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 l