Vera and Yuri Lebedev, my Russian friends from Kostroma
Talking to Myself Twenty-One Mother’s Day, May 10, 2020
I saw the word pismo (letter) when
I glanced over my shoulder. A Russian
letter from a Russian friend. Then I saw
Yuri. I hadn’t heard from Yuri in years.
He wrote to me after Mikhail died in
2015. They didn’t know–even his closest
friends didn’t know–that he was dying. They
learned too late. His wife and his son
cared for him that last year. I’d written
to him in January and sent my new
book, This River: An Epic Love Poem,
the Volga painted by Rumyantsev on
the cover, looking across to Kostroma.
They were connected by their childhoods.
Yuri explicated Russian writers of the
nineteenth century. Mikhail’s novels
explicated, and were saving, the Russian
soul. It can’t be faked, but it can be told.
When Mikhail left town, Yuri came
and took me to their apartment. They
fed me and put out honey for my tea
to heal my cough. We sat hours over
our meals, speaking, sharing stories.
I had very few Russian words, they
no English, but we used the dictionary.
Everything was told. We didn’t hesitate.
We played with baby Vanya. I taught
him to say, “Hi.” It came out, “Argh.”
How we laughed. Vera gave me a
mustard plaster. I’d never had one.
Then she brought in big art books
and showed me paintings while the
mustard plaster worked on my cough.
An apartment was found for me. Vera
showed me what was safe to buy and
what not. Yuri walked me to the university
so I could meet the Rector. At night
we talked and laughed and told secrets.
The rest of the family visited. We feasted.
When it was time for me to go home, I
cried. Yuri said, “Don’t cry, Judy," and I
cried more. Now comes a letter in
Russian, and photos of Yuri and Vera,
then the whole family. I am loved, not
forgotten. “We hold these memories
in our hearts."