Months ago flying from Russia to the US I was seated next to an old woman with one of those beautiful Russian names that I can’t even remember right now – it may have been something soft like Inna or something fierce like Vera. I learned her name because it was her first time flying, her first time out of the country, and she needed help filling out her immigration card. That, and she was extremely talkative, which I guess was her way of calming her nerves because she was a real bundle of them; I recall during our turbulent descent she held my hand tightly before she literally fainted and I had to eventually hold her upright so she could limp off the plane.
She was quite old, born to a mother who had been a prisoner of war in Germany. When her mother returned to Russia and gave birth, Stalin, ever fearful of the enemy within, took ‘Vera’ from her mother (anyone returning from Germany was a potential enemy of the state), and put Vera into an orphanage. Vera would tell this story with such an innocence, asking me with a twinkle in her eyes, “have you ever heard of Stalin?” “do you know what the Soviet Union is?” and the twinkle in her eyes was still there even when the eyes themselves teared up as she described life in the orphanages and all that she had endured.
Later she grew tired of talking but was too nervous to sleep so I gave her headphones and some music to listen to; she liked that.
But the point of the story is that as we neared the end of our trip I looked to the right, just past her, and burst out laughing. The 9-year old boy sitting across the aisle, who had been rambunctious all flight, was sitting in his seat with his pants off like it was no big deal. Vera didn’t laugh but she smiled and said “yes, that’s us Russians – we don’t have any hang-ups about anything at all” (у нас вообще нет комплексов)