Where do the legs grow from…
Wanting to facilitate the work of my future biographers, I would like to report the following: my great-great-great-great-grandfather (the name has sunk into oblivion) owned a small furniture production in Vienna, Austria. Having decided to ensure uninterrupted supplies of valuable wood to the factory, he sent his youngest son Moshe (my great-great-grandfather) to Ukraine, where great-great-grandfather married a strategically correct, good and naturally Jewish girl.
Alexander, my father, on the day of the end of the Second World War (he was an officer in a paratroopers division), was in Vienna, where he was released for four hours for “cultural exchange” with the natives, did not consider opera and palaces, but found immediately a pretty Austrian lady who agreed to surrender to the mercy of the winner.
Being late from the cultural exchange, cost father his next advancement, but convinced him of the bankruptcy of Lenin’s slogan that he couldn’t distinguish between a naked cook and a naked queen, partly disappointed him in immortal teaching of Karl Marx, and also convinced him that the knowledge of the German language mystically transmitted to him “through genes” (dad shared with few selected friends his experience with “this one” as an evidence for his mystical knowledge of ancestor’s language).
Some years later (it was already after the war), dad had to pass exams before in order to become PhD (it was a prerogative in the USSR) and one of the exams was knowledge in a foreign language. To the question of what language he wants to be examined in, he answered (he remembered how he negotiated with the enemy) that he would try his luck in German.
Having spent a month mastering the phrase “I served in the sixth airborne assault division…”, he by incredible chance came to an examiner who also served in the same sixth airborne assault division. Dad tried to convince the examiner, using his only and irrefutable argument, that he knew German. The evidence obviously was convincing enough, since the father received the coveted “minimal” test score.
To the question of the director of dad’s scientific institution about the depth of the linguistic knowledge of the candidate for PhD candidate, the examiner who didn’t want to lie, said a misunderstood phrase that had distant consequences for my family.
He said after a moment’s hesitation: “The doctor (my dad) speaks German, English, and Japanese on exactly the same level.”
A week later, a Japanese magazine appeared the father’s desk, with a bookmark and a written request from the director, to prepare for him a short summary of one article published in the issue.
My father was quite ready to clarify the misunderstanding, but he found an illustration under the article familiar. Rummaging, he found where the Japanese reprinted the article from, and without much explanation wrote the required annotation.
Soon, the polyglot was found out throughout the city, and journals in almost all languages of the world began to arrive at the institute, at the address of the father.
He began to be invited to receptions regarding the arrival of various foreign medical luminaries and was soon appointed responsible for city’s of St Petersburg’s reception of all medical foreign delegations.
Since then, at least once, and usually twice a week, a very long and very black car drove up to our house, sometimes with flags of some at that time friendly power.
Sometimes dad was getting out of the car by himself, and more often my father fell out, crawled to the entrance, opened the front door with the weight of a limp body, filling the stair front with smell of an overseas fume, and under the ecstatic cries of the neighboring kids, he walked twenty-two steps to our “high mezzanine.”
Where are you, where are you, the golden days of my childhood!
Mother was completely “different rules”. Unlike my dad’s “trading” ancestors, her family was only educated folk – rabbis, teachers and lawyers. Mother herself taught (absolutely everyone who happened to be close by), my grandfather was a lawyer, great-grandfather was a teacher and a school principle, and from him about sixteen to eighteen generations upwards were rabbis.
Mom did not like everything in daddy’s behavior.
I only knew about my maternal great-grandfather that immediately after the “February” revolution he gathered the whole family and led it in orderly lines to Palestine, where he became the director of the first Jewish gymnasium in Haifa. Some kibitzes and cultural centers throughout Israel were named after his children, nephews and grandchildren.
Of his kids, my grandfather and his brother remained in Russia. They were planning to join the rest of the family as soon as possible, and who, due to the closure of the Soviet borders (about which the Soviet youth proudly and joyfully sang about), never again saw his mother, father or other relatives.
Over time, my grandfather became an outstanding lawyer, a second or third Jew allowed to practice in St. Petersburg, and I heard many times that he was one of the “golden five” of the Russian lawyers (although I’ve got an explanation of what the “golden five” means, could not).
My grandfather obviously tried to influence my upbringing, but died unfortunately when I was incomplete seven years old. I have kept several vivid memories of him. Here is one of them:
We are walking along the street. Grandfather holds my hand. We approach the intersection and stop because the red light is on. Grandfather asks: “What kind of light allows us to cross?” – I am proud that I know the answer, I say: “Green.”
“And what color of light I should stop to?”
“Red,” I scream joyfully.
“I have a different point of view.” – the grandfather says – “You have to go on red, and stand on green!”
I am desperate, as it goes against all my life’s observations.
At this moment, green lights up, and we cross the street.
“Here,” I shout: “We stood in red, but went in green! I was right”. –
“If you look from this side, from which you looked, then of course” – the grandfather says: “But if you look from the direction where those people are, you see” – and he points to people standing on the sidelines – “If we look from their prospective, we stood when they saw that the green was on, and when the red turned on, we crossed the street. And the one who looked from that side, and who has a different point of view, he is also right. And just as right as you. Although the truth is directly opposite to yours. Clear?”
No, grandfather, it was not clear to me then. It’s clear to me now. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s clear to me what you were trying to teach me then. I accidentally remembered this conversation. And how much I forgot!
Grandfather died very young. Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, the leader of all peoples, took care of this.
Mom was revered among my childhood comrades by her not quite ordinary judgments and statements. Once (I was thirteen) she sat me down in a chair, sat opposite, and asked: “Do you know what is most important quality in a girl to datel?” “No,” I whispered, frozen in anticipation of a great secret, “What?”
“She needs to live close by” was mom’s answer. “So the territorial factor is absolutely and unequivocally the most important,” she said solemnly.
Only after many years did I realize how right she was. Just how much one girl lives closer to your house than another, distinguishes her from this “other” girl. Sorry girls, but this is a naked and absolute truth.
The following mother’s famous statement was: “If she is wants it and it cost nothing to you, do it!”
And again, mom was right. I am a happy husband in a happy family by practicing this mom’s rule.
My mother is the author of a no less life-wise saying: “If something bad can happen, then it will happen, and certainly with you.” Oh mom, how much has happened!
My friends did not tire of triumphantly repeating what she had dropped about me: “This son of mine will sell his mother for a funny joke.” In truth, the same could be said about my little brother, but I was the first to whom she saw at that moment.
To find the rest of the information, dear biographer, please look by yourself. I sincerely sympathize with you. All my relatives consider themselves jokesters, but in fact they are just terrible and incorrigible lies! Do not believe a single word of them.
Some truth remained in the school district in the city once called Leningrad, where there two cases of expulsion of the same student from two different schools, and if you think about it, then something is true in my personal file in the state security committee. The rest is a lie. Especially what my odd wives say.