How May Day Changed My Life

novgorodWhen I was little, my only desire was to turn eight.  My grandparents had promised that when that magical day came, they would start taking me on trips with them. Until them, I got postcards from all sorts of places, making me aware at an early age that “there’s life outside your apartment.

Then a little over a month after my eight birthday, the grandparents kept their word and announced we were going to Novgorod, an ancient Russian city known for early democracy, a medieval fortress and fermented honey moonshine.

They booked a room at the most expensive hotel in town. I got a pink top, a pink hat and green corduroy pants. We were off to enjoy the May holidays, which in the Soviet Union, pretty much just as in modern Russia, take up almost half of May.

I will be lying if I said that I remember a lot about this trip. I do remember the ozone air tickling my nose right after a thunderstorm, and my amazement at how something as trivial as air could change so dramatically. I do remember medovuha, or rather, its watered down yet still delicious version served in a restaurant inside a round tower. My first restaurant.

And I remember the cruise. For a different perspective on the ancient city, the grandparents decided to go on a cruise across the Volhov River. Think serene water, thick fortress walls made of giant boulders and covered with auburn moss, and golden cupolas of churches dotting the horizons all around.

Our boat made its way to the other bank, and people began to get off. I followed suit, just to realize that my grandparents were nowhere to be seen, and most likely, were enjoying the view from the back deck. The boat began to pull away, and I was still standing on shore. Within seconds, the gap began to widen, much to my rising panic.

The conversation must have gone something like this:

Sailors: “Little girl, where are your parents?”

Me: “They are on the ship.”

“Then what are you doing still standing there?” Then Russian words that I can’t quote here.

How I got back on board I don’t remember. And the conversation with the grandparents I also don’t remember. But I do remember how for the next several years I would lay awake at night and wonder what it would be like to be left on other side of the Volhov.

Both of my grandparents are gone now, but I still think about them often. It was thanks to them that I got unconquerable wanderlust and the need to explore. It was thanks to grandma that I learned English, among other things, and it was granddad  who on long walks would always tell me stories about his adventures with his friends. And every year, in early May, I think about how lucky I am to have had them in my life.


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