Thursday, 26 September 2013

Karl Marx and Winter Coats for the Poor

Not much is known about my great-great father, babushka's grandad. All I was told was that he looked like Karl Marx, with a great big beard, and that he loved my babushka so very much.

Not a bad way to be remembered, says my husband Tim.

Great-great grandad doted on my babushka and spoiled her as much as he could.

When it was time for Mariyka to go to school, and we are talking 1928, the Soviet regime was taking its grip over Russia.

I cannot say that it was all bad, during the Soviet rule. There were lots of horrible, cruel and unthinkable things, but also there were lots of good things, certainly when I was growing up. And even in the 1920s.

Many children had a chance to go to school for the first time ever. Babushka did too, though she would have probably gone anyway, as her family was well off. But for many poor kids, whose parents were on the verge of destitution, starting school was an exciting new opportunity. They got their hot meals there and winter coats, hats and boots were provided for them by the state free of charge. Lots of peasant kids in my babushka's class got those winter presents during their first year.

A lot must have been made out of this gift from the state, as my babushka came home very upset.

- What happened, Mariyka? - asker her Karl Marx-lookalike grandfather, as she climbed on his lap.

- There were all those children who got new coats and boots and I wasn't given any... - she cried (kids from rich families were not part of the scheme).

- Don't you worry, darling! We'll go to the market this very weekend and I will get you the best coat available!

And so he did.

Our old flat was next to a culture club - kind of a social club - named after Karl Marx. I used to borrow books from the kids library there. A portrait of Marx was engraved on the entrance, and it always made me think of my great-great grandfather, who loved my babushka very much and bought her the best coat on offer.

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