Her memories rested on one particularly cold winter when snow was falling as white and thick as milk for days on end and food was getting scarce. There were a few children who could not come to school which grew unusually quiet. The world seemed to stand still and stories were told of past hunger and illnesses. That was the winter her father left. He held her and her brothers in front of the smoky fire made of wet wood for a long time and promised to come back with gifts for them all. He spoke of a big place where houses are built tall so that many families can live in them, of factories with sky high chimneys that made trucks and cars and all manner of things, shops where you can buy sweets wrapped in shiny silver paper.
The next morning he was gone, her father with his broad shoulders and a quick smile always shimmering in the corner of his mouth, with his strong hands tucked inside his coat pockets, taking long purposeful strides down the frozen road. She noticed that he left his mouth accordion behind. The same mouth accordion that he played when young girls were gathering on the village green like a flock of multicoloured birds, covering their mouths with hands and hiding their smiles in them. This was how he met her mother, while playing the accordion and smiling with the corner of his mouth. His green eyes met hers over the colours of other girls and voices of other young men standing around him. They were married the next autumn and she was their firstborn.
That winter a couple of other young men left with her father. The schoolteacher helped them like he helped others before them. The schoolteacher was the distant cousin of the village’s only party official who left the village a long time ago and became an important man in some distant place with the tall buildings and lots of men in black suits and big cars. When years were harsh and the land yielded little, young men would go to those big places to make money. The schoolteacher helped them to find work in factories or building more of those tall buildings. They left their children and young wives in the care of the village and the schoolteacher. They sent money and gifts for their families and for the schoolteacher. The schoolteacher tried to help as many as he could he said it was good and called it progress. Her grandfather said it was bad and called it corruption. But then her grandfather was the hard one, everyone knew that. It was because he lost his land in this last war and he never got over it said her grandmother. It was because they took his land the village priest would say. Her grandfather did not say anything. He sometimes muttered under into his chin that it will not be long now since the Mother Russia is stumbling.
Her father sent the money this first winter. It came in large white envelopes together with few lines written in big block letters letting them know that life is good and work is not too hard. There was white bread on the table even before rays of early spring melted the winter away. There were new shoes for her and her brothers.
Will be continued soon …