Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katya Chernomyrdina, Lebedeva sisters, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Unexpected Reunion at Church

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012, as future installments of the now-permanently shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. E.g., I no longer pedantically use accent marks, and the infodumpy dialogue has been cleaned up quite a bit.

***

For the remainder of the service, they walk around looking at the paintings and ikons, feeling slightly embarrassed they don’t remember enough to know who most of these saints are or what many of the scenes depict. They can’t even figure out the Old Church Slavonic script on most of the paintings. If their reaction time is quick enough, they copy the congregation when they see people kneeling or crossing themselves. At least they remember the correct way to cross oneself and don’t do it backwards like the Catholics. They remember Zofia crossing herself sometimes, and she always did it in the opposite direction from the way they were taught.

After services, while most of the people are standing around socializing, they notice a very pretty young woman in a wheelchair, her leg elevated and in some type of metal brace, thick gauze wrapped around the flesh inside the confines of the brace. A handsome man with very light brown hair stands on one side of her, and a woman with green eyes and the same russet hair stands on the other side. The woman in the wheelchair looks vaguely familiar to them.

“What happened to you?” Naína asks.

“Some jerk driving a Bugatti ran me over in April when I was rescuing my baby niece from the oncoming car. I was burnt very badly and might’ve lost my leg to amputation had I not had one young doctor among the team assigned to me. He argued for a radical new bone surgery instead of the old method. My fiancé here is busy looking for a house or apartment I can easily access, and that means no stairs. I hope our home hunt isn’t delayed too much longer, since my twenty-seventh birthday is coming up in September, and that’s awfully old for a woman to be unmarried.”

“You look kind of familiar,” Kátya says. “Is it possible we met you back in the motherland? We spent the last seven years in the Ukraine, and before that we lived in Russia.”

“My name is Álla Ilyínichna Lebedeva. I’ve been here since May of ’21.”

Kátya smiles at her. “Of course we remember you! You used to work at our orphanage in Kiyev, until you snuck out with three of your sisters and a brother and sister pair in early ’21! Mrs. Brézhneva was going crazy for a long time trying to figure out what’d happened to you all!”

“There were so many girls there, and it’s been over six years since I left. You’ll have to tell me your names to refresh my memory.”

“I’m Yekaterína Kárlovna Chernomyrdina, and she’s Naína Antónovna Yezhova. Naína’s cousin Kárla disappeared on our train to freedom.”

“Now I remember you! From what I heard, you were rabble-rousers right till the very end of your stay at that place. My sisters Véra and Natálya are penpals with Inéssa Zyuganova in Minsk, and Inéssa’s penpals with Ínna. Sometimes Inéssa tells them what Ínna tells her, so we heard the sad news about Kárla. This is my older sister Svetlána, by the way. She’s an infant nurse, but she’s also been my nurse since I got injured. I live with her and our oldest sister Gálya. We were also living with our next-oldest sister Matryona till she got married yesterday. And this handsome fellow is my fiancé Daniíl Karmov.”

Véra, Natálya, and Fyodora make their way to Álla and Svetlána and look curiously at Naína and Kátya. Anastásiya is already on her way out of the church, taking off her hair covering as Mrs. Whitmore trails forty feet behind with Dmítriy.

“You girls can follow me out to the bus stop, unless you have an invitation to someone’s house for lunch. I wish someone would invite me to Sunday lunch once in awhile. They’ve known me for ten years now, and they’ve just met you.”

“You never get invites because you’re an insufferable pain,” Véra laughs. “I take it these are the girls Sándros sponsored?”

“They’re old friends of yours too,” Álla smiles. “Do you recognize Naína Yezhova and Kátya Chernomyrdina after over six years?”

“Are you kidding?” Natálya asks. “They’re one and the same as the girls Sándros sponsored?”

“This is incredible!” Véra says. “We thought we’d probably never see any of our orphanage friends ever again!”

“Look how tall you got! You were so young last time we saw you!”

“Are you staying in the city, or going right to Toronto?”

“What’s in Toronto?” Naína asks. “We were looking forward to having a nice vacation at the beach and amusement parks. We’ve never had a vacation before.”

“If your aunt and Kárla’s mother is the same Sófya Mitrofanovna Gorbachëva we’re acquainted with, she lives in Toronto,” Véra says. “She lives with the younger two daughters of the woman whose hotel was suggested to you as a hub of Russian immigrants. She also lives with the best friend, husband, and son of the older of those two girls. They come down to visit us every so often, and we’ve been up there a few times, time and finances permitting. This woman doesn’t talk about her pre-Revolution life too often, but we know she had two daughters named Mikhaíla and Kárla. She knows Mikhaíla is dead. One of the ladies she lives with was a witness, and broke the news to her on their ship to Canada.”

“My aunt really is alive, and you know her? I’d love to see her! But after eight years, I guess a few more months won’t make a big deal. Would it still be okay to go on vacation with you? I don’t know anything about Toronto, but I’m pretty sure Canada isn’t known for its beaches and warm climate. We might not get another chance to have a long beach vacation for awhile if we have to move there.”

“I was looking forward to going on the long vacation too, since I haven’t had much of a break from schoolwork, my job, and my family since I came here. Now that I know who our companions are going to be, I want to go even more. I think your aunt will understand. Katrin probably will pay for you to make a long-distance call when you get back to her penthouse. In the meantime, we’d love to have you for lunch.”

“We’ve got a cute baby halfbrother now,” Natálya says. “Fyodora is his godmother. Besides Svéta here, we’ll also be having our other three sisters, and our stepsister’s family.”

Posted in Photography, Travel

Yorkville

Copyright Leifern

Yorkville is a neighborhood within Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Its boundaries are E. 96th St. (north), E. 79th St. (south), Third Ave. (west), and the East River (east). Part of Carnegie Hill used to be within Yorkville.

In August 1776, about half of Gen. Washington’s troops were stationed in Manhattan, many of them in Yorkville. They were strategically positioned along the East River to protect the other half of their brothers-in-arms if they retreated from Brooklyn, and to counter any attacks from either land or sea.

Gracie Mansion

Copyright Limulus

After a terrible defeat by the Battle of Long Island on 27 August, Gen. Washington’s Continental Army retreated from Yorkville. During the retreat, the British piped the song “Fly Away,” about a fox fleeing from hounds.

Instead of giving in to this musical taunt to fight, the Continental troops retreated in a very orderly fashion. This prepared them for their success next month in the Battle of Harlem Heights.

St. Monica Catholic Church, Copyright Limulus

Carl Schurz Park

Slowly but steadily, Yorkville evolved from farmland and gardens to a modern, industrialized, commercial area. One of America’s first railroads, the New York and Harlem Railroad, went through the neighborhood. The Boston Post Road, a mail delivery route, also went through Yorkville.

The current street grid was lay out from 1839–44. By 1850, a large portion of the population were German and Irish.

After the Civil War, slums were replaced by mansions.

The Marx Brothers’ old tenement, 179 E. 93rd St. (now in Carnegie Hill), Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Yorkville was a working-class and bourgeois neighborhood for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to the big German and Irish sections, there were also many Slovaks, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and Lebanese.

Yorkville was one of the most common destinations for German immigrants by 1880. After the General Slocum ship caught fire in the East River, off Yorkville’s shores, on 15 June 1904, many Germans moved to Yorkville from the Lower East Side’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany). Most of the passengers had been German, and people already in New York wanted to be closer to their affected relatives.

There were many ethnic bakeries, shops, groceries, churches, cultural associations, bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants, and imported gift shops.

Sidewalk clock, 1501 3rd Ave. between E. 84th and 85th Sts., Copyright Beyond My Ken

Disgracefully, Yorkville was home to the openly pro-Nazi German American Bund. There were frequent protests and demonstrations against the Bund, including street fights.

Thankfully, its founder, Fritz Julius Kuhn, got busted for tax evasion and embezzling $14,000 from the Bund, and spent 43 months behind bars.

While he was in jail, his U.S. citizenship was cancelled. After his release, he was re-arrested as an enemy alien, and sent to an interment camp in Texas. Kuhn was interred on Ellis Island after the war, and deported to Germany on 15 September 1945. He died in 1951 in München.

146–156 E. 89th St. between Lexington and Third Aves., Copyright Beyond My Ken

On a happier note, Yorkville was a haven for people fleeing from Nazi Germany and occupied Europe, and from behind the Iron Curtain.

Today, Yorkville is one of Manhattan’s richest neighborhoods.

Landmarks include Lycée Français de New York, Carl Schurz Park, Gracie Mansion (the mayor’s official home), the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, the Municipal Asphalt Plant, the Rhinelander Children’s Center, Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Monica Church, Holy Trinity Church, St. Joseph’s Church, and Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Besides the Marx Brothers, other famous residents of Yorkville include Lou Gehrig (born in the neighborhood) and James Cagney (grew up on E. 96th St.).

My characters Vera and Natalya Lebedeva move to a cellar apartment in Yorkville in spring 1929, after their father finally lets them live on their own. After Natalya’s marriage to Rostislav Smirnov, she stays in the neighborhood.

Vera finds a job teaching second grade in Yorkville after she graduates Hunter, and moves back to the Lower East Side after marrying Rostislav’s brother Vsevolod. She and Vsevolod later return to Yorkville and move into a brownstone a short distance from Natalya and Rostislav.

Novomira Kutuzova-Tvardovskaya, the daughter of old family friends, lives with Vera and Vsevolod while she attends Barnard.

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Lebedeva sisters, Mr. Lebedev, Russian novel, Writing

WeWriWa—A place where there’s no suffering

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a few lines after last week’s, when young widower Mr. Lebedev was reunited with his three youngest daughters in February 1921. He now has five of his ten daughters back.

Next-youngest sister Natalya asked oldest sister Galya why she’s stumbling around, and Galya revealed she’s now blind (though hoping to get a sight-restoration operation in America). Mr. Lebedev has promised Fyodora, who’s not quite seven, he’ll spend the rest of his life giving her all the love and protection she was denied in the orphanage system.

Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine with his belovèd daughter Elisabeth

“Where’s Mama?” Fyodora asks.

“She’s in a very nice place where there’s no more suffering,” Mr. Lebedev tells her, holding back tears. “We’ll see her again someday.”

“Where are my other five sisters?”

“I don’t know.  Some of them may be with your mother.”

“Now, please, Papa, we have to go to America.  Take us to a place where there’s no suffering,” Natalya pleads.

“So then Mama went to America?” Fyodora asks.

“She went to a magical place with angels, harps, fountains, gold, eternal youth, and love,” Mr. Lebedev elucidates.

When Mr. Lebedev remarries a bit over two years later, to female protagonist Lyuba’s mother, Fyodora realizes her mother must be dead, and what her father meant when he said her mother went to a magical place with things like golden water and harps. Her Machekha (Stepmother) Katya is the only mother she ever really knows, having been separated from her blood mother shortly after her third birthday.

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Lebedeva sisters, Mr. Lebedev, Russian novel, Writing

Father and child reunion

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, to mark Father’s Day, I’m featuring a snippet from my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan. I wrote the scene of Mr. Lebedev reuniting with his three youngest daughters back in 1998 or 1999, and it still chokes me up every time, particularly the section with little Fyodora.

Mr. Lebedev, who later becomes female protagonist Lyuba’s stepfather, had ten daughters in his first marriage. They were all taken away by the Bolsheviks, the older ones to Siberia and the youngest ones to the orphanage system. He eventually was reunited with oldest daughter Galya, and then seventh-born Alla.

In 1920, Alla got a job in the orphanage where the three youngest had been taken, and the four of them plus a brother and sister they’re friends with eventually escaped and began making their way out of the USSR. (The boy later becomes Fyodora’s husband.) It’s now February 1921, and they’ve reached their family’s old city, Pskov.

Mr. Lebedev has just said he can’t believe four of his daughters are still alive.

“Five, Papa, five,” Natalya says. “Dora’s on the mattress over there.  She’s got whooping cough.”

Mr. Lebedev strides over on shaking legs and picks his youngest daughter up.  Fyodora stops her coughing and recognizes the father she hasn’t seen in almost four years.  She only vaguely remembers what he looks like, but she’s never forgotten he has two different-colored eyes.

“Papa, you finally came back.”

“Praise God we’re together again,” he says, his voice shaking. “Now that our family’s back together, we’re never going to be separated ever again, and I’ll spend the rest of my life smothering you with all the love and protection you were denied while we were apart.  No one will ever hurt a hair on your head again.”

Mr. Lebedev is eventually reunited with four of his other missing daughters, and finally gets a boy after he remarries Lyuba’s mother. He’s always been a good sport about being a father to so many daughters in a row.

Posted in 1920s, Lebedeva sisters, Mr. Lebedev, Russian novel sequel, Writing

Sweet Saturday Samples—Reunion with Lyolya

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples continues where last week’s left off. After the ballet, Mr. Lebedev is allowed backstage to see a dancer he suspects to be his missing daughter Yelena (Lyolya), whom he hasn’t seen since 1917 and has given up for dead along with his other missing daughter Serafima. Lyolya recognizes him because of his heterochromia, one blue eye and one brown eye.

Króshka is the family dog, a little Pomeranian. Her name means “crumb” in Russian, since she was as tiny as a little crumb when she was a puppy.

***

“Papa?” she whispers. “Ilya Nikoláyevich Lebedev of Pskov and Moskvá, husband of Yevgéniya Yermoláyevna, father of ten daughters?”

He nods, tears welling up in his eyes and his face contorted by a mixture of grief, joy, and relief.  He puts his hands over his face and starts sobbing uncontrollably, falling onto his knees.

“My father is still alive!” Lyolya shrieks. “My father still lives!”

Mr. Lebedev slowly pulls himself back up to his feet and stumbles towards Lyolya, his eyes so clouded he can barely see straight.  Lyolya throws her arms around him and feels him violently shaking.

“Thank God you’re alive,” she sobs. “I thought I was the only one left.  Praise God.  Praise God.  I thought I wouldn’t be reunited with anyone till the next life.”

“We’re not the only ones,” he chokes out. “Eight of your sisters are here, and you have five beautiful little nieces now, and a little brother.  Even little Króshka is still alive.”

Lyolya feels as though she’s dreaming. “God has been good to me.  This is an even bigger miracle than learning to walk and dance again.”

“You’ll be the guest of honor at my house as soon as your stepsister comes back from Minnesota next week.  You’re going to love your stepsister and stepmother.  I’ve known my stepdaughter for nine years, long before I ever dreamt I’d remarry her mother.  She’ll be like another sister to you.  Thank God nine of my daughters are still on this earth.  I’d given up hope for all of you to be found.”

Lyolya leads him over to a spare chair and helps him sit down. “If I make nine, then who’s the only one left missing?”

“Serafima.  I don’t suppose you know anything about her whereabouts.”

“No, I don’t.  I haven’t seen anyone from our family for nine years.  Are they all here in the city?  When can I see them again?”

“Yes, they all live here.  Gálya, Mótya, Dína, and Állochka are married now, Vérushka has graduated from college, and Natáshka will graduate college soon.  Fyodora is in high school now, and Svéta is an infant nurse.  They’re all going to be so happy to see you’re alive.  Your little brother is named Ósip, after your uncle.  He’s five and a half, and starting school in the fall.”

“I wish I could cancel the rest of my shows and spend the next week and a half getting reacquainted with everyone!”

“No, don’t do that.  This was your dream since childhood, and you’re not going to do anything to jeopardize it.  You should do whatever you can to earn money and build your name.”

Lyolya goes over to get the door and finds Rostislav with two people she doesn’t recognize. “Rostik, my father is alive!  Can you believe my good luck?”

“My girlfriend and I figured it out yesterday.  This is one of your sisters, Natálya Ilyínichna Lebedeva.  The other woman is your stepmother, Yekaterína Iósifovna.”

Mr. Lebedev sizes up Rostislav. “So you’re the young man my Natálya has been seeing and not bothered to introduce to me.”

Rostislav puts out his hand. “I am very honored to meet you, Ilya Nikoláyevich.  I’m Rostislav Vlásiyevich Smírnov, and I’m from Bulun, Siberia.  My brother and sisters and I found Lyolya unconscious on top of some rocks in the Léna River nine years ago and carried her back to our house.  She’s been my big sister ever since.  We live together in the city.  I had to come with her when the ballet talent scout took her to America.  She needed a reminder of home and a male escort.”

Mr. Lebedev shakes his hand. “You and your family are angels for rescuing my daughter and taking care of her as your own for so long.  Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you as a reward for your righteousness.  No price is too high to express my gratitude for saving the life of my child.”

“Could I have Natásha’s hand in marriage?”

“What!” Natálya gasps. “We haven’t even been going out for two months!”

Mr. Lebedev smiles at him. “At least some young men know how to ask a girl’s father for permission.  I’d be glad to give you my blessing, but Natálya herself has to agree or nothing can happen.”

“I don’t want to be married at my age.  I just want to continue dating.  But it’s nice to know Rostik thinks so highly of me.  Maybe I’ll say yes if he asks again in a year or so.”