Author Serguei Blinov grew up in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as the son of an engineer and a high school history teacher. Early on in life, he set his sights on becoming a medical doctor. He also met the love of his life, Lioudmila Vertiasheva. She graduated before him as a pediatric medical doctor before getting a job at a maternity hospital. Soon thereafter, Blinov also found himself working in medicine.
In this, his memoir, Blinov recalls the hard work it took for him to succeed, the good times, and the bad—as well as what led him and his family to the United States of America. His honest assessment of life in both the Soviet Union and the United States showcases cultural differences and the positives and negatives of communism and capitalism.
If you’re interested in learning more about the former Soviet Union and what life there was really like, this personal narrative offers firsthand accounts of villages, agriculture, the educational system, and everyday life. What’s more, Blinov relives his experiences from his first memory to the present, recounting in great detail each event that shaped him into the man he is today.
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Once Upon a Time in Russia and the United States
By Serguei Blinov
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2013 Serguei Blinov
All rights reserved.
I looked up towards the sound of the voice and saw a woman on the balcony. The sun was a bright beacon glaring into my eyes from over the roof. It began to hurt my eyes as I stared, so I put my head down and started to put sand into a small bucket. This activity was much more entertaining than anything the woman on the balcony could give me. Methodically, I put the wet sand into my bucket until it was completely full. Once that was done, I turned the bucket over and put it on the ground. When I removed it, I found a sand mound with the outside a perfect replica of the inside of my bucket. The final product was fascinating to my young mind at two, perhaps three years of age. The woman standing on the balcony was my mother. She realized she was not going to take me from my important task so she came down to the playground area to get me. She called me again, and this time I understood that, unfortunately, I had to interrupt my forming of structures and follow her. I do not remember what happened after that, but this was my first memory.
My next memory is of something that happened when I was five years old. I was to go with my mother to the outpatient hospital to see a doctor. My mother had finished dressing me and turned away for a minute, and I immediately ran away from the room and hid behind the door in the corridor. I loved to play hide-and-seek, and she had given me the perfect opportunity to go hide. Once my mother realized that I was not in the room, she thought I had run into the street, and she ran out of the house to catch me. Not seeing me on the street, she thought I had gone to the outpatient clinic by myself. We sometimes went to this clinic together. However, since I was very young, she ran to the clinic, frantically looking for me. Not finding me there, she ran back to the house. I remained behind the door and waited. I was thrilled I was able to hide so well that she could not find me. Sooner or later, though, I became bored and so I came out from my hiding place. To my surprise, I did not see my mother in the corridor, or in the room. I was frightened and started to look for her everywhere, but I still could not find her. When my mother came back, she found me in the corridor crying loudly, my tears and nose running. This was the first time when one of my childhood games got me in trouble. I have no other memories until kindergarten.
At that time, we lived in a two-story wooden building. In the early 1960s, these types of buildings were popular living quarters. My father, Blinov German Alekseevich, was an engineer. He graduated from Perm Polytechnic Institute, and after graduation, he got two job offers. The best offer was to stay at the institute and become a scientist, preparing dissertations. The second offer was for a position as an assistant director in a large bicycle factory. The factory was huge, with thousands of people, and produced cars as well as bicycles. At the time, this position was valuable and paid well. Furthermore, an assistant director had a lot of power and was well-recognized in the city. My father chose the second offer. My mother, Blinov Elizaveta Aleksandrovna, was a high school history teacher. Her salary was small. In the USSR, teachers were paid very little.
My kindergarten was in a prestigious part of the city near a huge, solid building where people would gather to see important people speak. This building belonged to KGB (the Soviet secret service). In this building, there was a plate inscribed with "War World II." On the top of this terrible building was a dome. People say that during the war, when people were arrested and pleaded guilty to their crimes, soldiers had them go inside this dome and go down a spiral staircase, where they were shot in the back of the head.
Because my kindergarten was in such a historic and prestigious part of the city, it was not open to just any child. Only children of people who had significant positions in the city could attend. There were big open rooms with high ceilings. I think this building was built during the time when Stalin was Premier of the USSR. The kindergarten was on the first floor and had big windows, which overlooked the trolley station. We used to love to sit on the windowsill and look out on the street, especially when we expected our fathers or mothers to come to pick us up.
Every day in the morning, our kindergarten teacher had us line up and walk towards him, one by one, and he would let us drink fish oil, one big spoonful for each of us. After one of us had our spoonful, he would put a mark, I assume by our names, in his large book. This fish oil tasted horrible, and nobody liked it. Sometimes I would hide in the restroom and hope that I would be forgotten so I could escape this terrible procedure, but I would always be found and made to return to the lineup.
I had a girlfriend for a little while I was there. She and I often sat together on the windowsill while we would wait for our mothers or fathers and talked about everything. We would swear that we would love each other forever and would get married when we grew up. I do not remember her name, but I remember when she was moved to another kindergarten. I asked her the last day, "How am I going to marry you if you go to another kindergarten?" I do not remember her answer.
Like many young boys, I used to like to fight with my friends with swords. Our swords were ordinary sticks, which we found in the back yard. We would have epic fights with each other, and we even had our own battle cries as we raced towards each other, swords raised high in defense of our country or our honor. Once, my father gave me a marvelous gift for my birthday: a wooden sword, beautifully made and painted. I believe he ordered it from a factory. The blade was curved like a real one and had a beautiful hand guard, and the painted designs were simply amazing. It became my greatest treasure. This sword was beyond comparison with the sticks that we usually used to fight with. When I brought this sword to my kindergarten for the first time, my sword made a huge impression on my schoolmates. They immediately realized the difference between their "swords" and mine. I started to fight against all of them, and of course it was obvious to them and to me that I had to win every fight because I had a beautiful sword. I was surprised when somebody tried to resist me and did not understand that of course I should be the winner. I wondered how someone could not understand that he could not win a battle with me simply because I had such a beautiful sword. My euphoria was not to be long-lived, however. One day I came to my kindergarten and could not find my sword in my closet. It had disappeared! For the rest of the day, I looked everywhere for it. In the evening, when parents started to pick up their kids from kindergarten, I went to the kitchen and climbed to the upper shelves. Once I reached the top shelf, I found my lost treasure. My beautiful sword was lying on the dirty, dusty shelf. I grabbed it and wildly screamed. The cook in our kindergarten, a big, heavy woman with muscled arms, turned around upon hearing my scream and approached me. Probably she was the one who stole and hid it.
"Give me the sword!" she yelled.
"No, it is my sword!" I shouted back. "My father made it for me."
"Give me the sword!" she repeated, and pulled me down from the shelf. She forcefully pulled my sword from my hands.
"This is my sword!" I screamed, and at the same time she hit me in the face with all her power. The punch was so strong that all I could hear inside my head was a loud sound. For a moment I became deaf in my left ear. Before this incident, nobody had hit me in the face. I was in shock. The shock was so strong that I didn't try to get back my sword again. The woman broke my sword in pieces and dropped it in the fireplace before my eyes. I did not understand what was going on. When I came back home, I told my father, crying, everything. He said, "It is OK! I will make for you another sword like it," but I never got one.
The New Year's holiday was approaching. My parents put me in a white rabbit costume, and even taught me how to hop around like a rabbit. I would bend my wrists so my hands pointed downwards, and kept them in front of me. In the morning we had a special celebration of the New Year in the kindergarten. After that, our teachers let us sit all together for a picture. Afterwards, we were each given a paper bag with chocolate candies. I was so happy! I held my paper bag clenched hard in my fist because I was afraid that someone would take it away from me. Later, we opened our gift bags and ate our wonderful candies one by one. Very carefully, we opened our candies, and looked with interest at the wrapping paper. Once the wrapping was gone, we would carefully take a small bite from the candy, little by little, in order to stretch the pleasure as long as possible. We all had the same candies, and the same paper bag, but nevertheless, it did not stop us from telling each other that we each had different candies. I was surprised when I saw that someone else had exactly the same kind of candy I had.
One summer, my parents let me stay in a summer kindergarten campus on the Truxinata River. The camp was composed of a number of buildings along the river. In one of them there was a room where the adults would store gifts and candies from our parents, because we had to live in this camp the whole summer and our parents could only visit us at certain times during the weekends. We loved the visits from our parents very much. Sometimes on weekends, as soon as the boat with our parents arrived, we stood near the fence and looked intently at the road. Everyone wanted to see their parents first. As soon as someone saw their parents, they screamed and ran to the road towards their mama or dad. If someone did not see their parents, it was a catastrophe. These kids were very depressed. Not everyone's parents came to see their child every weekend. People worked, people were busy, but we would wait for them every weekend anyway. Our parents always brought with them a lot of "yami" food. Our teachers let us stay with our parents all day long. We went with our parents into the forest to have picnics. Of course nobody went to the camp garden to have lunch or dinner. Only those poor kids whose parents could not come had to go to the camp dinner room. We would swim in the river and eat whatever we wanted. What we could not eat that day we took with us and our teachers would collect it and store it in the special room. This room was locked at all times. Once I walked near this room outside the building and saw a group of boys near the window of the room. They broke the window and climbed in. One was inside this room stealing chocolate candies, and transferring them to the boys waiting outside. I came close and asked them what they were doing. "Be quiet!" one of them said. "Take this." He gave me a few candies. I took them and was very happy. I did not expect to receive chocolate candies that day.
I went to my camp building slowly eating my candies, one small bite at a time as usual. A lot of kids saw me eating them. That same day, our teachers found out about the broken window and the missing parcel from our parents. They started to investigate to see who did it, and someone told them that they saw me eating some candies. The teachers decided that I was the one who broke the window and took all of the candies. I tried to explain them that I did not break the window and that some boys gave me only a few candies, but nobody believed me. They decided that I was guilty, and as a punishment, they decided to take all the candies that belonged to me and gave them to the other kids in the camp. I lost much more than what I got from those boys. I was upset and confused.
Another day, our teacher took us to play near the Mulianka River. Nearby was a village, Truhiniata. We played on the sand near the river, dropped little stones into it, and had a lot of fun. Suddenly, two boys appeared in front of us. They were bigger and taller than us, and were probably from the village. They thought that because their village was located near the river, the river belonged to the village and we did not have the right to play near their river. Our teacher was not nearby so she could not protect us from these boys. They started a fight and tried to humiliate us. I was up in a tree when it happened. I understood that we were being attacked, and I quickly jumped down from the tree. I took a piece of wood and put mud on it. When it was covered in mud, I got close to one of the village boys and looked at him. He looked over at me and saw what I was trying to do. "Don't even think about it, your threat doesn't intimidate me," he said.
I realized how much I could get hurt from fighting this boy. This boy looked at me and thought I was very silly to fling mud at him, but he did not want to be covered in mud, so he began to retreat. Other kids started to put mud on other pieces of wood, and then the intruding village boys retreated fully. We were not done with them yet, however. All our camp kids followed these boys and flung mud on them, using the sticks. These two boys ran away from us as fast as they could. When we came back to the camp, I felt like a hero. I carried my weapon as if it was a great weapon of power.
One of my latest memories about camp in Truhiniata was a visit from my father. It was a hot, sunny day. I remember I was wearing shorts and a white hat. I was playing by myself in the forest lawn. I found a big stick and imagined that it was a sword, and with it I hit the flowers and the long grass, cutting down my enemies. While I was playing, some of the children came running towards to me.
"Serguei! Serguei! Come to us!" they yelled to me.
I looked at them and saw a boy from our camp running towards me.
"What are you doing?" he asked. "Your father has arrived for you!"
I dropped my stick and ran to the camp. On the lawn, close to the camp, I saw my father with many children around him. My father gave them some chocolate candies, and the children jumped around him. He looked at me and waved with his hand.
"Serguei, come to me."
I almost ran to him but suddenly I became shy. No force could move me to him. I stood up on the hill and waved at him with my stick, swinging left and right, yelling "Pyf-Pyf!" My father came to me, and the children from the camp followed him too. Suddenly, I became the center of this group.
My father sat down on the lawn, put me on his knee, hugged me, and told me, "My dear son, Serguei, I love you."
I remember that I was surprised. There were so many girls and boys around. Why would he give me special attention? Why did he think that I was better than them?
He asked me, "Do you want a candy?"
I told him, "No, I would like to have an arrow and a bending stick so I can shoot my arrows as far as I can."
My father took out his pocketknife, cut a stick, cleaned the extra twigs off the main branch, put cork around it, and bent it. He put a thick rope on both ends of it to bend it. He even made an arrow for me. I got a real weapon! My arrow was not straight enough and could only fly a few meters, but who cared? I got what I wanted! I was so preoccupied with my weapon that I stopped paying attention to my father, who continued to give me hugs and kisses.
Because my father was the assistant director of a bicycle and car factory, we received a brand-new, one-bedroom apartment in the center of our city, Perm, on October Square. At that time in the early 1960s it was a big deal. Our five-story building was connected to another building, the Prikam'e Hotel, at a right angle. Our back yard was pretty big. In it we had a table where the adults would play dominoes, a few sandboxes for the small children, a ping-pong table, and benches where people could sit and relax or talk with each other. Sometimes live bands would come in and play and people would dance. I spent my childhood in this yard.
Our street, Bolshevistskaia, and the street parallel to ours, Kirov, were full of very old wooden houses. The road between these two streets was always dirty. It was always muddy, and if it rained it was impossible to walk or drive on. People used to wear high-heeled boots to protect their clothes from the mud. I used to play in my back yard a lot with the boys who lived on this street. We used to play lapta, a game similar to baseball in the United States. We took pieces of wood in our hands, and spread around the whole back yard. We drew a circle around ourselves, and stayed inside it. The boy in charge took a ball and threw it at some of us. Our goal was to hit this ball as far away as possible with our pieces of wood. If this ball hit one of us, that person would lose, and had to throw the ball to the others. We used to laugh at the boy who had to run after the ball we hit far away. I remember that I loved this game for a long time. My parents told me that it was forbidden for me and the other boys from Bolshevistskaia Street to play games with the boys from Kirov Street because they were bad boys, but we did not follow their advice. Boys from Kirov Street did not take advantage of us and did not beat us. We felt that we were equal to them, and we were friends.
Excerpted from Once Upon a Time in Russia and the United States by Serguei Blinov. Copyright © 2013 Serguei Blinov. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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Table of Contents
ContentsEarly Childhood, 1,
Washington, DC, 575,
Welcome to America!, 584,
New Career, 606,
Green Card, 640,
Back to USSR, 688,
American Dream, 817,
Trip to Russia, 822,