(This is the post I wrote on Victory Day and failed to post before.)
So. Victory Day. This holiday is a very big deal here; as I quoted once before, compared to Russians, Americans have completely forgotten about World War II. There are big parades, all the veterans wear their medals (not just on Victory Day, but for a couple of days before it, too), there are outdoor concerts, the city gets very decorated with white, blue and red balloons and posters of the "In Honor of our Great Victory!"/"Today is Victory Day!"/"Glory to Those Who Fell for the Motherland!" variety, and everyone wears black-and-orange striped ribbons (I'm not clear on the symbolism of this).
Today when I was leaving Laura's apartment, an old man on the bench outside her building greeted me (здравствуйте!). I greeted him back, and he responded with "С праздником!" (literally "With the holiday!"). I replied in kind and continued walking, when from behind me I heard him say: "You know, for many people it's a holiday, but for others it's a tragedy."
I turned back to see that he had tears in his eyes. I didn't really know what to do, but I couldn't just walk away, so I just stopped walking without saying anything. He went on to explain that his father died in 1941, then said a lot of stuff that I didn't entirely catch, but which seemed to boil down to this: in 1941, his father put his pregnant mother on an evacuation train bound for Vladivostok and enlisted in the army, eventually falling at the front somewhere around Kiev. His mother gave birth to him here in Vladivostok in August of that year. Then he showed me a picture of his father in his military uniform and one of his parents together, tucked carefully into his wallet.
I kept silent through all of this, offering only the occasional "ага" ("uh-huh") or exclamation of horror or sympathy at appropriate moments, both because I'd rather not display my non-native control of Russian if I don't have to, and because he seemed to want a listener more than a conversation partner. When I did speak, I ended up lying – in the course of his war story, he cursed the Nazis, the Polish (not sure why), and the Estonians (for being ungrateful), and then said something somewhat ambiguous about Americans, so I decided I didn't want to tell him I wasn't Russian. So I told him that my name is Олесия/Olesia and that I'm a student at DVGU and my parents live in Nakhodka.
So he figured out that he had a good listener in me, and proceeded to spend the next hour telling me all sorts of stories about his life: the time a snake fell asleep on his sleeping mother's stomach, the time he (as a taxi driver) picked up a woman who was leaving her husband and convinced her not to do it, how his wife died of cancer fifteen years ago even though they sold the dacha and the car to pay her medical bills, the time his old pre-army girlfriend reappeared and tried to get him to leave his wife (he didn't, because they both had children and he is a порядочный человек, an orderly/upstanding person), and the time mafiosi beat him up and stole his taxi and he lay in the hospital for days and two entire busfuls of taxi drivers came to donate blood, to name a few of the ones I understood. At the end he told me I was a good girl, said I shouldn't let it bother me that I'm still single, kissed my hand, and told me that if anyone ever bothers me, come find him on the 3rd floor in apartment 9, because he has two big, strong sons who can take care of business for me.
Anyway, that's my Victory Day story. Or rather, his Victory Day story, and the Victory Day story of an entire generation of Russian children who lost their fathers (and mothers, but mostly fathers) to the war.