Last week I started a multi-part series on my journey from anti-social perfectionist to one day becoming patriarch of my married-into family, on my assimilation into an immigrant dynasty. I described the relative ease with which I got to know Baba (grandma) Klukluka and my in-laws, and suggested that my upcoming exploits with Baba Lyuba might be a bit different. To read Привет: Part 1, click here. I promised to continue the story, so here we go:
Baba Lyuba, or Lyubov Borisovna Voronova, is my father-in-law’s mother. She is in all aspects the matriarch of the Voronov clan, whose name I’ve added via hyphen to my last name. Coming from Lvov and ending up in a town just outside Boston must have been a hard thing to do. Lvov, currently a city in Western Ukraine, has been a part of Poland, the Soviet Union, and the Austrian Empire, and was occupied by Germany during the Second Great War. Coming from such a city would lead me to believe that change is an inevitable part of life and adapting for Lyuba should be easier than most of the former Soviet immigrants I’ve encountered in the U.S. Assimilation may not always be a necessity for the immigrants here, as many of the older generations never leave the neighborhood where they landed and are surrounded by their own native people, whether it be Brighton Beach, the Russian hub of New York, or Korea Town in Los Angeles.
For the year and change that I’ve been married, I’ve learned the family riddles, gossip, and war stories. Tensions will be high when meeting any in-law, but with former Soviets especially I’ve found knowing their background and being able to gush over their capabilities is a must upon meeting them. Some say that the Soviet Union was a nation of whisperers, so people come to expect that if you are bold enough to meet them, that you will know everything about them. While before it was a sign of foreboding, now it is a sign of respect.
Considering respect, I made my husband call the day before our arrival last Saturday in Newton, Massachusetts, to see how I should address my new grandma-in-law. He told her that I was dead set on calling her by her formal name including her ochestvo, or patronymic name – which in Russia is a middle name that is based on your father’s name; for example, my husband is named Victor Anatolyevich, or Victor son of Anatoliy. Anyway, Lyuba Borisovna confirmed with a chortle that I should only call her Lyuba as it’s easier for Americans.
When my new grandmother heard that her son’s son was a gay man, she thought for sure it was just a phase and I even heard that I possibly tricked Victor into marrying me. Victor had had girlfriends for years while he lived in his own secret closet and to a Baba, that’s all the truth that needed to be. Going into our meeting, I knew that it would be possible to be called Victor’s friend, or not be recognized at all – which I was prepared to accept, as you don’t tell an older person how to think or live. A strong and hardened woman, Baba Lyuba would be a tough cookie for me to crack, which is why I still hadn’t met this mystical creature a year into my marriage.