January 19, 1940-April 5, 2010
My mother always looked for paradise in every place she lived.
And it wasn’t easy to find it in the Soviet Union. It wasn’t so easy to find it anywhere. She was born on the other side of the world in Khabarovsk, near the border of North Korea, and somehow made her way five thousand miles to Leningrad, and into my father’s heart. Eleven years later when we were in Rome waiting to enter the United States, and my parents were going out every night just the two of them walking the Eternal City, I asked my dad why they did this, and he replied, “Paullina, because here in Rome is the honeymoon we never had.”
Many years later, they moved to Hawaii to search for glory there also. There was no middle ground, no fallow ground for my vulnerable, intensely feeling mother. She wanted all the flowers to be always blooming.
When my sister and I went to North Carolina to bring our mother back to New York to be among her family and friends, we came to a house that was filled to the brim with all the things she loved. My father was in it. Now we were in it.
Every letter anyone ever wrote her, every card anyone ever sent her was in it. Every picture taken of her family was on full display in her house, beautifully framed, dusted, polished, shined, placed just so. In her quest for comeliness, for youth, for beauty, her cosmetic counter put the Bloomingdales makeup department to shame. She loved to look beautiful, because she was beautiful…with rings on all her fingers, and combs to buckle her hair.
Everything my sister and I know about being a woman, being a mother, we learned from our mother. When she was happy, she lit up the room, when she sang, it was like the angels sang.
Everything my sister and I know about being Christian, we learned from the woman who loved and feared God. In her house she had icons on every wall and candles to light underneath them and Bibles to the right of every place she sat.
Through 33 years of her life in Russia she carried Christ inside her pious heart until she could worship freely in America, could love God freely. She taught my sister and me to stand up for Christ, and how loudly we complained when we were younger, and yet how straight our backs are now when we cross ourselves the way our mother taught us, when we pray the way she taught us.
In my mother’s torn and weathered New Testament, published 21 years before she was born which I hold in my hands right now, I read the words she underlined—twice so I don’t miss them—as if still speaking to me about the things that matter most. In it, are marked the words of the imperfect yet perfectible sinner who turns to the Lord on the life-giving Cross and says,:
помяни меня, Господи, когда приидешь в Царствие Твое!
Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.
And Jesus replies to the fearing and the faithful:
истинно говорю тебе, ныне же будешь со Мною в раю
Verily I say to you, today, you shall be with Me in paradise.