Lilya + Evelyn
1977 | Moscow, Russia | Age: 52 and 0 | via Austria and Italy
Lilya: We left in 1976, and it was very difficult to bring anything from Moscow, more so than from other republics. It was impossible to take anything of value. Everything was thoroughly checked. We were afraid of complications, so we’d check ahead of time each item’s eligibility. Women were allowed a wedding band and a pair of earrings. My friend was detained because the pearls in her earrings were the unusual teardrop shape and were too valuable. So we took books - especially on Russian art, European art. We shipped sets of classics, like everyone else did. We couldn’t imagine living without books.
Evelyn: When I was little, I remember grandpa showing me the teapot he brought from a business trip to India. I loved it because when you tilt it to pour, it whistles.
Lilya: Half of that set broke in transit. When we were waiting for our permission to leave - expecting to be refused - we had to quit our jobs. But we had to make money somehow, so we gradually sold our things, like our fine German china.
Evelyn: But many people took practical things, like meat grinders...
Lilya: I never had one! When I got my first salary here in the U.S., I went out and bought myself a meat grinder.
Evelyn: She makes a mean cutlet. Grandma, your cutlets are delicious!
Lilya: I worked at Macy’s in inventory. In 1977 minimum wage was $2.80, so that added up to $120 a week. I bought you a little dress for $80. I couldn’t resist it! I fell in love with it.
Evelyn: I was the first girl in the family. And you sewed me a lot of clothes too.
Lilya: Yes. We had shipped my sewing machine here. When the crate got here, we saw that the sewing machine had been cut in half on purpose. Maybe they thought we had hidden jewels in it. I bought one here and wondered why we went through all the trouble. I wanted to learn to sew, and you were my excuse, until you got tired of it and told me, “Grandma, I want to dress like everyone else.”
I don’t think of Russia fondly. I got a good education there and started a family, but I never regretted coming here. I had lived in Russia for 52 years and in America for 41. Time there passed slowly, but the years here flew by. Maybe it’s that the older you are, the faster the time flies. I went back 3 times to visit friends and relatives there, but now there is no one left. I’m afraid to make phone calls now.