Page 12 - February 2021
P. 12

                                    STORY OF A METAL BOX
                                    STORY OF A METAL BOX

                   (Russian “obed” is a mid-day meal) with rhubarb, my father’s favorite
                   dish. Alas, I was such a slow eater in those days that we had to stay
                   there long after everyone was gone and the hosts were clearing the
                   long  table  while  I  was  still  chewing,  or  pretending  to  chew,  which
                   amounted  to  pretty  much  the  same  thing.  I  had  no  idea  of  course
                   that the pretty seaside town where we were spending our vacation
                   was just a couple hours away from Riga, and that Riga was where my
                   father’s mother was murdered on November 30, 1941, as part of two
                   Aktions  that  killed  25,000  people.  Years  later,  in  New  York,  when  I
                   became  obsessed  with  my  family’s  not-very-distant  past,  I  learned
                   the  name  of  the  forest  where  my  grandmother  and  25,000  of  her
                   fellow citizens had been shot into a ditch - Rumbula. But that long-
                   ago summer when I was five, I didn’t know any of it, nor did I want to

                   know. My goals in those days were simple: collecting amber and not
                   chewing my dinner all day.
                   But let’s get back yet again to the metal box with pictures of stamps.
                   For the last forty years it’s been filled with buttons – big and small,
                   interesting looking and dull, mostly American ones, but I found a few
                   that look clearly Soviet. I can’t know for sure, of course. I just take
                   out a button and think, “Here’s an American button, here’s a Soviet
                   one.”  It  would  have  been  more  interesting  if  it  were  filled  with
                   stamps  instead  of  buttons,  so  its  looks  would  parallel  its  contents.
                   Did I mention that my father had a huge stamp collection in Moscow?
                   In the sixties he corresponded with stamp collectors – philatelists –
                   from all over the world, and when I say “the sixties”, it’s important to
                   keep in mind that those were the Soviet sixties, and if you know what
                   the Soviet sixties were like, and what Soviet censorship was like, you

                   might  imagine  what  it  felt  like  to  correspond  with  people  from
                   Australia, New Zealand, France, West Germany, Belgium, and so on,
                   simply to exchange some stamps for a stamp collection. My father’s
                   stamps were kept in special albums – "kliassery" in Russian. I learned
                   names  of  foreign  countries  from  them:  a  stamp  from  Sweden,  a
                   stamp from Hungary, a stamp from Denmark, and always the British
                   stamp, with Queen Elizabeth, still a youngsh looking woman, with a
                   little crown on her head. It was thanks to my father’s stamp

        litterateur                                                                February 2021
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