My grandmother, Nina Andreevna Klimchenko was born in 1939 in the village of Donskoye, located in the Altai region of Russia. When she was just in the fourth grade, her school in Donskoye closed down. But that didn’t stop my determined grandmother. She started attending a school in the neighboring village of Melnikovka, which meant she had to walk 2 kilometers every day to get there.
After a year, her family finally decided to move to Melnikovka, making life a little easier for my grandmother. She continued her education there and completed her studies up to the seventh grade. But then, her family had to move again, this time to Verkh-Suetka. It was quite a distance from her new home to the nearest high school, a whopping 25 kilometers away. Despite the distance, my grandmother would make the journey every week, returning home only on Saturdays. Sometimes, she would walk back, and on warmer days, she would ride her bicycle.
After finishing high school, my grandmother pursued her dreams and enrolled in a dairy technology college in Pavlodar. She chose to specialize in accounting, inspired by her great-grandmother, Frosya. Frosya worked as a saleswoman and often traveled to the main store in Nizhny Suetka from Melnikovka. She admired the local accountant, Fiza, who always sat in her neat office, looking very professional while reviewing Frosya’s reports on the preservation of goods. This image left such an impression on my great-grandmother that she advised my grandmother and her cousin, Shura, to become accountants just like Fiza. Interestingly, my aunt Tanya, my grandmother’s daughter, also followed in their footsteps and ended up working in accounting.
Fate brought my grandmother and grandfather together in Pavlodar. My grandfather, Vladimir Nikolaevich Klimchenko, was born in 1937 in Apsheronsk, a town in the Kuban region. He studied to become a versatile combine harvester operator in Taganrog. At that time, it was prestigious and somewhat adventurous to go and develop new lands in other republics of the USSR. Answering the general call, my grandfather arrived in Pavlodar to cultivate the virgin lands. He worked there for a year before deciding to pursue a career as a driver and enrolled in driving school during the winter. It was in the dormitory where they both lived that my grandparents met. My grandmother never went into detail about how their romantic relationship developed, but just a few months after meeting, they registered their marriage.
Upon completing her college education, my grandmother was offered a scholarship program, but she turned it down for the sake of her marriage. Instead, she decided to visit her family in Melnikovka. Throughout her time at home, she didn’t utter a word to her parents about her marriage. Only her aunt, Manya, noticed that something was off with my grandmother. Eventually, my grandmother confided in her and shared the secret, before returning to the city.
When she arrived in Pavlodar to the grandfather’s apartment, to her surprise she found a letter from him explaining that he had urgently left to a village called Staroe Yamyshevo, now known as Qyzylqogham, where he had been offered a job as a tractor driver. He left detailed instructions on how to reach the village and where to find him. Without hesitation, the young woman, who we will call Grandma, decided to follow her grandfather’s footsteps, considering it the bravest thing she had ever done.
It was the end of March, but on that particular day, a heavy snowstorm struck Pavlodar. The roads were barely visible, but Grandma managed to catch a ride with two men who were heading in the same direction. Despite the unfamiliarity of her travel companions, she bravely embarked on a 50-kilometer journey with them. Fortunately, it turned out that the driver was a friend and neighbor of her grandfather, and he safely helped them reunite.
Some time later, Grandma’s parents discovered her marriage and sent a letter expressing their disapproval. They referred to her grandfather as «bad guy» and overall criticized the young couple. In response, Uncle Volodka and Aunt Manka traveled to Yamyshevo to visit Grandma and her grandfather. Worried about their intentions, Grandma cautiously welcomed them, only to find out that they had brought a quilt and pillows to make their living conditions more comfortable.
Soon after, Grandma became pregnant with my Aunt Tanya, which led to another move, this time to the Kuban region where her grandfather’s parents lived. Grandma hoped that during her pregnancy, she would receive care and support from her in-laws. However, her mother-in-law was strict and unwelcoming, never even offering her a cup of tea with milk. Perhaps this was due to the fact that her grandfather’s parents were frugal traders, saving every penny they earned from selling fruits and vegetables. The strained relationship between wife and mother-in-law caused grandfather to experience heart problems.
A year after Aunt Tanya’s birth, the family returned to Pavlodar because living with the elderly couple became uncomfortable. Grandfather found a job as a driver and worked in that position for most of his life. Eventually, they were given a one-room apartment in a barracks in Komsomolsky Gorodok, where they lived for seven years until Aunt Tanya started school. Together, they would visit Grandma’s village, bringing back eggs and a suitcase full of meat from their relatives.
In Pavlodar, Grandma changed jobs several times. The most exotic one was related to a water supply column located in the yard of their barracks. During winter, she had to ensure that the water in the column didn’t freeze, so every morning she would climb down the well, light a soldering lamp, and warm up the pipes. Her next job was also for the benefit of the housing management. Grandma became an electrical controller. At that time, there were no electricity meters, so she would go from apartment to apartment, checking how many light bulbs and stoves each tenant had. After this job, Grandma decided to sell pastries at the Trest of canteens and restaurants. When she applied for the job, it turned out that the local accountant wanted to quit but couldn’t due to the lack of a replacement. The employers noticed Grandma’s diploma and hired her as an accountant instead of just a salesperson. Life started to improve even more, and eventually, they were given an apartment for grandfather’s job as a driver at the motor base. They have been living there since 1956 until today.
Another significant moment in Grandma’s life was her enrollment in the Moscow Correspondence Institute of Soviet Trade. The director of the Trest encouraged employees to pursue higher education, and at that time, the institute was conducting entrance exams. Grandma had doubts about passing the exam because many years had passed since her graduation, and she specialized in dairy technology, not trade. However, she applied, continued working, and traveled to Almaty to take the exams. After completing the first year, she became pregnant with my father, so she took a two-year academic leave before returning to her studies and successfully graduating.
And so, dear listeners, that is the story of Grandma’s journey through life. From following her grandfather to a distant village, facing family disapproval, experiencing the challenges of living with in-laws, and overcoming various job changes, she showed great courage and determination. Her story teaches us the importance of resilience and embracing new opportunities, no matter how difficult they may seem.
I found it important to listen to these stories because they taught me a few valuable lessons:
- To achieve our dreams, we need to take risks! Sometimes, it is our adventurous spirit that helps us find our place in life. Otherwise, we may regret the opportunities we missed.
- We should hold on to our loved ones, no matter the distances, snowstorms, or rough roads that come our way.
- It is okay to distance ourselves from toxic family members if living with them becomes uncomfortable.
- It is essential to always have confidence in ourselves and our abilities. Anything is possible (even switching careers from being a dairy industry accountant to a retail accountant), as long as we are willing to give it a try.
Author of the story: Anna Klimchenko