Memories of my Mother

What I realized that through all these hard times she was never angry or bitter.
Her smile was special and her life an inspiration.

 

The Kagan family
1950

When I was 3 or 4 I would wake up at night crying and mom would pick me up

And the bad dream would go away

I was 4 and my sister was 16 when my father was arrested and mom was left with two of us.

On just mom’s salary, we struggled to survive

Our vegetable garden helped give us fresh food.

Mom made clothes for us.

Many of our relatives were afraid to stay near the family of the “Enemy of the people”

We were basically alone.

My sister went to college far away because mom feared for her safety as the daughter of the “Enemy of the people”

I remember crying when mom left to visit father in Siberia.

Not sure why I was crying so hard.

It must have broken her heart.

Mom was 40 or 41.

She traveled for a week in a freight train carrying criminals to jail

My grandmother took care of me when mom was away.

Grandma could hardly walk so I was doing whatever I wanted to do, spending most of the time on the street.

Only when I grew up did I understand how hard it had been for mom to raise two kids alone.

It did not help that I was not well-behaved.

But I knew mom would take care of me when I came home dirty and bleeding. She always did.

Father was rehabilitated after Stalin died and came home when I was 8.

I remember bottles covering the floor for weeks.

All of a sudden we had a lot of friends.

I was not used to having a father. Life changed.

Mom was happy. It lasted 3 years

One evening my father was in a bed. He called out to me and asked for mom.

He had a heart attack.

Bypass surgery was not an option in those years. Father was at home.

I slept in the same room.

Every night I listened to his breathing, afraid to fall asleep.

He passed away on the fourth night.

I was 11, mom was 45.

She never remarried out of concern for us, her kids.

Mom worked in a kindergarten, then in a boarding school.

Money was tight but mom made sure that her kids are OK.

I remember working in our vegetable garden.

Grandma could hardly walk so she was sitting on the ground weeding the garden.

We all knew our survival depended on our garden.

I left for the technical school in Minsk after 8th grade.

Only now I realize how hard it must have been for mom to send me away.

We did not have a phone in the dorm and I was pretty bad at writing letters on time

So I would get a telegram from mom saying, “Are you all right? Please call”

Then I would go to the post office and call. I still feel guilty about it.

Shortly after I was drafted into the Army, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.

Reservists were called and our unit was next to go to Czechoslovakia.

All communication with our families stopped. Later mom told me how scared she was for me.

There is so much that we kids do not understand. So much that we do not appreciate about what our mothers are going through, worrying for us. Many of us start to understand when we become parents.

But sometimes it is too late.

I cannot go back in time.

Mom was so happy when I got married, finally.

And she was devastated when we told her about our plans to emigrate.

Especially because our daughter, Inna, was born.

Mom was sure she will never see us again.

Mom used to write to relatives in Chicago but she burned all the letters and addresses after father was arrested. But she gave us the only connection that was left – my aunt in Israel

That is how we found our relatives in Chicago.

And Esther Ecker was like a mom to us.

After 10 years in America, I went back to visit.

When mom saw me she could not stop crying.

I think that is when she decided to visit us. Mom was 78.

Soon after, mom and my sister with her family came to America.

We were all together again.

I think these were the happiest years in mom’s life.

Our American family loved her.

By that time I got better and called her every day.

Mom was 89 when she went to the hospital complaining about pain in her back.

I think all the tests and tubes and more tests really affected her.

After two days, mom came home feeling very weak.

 

Baba Riva
Mom

I visited her that evening.

When I was leaving and said goodbye, she looked at me.

I remember her eyes.

Later, I realized that she knew.

Mom knew.

She passed away that night.

What I realized that through all these hard times she was never angry or bitter.

Her smile was special and her life an inspiration.

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