This attached story was handwritten on May 10, 1977 when I was 47 years old. Though I can't recollect exactly what prompted me to do it. I sort of think I had become aware of a small publication that printed "personal stories". For years I have been unable to find it though I doubted if I had thrown it away. Recently I had been searching for my brother's birth certificate - he was going off to the Dominican Republic on vacation - and it turned up. I cried when I finished reading it - It brought back so many memories. One thing to remember is that Sasha was older than her half brothers who had left Russia as young boys or men, so they had probably not lived with her very long before coming to this country.
by Rosalyn Monosson
Date: Saturday, February 01, 2003
There are conflicting stories of how Sasha came to this country. I had always thought that she was a prisoner in Siberia - released through the efforts of my uncle- interned in Japan and held for ransom. But when the family paid the ransom, she was allowed to come to this country. But in a chance conversation with an older cousin whom I rarely see, he mentioned that Aunt Sasha had walked across Siberia to freedom. Unfortunately, there is no one to ask, because all the principals in this drama are long since gone.
I was only about 11 when Aunt Sasha arrived - I think it was about Spring of 1941 and almost immediately it was whispered there was something wrong.
My first look at her was probably within a few days of her arrival and I remember very well how she looked - I doubt if she was five feet tall - but was very plump and sturdy - with a tremendous shapeless bosom that looked like she should topple forward - a tiny round reddish face with her hair pulled back in a bun.
Sasha didn't speak English and we didn't speak Russian so other than hand pats and kisses that smelled like lemons or oranges, we didn't have too much communication. Besides, the adults were monopolizing her. As a matter of fact, Sasha always smelled like lemons or oranges - later I was to know why. She had very soft skin and she attributed it to rubbing her skin with the rind of either or both of these fruits. Sasha had lots of "home" beauty or health treatments - cucumber slices on cuts - alcohol rubdowns as a regular routine - and of course the rinds.
We didn't see her too often in the beginning because she lived with either of my two uncles for a while - but when my Aunts could no longer bear her, she came to stay with us. It was our turn. The main problem with keeping Sasha was that she had arrived in this country with a disturbed mind. The whispered stories included a husband who had been shot while walking at her side on a Moscow street and her time spent interned in Siberia and Japan. When she landed in America, it was on the West Coast and she was taken to Seattle where her sister lived, only to find her sister had died before she got there. And on her arrival in Boston she found that my grandmother was also dead. Now my grandmother was her Stepmother and my father and his brothers were her half brothers, at least 20 years younger than she. So all these traumatic events had taken their toll and neither Sasha nor her half brothers were ever able to enjoy the relationship they had anticipated.
Sasha came to our house in the winter and by this time we were in the war. We lived on a street where there was a Public health hospital and it seemed like ambulances and hearses went by more than normal. Sasha had a terrible fear of both. She told us those were the cars they used to "take you away".
By this time we were all communicating a little better. Sasha carried several English foreign language dictionaries. She could speak German and French in addition to Russian and somehow or other she always managed to make herself understood. In retrospect, I think how difficult it must have been - in her 70's, in a strange country, with strangers for family and unable to speak the language. I'm afraid sometimes everyone was less than as kind as they might have been because they were so disappointed in her mental condition and because they couldn't cope.
But Sasha was a clever fox too. She knew money was the way to get around in this country and she learned early about taxicabs and used them as often as possible. One time she had an argument with my father and disappeared all weekend. But Sunday night about 7 o'clock a taxi pulled up at the door and Sasha and the drivergot out with what must have been ten dozen long stemmed gladiolus - so long stemmed that they seemed taller than she. It was a peace offering.
Now Sunday nights in our house were "open" to all my father's friends, their wives or whoever they brought with them. My father and a few particular cronies played pinochle surrounded by dishes of candy, dates, figs and nuts and huge bowls of fruit topped by bunches of grapes while the others just sat and talked or kibitzed the games. The women in the living room - the men in the kitchen. If I knew what it meant in those days, I would probably have described the whole scene as a salon.
I'm not sure if it was the same night as the flower peace offering, or another time - because all the Sunday nights run together in my mind, but a friend of my father brought his mother along - Mrs. Santarpio spoke only Italian which apparently was one of the few languages Sasha didn't speak, but they had no trouble communicating. Sasha entertained by playing the baby grand piano, her feet not even reaching the pedals, and she and Mrs. Santarpio sang together.
You could often tell Sasha's moods by how she played. Naturally she played only the classics, but if she was upset it was loud and booming and if she was in a better mood it was softer, lighter pieces.
She never totally accepted the American way of men talking to other men's wives without the husband present. One time when my mother was in bed with a cold and one of father' oldest friends, a very harmless bachelor sat in the bedroom talking to her, Sasha straddled the doorway with a chair and sat in it the whole time as a chaperone.
The winter of Sasha's stay was very cold and snowy, but she thrived on that weather. How bad could it have been after Siberia. She would literally force my two sisters and I to take a walk with her after supper - crunching over the hardpacked snow behind snowbanks she could not see over for about a half hour when we would reach a steamy delicatessen - and lest you think Sasha would buy us hot chocolate or other warming drinks, don't be fooled. Sasha would order a large bottle of ice cold gingerale and insist we drink it, beating her chest all the time to say how good we should feel. She never buttoned her coat no matter what the temperature, but maybe that had something to do with high blood pressure. Because, sometimes Sasha would come down to breakfast in the morning, looking like her bosom had blown up even bigger overnight. It turned out that she was hot and she would put huge turkish towels into cold water, wring them out and stuff them into her bosom to ease the heat. My father used to get angry with her, but it never stopped her.
My older sister and I shared a bedroom on the top floor and Sasha was in the other bedroom, but Sasha's fears were not abated by our nearness. She stuffed the keyholes and the curtain rods with paper and placed huge enamel pots of water around the room so the gas couldn't hurt her. Truly Sasha knew things we didn't.
One day in March - what year I don't know, Sasha left the house without a coat - no one heard from her for a while when she called from Philadelphia. She had promised to buy my sisters and I, rings and it seemed her late husband had relatives in Philadelphia who had a jewelry store. So Sasha with her foreign language dictionaries and her innate though disturbed intelligence had gone to find them. And she did. Sasha probably could have found anyone. My uncle used to go to New York on business and more than once on leaving his hotel room (always the same one), he would find Sasha sitting on the floor in the corridor waiting to see him. Sasha knew he had money so she probably always kept track of his activities.
I don't remember her ever living with us again. I think she was sent to live with a family who were to take care of her.
My father died in late 1945 and in our sorrow we didn't think too much of Sasha or where she was. And like many families, unfortunately we didn't see my father's family too often. Years later we heard she had been hospitalized where one day she washed her eyes with her urine and evidently because she had diabetes, she became blind.
And still later, one day we visited my father's grave in the family lot and sawa blurred cardboard marker indicating Sasha was buried there. No permanent marker has ever been put there and my sisters and I talk about doing it, but so far we haven't. But I did get a puppy two years ago and I named her Sasha and we give her lots of love and affection and cherish her dearly and I am sure Aunt Sasha won't mind being remembered with a dog's name as long as we are giving it what we should have given her.
On reading this over, I became very melancholy, and really wish Sasha's life could have been better. My father was a very loving man, and larger than life, and we were young and our lives so devastated and disrupted that we probably could not have made a difference for her. I know that the reason I gave my beautiful German Shepard her name, was because I had always planned to name a child after Sasha. In the limited year or so she lived with us we loved her and she expressed her love for us, but it was not a happy time for any of us.