Although I came into the world looking like a black, furry monkey, I turned out to be a matylok–our Russian word for a butterfly or chrysalis. In time, a beautiful butterfly would emerge from that cocoon—but it would be years before I would finally have a chance to see myself in the mirror and start to dream about beauty, love and art.
Even though the ball of black hair disappeared and the little matylok emerged, I still never looked much like my father, Fedor Ivanovich. In my mind’s eye, I remember him as tall and handsome, with golden blond hair, a strong, well-built body and the purest blue eyes imaginable (Paul Newman had nothing on my father in that department). I did resemble him in some ways–his bright smile and mischievous twist to his face, and as I would later turn the heads of men, so did my father turn women’s heads–they looked at him with passion in their eyes. My father had been sent to the Royal Junior Cadets at the Tsar Nicholas Academy, and he retained his regal bearing as a grown man, especially in a uniform atop his big black stallion.
In many ways, I had the temperament of my mamuchka, my beloved mother, Pelegea. My father used to call her Pola, perhaps because she had very dark, almost pure black, long hair and the darkest, deepest eyes with a melancholic look of forgiveness for everyone. She could see the pain in the eyes of the gypsies, the Jews and even the Red Army and German soldiers. Where did she obtain these traits of compassion and empathy? Probably from her mother, my dear grandmother, as forthcoming stories will reveal.
Apart from his blond hair, my brother Anatoly also did not look much like our father. He had bewitching green eyes (that I always wished I could trade for my own honey-colored eyes), a smaller build and a roguish smile. He was introverted, quiet and shy, and his hair always danced on the air.
Of my parents’ three children, only my sister Galina looked like our father. He called her “Alvina” for laughs, but it was not her Christian name. Galina was the typical pretty Russian girl with her blond curly hair and brown eyes. She was strong-willed, opinionated, and sneaky. My grandmother used to say of Galina, “With that face, she can get away with anything.” She was our father’s favorite, and definitely got away with more than either myself or Anatoly every could!
But I was the matylok of the family, and one day I would turn into a pretty butterfly and flit away!