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My Trip to Russia:
boating on the Volga

By Timmie Sue Akerson

Hi Tim
Timmie and a Russian friend

Timmie says: A bio! I read some of your others. Everyone seems to have done very interesting things in their lives. So I am not sure how to make homemaking a passion. I have had and still do have a great life. I didn't like school, I would never have finished college. I like life lessons when I have figured out they are lessons. My Siberian Huskies, next to the grand kids, are my joy.

In 1998, my husband and I took a vacation to Russia. It was a fifteen-day trip from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. We went by boat down the Volga River. Most of our friends and family could not understand why we would go there. I have always been interested in all things Russian.

In some ways it was part of my heritage. My mother's parents came to the United States from Lithuania, a small country on the Baltic Sea near Poland, the Ukraine, and Russia. My grandparents came in the late 1800s to get away from Russia and its hold on their country. My whole life I was told stories about the old country and how we must pray for a free Lithuania. I won't go into the long history of Lithuania and Russia/the Soviet Union. I never thought I would see a time when I would travel and see a free Lithuania. Well, I did in 1994, but that is another story.

The Volga - from Timmie's postcard collection
All of my life I was both fascinated and afraid of the USSR. I can remember being so terrified that they would come in the night and drop the bomb. I think we were all fearful of them. They were evil; the ultimate bogeyman. So why go there? Still, I was curious about the authors, composers, czars, and all of the history.

This essay is not a travel log although I would love to tell about the trip. It was beautiful and very old, like stepping into someone's photo album. What I want you to know about is the people. We met all kinds, in different jobs, in the arts, the doctor on the boat, the guides, little old ladies who maintained the public bathrooms, the children of the people who worked on the boat, the people in the towns we stopped to visit.

We discovered the most amazing thing. They had been afraid of us too. They had the same fears of bombings that I had when I went to bed every night. They were not only fearful of us, but also of being under the Soviet regime, and sometimes of their own countrymen. They were not the Bogeyman -- they were just people who had hard lives and were so happy to once again be Russians.

On one of the last nights, a party was given and people were asked to take part in a show. The master of ceremonies was a very handsome young lawyer from New York City. He was wonderful and very humorous. He told us that he had written two poems for the evening's show. One was funny and one on the serious side. He chose to read the funny one and we enjoyed it. We all asked him, "you must read the other also!" and he did. His poem depicted his feelings, my feelings, and those of many others. When the poem was completed, most of the women had tears in their eyes and the men were quiet. I am enclosing the poem for all of you to read, and I think you will understand why.

Beautiful
Russian images

Broken Arrows
By Jerry Roth,
(aboard the MSS Russ on Lake Ladoga, Russia, June 23, 1998)

A voyage profounder than was promised
Through a countryside older than time;
Home to a people of smiling sorrows
Whose white-washed belltowers never chime.

We sail down alleys of dark green forest
Sprinkled with church domes that gleam in white  night;
Inside are troves of gilded icons,
Dead souls of millions in each candle's light.

We wander down streets paved with granite
in the outsized footsteps of bloodthirsty tsars
Who left a legacy of terror and greatness
And now a millennium of brutal scars.

In magnificent artwork, portraits and landscapes
By painters whose names we never were taught,
Ilya Repin and Alexander Ivanov,
The internal life of a nation is wrought.

We see birch trees dipped in silver,
Rainswept lakes that stretch like seas,
Hilltop forts with woodcarved chapels,
A Kremlin throne for tsars’ decrees.

Greeted ashore by wrinkled babushkas,
Wilted flowers, toothless smiles,
Small boys proudly hawking postcards,
Their sisters strutting girlish styles.

A Karelian musical theater,
Dew-faced maidens dance in musical streams,
And everywhere grotesque statues of Lenin
Newly awakened from his long twisted dreams.

We see soldiers marching brusquely
Armed with swagger and with guns
But their smooth faces betray them
As nothing more than boys--our sons.

And I stop and I wonder that for the past fifty years.
Our arrows were pointed at these people’s hearts.
Missiles aimed at Moscow--the Kremlin and the children,
That guide in Yaroslavl, those peasants pushing carts.

And I commit to myself that each day I’m here
I’ll look long and hard into one Russian’s eyes
And celebrate jointly that we’ve outlived the warclouds
In time to uncover those old human ties.


                

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