Childhood, Sokolniki

                (Translation of my story "Детство, Сокольники")

I was born in the time of “the Khrushchev thaw” in one of the oldest Moscow districts - in Sokolniki.  All my early childhood was spent there, on Staroslobodskaya and nearby lying streets.  I will not prevaricate and say that, like Lev Tolstoy, I remember my very birth, in order to emphasize the power of my intellect.  No, I don't remember that.  But many facts of early childhood, I remember perfectly well.
     First of all, I clearly remember that all the people on the street greeted each other even not familiar strangers.  I also remember that winters were very cold and there was always sunshine.  The snow crunched under the felt boots and sparkled so brightly, that one had to squeeze his eyes and leave only small slits.  When it was warm, all the neighbors often went out into the courtyard and dined at one large wooden table.  Each family used to bring to the table what they could.
     Quite often after work men used to gather separately at this table.  They drank usually vodka, which was called - “crankshaft”, because the letters in the name “ВоДкА” were printed with an offset, like the crankshaft of an engine.  It cost 1 ruble  78 kopeks.  Men poured it in glasses “for the three”, that is, 170 grams per brother and never ran to the shop to add.  It was the norm.  Salted sprats were most usual snack.  I was amazed when I saw how my neighbor eats it straight with his head and entrails, and only spits out a tail.  At home, we scrupulously cleaned every fish.
     That time our family lived in a semi-basement communal apartment.  On the wall of our communal flat there was a huge portrait of Stalin, and  it was already in 1957, or even later, when I learned to remember facts.  A portrait of Malenkov hung nearby. Until 1955 he was a Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. Grandpa and grandma spoke very positively about Malenkov.  I did not hear any talks about Khrushchev in the family at all.  We had two rooms and even our own washbasin.  Not many people who lived in communal flats had such advantages.  True, six people lived in those rooms: grandmother, grandfather, father, mother, me and Dunyasha.  Dunyasha was my dad's nanny and everyone in our family treated her like a native person, and she occupied one of our two rooms, the smallest one.  That room could fit only a bed and a tiny bedside table.  Five of us were located in a large room.  That time it seemed to me just huge.  However, then everything seemed to me big.  I don’t think that it was really so big, probably not more than twenty sq meters. 
     Apart from us, there were two more families in the apartment.  Uncle Serge with his wife and one more family: Uncle Vanya, his wife, and daughters - Valya and Lenka.  Lenka was my age and my best friend.  All my childhood memories are related with her.  We, children used to live completely in the yard.  It was terribly fun. Today I cannot even remember what happened there so merry, but the memory of that elevated joyful mood remained in heart for the rest of my life.  People around were simple and very honest. Main door to the communal apartment never closed, I even doubt if there was a lock as such.  Individual flats were locked only in case of a long absence of the owners.  Theft was as strange as murder.
     When I was three and a half, my parents decided to send me to kindergarten.  It was located next to our house across a narrow street behind a tall stone fence.  This fence surrounded the garden from all sides.  Old building  and a small children's yard for the games were inside.  No lawn.  Empty and bald as the top of the head of Mr. Khrushchev, who was just in power.  I felt terribly bad in the garden.  After a yard expanse, a tough life on a strict schedule and behind a high fence was unbearable for me.  We all slept in the same room, and the boys and girls did not have a toilet as such.  There was a curtain with a dozen of small pots behind it.  We called it "nook".  I can recall that we were fed with only warm milk with foam, which I could not tolerate from early childhood.  I also didn’t like boiled egg white, rice milk porridge and local cutlets with tendons, which we called “cutlets with threads”.  Children, who did not want to eat something, could replace the unloved dish for a glass of tea.  Here is my daily diet.  In the morning instead of rice porridge - a glass of tea.  Lunch noodles milk soup - a glass of tea.  The cutlets of the second course were stocked under the cupboard in the dining room (everyone did it), the slimy and cold pasta had to be eaten.  5 o’clock: biscuits with milk - biscuits with tea.  What's so surprising that in the evening I had a brutal appetite?
“Look how well the garden influences the child,” mom told dad, looking tenderly at me, swallowing another course of dinner.
     It lasted about a month, and then I could not stand it, and told them everything I could.  and was immediately taken away from kindergarten, and I never appeared there, but my left eye began to mow forever. But my dinner appetite remains with me for the rest of my life.  People say that it is harmful to eat in the evening, but I can’t do anything with myself.  I'm used to eating in the evenings.
     It was in the evenings after work that grandfather very often brought fish for the dinner.  It could be live carp or simple saffron cod, but how tasty it was then!  Cods were roasted especially  with its head.  I really liked fried fish, and it was my grandpa who taught me how to   fry it.  Once, I choked on a bone.  They gave me everything to swallow it: bread crumbs and bread crust, I probably drank a whole kettle of water, but the bone did not slip.
  - Pincers, bring pincers!  - I screamed heartily, meaning tweezers, but they could not find it.
  “We have no pincers,” Grandma said miserably, spreading her arms.
  “How not,” I cried, “it is sticking out of the sugar bowl.”
  “This is sugar cutters,” grandfather reassured me, “you can't get anything out with it.”
 “Use it, use it,” I shouted.
Then I stopped short and suddenly realized that the bone is no longer stuck in my throat, there was no pain.  Only throat ached from a heart-rending cry. I was screaming so loud that the bone slipped in from the cry itself.  That's how it was.
We were the first in our communal flat who got a TV set with a magnifying glass in front of it: the screen was so small, nothing really can be seen without lens.  The lens ought to be filled with water.  All this was terribly interesting to me.  There was only one TV channel  and  only in the evening, after six o’clock.  A little later, the morning programs started, but at day hours there was a break for many years.  All the neighbors liked to gather at our main room when  movie, hockey, football or figure skating were on.  Then we got a dog, East-European Alsatian, “Mars” by the name, and the neighbors stopped coming.
That time in the shops there was everything we wanted.  No one bought half a kilo of sausage.  They took 150 grams and asked to slice it, just for one meal.  Chocolate always shocked me.  It was sold by weight.  It was a plate about 10 cm thick, I could not estimate the size of it, because the edges were always uneven, already cracked.  The necessary piece of chocolate was bitten off from this plate with special forceps, weighed on the scales and sold.  I remember well chocolate bombs.  They were of different sizes and prices, such a round ball in a colorful wrapper, a small wooden toy thundering in it.  You thought Kinder Surprise is a new invention?  Inside toys were items for the game.  With small fishing rod  with an eyelet at the end we picked up the toys - who would pull more - this fun has over hundreds of years.
     Sugar on the shelves lay in big “heads”, one-piece too.  It was called swaddled.  The head must be smashed with a hammer and also sold by weight.  It was surprisingly tasty, very sweet and stone-hard.  Usually we did not put it into a glass but kept it in mouth while drinking.  Well, of course, anyone could buy refined sugar and chocolates in packs, but whole piece had a completely different unique taste.  Men used to drink tea from the glasses in holders, women - more often from the cups.  The spoon had to stick up in the glass holder, it was gripped with a thumb at its handle and pressed a thin glass against the cup holder walls, preventing it from hanging or sliding.  Maybe that’s how Russian habit not to take a spoon from a cup or glass appeared.
Caviar was of no deficiency, maybe a bit expensive for everyday use, it lay on the shelves in huge bowls.  It was possible to take grainy black caviar from four different fish, many people loved pressed caviar.  I still remember its taste and how it stuck to my teeth.  Still, caviar was considered a delicacy and was bought only for the festive table, sprats belonged to the same category.  They were small, well smoked and in olive oil.
     I remember that ham, it was delicious.  In stores you could see huge whole legs.  The ham was exclusively boiled and chilled.  You cut off the desired layer, and inside - jelly.  And the smell ... While on a walk in Sokolniki park, we would certainly take sandwiches with ham or fragrant flavored sausage.
     The park was always very lively and fun. Never crowded as today.  In the evenings in winter, many families took their skates and went to the skate circle, getting back home joyful and flushed from the frost.  And I never saw drunk on the streets at that time.