Winter came early that year. That year when they had said Gorbachev
was sick, and beefy people appeared on the TV screen to announce a
takeover. that year when one morning in Ukraine the people awakened
to no money, no rubles, no purchasing of bread, longer lines, because
the government had switched to a new money, Ukraining money, the name
of which paper escapes me at the moment.

The sidewalks were wide but bumpy, and snow filled pothills in the road.
Lines of babushkas waited for the bread store to open, bulky bodies,
empty bags, scarves tied tightly over their ears, their skin ruddy
from years of hard weather.

Still we trudged into the City. Forget taking the bus outside our
flat which either didn’t show or didn’t work. No, we would walk down
Orlovskaya Street, skittering down, taking a left, right, streets like
the shops, empty. Finally to the trolley and waiting as I felt
history’s shadow and sensed the ghosts of prisoners, serried lines,
marching to the nearby railroad station.

Our trolley would come, and we’d squeeze into its crowded innards,
passing money up through the people, hand by hand until the bus driver
received it, and then back, hand by hand, over the heads of people, a
small paper ticket, similar to one in a Bakery would be handed out.
Somehow the money still worked for the trolley for a few days.

Cold whipped through my thin grey coat, the one I found in Ulan Ude, a
city with the largest fattest head of Lenin sitting in a public
square, near the KGB building. Always in our time was the sense of
being watched. Now in the cold weather, when we moved our mouths
around so as not to freeze and made funny faces like Vlad, our
interpreter told us, we moved towards the Mining Institute, ready to
trudge up Karl Marx Avenue, towards the pretty side of Dnepropetrovsk.

We walked by cake shops, bread shops, an army take in the center, and
I noticed the snow fell like a lacework over the city; obliterating
any ugliness of the previous day. The snow created a space within us
like a moving painting, and we could for moments forget the people
whose life was arduous and abusive from early morn on into the night.

Living in Dneperpetrovsk, in Ukraine, in the winter, we learned how to
use dry mustard in a bucket of hot, hot water, so steamy, my toe
stayed in for milleseconds. We learned, no forget that, we
experienced the love and caring from Inna, from anyone, when we were
sick. We would be quickly scooped up into blankets, with our heads
peeping out, and our feet immersed in mustard water (mustard being a
deficit item. We were given verenya a jam in tea and once as I sat
being treated, I experienced menopausal flush compressed into an
hour’s time with mustard and verenya, but weakened and no longer
desperately ill, I could stagger to my bed and sleep and recover.

Winter, and no vegetables in the open market, well maybe a few that
looked like they came from a potato orphange, and some wilted cabbage,
but still we had bread and cake and new money: coupona, wow, coupona.
so many words ending with “a’! Little parades of “a”s indicating
hope and not starving, no rather packing my hips with starches and
lumbering through those winter days.

There was the night when we walked the wide flat sidewalks down to the
railroad station at four in the morning to welcome Paddy O’Mara from
Ireland, and the snow fell through the silence, a purity from God, and
a lacework of sensory experience flowed through me, beauty revealed in
a hard town, during a hard time, along with ever unfolding love and
kindness from our Russian friends, and I will always remember that
year, the year when winter came early.

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