Mammy, Father, Diary
Usually, an artist creates a visual image. A spectator by processing the visual image generates a virtual text of the picture. For my biographical series I chose an opposite way, more suitable for my idea. I wrote the texts about my mom, my father and took a fragment from my army diary, using the fonds which were typical for 1940s - 70s yr. in Russia/USSR. On these texts a little darker one can read: "Mammy", "Father". In this way the observer first reads the text and after has to visualize an image. Doing this I, so speaking, turned the signification of the image inside out. It was always been fascinated that Gospel by Joan starts with: "In the beginning it was a Word", and God has the Word, and the Word was God.
Mother, Tatyana Pavlovna Sokov. Judging by her photos, she was a charming, comely wisp of a girl with brown eyes and dark hair when she was young. Her mother, my grandmother Ulyana Antonovna, married Pyotr Zaytsev from Zbynevlya, a village from which my father came as well. But in many ways my mother was brought up by her mother’s sisters, Maria and Anastasiya, who lived in Mikhalyovo and who later raised my brother and me, too. Mother had many suitors, but she married my father, Pyotr Sergeevich Sokov. Father was killed in the war in 1941, and mother had to raise the two of us without him. To save me from kicking it from starvation in the hungry post-war years, she sent me to Mikhalyovo. She worked delivering mail, and on her daily rounds in the villages around Lebzino she had to cover great distances on foot. She lived with my brother; they knew dire privation and often went hungry. After the house in Lebzino burned down, she moved to Moscow where she got a job as an elevator operator in a building at 12/1 Chapaevsky Lane. Eventually she took me too to Moscow. We lived in a sixteen-squaremeter room (174 square feet), where besides our bed there were three more, with several other poor devils like us sleeping on each. Mother’s dream was to own a house. Little by little, through her sheer enthusiasm and in spite of a total lack of money, she petitioned for and managed to obtain a thousand square meters (about 10 thousand square feet) of land in Zosimova Pustyn, some 76 km from Moscow along the line to Kiev; then she got a log cabin from somewhere and moved it there. Afterwards, her whole life was tied with this house. She spent all her free time on this tiny plot of land, tending a fruit and vegetable garden, and fixing the run-down house. She resisted in every way my emigration to the USA. We parted forever, as we thought then, in 1979, at the Sheremetyevo Airport. After Perestroika, however, it became possible to go back. I went back for the first time in 1989, and after that almost every year, mainly in order to see her. My visits were high days for her. She would put on her favorite dress, dark with a print of small flowers, would make every effort to prepare treats for me; and when I had to leave, she would watch me from her window for a long time, until I would get on the trolleybus at the stop across the street from her house. Still later on, we would always make a trip to the cemetery in Zosimova Pustyn where my grandma Ulyana and great aunt Nastya were buried. She would sigh and say, “This is where you’ll bury me, too.” And in 1994, I did.
Father, Sokov Pyotr Sergeevich, was from the village of Zbynevlya. It’s some 20 km from Mikhalyovo. He was a good soul, a fixture of every village party, where he danced quadrilles accompanied by the accordion, and was a very popular man in the neighboring villages. When I was a child, I often asked my great aunt Maria about my father who was killed in the war, and she told me that he loved to clown around and that after he would get enough of dancing, he would amuse the villagers with various pranks, such as farting into a samovar chimney pipe. In the 1950s, when I used to come to Mikhalyovo on school breaks, I, like everybody else in the village, went to dance parties at night; there I heard girls dancing the quadrille singing this couplet, “This lad Sokov isn’t tall, / But I love him, that is all.” This couplet came from before the war. In the 1930s, father was appointed manager of a dairy facility in Lebzino, that’s the first station after
February 11, 1963. It looks like I’ll get leave to go to Moscow only for the next New Year’s. I’m in a foul mood, it couldn’t be worse. Got New Year’s greetings from Poma (O. Pomochilin), which came late. Also got a letter from mama, very touching in its description of the everyday; she enclosed five rubles. The room where I’m working is very cold, my feet are freezing, in spite of my sitting between two radiators and using a velvet banner emblazoned with Lenin as both a cover and cushion. I’m sitting and reading Goethe. Recently finished Benvenuto Cellini’s Autobiography. I thought I’d find a description of the creative process, but have found a completely different treasure: the Renaissance man’s attitude toward nature, religion, and art.
From my army diary
Translated by Irina Gutkin