Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Sand House pt. 1

When I was four, I wanted a colored pencil set more than anything in the world. 


The memory of this seemingly trivial desire has followed me into my 40s, a permanent etching in my mind.

At the time, we were living in Italy. We had just left Israel, where we had sought asylum as Russian-Jewish refugees. 
Our Soviet Union family passport photo
Now we were awaiting permission to enter the United States. I know now, as an adult, when we left the former Soviet Union we were not sent off with kisses and well wishes. We were stripped of our possessions and sent into the unknown with $100 to mark our family fortune.

But my dad is stubborn and a hard worker. I'm sure we were given some type of social assistance when we arrived in Israel because they really do try and take care of their people. I know my dad was a reservist in the Army. 
Dad on left
I know my dad must have worked diligently to rebuild some type of financial cushion because that's the kind of guy he is.

But by the time we went to Italy, to await the bureaucratic green light, we still weren't living anywhere near the financial elite. We shared a rented room in a boarding house in Rome.
This was not our room in Rome.
This was actually taken in Israel right before we left
for Rome. In Italy we didn't take any pictures
because we didn't own a camera.

But as a four year old, full of desire (and apparently unaware that I was artistically uninclined), I saw that pencil set and imagined all the beautiful pictures I could create with those colors. All I wanted to do was color my life. Maybe it was the influence of the talented street painters we passed by daily. But I knew if I had that set, everything would be perfect. In an anguish of tender consumerism, I threw out a passionate declaration to my young, innocent parents: If they bought me this pencil set, I would never, ever ask for anything else in my entire life.

When I made that statement, it was true.

I sincerely sat down, crossed leg, pondering on the checkered tiles in the aisle of the market. I put my little chin into my small hand and asked myself with unflinching honestly: could I really make this commitment? Was there anything else I would ever want? No! I answered myself. There was nothing else. This was truly it.

I got the set. My parents took pity on my passionate plight and relented, I'm sure spending a good percentage of their remaining financial resources to satisfy their four year old's questionable needs. And needless to say, I have asked for one or two things since then. 

This memory comes to mind because now I have a new wish that falls in the same category of urgency and fervent desire with which I yearned that pencil set. Only this wish is for my father. I want him to live in a nurturing, safe environment. One in which he would have help and supervision. He's reached the age where he shouldn't drive, he can't cook for himself and cleaning has never been his forte. He won't come live with me. I know he doesn't want to be a burden, though he never would be, or so I tell myself now. He also doesn't want to leave his paradise: the beach in Santa Monica. So, I need him to move into an assisted living apartment.

It is a vision I never thought I'd have for my dad, the pillar of strength in our family who threw away everything he and my mom had known to walk into the unknown, in search for a safer, more secure place to raise their daughter and by the time they got here, a soon to arrive son. 


I remember looking at my dad's bulging biceps, knowing he was the strongest man in the world.

Except for my visiting grandmother in the middle,
that is my entire original family in our first apartment in America. I'm on
the right, my grandmother is holding my brother (born here).


But since that day in the Italian market, my father has weathered the onslaught life can sometimes bring: rebellious kids, a divorce, an unhealthy lifestyle filled with smoking and booze, a fickle economy, two strokes, a brain tumor that robbed him of most of his speech, lung cancer and most recently: a heartless, younger Russian woman he met online. He married her, she took his money and scurried back to Russia with it. Not all of it, but a good chunk. It was the supposed good intentions of this woman, who promised to take care of him, that set my mind at ease. Living an hour away and taking care of two rambunctious boys, it's hard to see my dad as much as I'd like. Instead, this woman created a situation that highlighted my dad's inability to continue to care for himself.

keep this woman away from your daddy
It is in the aftermath of that drama that I now find myself. My dad needs help. Because of his stubborn, self-sufficient nature, he never got the therapy that he should have had after any of his ailments. Since his second stroke, he is limping and no longer able to do the yoga handstands that once stood for his ability to survive despite anyone else's prognosis for him. He has never asked anyone for help and would thwart any attempts when it was offered. That's partially why it's been hard to admit to myself that the best situation for him would be in an assisted living environment. I know what a battle this is going to be, one that needs to be fought with finesse and patience rather than muscle. It's an amount of energy that, on most days, I can't muster.

The other reason is I still see my dad's bulging bicep and his defiant attitude towards anyone that would dare tell him he couldn't do something. I still see that glimmer of mischievousness as he joked with my friends and flirted with the check-out lady. I still see the sailor that learned all of the Soviet propaganda he had heard growing up, about the United States, wasn't true. 

He found there was hope for a Jewish man, raised by a single mother with three kids in the wake of a vicious war, to find freedom. 
My cutie-pie dad on the left

Freedom to raise his daughter without the anchor of racism weighing down her ability to soar.


Everything my father has ever done has been for his family. I only hope now, with the desperate hope of a four-year-old who still sees sparks of her father as the superhero he once was, that he now allows his family to do for him.




11 comments:

julie gardner said...

What a beautiful tribute to your father...so far. (I'm glad this is only Part One and that we will hear more of the story.)

I can't imagine how hard it is to be in your position right now, but your love for your father pours from this page.

He must feel it. No doubt.

Ludmilla Baraz said...

Very emotional and so true

Robin Gruver said...

Rina what a passionate rendition of a life, typical of the times and locations. It is obvious that your Father is a real hero to you and to his entire family. What a legacy you have behind you. May your sons live to honor your Father with his strength of character!

Rina Baraz Nehdar said...

Thank Julie, it's going to be a series because we're just in the beginning of this journey and I am hoping it doesn't just end with my unrequited wish.

Rina Baraz Nehdar said...

Thank you Ludmilla.

Thanks Robin, I really appreciate you saying that. He is my hero. He's why we get the chance to enjoy our amazing lives. It's his courage that saved our lives and I am hoping to find some of that to save his.

Kim Tracy Prince said...

I am sorry to know that you are going through this, but also heartened for your father that he has you on his side. Finesse and strength, those could be your middle names.

Miss Laurel said...

So heartfelt and lovely. Seeing those photos are. .... I'm without words. Wait - here's one: nostalgarific!!

Rina Nehdar said...

Thanks Kim, it's so sweet of you to say that. Especially on the day when I feel depleted of both. This is a hard time but hopefully it'll get easier if things start going in the direction I hope.

And thanks Laurel for a nice giggle!

Bada Bing said...

Lovely pictures, lovely story. You write from the heart. Very honest!




Leslie said...

This is one of my favorites! A true insight to who you are and where you came from and why you turned out as special as you have. My thoughts are with your dad. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. My mom went through something similar with my grandpa, so she might have some helpful resources for you.

Rhonda said...

As always, thank you for sharing...but not only your stories, but your family and your friendship. Xoxo