Babushka’s Story

In chronicling some of my family’s history mostly via photos I have snapfished, blurbed and scanned my way through photos dating back to 1920s. What amazes me is the crispness and color value still preserved. Last year I stumbled upon a site that preserves memories via an oral history,
STORY CORPS records personal stories. They provide a framework and have folks come into a booth they have in the city forming a collective narrative. Grandma and I had our own storycorps session in her Brighton Beach apartment where she has been living since the 1970s.

Usually she shares stories as it is, so I figured it would be important to get it for once on record. She was feeling ill as it was, she recently returned from the hospital after falling.  I let it free flow so she outlined the same story as she usually shares, it seemed all the more urgent with her getting progressively worse. Below is the audio and corresponding translation/transcript of what she shared.

Babushka’s Story

Lucky me with two loving grandma’s .Grandma Klara on the right in yellow.
Summer 1994.
Grandma was already living in NY in the late 1980s, she would come back to Russia for visits as pictured  here

Me: Tell me when you were born and about your childhood. 

Grandma: “My name is Klara I was born in Berdychiv, Ukraine on October 15, 1921. Everyone in my town spoke Yiddish, the entire town was Jewish. ( In 1897, out of the town’s population of 53,728 41,617 – about 80% were Jewish. By the 1920s the Yiddish Language was officially recognized. In its peak, the shtetl was famous for it cantors and was an important center for Hasidism)  Classes in school were administered in Russian although the colloquial spoken language was Yiddish. I loved to read,by 10 years old I had read all the works of Tolstoy in Russian. Since my parents were not literate I would read to them. 

Me: What did your parents do for a living? 

Grandma:  Back then no one worked, I don’t know what we lived on. My dad would wake up early in the morning, we lived near the market. My grandma had 3 sons and everyone lived under one roof, in one household- children, grandchildren… basically we lived like Gypsies. This is the family I was born into. We would buy water in a large bucket , it cost one kopek, we would carry it from the outdoor well. When my mom was pregnant with Lyova ( her younger brother) people believed that in the last few months of pregnancy that if you bathed in hot water it would ease the birth. There were no doctors, there was a local midwife who had a list of who was giving birth, she would make housecalls. By the time my mother carried the water, by 2  buckets and bathed she had already given birth. Old bed sheets were torn and used as cloth diapers, my mom showed me how to do this . There was no sink, or amenities we washed in basins.

At 16years old I announced that I would leave the small town for Moscow. 

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