File this post under “personal musings” which tend to pop up rather often this time of year. So, if it’s not your cup of tea, you have been warned.
The other day I came across this (almost) 20-year old photograph of my dad and sister, taken in front of our house:
For some unknown reason, my mom is not in the picture. My dad is holding a siamese kitten and looks oh so young! There is a reason for that. On the photo he is only a few years older than I am now and yet, he has two grown kids. Crazy! He doesn’t yet have problems with his health and doesn’t know that soon I will move many thousands miles away, and we will only see each other every few years.
But let me back up and tell you a little bit about my family’s history. We’ve always been an odd bunch. The way my grandparents have acquired this house is rather interesting. You see, back in the Soviet days, most people in the city had to wait for an apartment to be assigned to them. Yes, they got it for free, but it took years, sometimes decades. The reason? Everyone was poor, but it helped the government appease the masses and keep them content while waiting for glorious days of communism to arrive.
My grandfather was working in construction, and his crew got a word that the city would give them lots on the outskirts of town and provide building materials. All they had to do was build the houses and they would be theirs’. And so they did. Nobody knew which house would belong to whom, so all of them were constructed with precision and care.
Afterwards, the crew workers assigned a number to each house and threw them all into a hat. And that is how we got our home. It wasn’t anything fancy, obviously, and for a long time my family didn’t even have indoor toilet or hot water. But they kept improving it and adding on as years went by.
I think wanderlust is in my genes because when my dad was only few years old, his parents heard about a building project in Mongolia. They were looking for volunteers, but nobody wanted to go. My grandparents thought about it and decided it would be a great adventure. So they left my dad with the granny for a year. And off to Mongolia they went!
Like all males in Soviet Union, my dad was drafted to the army at the age of 18. He was sent to Uzbekistan. Many years later he talked about unusually high mountains and visiting the city of Samarkand, a major historic site along ancient Silk Road route. He came back to Belarus for the last six months of his compulsory service and was stationed near a village. And that is how he met my mom.
She was eighteen and he was nineteen. He proposed on his fourth date and few months later they were married and moved in with his parents. Literally right after he got out of the army, Soviet Union declared a war on Afghanistan. He was spared the draft, but his slightly younger friends were not so lucky.
Few years after the wedding, my parents had me, and then my sister came along as well. Our family wasn’t perfect, but I know now that my mom and dad did the best they could. After all, they were young and immature, completely overwhelmed by responsibilities of adult life. And living with in-laws definitely didn’t help.
I look at the picture of my then 15-yeal old sister, and it’s hard not to think about what could have been. Even as a kid, she always kept her cards close to her chest. And with me going off to college, followed by permanent move to US, it certainly didn’t help.
I don’t regret leaving Belarus. While my marriage is not perfect, my husband is very good to me, better than I deserve sometimes. But I do regret not being there for my sister when she needed me most. Would she confide in me about her abusive relationship with her first husband? Would I be able to spot her black eye right before the wedding? I don’t know. I never went to her wedding. We were broke and couldn’t afford expensive airline ticket. I didn’t have miles back then, I wish I did.
When I look at this photograph, it seems like a lifetime ago. But then again, it almost feels like it all happened just yesterday. We are miles and years apart…
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.