6.12.1913  -  12.12.2002

Books of N.M.Amosov

Recollections. Mama's Death

Mama was unlucky till the very last day: she died from cancer of the stomach at the age of fifty-two. She had been complaining about a pain in the abdomen for many years and had even gone to Cherepovets for an X-ray examination. Doctors had suspected an ulcer but found nothing.

In March 1933, I received a cable: "Mama is ill. Come at once." I stared at the cable in dismay: Mama had never fallen ill, had never missed her duties as an obstetrician, even during vacations.

I arranged everything with the management and my fellow worker with whom we agreed to change shifts and left for Olkhovoye. I was worried, of course. Although my strong filial love had diminished somewhat, Mama still occupied a big place in my heart. Besides, there was a sense of duty: she received my postcards and money every week, regularly.

I arrived in Cherepovets early in the morning and immediately set off for Olkhovoye on foot. It was a sunny morning in the early March. What was in store for me there? Various thoughts haunt you while walking a winter road. Many times had I walked this way during my six years of studies. Twenty-five kilometres. During the first years, I had been homesick so much that had visited Mama every two weeks, in any weather, even at night. On my way to Olkhovoye, I recalled that I had walked that road with Mama once — she had come to Cherepoverts on business. In town, we had gone to a theatre, and she had been singing all the way.

She was a merry woman, very fond of singing. Even today her voice still rings in my ears.

I was simply unable to imagine myself an orphan at that time. "Mama dead? Impossible!"

I met my relations half-way. My heart sank, and I ran towards them. Mama was lying in a sledge, wrapped up in the sheepskin coat she had worn when going to handle deliveries. Her face was pale, and her eyes were closed. I didn't cry: tears are not typical of me. I kissed her, and she opened her eyes, showing signs of life. "Nikolai, my dear," whispered she.

Speaking in a weak voice, she told me that she had had a gastric hemorrhage and had lost much blood... "So, I'm going to the hospital. Don't get worried, I won't die," she said. Even at that moment she was thinking about my fears, keeping her thoughts to herself.

We went straight to the district hospital, it was not far away, on the high bank of the Sheksna River.

The orderlies put Mama on a stretcher and carried her into the entrance hall. A surgeon came in, examined her and ordered them to take her to the ward. Awkwardly, I helped carry the stretcher.

I spent three days in Cherepovets, making brief calls at the hospital. Mama was not operated on, but with a blood transfusion, her condition improved slightly. When we met, she used to say, smiling: "There's nothing to be afraid of, my dear..."

I was not aware of the danger ahead when I left Cherepovets: Mama had been discharged from the hospital approximately a month before. Her hemoglobin had improved somewhat: she even tried to work but couldn't. Nevertheless, she went to the village obstetric station almost every day — it was next door to her house. A small infants unit had been opened there: just three beds and a young midwife. Her life-long dreams had come true: they could handle a delivery properly, even in a village. But it was too late for her...

The fall and winter of 1934 Mama spent at her brother's in Cheboksary. I visited her only for a couple of days, since I was busy at work. Besides, Alya was waiting for me at home... By the way, I didn't tell Mama about my marriage.

Spring broke, and Mama suddenly got homesick. My elder sister Maria brought her back to Olkhovoye. She worked in Cherepovets and went to the village every weekend.

In August, on the way to Leningrad — to take exams at the university — Alya and I visited Mama. We didn't tell her that we had been married for six months: I introduced Alya as my fiancee, and. Mama pretended she believed me. I'm still ashamed of that visit... How could I have exerted such psychological pressure on my dying Mama?

I returned to Olkhovoye alone after my failure in Leningrad and spent two weeks there. One of my conversations with Mama is still vivid in my memory:

"If you get married, be a faithful husband. Remember that a woman suffers immeasurably more that a man. Just don't forget my unhappy life, and don't..."

I didn't adhere to Mama's behest but divorced Alya six years later. At the same time, I have never forgotten Mama's words about the bitter lot of women when a marriage breaks up, about their sufferings and misfortunes. I have always tried to lessen the effect, though my efforts have not been as successful as I might have wished.

How mixed my emotions were: I felt sorry for Mama the night I was about to leave, but at the same time I was relieved that I had to go, that everything was over. Maria was looking at me with reproach and dislike. That was understandable: I had come for a short time and was about to go away. I had been the apple of Mama's eye, and I was leaving her. She, who had received a lesser portion of Mama's love, had to stay with her till the very end.

I've never had premonitions; when I left Mama, that time I didn't have the feeling that I was seeing her for the last time. She died three weeks later.

I came back to the village on the day of the funeral. It stands clearly before my eyes: a warm sunny day in the northern fall. Rowan trees covered with red berries — some vermilion, others, pale orange. The weather was fine, and the windows in the house were wide open. I was greeted by relatives in tears. The yard and the house were full of women, many with children. The thought flashed through the mind that it was Mama who had first taken these children into her hands. Who of us knows the obstetrician who helped us enter this world? Alas, many of us do not remember their teachers, and some, even their parents.

I didn't shed any tears: the entire situation blocked the emotions. Mama was lying in the coffin, changed beyond recognition. No photographs were taken, and I remember her as she was when she was still alive.

Soon, we left for the graveyard. It was a long way through the village, and a field... The coffin was carried by men on their shoulders the whole way. Women were crying. All of them had known Mama for twenty-five years, coming to her with all their sorrows and hardships, not to mention their illnesses. The graveyard was crowded, like at Easter time.

No priest was present: Mama had never turned to God. There was no music either. The chairman of the village council said a few awkward but hearty phrases, and Mama was buried near my Grandma Marya Sergeyevna. The women kept crying. (I have attended many funerals in my life... A dreadful feeling grips me every time: I see them cover the coffin with the lid and nail it shut. Then, the first lumps of soil drop on the coffin, making a hollow sound as if it were empty... Afterwards, everything is quicker... Grave-diggers are efficient and it usually takes but a few minutes to fill in the grave and top it with a tiny mound.) There were no wreaths in Olkhovoye, and flowers were not cultivated by the local folks. No wake was organized either.

Sorrow enveloped me when I came home from the graveyard. The house was deserted. The bed had been removed to make room for the coffin. At the same time, I had a feeling that Mama's spirit was present everywhere. I was unable to hold back the tears, and I wept bitterly...

Her life had ended! It was as if a certain safety rope had disap­peared. A rope I hadn't held fast, but it was always with me, and I could grasp it any time I started falling...

I imagined — and can still see it — her whole unhappy life — a rather brief one — uneventful and devoid of kindness and warmth. Had there been any bright and happy moments in her life? Probably her childhood in the big friendly family where she grew up. Maybe the midwives' school in St. Petersburg? Then nothing but sorrows and misfortunes, all the way through. She had married a man whom she loved, and then the war broke out. Her husband was missing. He came home alive but didn't stay long. He soon left her forever. Her mother-in-law was stern and despotic, and the poverty she lived in was depressing. I remember she was always in debt up to her ears; every salary was spent to pay back the money she had borrowed. And then came her illness.

Nevertheless, she was happy with her job, for she could genuinely help those ignorant village women. In my recollections, she does not look unhappy at all — she was always cheerful, if not merry. I almost never saw tears in her eyes. She helped other people, but never looked for a support for herself... I don't think I added a great deal to her sufferings: I loved her and tried to be a good son, concealing everything that was bad in me. Those things which are concealed simply do not exist for the outside world. They do not hurt other people. I know that all my readers may not agree with me, but the paths of good are intricate and involved.


My parents' generation... I've tried to recall what I knew about their lives, relationships, ideals and ethics. My knowledge, naturally, covers only the post-revolution period, but those people had been shaped long before the Revolution. Our circle was limited to first-generation petty intelligentsia — medical orderlies, midwives, teachers, low-level civil servants — all of them were of common origins and formed a broad social stratum.

All of them differed in characters, led dissimilar lives and had varying ideas about happiness, but there were some common features, and I'll try to list them now.

Education and training: high school and good professional skills. Their intellectual and spiritual culture was based mainly on literature — i.e., on the books which were available to them. Music and the visual arts were less known to them: colour prints were rare, gramophones were of poor quality and too expensive.

Poverty: salaries were extremely low, and there were no other sources of income. Bribes and presents were not accepted by those people; farming did not attract them, and commerce with all its wheeling and dealings was naturally out of question. Poverty and lowly origins could not produce a high level of material culture: people went to the bath house once a week, bedsheets were not used, and plates were not changed during meals. In Olkhovoye, for instance, we ate from one bowl, using wooden spoons. People's entire salaries were spent on food. Clothing was worn till it was beyond repair, and the problem of fashions was non-existent.

The monarchy was despised and hated. Soviet rule was welcomed and actively supported from the very beginning. Those people couldn't do otherwise: being of common origin and living in the midst of ordinary folks, they realized that the new government and its policies would serve the interests of the people. They were indifferent towards religion, but loved and celebrated the feasts of Easter and Christmas. The attitude towards priests and monks was entirely negative.

Conscience was the absolute value. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," was their main principle. Honesty was an inward monitor. Sympathy and compassion for those in suffering? Kindness? — I would say that these qualities were present in moderation. The scale of values was work for the benefit of society, conscience, communication, culture and family.