Three years ago I experienced my first Victory Day celebration in Russia–and you can read about it here if you want a glimpse into the way people in Samara honor their veterans and remember the sacrifices required to protect and save the motherland.
This year, I celebrated in a different, but still very meaningful way. Some of you will remember the post I wrote last year about Natalia Antoninova, the woman who was born in a POW camp in Finland. She invited Tanya and I to her house for tea yesterday. We were delighted to be able to congratulate her and honor her on this holiday. She is battling liver cancer now and hasn’t much stamina. Nevertheless, she welcomed us to her cozy apartment filled with books, collectibles, and photos (one even of me!) that give her pleasure and comfort.
The time flew by as we chatted about her early life, how her mother, widowed by the war, saved them from starvation by working all day and sewing for private customers all night. She grieved along side me and shared how she, too, cared for her mom when she died of cancer at age 54. And, like me, she still worries that she didn’t do enough to ease her mother’s suffering…
Natalia Antoninova asked about my novel! And then the doors flung open to interview her about peristroika times when she was the director of an orphanage. Oh! What a wealth of information. She saved the lives of her 50+ kids by banging on the doors of anyone with resources–food, shoes, winter coats. It was up to her to provide. And she did.
Heroes come in unexpected places and with soft, gentle faces. This woman of great courage and determination is such a hero. What a joy to know her–and to know that I will spend eternity with her too.