Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Beginning a new series of blogs:
The Happenstance Witness and The Holy Ghost:
Neither a novel or documentary, but a story that
for the patient reader may, in retrospect, make sense.
By © Ludis Cuckold
The Tragedy of St. Stalin (2)
When I was very young, I used to hate and curse Stalin—a lot. To imagine him as a saint would have been impossible. The screams of his enemies drowned out all the prayers and tears of those these enemies had killed over the period of a thousand years.
Notably, Stalin killed five of my own family: father, maternal grandfather, godmother, an uncle, and a cousin. Three others, a grandmother and two aunts, survived his gulags. I seconded every curse that I heard said against him.
But there was one event that kept reminding itself to me over and over again. It made me wonder whether MY dead—all except one, the young cousin (who is pushing my pram in a surviving photograph)—had not in fact earned their deaths by their deeds.
Then there was also the common saw (implicit in the idea of Apocalypse) that when God makes war, he is not playing tiddlywinks. Indeed, as a prelude to sinners being sent to hell, there is to be lots of violence here on Earth. The observation sustained the argument that St. Stalin, was acting as an angel of God.
In any case, the event that has truly gnawed on my consciousness occurred when I was but seven years old, and the Soviet occupation of my country had just deprived my family circle of its wealth, money, property, and influence. The family’s sudden reduction to ‘nobody’ and the confiscation of its properties by the state, forced my father to send his wife and children to his (and my) aunt who owned a farm in the countryside.
Thus, it was that in a single day, I had to exchange my white sandals of one living in a resort setting for the bare feet of a cowherd keeping his feet warm from the frost covered grass by standing in the freshly laid patty of a cow.
My great fortune was that I was too young to know of the ways of the world and took it all in stride. Perhaps some unseen angel was the stage director of this drama. However, the shattering experience was not of losing my white sandals, but came by of the shaming I was to receive from my father.
It happened this way:
As part of a city-bred child’s accoutrements, I had brought to the countryside a set of child’s tools: a small hammer, a jigsaw, a screwdriver, and small scissors. When I soon met two other small boys, brothers, whose family lived on the farm, during the ritual of making friends with them (both boys were a year or so older than myself), I thought it worthwhile to present them with these toys.
The brothers were happy to receive my presents, and I was happy enough to have them as my friends. Little did they or I know of the consequences that would come of my ‘generosity’.
When my father discovered what I had done, he became very angry and ‘blew his top’. During the evening meal, when the household had gathered in the kitchen, he accused the father of the boys of raising thieves. The father of the boys denied this of course, and responded by telling that the tools were a present from me. There began a shouting match of mutual accusations, during which I was reduced to, if you will, a petrified and shaking mouse. When my father finally turned to me and asked whether I had indeed made a present, he had me so petrified that I lied and denied it.
The father of the boys, a landless peasant who had been assigned a plot of land by the state, angrily left the kitchen. His sons left with him.
But this was not to be the end of the episode. In one of those strange twists of fate, my father was soon to return to the city, where the Soviets, in an effort to establish their legitimacy, were holding elections. The head of every family was obliged to take part in the voting. Soon after returning to the city, my father was arrested.
When word of my father’s arrest was received at the countryside farm, the reaction of the two boys was immediate. They invited me to come out into the yard as if to play, then told me: “Your father got what was coming to him.” Young as they were, the boys made sure that the news (it was the first I heard) was inflected in such a way that I was to feel guilty. When about a year later (in 1942), my father—suffering from cholera—was to die by execution in the small Astrakhan Kremlin made over into a gulag, I felt complicit.
Worse was the fact that I did not receive firm confirmation of my father’s death until after the death of St. Stalin. The news was relayed in 1953 by those who had survived the gulags. This was eleven years after the fact, which made it a ‘guessed at fact’ for me—every day for eleven years running. The bitter molasses was my irresponsible act(?) as a child: i.e., by making a gift of my toys, I may inadvertently have caused the death of my father.
Indeed, I hated ‘God’s chosen one’—whose orders made my father’s death possible, until after the fall of the Soviet Union, and I returned to my country from the U.S.