I shared a book once with my mom and serendipity tingled through me when she recognized a face on its cover. “That’s Sofie!” she’d exclaimed, pointing at the pretty little girl in the middle. “She’s my cousin!” That was back in 2004.Sofie and my mom had last seen each other in 1930 when the collectivization process tore their young lives apart. Long story short, the two cousins reconnected through an exchange of letters more than seventy years later.
Sofie had spent years in Siberian exile and finally made Omsk her home and that’s where she died a couple of years after their reunion. By then the two women had caught up on each other’s amazing lives.
My mom had me send her a castoff fur coat and in one of the letters that my mom dictated and I wrote, she said,
“Tell her I have running water—right here in the house. Write that.”
“Mom? Really?” I hesitated. Doesn’t everyone have water?
“Tell her that,” Mom repeated. “Tell her I have hot and cold water. And tell her that I have a warm bed. Write that down!"
So I did.
Now we have a pandemic and we’re grumbling about all the restrictions. And it's cold! Really cold. But hey, we still have hot and cold water. (At least here in the cities . . . First Nations might still struggle for this basic need.) And I’m always grateful for a warm bed. Winters are cold here after all . . . just like in Siberia. Right, Mom? I'm grateful not to be homeless here in Canada.
When those cousins were little girls they had no idea that they’d reconnect through books. Don Miller wrote about the kulak repression in Soviet Ukraine and I wrote a children’s story about a kulak orphan.
Without those photos, I might never have understood my own family history.
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