In Volgograd oblast there is a family seat of my ancestors: it is Khutor Bolshie Medvedi (hamlet Big Bears) and several others in the area. They are pioneers in exploring and settling in this then virgin land.
My second great grandfather, who was later a political prisoner, died of hard labor on the White Sea – Baltic Sea Canal and posthumously rehabilitated by the court, was one of the first farm machinery operators in the Volga region.
He owned a flouring-mill, it stood where the khutor club now is.
The khutor was once big, whereas now few old people live their last years there.
My grandmother was born there. She had five sisters and a brother, hence my sizeable kinsfolk: all zealously procreated offspring.
Except brother Pavel, who perished in the war, where he was called together with his father.
He was killed in action (as the death notice said) crossing a river under enemy’s fire: Khutor Bolshie Medvedi was few kilometers from the front line.
A short time before that his father, also called in and torn off his wife and six children, wrote in a letter: “they throw us on the Sapun Ridge plugging holes in the defense”. Sapun Ridge is to the southeast of Sebastopol.
And indeed, it is strange that Sebastopol is considered the city of Russian glory taking into account it was incessantly abandoned to the enemy, and it is the city of continuous Russian defeats. It would be more appropriate to consider it the city of Russian woe.
My great-grandfather, Piotr Pavlovich Yeryomin remained missing in action.
His body was not found: there were other things to think about.
His wife, my great-grandma, was left with six daughters and no men.
Several weeks she, who simultaneously lost a son and beloved husband (she married for love as keen on liberty Cossack women did) stayed on the bunk on top of Russian stove in the house and wailed.
Older daughters fed both themselves and younger sisters.
This came upon Marfa, the oldest. And upon Lena, my grandma, who was two years younger.
It was hell of a time. Starving and bitter.
All survived by a miracle.
Yevdokia Mitrofanovna, my great-grandma, never remarried.
The daughters were growing up and looking for jobs in the then deserted Volga region: some went to kolkhozes, others to the factories.
One day a fellow villager came from an occasional labor trip and called folks to Donbass: mines wanted hands.
It was hellish toil, but people was used to hardships. But at least it was employment and payment in real money for working days and not in conventional agricultural units for amount of work.
Those were hard startups in a new place without kinfolk or people you knew.
But my granny was a risky sort and she went there. Went to Donbass, along the way to the unknown.
She would then meet my grandfather there, settle down, have two sons: my father Vladimir and my uncle Nicolai.
And only when grandfather died, being already a pensioner, would she return to Khutor Bolshie Medvedi.
Marfa, the elder sister, remained at the khutor and worked as a kolkhoz dairymaid.
Her husband died early leaving two daughters, who in their turn produced two daughters.
Liuba, the third sister, also remained.
She had three children, who begot two-three children each.
They would then move partly to Mikhailovka, partly to Petersburg, but the most part continues to live in Mikhailovka.
One of my second cousins from this branch saw service in Chechnya during the First Campaign.
He survived, came back home and died a stupid death being ran over by a train, which he did not hear because of earphones.
Agrippina-Aksinia, the fourth sister also spent her whole life in Mikhailovka.
Jenia, the fifth sister, studied at the railroad technical college in Volgograd.
In her first working day, at the Sarepta Station near Volgograd, a serious accident occurred, and though it was not her area of responsibility, she was ready to quit the industry without a backward glance. But her wise chief talked her out of it.
She then worked her entire career at the railroad, became a specialist of great respect, and was in for promising future.
However, a promising future invariably meant moving from place to place, whereas she by that time married Piotr, a Don Cossack, and had two children.
For twenty years prior to retirement, she had worked as a stationmaster. The station was Kumylga and the settlement Khutor Troitsky at 8 kilometers from Khutor Bolshie Medvedi. There was a junction there and their house was a five-minute walk away.
Niusia, the sixths sister, was low-key.
She unobtrusively married and bore two children.
But she died first, though being the youngest, of physical abuse from her husband given to drinking.
Of all grandma’s sisters, I had the greatest affection for grandma Jenia: Yevghenia Petrovna Popova.
She is very good-looking: both in young years and now. She brought her beauty through years.
She is chanter, herbalist, storyteller and banterer.
Their household in Troitsky was very hospitable: she and her husband Piotr always received relatives.
And once in a year the tradition was a great family gathering in their house.
I also attended. It was an extraordinary feeling to stay amidst dozens of totally new people, who are all your kinsmen.
I used to spend summers and holidays at grandma’s: first in Donbass, then in Medvedi.
And if there are few big cities in Donbass: all are descendants of the outsiders, who came for temporary work, here I was part of a large, strong tree.
And that was very natural: I could occasionally come across my own picture in the family photobook of the relatives I do not know. Why are we here? – I could ask. And they look puzzled – well, you’re our folks.
Our folks. A wonderful word.
And if we are “our folks” for them, so they are “our folks” for us. Our folks. My folks.
My folks – all clear. My own – and there is nothing to explain.
They are mine. And they have nothing against it.
There is a toast to halcyon days. Halcyon we are witnessing.
Some coyly object: they are in no way halcyon, not the way they were in the past and all that kind of crap.
Time will put everything in its place, guys. In years to come you will cast your mind back to our days and it would became clear that the toast was right. Those were indeed halcyon days, but we denied it.
Let’s remember that halcyon days happen any time.
I recollect my childhood, which I spent, in this area, amidst my folks, and those were halcyon days. Even if there was enough hardships.
But children grew up. And their parents bent down to the ground.
Sisters gradually passed away.
The first to part from this life was the youngest, as I said, Niusia.
Then Agrippina followed.
The next were Liuba anв Lena, my grandma, the latter by that time moved to Yegorievsk, closer to her son.
Grandma Jenia is still alive. She is 82.
And her husband Piotr lives. He is 88.
They could not dwell in their house anymore: country life was too great burden for them.
The house was sold, and children helped them to buy a flat in Mikhailovka, on the ground floor of a good quality brick house.
Piotr Petrovich is, unfortunately, in a bad way. He cannot walk, almost blind and almost deaf.
Evghenia Petrovna is also not an agile dancer and live wire any more.
And an amazing thing is that Marfa, the elder sister, is still alive.
She is 92. And she still lives in Khutor Bolshie Medvedi, and still in the house, which was rebuilt from the ancestral abode, where the Yeryomins dwelled. Where fateful certificates and death notices arrived.
Where Marta successfully looked after her small sisters.
She walks badly. Has poor sight and hearing.
And… she has absolutely lucid mind and perfect memory.
The same may be said of grandma Jenia. And her husband: in spite of being almost blind and deaf, he is able, like a genuine Cossack, to sing vociferously right from his bed.
There is a remarkable characteristic in my family: we are not subjects to anility.
We have many very old people in the family: my great-grandmother lived up to 98, and no laugh, and all these people did not even remotely sink into dotage.
All my folks have impressive memory and clear mind in any age.
I often hear of old people going off the rails and I am mystified at how it comes about. I do not have any experience of contacts with such people. It is not our case.
Naturally, I do not have a phobia of becoming suchlike – why on earth?
In summer of 2017, I met these people dear to me.
And if I did not see grandma Jenia about 10 years, for Marfa it will be full 20.
I was very glad to embrace them.
Marfa was often severe and critical, but she has always been mild with me. And I love her very much.
And I also love Jenia and Piotr Petrovich.
…But it’s also terrifying.
Terrifying because their time is going away, but I cannot do anything about it.
Terrifying to talk to Marfa and to know it is probably the last time.
To know this little and age-bent old woman may die, whereas I am unable to oppose it.
She sits in her house in the evening and drinks tea with sweetmeats and Death sits facing her.
And one day they will rise from the table, leaving tea and sweetmeats, and Death will lead this little woman dear to me, to the space where nebules drift, where I will never see her again.
And I cannot change anything in this process.
… My daughter has the eyes like those the Yeryomins had. My great-grandfather had them this way: a bit asymmetric: and you can see it on his portraits.
And they are inherited in the family. I also have them this same way.
What is more, all six sisters had the same trick of puckering the lip: in deep thought or slight displeasure. My daughter does the same.
When I first saw her in maternity clinic, she was sleeping and puckering the lip, just like my grandma and her great-grandmother.
On top of that she the ears of all the Yeryomins: with long lobes.
Not as long as those of Buddha, but still long.
Mine are the same.
And what is more… well, there are many other things.
I cannot make people stay in this world longer than is destined for them.
My folks will leave this life. And I will have to get over it.
But I can create other folks, also mine. Extend them.
Let my folks, who hail from these steppes, scatter all over the world, and this branch already lives in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Volgograd and Samara, Nizhny Novgorod and Brest, and many other places.
The brood splits, but children who left it, set the new ones.
And each day we increase in number.
Alongside with the absence of anility my family has one more feature: we are uncrushable.
They repressed us and killed in wars. Robbed and annihilated.
Many things were against us, but we have survived.
Survived and live. And will live.
My folks continue. And I continue with them. We are numerous.
Even in the hardest times, the halcyon days will shine for my folks.