“Babushka’s Eyes,” Friend, Apr. 1999, 40
Normally, ten-year-old Tatiana was asleep well before her babushka (great-grand-mother). However, tonight she was worried. No matter how hard she had tried, Tatiana could not get Babushka’s eyes to smile.
Tatiana snuggled deeper into her bed on the living-room couch and wrapped the blanket more tightly around her. She even covered her ears to see if that would help muffle the sound of Babushka’s snoring. Tatiana knew she was lucky to share the living room with only Babushka. Most nights, her snoring didn’t bother Tatiana. But tonight she wanted to think, and the snoring made it hard to concentrate. She peeked out from under the blanket to see the dim outlines of the flowers on the ceiling. She thought Mama was very clever to put wallpaper on the ceiling.
However, the flowers did not make Babushka’s eyes smile. In fact, Babushka thought the wallpaper was a waste of money. Tatiana remembered scrubbing the beets to help her make borscht. While Babushka had stirred the soup, she said, “Yanichka (Little Tatiana), you could have had new shoes and a dress for less than the wallpaper cost. I want you to have the things that you love.”
“But I do love having a garden to look at when I lie on the couch,” Tatiana had replied.
Tatiana did not remember when Babushka had stopped smiling with her eyes. But once Tatiana had noticed it, she did everything she could think of to make her great-grandmother happy. She worked hard at school, helped peel potatoes, cleaned the bathroom without being asked, drew pictures of mountains and trees, sang happy songs, and tried to obey. Everyone noticed and smiled at Tatiana. Babushka smiled too, but only with her lips. She still was not truly happy.
Although she thought she would never go to sleep, the night seemed short when the sun peeked through the window and awakened her. How lovely Sundays were—everyone could sleep until it was light. And today Tatiana was going to her friend Katya’s apartment, where some American men and some neighbors would be holding a church meeting. Tatiana had never been to church before; in fact, no one at home ever talked about God at all since it had been forbidden for so many years. But now that Ukraine was an independent nation and had new laws, people were going back to church. Tatiana had been afraid her parents would not let her go, but she had begged for permission. They gave their consent, somewhat reluctantly, saying that going to church would not likely hurt her.
Then, before she left, Papa had pulled her aside. “Yanichka, remember when we saw the puppet show of Peter Pan in Donetsk? Remember when Tinker Bell was dying, and we had to clap to show that we believed in fairies?”
“Yes, and I cried.”
“Right!” Papa said. “I told you the story played with your emotions. The author made you cry on purpose. Religious teachers will work on your emotions, too. They want to make you think you believe what they say.”
“Papa, I won’t believe what they say just because they say it is so. I will pay close attention to what I know is true.”
“Good!” Papa patted Tatiana’s hand. She knew what Papa had said was important—she could not remember ever having such a serious talk with him before.
It was different with Mama. They often had important talks, and this time Mama wanted to warn Tatiana, too.
“Zaichik (Little Rabbit), you must not make any promises. They will try to get you to do so. Don’t make any promises. You come talk to me.”
“OK, Mama. No promises.”
“But you must be polite, always courteous. And here”—Mama reached in her apron pocket and pulled out a kopeck (a coin)—“they will pass a box to put money in. You must have money for the box.”
Tatiana patted her pocket that held the kopeck as she ran down the stairs. Soon she was welcomed into Katya’s apartment. She was surprised to see about fifteen people in the room. The Shushkevich family had borrowed a few stools and had pushed their own furniture against the walls to make room. Some people were sitting on the floor talking quietly and happily. The Americans were there. They were about twenty years old, and Tatiana thought Elder Samson looked very kind.
Elder Tanner stood up and called for everyone to be quiet; he talked with a foreign accent. “Brothers and Sisters, it is good to be together again. Let’s sing ‘Count Your Blessings,’ and then Brother Shushkevich will give the opening prayer.”
Tatiana was surprised that Katya’s papa knew how to pray, and she wondered why they called him “Brother Shushkevich.” But she liked the song. Part way through it, a nice warm feeling came over her; she felt as if she had been away from home and had just returned. As the meeting continued, no one tried to work her emotions. She wasn’t asked to make any promises, and nobody passed a box for her kopeck.
After the last hymn and prayer, Tatiana ran back up the stairs and down the corridor to her own apartment.
“Mama, I liked church. May I go again?”
“Perhaps. I’ll talk to Katya’s mama first.”
Tatiana decided not to plead; it didn’t seem wise. However, as the week progressed, she thought of ways to persuade Mama to let her go.
The next Sunday morning, Tatiana awoke early. She could hear Babushka snoring softly across the room and her parents talking quietly on the other side of the wall. Tatiana knew that they were still in bed. It made her feel safe, and she snuggled deeper under her blanket.
Suddenly Tatiana had a wonderful thought. She slipped out of bed and hurried to her parents’ room. “Mama, Papa,” she whispered. “I just have to go to church today—I want to take Babushka with me! Please say yes.”
Later Tatiana led Babushka into Katya’s living room and helped her to a chair. Elders Samson and Tanner came to welcome them. Babushka was pleased and smiled politely at them. Several neighbors came to greet Babushka before the meeting started. Then Elder Samson announced the song: “I Am a Child of God.”
Good! Tatiana thought. I learned it last week. I can sing, too.
The music swelled. Everyone sang in unison and with enthusiasm. The music reverberated around the room and into Tatiana’s heart. She looked at her great-grandmother and was surprised to see that she was crying. Alarmed, Tatiana reached for her hand. Babushka took her hand, squeezed it, and smiled. Then Tatiana saw something wonderful: Babushka’s eyes were smiling! Tears ran down her cheeks, but her eyes smiled.
Babushka leaned toward Tatiana. “I remember! I remember when I went to church as a little girl. I always loved going to church. It is good—so good.”