Memories about former Soviet Union

The Old House

By Natalia Tkachenko

Today begins the first day of the New Year. And I, awoken by my dream, once again started to think about my life, the past and the people that I met along my way. I thought about our destinies, as a living witness of what I used to be. And I remembered at once our old five-store house, built in the time of Breznev's governing, so typical of the 1970's with the 75 flats filled with neighbors in identical one, two, and three bedroom apartments. Taking into consideration that in every family there were from two family members in each bedroom and up to five in three bedroom apartments (along with the old grandmothers who were signed up to this property, too.) This meant that during the 25 years that I lived there, with occasional breaks for study in another city I was able to watch the destinies of more then a hundred of people. Of course I did not know everybody personally, but the information field of the neighborhood gossip supported my literary soul with scandal and knowledge. And I never once thought that one day all these reminiscences would gather again for a few hours into a clear picture, to be quickly analyzed and then die forever in the storage files of my memory.

So, who lived with us? I will say from the beginning that the house was built for the employees of the Moldavian Tractor Factory, to which, in those days, my father belonged completely. There lived the engineers and workers: blacksmiths, plumbers, mechanics, and electricians. The majorities, of course, were not from Moldova. They were outsiders from the big cites of Russia, Ukraine, and Byelorussia, who their socialist Motherland had sent to rebuild what was destroyed in the Second World War. Moldova, which entered the Soviet Union just before the War, in 1940, suffered terribly during the fascist Romanian occupation, blooded by the famous Iasso - Chisinau Battles, and emasculated with hardships put on her shoulders by the centuries of the cruel Turkish Yoke. When the new and powerful Motherland (USSR) invested its money, it sent its specialists and began to educate the people (with the help of their professors) in order to help raise this buffered territory from its knees to its feet. And this attempt succeeded but unfortunately only for the short period of 50 years. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moldova made a weak attempt to become an independent state, unfortunately without very talented or dedicated leadership, and once again digressed into a virtual captivity by a corrupt government. How long will this dreadful ordeal continue? Years? Decades? Centuries? Who knows? Only the history will reply.

So, our multinational ark located in Flakera district, which was settled mostly by Ukrainians, Russians, Byelorussians, and a bit less with Moldovans and Jews, was ready to join its destiny with the others in 1971, the year when I turned five years old Today, when I am much more then thirty, most of those who grew up with me do not live any longer inside the walls of the old house. Those living there now are living out their last decades, either our parents or somebody else's, whose children bought the flats from relatives of those who died or from those who left the country looking for a better life. The house, which once used to be one throbbing body of tractor factory workers and their newly created families, crawling and screaming around the yard, had become the quiet obituary of the leaving and the left.

In reality, leaving from this once wonderful place stared long before the dying began. The first to leave were the Jews, migrating to their warm countries, away from the looming social troubles. Then, after several years, something very mysteriously starts to harvest the lives of the people. Some died in their hospital beds from a wrong diagnoses or botched operation. Others may have died simply because they could not stand the pressure of the new days, struggling to get through the impossible obstacles and new rules set up after the collapse of Socialism. In this way died the mother of Ellochka, girl from the first gate. As she was pulling her heavy bags of produce to and from the market, she ripped and damaged some of her inside organs, and bleed to death at home in a bucket, so as not to make troubles for anyone. In this way, she too left our frustrating world. Then there was the gynecologist, Shuroshka, who support maternity process for majority of kids of our house, who died of an undiagnosed intestinal disease. And soon after her, in 1991, burned from cancer for less then half a year my Mother had gone.

Then, after some time had passed, there was found our neighbor, Tolia, the pilot, killed in his own bathtub. Of course such deaths as murder happen not only in the dark days of social change, but also in the best of timesof socialist stability too. I remember when I was a schoolgirl, overhearing my father telling his friend that our neighbor from the fifth floor killed his wife. "With the axe, this way ", and my father demonstrated this with the full swing of his arm. I was struck dumb. My hair stood on end. Why didn't anybody prevent this? Anybody protect the victim? The killer, Misha, was the calmest of men. Then Switch! Misha's jealousy joined with the full faze of the Moon. He got drunk and the hidden programs of the unconscious opened up, and he crashed everything with his axe.

For long time after this nobody stayed long in this apartment. There came and gone the new tenants, to whom the Evette's (daughter of the victim) grandmother rented the place to support her income. Because the father of the girl was in jail, and the mother safely settled in the skies. And their tenants, always unsatisfied with something, and because of that leaving the apartment so often, pull up and down the fifth floor the current furniture, not once forcing us to stick to the walls of the stairs. Now in that, bought after the privatization flat there live for the long period ex-policeman with his wife and kids. Probably they invited the priest to clean the flat from the evil spirits (in our culture this was regularly practiced), or may be nothing can bother policemen at all.

There were in our house the happy women and the unhappy women. I remember the huge moldovan lady with the name Galia, who struggle always with her tiny husband-alcoholic. Once I personally saw how he in the delirium (so called "squirrel" time) decided to jump from the balcony. One second more - and he will fly down - but from the balcony he was caught with the heavy wife's hand. The alcoholic was saved and after this event was put into funny house for a special treatment. By the way, their daughter, always so stressed by the life and poor inheritage girl, after she got married not only cardinally changed her weight category, born three kids, but also bought one more flat in the same old house on the first floor (miracle, not for everybody's pocket), having built to it garage with the piece of terrace. Why it became allowed in the period of architectural voluntarism and for what sum and given to whom, judge yourself, but if you'll take a walk in our old Boiukany district, or around my old house, you will be amazed with a lot of architectural monsters created by the people with no official sanctions in nowadays! Of course, it understandable that all this voluntary buildings appeared not from the advantages but from lack of living place, and because in this 30-50 square meters sometimes should live several generations of relatives, desperate to get from the authorities or even to buy in the changing economic conditions of society their own apartments.

I personally had the experience to live once not short period of time in two bedroom's bunker together with the daughter, my brother and his pregnant wife, coming and going back to America husband and coming from time to time to make for all of us quarrels prophylactic, my papa, the leader of our "enterprise" and responsible house owner. The reminiscences not for nervous one's, especially if to take into consideration, that all the members of this crew consider themselves to be the brightest personalities, having the only real right to stay in this flat. But the papers showed the collective property and the 50 square meters of the mutual territory (from them only 30 square meter were living zone) were shared that way. We are not the first but we are not the last one's! In the same "luxurious" apartments still live many of my contemporaries, or those who are a little younger then I am with the wifes, husbands, children and old parents behind the wall, with the one mutual kitchen and one toilet for everybody, without ability to resolve this "flat issue" only but with somebody's from family members departure or death (and by the way - paradox, why? - nobody ever think about their own). The society, putting with its economy people on the knees, has no right to avoid the new moral principles, which will be born at the same circumstances.

When I overviewed in my memory all the faces of the old house, familiar from the past, whom I have not seen for more then one year, and who knows - may be will never see them again, it suddenly flashed the sweet women's faces, who are not forty yet, and who, as I suddenly guessed never were happy physiologically as the women, never opened for themselves the deep nature of the women's beginning, the joy radiation towards the beloved one's, because their private life was held in the same parents rooms, were every small sound was scarcely fixed by the walls, were the children were conceived, whose mothers knew nothing about the nature of orgasm, and where the fathers of those children, can not resist the pressure of spouses parent's calmly, without saying a word, simply run away, and no been from their nature villains, leave this impression in the conscious of their children…

But even some of the ladies, who had all the passions in their own apartments, which they did not share with anyone, not always were lucky. I remember the beautiful gild with the name Zoia, whose parents, leaving for Russian, gift her with the 3 bedroom flat, where she with the time brought her young husband. The years passed and there appeared their son Vanika, and then something happened with this young family, who suffered together with changes in society. Once, returning from his business trip, Zoia's husband having heard from the neighbors about "adventures" of his spouse while he absent, decided to teach her a bit in the old-days manner, like his grandparents do - using the hands as an argument. This modern young man beat her so severely, that the entire house woke up in the middle of the night from the screams of desperate victim. The "lesson" continues not one hour, nor even two, did not stop the family battle our calls into their door and telephone with the demands to stop it and police came only the next morning. So, we all spent sleepless night - the victim and the neighbors, trying to help her to escape… In the day -time Zoika already in gypsum and in medical bandages was taken by her spouse to the outing - in his arms, because she can't make it alone…

A lot more can be told from the history of the old house. About my contemporary Bella and her husband, violin master in his profession Iasha, who gone with their so typical to our places jewfish nationality relatives to the holy land. About woman, ships builder, who got wonderful and rare education in Petersburg, but at her motherland, because nobody need her profession, started to milk the handsome men. About Alena with the nickname "Sugar", who decided in the starving years of changing social formations- in "perestroika" to become alone mother, because it was amazing, her pregnancy with the final diagnosis "infertile". And all the youngest and the oldest generation of our house, those who has less to do, were helping her, watching her son outside, while Alena, making her living was stitching on the sewing machine. Remember the old house about Ruslan, who was from the large but not full family, who succeeded to study on his own and became good actor in Moscow. About his sister, who learnt from the young nails the advantages of the cat, who "walk where it wants", but her not very happy family, where she grew, did not forget and left with no attention: having come from the current civil marriage in Greece, made on her own money total flat reparation and bought all new for her mother and growing without father brothers: from furniture till house equipment. Remember the old house about Lenochka, gagauzian in her nationality, who was "sold" into marriage to the Caucasian man with her own brother, businessman Andrei, as soon as she finished the high school. Although Lenochka and today is happy and among diamonds and palm trees now lives abroad, supporting her parent's family with the necessary money donations to make their living and rare invitations to visit her abroad. Remember and the neighbor tiotia (polite call for the adult woman in some Slovenian countries) Lida from the first gate, who all her long life collect the empty bottles from the garbage trashes in order not to die from starvation and whose debt for the communal services (gas, water and electricity) in several thousand leis (moldovan currency) were the permanent disgrace of our joined into the Association of the owners of the privatized flats House.

By the way, a little bit more about the privatization, who is one day, with the arrival of the new social structure in the society made from us, the people who simply live in the government living houses with the life contracts the owners of our own square meters. This was, possibly, in year 1993 - 1994. The new economic law decided at once that the distribution of the public property should belong at least a little bit to the people, who created this property with their own hands. That is why everybody, depending on the amount of years the person worked, was given bonuses of public property belongings. On which you can buy part of what you can and want. This is already the history, besides funny one, because in one-day al these bonuses invested for example into the shares of the enterprises, become only smoke of reminiscences. But those who had enough smartness - and almost everybody had it; just invest their shares to privatize their own apartments. So, it looks like the state and government itself took your bonuses given instead to the people their own living and so familiar meters. About the legitimacy of such the current "cheating" of the working people one can talk for long, but it start even without this... According to the existing law, one of the family members (usually who had the biggest amount of bonuses and it happened to be the oldest, because of the amount of years worked before) was officially proclaimed to be the main shareholder. The others were like vice shareholders. So in order to sell, trade, change or decide anything about your flat, you need automatically to have the permission of the main shareholder. As well, by the way, as the main shareholder, who needed the approvals of the others on any commercial deals with the flat. It only in the new times the business people, who became skilled in a lot of paper frauds, made for a certain amount of money illegal miracles - so all the participants of the bargain can disappeared from the main document - house book and the flat could jumped to the hands of the new owners, annulling all the participants of the privatization processes from sharing in the after trade income. Sacred in laws eyes were only the interests of the children shareholders till 16 years old. So, nobody can ignore their interests if they were not registrated in the other housing to live in. And if this was not in force, the bargain after any amount of time passed were declared false, and their unsuccessful new owners were looking for the old ones in order to try to get their money back, or at least to beat the face of these people. Because all the deal were made on not commercial, but residential tariffs which and which were 5-10 times lower then cash money they spent to buy this in reality and which were shown on the papers to pay smaller taxes.

Oh, how many deals like that destroyed how many destinies! The memory reminds the inventive women Marianna, gynecologist with gypsy bloods, who lived once in the flat, which before belonged the murder's family. What this lady in her worthy years succeeded to do - is to sell her flat whether to the five or to the six people at once and to disappear. He apartment number 34 (lucky by the way number) was all this years under arrest and we during five years saw from time to time the face of the local policemen, who was drawing the reports, when we last time saw this inventive entrepreneur lady. After some time she was forgotten (because as they said she gave "smooth" the police with some bribe) and she herself freely walked in our district and chasing her days and nights, sometimes in winter frosts on the stairs was waiting for her one of the victims of her "multilevel" business. After unsuccessful attempt to become owner of the flat, for which he already paid big buck (all the commercial deals in CIS countries were done only in bucks according to the course of it to the local currency in this day), his wife left him and he, I suppose just want to see into the eyes of the person, due to whom his destiny was destroyed. From the beginning we were afraid of this guy (it can scare anybody, when you are opening the door of you own flat and couple of meters from you on the stairs there hanging over the dark figure. That's why some of us preliminary imitates - first called to our own door, knocked into it, appealing loudly: "Papa, wake up! Open the door". Or simply called to the neighbor's door as if to chat, but in reality to have the witness while entering you own flat. Then my young neighbor Slavka, the same age as waiting guy, talked with him from heart to heart and found out the reasons of his guarding, and we all already with our sympathizing to the guy in his grief, somebody the cigarette or just fire, somebody the chair from the kitchen, so the guy could sit and wait, having small joy that we have such alive and free of charge person on duty in our gate.

Everything saw and everything heard the walls of the old house. And slandering alcoholics, who decided to nap inside the stairs and at the same time to make a toilet, and the sneaking beggars, who were asking for the piece of bread and through the same piece they got while outside. Knew the old house the visitors of different titles and honors, knew the lovers, happy and furious, newborn and just passed away... Knew the old house the good and the bad times. Its possibly that good there were the times of its and ours childhood and the youth of our relatives, in this special time when the wings grows from the powers and great expectations, the time that happened only once in the period of primary blossoming and stable social structure of the society. When the house was just built with all this crowds of running around and determining their destinies new tenants, in order the settle the space around, our fathers planted in the spring the trees: the small poplars, the blossoming cherries, the Greek nuts, which are so widely spread in our black soil land. Poplars are already far ago overcame the height of our five storages house, some of them are cut not long ago for their extreme fluffiness in May. Once there was waving round our balcony on the forth floor for the whole twenty years nice vineyard. And then the new neighbor - idiot, furious that the boys, who robbed his housing run away down through the vineyard truck (he, foolish left himself did not lock the entrance door), cut with the axe on this alive stem - and killed the alive plant: there were no more transparent drops in the vine at spring, no more curls of the leaves shade above your head in August, no sweet dark blue color juice in September- died our balcony vineyard.

There gone from the life the good habits of our parents to dry and to safe on the balconies the Greek nuts - there appeared the robbers- squirrels. They're changed the old from the pressed carton doors on the others- heavy and done from the metal at the same tractor plant - to resist the robbers, the people. With the thorough and sweat labor created although small but own income stood under the threaten. And nobody any more open friendly the door for you, but only after watching through peep-hole and asking for the proof of the trust to the own eyes: "Who is there?"

There gone from this life the last pillars, the luminaries and the legends of our old house. Diseased ant Marusia and year after her respected husband uncle Misha, who being the oldest people in our house knew without moving from their benches everything and about everybody. If you need to get some news you should only for the couple of minutes sit down to then on the porch - and the news caught you and you yourself became the object for the news, when, chatting for a while had the split of the tongue... Ant Marusia - let the moldovan land always be mild for her! - left us in the hottest August midday, killed with our damaging to the people with hypertension, climate. Her husband uncle Misha married in his seventy-six for the second time, because according to his own words he "lacked the woman at home", took the "youngster" fifty five years old, but could not resist the temper of the post-climax passions and burned himself in all this for less then a year. "Youngster" walked by to his last way uncle Misha with the honors of the gypsy baron, according to the popular moldovan traditions laid all the way of moving the coffin with the embroidered pillows. This way she pay her respect to the traditions - and why not? Though only for one year of the marriage "work" to her property there came the privatized flat, which she after, to her profit quickly sold. And what the others got for the years of work on the plant, or bought with the bonuses from privatization, what made the bless (the own roof above the head) and the damned of majority (under this roof there were too many heads), to the others gone easily, in one day, like everything in the turning around life, where you can win in one day, what usually earned in years and on the other they loose all...

Today, when I am separated from the old house with the distance of one day fly, where forever stopped for me the time and dwindled the voices of so close to my heard neighbors, where now having deserved rest from us, children my father, where still pulse the time and develop some other, already unknown for me life, where people fall in love, suffer and marry, buy the new meters, born the new and die the old people, where forever faded in inside the space and walls my old destiny, I want to understand: on purpose or without any reason we were gathered altogether more then thirty years ago under this big roof of the old house. What forces determined this choice: the will of the mysterious circumstances or any other unknown karmic reasons? What is it now and what it will be in the destiny of each of us? And with what as the taro cards tell the heart will be calmed down? Because indifferent to what we will think belong to us in our old house, sorry and regrets, in the thin world after the physical death we will be allowed to take with us only fewer things: the matrixes of reminiscences, energetic models of the times, when we were happy or unhappy or made the same our relatives and close people.

The Old House, I suppose, although all the caprices of the destiny are possible, will overcome many times each of us! Or even our children, nephews, grandkids. Which will come inside this walls, will stay there and put more layers on their destinies with what we already prepared for them in this space. The kind and the evil, the permanent and not... The easy - minded, faithful, greedy and generous, openhearted and kind. Because we all the children of one tribe - people living on the Earth. We made on any continent although from the different colors of the skin and the different languages we are talking, but from the same paste - the human conscious, its contradictions, struggles and searching of the path - to the own truth, to ourselves...

And from somewhere far past my memory bring to me the song on the poetry of Evtushenko, my American now compatriot:
"There waved the old house, making chorus from the creaking sounds, as if it was our memorial song.
It felt, the old house that slowly and hidden I died in it and you died with me...
...There waved the old house, squeaking among the grasses, proposing to us its strength
Here were dieing we together, but we were still alive, because we loved each other, it meant we were in life..."

January, 2003

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