Updated: Jun 28, 2020
| This is the 331st story of Our Life Logs |
A patient of mine, a World War II veteran, sat in front of me on the examination table. I made a note in his health card and suggested some vitamins for better vision.
He shrugged, “It is hopeless, Doctor. I will never see anything clearer than the battlefields in 1944. Those pictures hold me there, taking away my real-life vision.”
I nodded, “I know.”
I truly knew. I knew what this man was going through. As a tiny four-year-old, I was part of that bloody page of the history.
I was born in 1937 in the Ural Region of Russia. My father was a technologist in the city executive committee, and my mother was a housewife. My brother Benjamin was born in 1940, and by June of 1941, my family’s life changed forever. World War II came, taking the lives of 28 million people, and leaving many children orphans. The war didn’t overlook my family. My father, Nikolay Alexeevich Makov, put on his military coat and left to protect our country soon after the war began.
My mother, Helena Makov, was 25 years old then. With my father serving, she was left to care for her two little children alone. To provide food and shelter, Mother had to go to work. She later told me that every time she went to work, she had no choice but to leave four-year-old me and my one-year-old brother on a blanket on the floor. She left a pot of cooked potatoes and bread beside us, but she could barely focus on her work, all her thoughts on her little children at home. Because of this, Mother made a decision – we had to buy a cow so she could stay home with us. Well said, well done. Owning a cow brought milk and cottage cheese to keep us fed without Mother having to work outside.
As more years of the cruel war passed by, my brother and I grew older and bigger. Then, another difficult life test came upon us; the government started providing food cards, one per person a day. We used to take turns waiting in the long food line-ups at the grocery store. Sometimes, the line was so long that it took the entire day to get food. To receive a portion of bread, children stood in line during the day, and parents would stand overnight.
To fight famine, we used to plant potatoes on a small field near our house. Yet, it was never enough, and the potatoes only lasted until early spring. When the sacks would become barren, we had no other choice but to go back to the field to dig in hopes of finding some leftover frozen potatoes. If the search was successful, we would shred the frozen vegetables to make some kind of flapjacks out of it. I can still feel the taste of them on my tongue.
The war was in full swing by the time I was six years old. I remember the days that the postman would appear at our door sending my mother into a nervous frenzy. Each delivery brought breaking news in the form of tiny yellow triangles—letters from Father. He wrote often, and in every letter, we could hear his worries about our health, our provision.
I still have one of his letters. It has become old and shabby from rereading it too often and still holds marks of Mother’s salty tears. Written in clear and elegant handwriting, the letter says:
Good day to my dear family!
I am still alive and healthy. I rejoiced when I received your letter, Helena. I am glad to hear the children are growing fast. Hoping to see you all soon. I want to hold you long and tight in my arms. It is such a blessing to know that I have a place to come back to, especially while standing at the edge of the death row. However, I can only come back when Nazi toad will be squished and thrown away from our land. We don’t have to wait long, the enemy is weak, and one day they will pay for all the pain they brought on us.
Helena, don’t worry about my warmth and comfort. We wear good and warm winter coats.
Keep my peeps safe. Do not sell the cow, as it is your only provider until I am back.
With my warmest greetings, and love,
Remembering Father’s advice, we kept the cow. I still remember the taste of diluted cocoa we used to drink every evening.
So, we waited, for the war to be over, and for Father to come home.
In August of 1944, we received the telegram we’d been dreading: Sergeant Makov was injured in the battlefield and died in hospital. He was buried in Poland.
The pain we felt was immeasurable. The day he left for war was the last time we’d seen Father and knowing that we’d never see him again shattered us. Yet, my mother, alone and widowed, picked herself up to be strong for us despite her heartbreak.
The war finally ended in 1945. Postwar childhood was difficult and unclear, but at least there was peace. The country and our family tried recovering from the war, but the atmosphere and catastrophe pushed all of us into a deep hole. Our house was near a bazaar, and to be able to buy some food, Mother came up with a plan. She would draw water from a well, bring it to the bazaar, then my brother and I would sell it for five cents per glass. In the evening, Mother would sew and crochet. In the morning, she would bring her projects to the bazaar to sell as well.
In 1949, we moved to Troitsk, Chelyabinsk Region. My father’s relatives invited us to live in the city and offered to help us. As slow as life felt after the war, we got by, building our first house in the new place. The lack of housing materials made the construction process slow. We finished the roof and walls right before November, yet had to endure winter with a naked soil floor.
At 12 years old in the winter of 1949, I was dragged into a circle of homework, housekeeping, and babysitting my brother as my mother worked. As I struggled to help my mother, I realized something. I was our way to a better life. To help make not only my life easier, but my family’s too, I needed to focus harder on my education. To do so, I wanted to become a doctor. It was the career that made the most sense for me. Deep down in my heart, I was sure that my father died because there were no qualified doctors to help him. I was convinced that my destiny was to attend medical school, and unlike medical help that surrounded my father, I would be a great doctor who truly could help. On top of that, I wanted to pursue this career because Father—in the little time I knew him—planted seeds of nobility, dignity, and mercy to others in my heart. He, just like millions of others, sacrificed his life so my children would not know the fear of hunger and horror of war. I wanted to help others like him who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
I passed all the required exams to begin medical school and studied to become an ophthalmologist. The thirst to live better and help my mother was burning me from inside out. The same thirst guided me through the practice in the Kemerovskiy Region, Northern Russia where I was sent as a young professional right after graduation. The doctor’s practice in Siberia was a horror that I will never forget. There was a prison for government’s traitors near us and I was very busy caring for the fallen. Siberia instilled in me what I already knew from my father’s experiences. Be thankful for each day and never give up. It was also the place where I met my husband. In cold Siberian winter nights, just a few thoughts about his smile warmed me up.
A year later in 1967 we got married and moved back to Troitsk. I got a job in the clinic and stuck to it for the next 27 years that flew by as quickly as the wind above the hills behind my childhood house.
In those 27 years, we lost a child, and we raised two sons. I vowed to give them the most peaceful childhood. My father and many others sacrificed so they could live a good life, and I made sure my boys didn’t take that for granted. Every time one of my sons would go to the store to get some milk and bread, I would remind, “Look at the sky, and don’t forget to be thankful when you are outside.”
The precious photograph of my mother, brother, and myself, is laying right in front of me. If I flip it, I will see Mother’s handwriting:
“The photograph was taken after we lost husband and father. I am left alone with two children. What we will have to go through? What honor I will receive from my kids?”
Life itself answered this question. My brother and I honored and took care of our mother until her last days. We were always thankful, remembering the price she paid to raise us. When my son came to visit her grave, he turned to me and said, “Mother, thank you for your lessons. Thank you for teaching us to appreciate peace in the foreign country, in our homeland country, and how to serve one another.” I needed no other proof that I raised my children with the dignity and grace my father had instilled in me. I had honored him.
I am old now. I am too old. All that left are memories about my children, about my mother, about my husband Victor, who passed away in 2013, and the way we loved each other. I am too old to expect and to wait for people to listen to all the stories I could tell them. However, no matter how old I am, I can still get up from my chair on the balcony, finish this story, and make myself a good cup of coffee. While enjoying a peaceful and blue clear sky above my head, I cherish the days I have left until I get to heaven and see my lost child and my husband again.
This is the story of Nina Makov
Nina was born on March 30, 1937, and is now living in a small city in Central Russia. She has two sons, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Her children received a quality education, and started their own families, continuing the tradition and lessons of appreciating the peaceful times. One of her sons is living in Canada, but even being far away from Russia, he taught his kids stories about his grandparents, as well as stories about the war and the victory. Nina is retired after working as an ophthalmologist doctor, and she spends time in taking care of her great-grandchildren, planting roses in her garden, and writing down stories of her life for the future generations. Later on, when her older son would travel through Europe, the grave of his grandfather would be on his list to visit to pay tribute to his sacrifice. Every May 9th, when the whole country would celebrate the Victory Day, her two sons are the first ones to bring flowers to veterans with respect and appreciation.
This story first touched our hearts on February 2, 2019.
| Writer: Maria Shendrik | Editor: Kristen Petronio |