroyed all they did not understand. With utmost precision, these bloodthirsty, frenzied soldiers later declared war on the scholars, the writers, the artists, and political activists imprisoning and murdering hundreds of thousands of people between 1932 and 1939.
Who did my family list among the disappeared? The violinmaker? The poet? The priest? The professor? I can’t answer this question for you, but I recognized the scents of war by my tenth birthday. I listened to my parents talk about news from “the front.” I saw the names of Ukrainian soldiers posted on shopkeepers’ windows when I went to the market, my mother gripping my hand so tightly, I thought my tiny fingers would splinter into bony pieces.
As a young man, I read Proust, Aristotle, and Dante, yet, my studies of the human body, the articulation of its internal rhythms, its complexity, the inevitability of disease captured my curiosity much more. Indeed, my father chose me rather than my brother to be educated, to become a doctor. I left my home and traveled to L’viv to go to school at the University of L’viv School of Medicine. I fell in love with all facets of my studies. Still, it was the heart, the body’s most muscular organ, this vulnerable physical and emotional nexus of a human being, that I loved most both for its fragility and strength.
I charted my entire career around the heart’s illnesses until my own heart failed, my darling child, leaving you a graveyard of unanswered questions.
For a while, I was lost in my studies, hungry for the novelty of medical knowledge, and entranced by L’viv, the city of lions and 12th-century walls and towers, Baroque palaces, and onion-domed churches. Once considered the capital of Ukraine before the city came under Polish rule, L’viv always seemed to lie in the heart of disputed territory; it would become a war zone before my eyes.
Alarmed by the advancing danger and concerned for my family, I left my studies in L’viv and returned home to Brody. I was thankful for the nights my family had bread, huge, braided kolach my mother baked over the fire in the afternoons. Each night, my mother placed the loaf in the center of the table and surrounded it with a wreath of candles. I still remember the poppy seeds crackling from the heat, exploding like kernels of corn, and the sound of my mother tapping the bottom of the bread with a knife to listen for the hollow sound. I have watched you too, Anna, your fierce concentration as you plait the freshly risen dough and tap baked bottoms of the kolach bread you have taught yourself to make.
Though your uncle, my brother, fretted about surviving the winter with enough food to feed the family, when I arrived at home, he told me to return to L’viv and finish my education. I was worried about leaving my family to manage without me and what would happen to them when the war arrived. Against my instincts, I returned to medical school. When the Red Army crossed the eastern Polish border, L’viv, the city I had grown to love dearly, a city at the heart of political and geographical purgatory, collapsed under Soviet control. Though met with some resistance from the Polish Frontier Defense Corps initially, the area fell to occupation when the Soviets closed off the eastern front.
The Soviet Union established a civilian government in L’viv and registered each member of the Polish army’s formations. The Soviet government intimated to Polish officers like me that we would eventually return home, receiving the same treatment as Red Army officers. Instead, scores were arrested and shipped to P.O.W. camps. Soviet suspicion of sympathy for the Ukrainian nationalistic resistance contributed to such detentions. The Soviets considered Poles and Ukrainians to be traitors. Once the invasion of L’viv was complete, the Soviets dismantled schools, ransacked museums, and smashed the churches’ stained glass with relish. Even the priests carried special passports and faced arrest and deportation along with landowners, like my family, politicians of all persuasions, lawyers, and judges. Trainloads of intellectuals disappeared overnight; their frozen corpses were later found along railroad tracks; the Soviets pushed those they murdered off moving trains.
At the beginning of the Soviet occupation, I was lucky, unlike many others. Upon Stalin’s directive, thousands of Polish soldiers like myself were wedged together in the back of windowless “Black Raven” trucks and transported from L’viv and Soviet internment camps to execution sites. Most of the victims were Polish Army reservists like me – lawyers, doctors, scientists, writers, and journalists. These Polish officers disappeared from Soviet camps at Starobielsk, Kozelsk, and Ostashkov, their bodies hidden in Katyn Forest’s unmarked graves.
Soon after my return to L’viv, Stalin and Hitler signed their bloody agreement, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and with a stroke of their pens, set in motion years of war, displacement, and suffering. Violence was days away from beginning in Polish-ruled western Ukraine. The German military marched into Poland from the west while the Red Army entered from the east dividing Galicia and Poland.
Over 7.5 million Ukrainians died during the war, including four million civilians. With only a stroke of two pens, the war set years of displacement and suffering in motion. The Polish army drafted me into service.
When Hitler cast aside his and Stalin’s spurious pact and invaded western Ukraine in the summer of 1941, the Germans uncovered the Soviets’ murderous, dirty secrets that the army had hidden so well. Mass grave after a mass grave with grisly remains of missing Polish soldiers on Soviet officer lists saw the light. After the Soviet’s retreat and German invasion, families searching for their loved ones found torture chambers with body parts stacked like firewood. Anticipating German invasion, the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, slaughtered nearly 19,000 Ukrainian prisoners, many of whom were members of the Polish army, in western Ukraine before retreating. Stalin’s mass liquidation killed much of the Polish intelligentsia; nearly 15,000 Polish officers were prisoners of the Red Army and later executed.
One sickening discovery found deep within the Katyn Forest – seven mass graves became the sacred ground for the bodies of 4,300 Polish soldiers. Each person lay bound at hand and foot, shot execution-style in the back of the head, found with photographs, diaries, letters, and talismans in their pockets. The number of bodies found in the forest equaled the number of prisoners held at Kozielsk, one of the early Soviet internment camps. Though I was arrested and imprisoned for two years in a Soviet camp, God blessed me once more: I escaped execution by managing to flee the prisoner-of-war camp by bribing a young officer with a hint of vodka. If I had not fled the Soviet camp, I would have died in Katyn Forest.
Only one man survived the massacre.
Remember, Ukrainians always turn to faith, my child. When wheat did not grow and hope drained away from the soul, we prayed. From farmhouse to farmhouse, men and women once painted wooden icons by hand, ones they believed were endowed with a mysterious power to link the soul of a mortal with God. Faith’s characters sat on kitchen tables and in the shadows of stone hearths gathering dust until waves of doubt swept over the household. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers held their wooden Gods close under the covers, praying for a new morning when this doubt rolled in like a storm.
Do you know the myth of the wicked serpent, Anna? I will tell you. Each year, the serpent casts out his servants to count the number of pysanky, the Ukrainian Easter egg. If the number is low, the serpent’s chains loosen, and he is free to wander the earth, a wave of terror and havoc trailing behind him. If the number is higher than the year before, the chains around his neck tighten, and good triumphs over evil. When I was a small child at Easter, I sat between my younger sister, Olga, and my older brother, earnestly insisting the stories our grandfather told were true. My brother scolded me for believing such superstitions. Olga stared at both of us wide-eyed, unsure who she should believe.
Even as a young man, I believed the myth of the wicked serpent. That spring, when I returned to the farm before the Soviets came, I insisted that the viper would remain forever chained to a cliff as long as Easter eggs, the pysanka, were painted bright colors on white ovals. As long as the custom continued, I believed the world would exist. I rose at dawn and painted egg after egg until there were no more in the house; I have always been afraid of the serpent. I remembered the scent of war’s beginnings from days of revolution from childhood.
Land and literature. For me, these parts of my life I knew before the war did not survive. I rarely read a poem, and as you remember, I did not have the patience for a novel. Poetry can be tricky, unleashing torrents of unfettered emotions, like love and the hunger to trust. Only my faith managed to move silently between the decades while my country’s borders bent under the weight of forgotten wars.
Many do not realize the terrors the Soviets perpetrated on hundreds of thousands during World War II. In the main, the history books attribute the viciousness and horror of war to Hitler. Controversies like the one cloaking the executions in Katyn Forest persist in your time because the memory of a nation, historical memory, is the only anchor for many. Memory is not merely nostalgia for those that came through this unforgivable war. Memory and its preservation is a political act demonstrative of one’s survival and central to the heart of one’s cultural and historical identity.
You are named, in part, for your grandmother, and even though you are yet to understand your Ukrainian history, I can see that the humanity and faith of your Ukrainian disposition blend effortlessly with the warmth and compassion of your mother’s English blood. Your path of Fate will be steep, my darling child, and I am to blame for much of what you will shoulder long into the future. Because of your open and honest heart, you will be betrayed many times. Remember that you must always have faith, Anna. Do not forget that history is an equally important story, one that is the very definition of your own life. I promise you, one day, you will understand.
Your loving father
https://www.annasochocky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/img021.jpg1284924Anna Sochockyhttps://www.annasochocky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Anna-Sochocky-Logo.pngAnna Sochocky2020-02-14 14:28:512021-09-01 14:39:39Few truths about my life before the war…