Keep Your Sanity Under Control

Despite the common belief that we don't develop long-term memory before the age of two and a half, for some reason, my grandpa's white, long-sleeved button-shirt, with large black polka-dots, has been imprinted in my memory. I was not even two years old yet, and even not a year as I remember he let me bounce on his knees, carefully supporting me with both hands. Then, he played his acoustic guitar, which always hung on the same spot on the wall. It was never out of tune. The guitar's head was adorned with a bow of blue satin ribbon. The strings vibrated with melody, the bow dangled from side to side, adding festive cheers to the atmosphere. It often amazes me how mentally strong and healthy he was. After all that had happened to him, he could still enjoy the little things. He never refused to help those who could not read or write to fill out documents. He had all the reasons to be disappointed with life, and he could have developed hatred towards people. However, he never fell to that self-destructive level.

He was incarcerated simply for not answering the authorities' question, "Are you against the Soviet power?" He sat on the porch of his house, smoking his pipe when people came to his land without any invitation. He said that he wasn't obligated to answer their idiotic question, and that was enough to constitute a case against him.

My grandparents were constantly harassed with the question of whether they were for or against the government. Because they never joined any parties or organizations, the government considered them as a threat. Grandmother was born and resided in Helsinki, Finland, until her mid-twenties. She happened to cross the border during the 1939 "Winter Company" (the conflict between Russia and Finland). When after the war (1941-1945), the iron curtains dropped down, she found herself trapped in the USSR for the rest of her life. She barely spoke any Russian. I remember how my mother used to find it comical when she caught Grandma reading the newspaper. Her "lack" of language played her favor when people inquired about her sentiments towards the Soviet power. Then, she played dumb as if she couldn't understand them. But once, probably feeling fed up with those repetitive visits to her house, she threatened the annoying intruders with a hot kettle. The authorities, twisting their finger around their temple, fled in fear of being scalded, and for a while, they did not bother her again. Then, my mother expressed her worries about what people would think of grandma after that incident. Grandma raised her head and said with pride in her voice, "It is better to appear insane to everyone than to be insane in fact."

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