As a kid, my father’s Russian heritage was obvious for me when he’d be conversing with his relatives over 3,000 miles and switch from English to Russian, and back again. I’d be eavesdropping and trying to pay attention to the news or family gossip and then suddenly, bam, he’d swap into his mother-tongue and I’d hear tone and consonants crashing in ways I wasn’t accustomed to arranging them. I always felt like I was being transported into an epic tale where there were large, dark woods, thickly blanketed with snow…and horses with bushy manes, babushkas in scarves, borscht in pottery, hot tea in glasses, onion domes somewhere off in the distance, Tevye and skinny rooftop violin-playing men, matchmakers…all that. A little girl, I’d sit under the overhanging countertop on the floor where the dog would lie, imagining fabulous stories while listening in. It’s likely he and his family were discussing the weather, but in my mind it was so much more.
My friend Kerry, talented musician and singer, amongst her numerous other performance and leadership positions that she carries, teaches voice at Bennington College and Williams College and leads a local children’s chorus. She has a knack for helping students to feel the lyrics, the story of the songs, and one of my favorite expressions of her is when she lapses into a slavic accent and describes struggle, encouraging you to go with her into some terrible hardship that will help you to convey exactly the intension of the music, not just the right notes. I wish you could hear her, the way I hear it in my head, when she shares this message.
You know exactly what she means and it throws you into the Old World, just as if you were a child eavesdropping on your father’s conversations with the mother country…or just his mother.
It’s Valentine’s Day and a very pretty one at that. A lovely, powdery snowfall over the past 24 hours has left deep piles in front of the doors, the paths, and the roads. My winter overalls are about two sizes too big, but I didn’t have the heart to tell my husband to bring them back when he gave them to me for Christmas a couple of years ago. The snow came up to my knees today while I moved to and fro, back and forth around the barn. My friend Coco says it’s like I’m playing Tetris, which I think is a computer game, when I do the chores. I have to go back and forth a lot with buckets, retracing my steps often, and in my extra large insulated overalls, against piles of snow, I am getting a pretty decent resistance-workout in the barnyard. I wish I could say that the hours of labor were productive, but mostly I think it’s that I can’t move that quickly that it takes me so long. As in, when spring comes, I should be flying around here.
So, the struggle? I’m not a fan of the cold, and we’ve had more than I care for in the past month(when I say cold, I mean zero, and below.) And the snow is beautiful, but pushing and pulling a wheelbarrow full of manure from the frozen paddock makes me less appreciative because of the half hour it took me to get the poop out to the pile.
My apologies for being less than elegant about how I convey chores, I really don’t mean to complain. I’m just saying how it was for me this day.
I struggled so much pulling that poop, which I’d first had to collect amidst the climbing goats that were playing ring-around-the-Rosie with the horses & pony, knocking me and my tools and my wheel barrow over twice. I struggled carrying and pushing and pulling through the piles and drifts. I had to stop twice and fall onto my back to catch my breath. I lay for 10 minutes in the deep and cold, feeling the powder melt and trickle down my gloves and sleeves, eyes shut against the falling flakes, resting. I started to worry, though, that if someone saw me from above, they’d think I died. So I’d get back up and pull again and use visualization techniques to help me imagine myself on the other side of the job….
Visualizing the Czar, the onion domes, pre-revolutionary Russia…hoisting back up on my feet and finishing the work, tasting the boiled tongue, tripe, hominy, the piroski and cheese blintzes, the Manischewitz grape, the matzoh of my youth, hearing my dad’s voice in my head.
It is good to struggle.