It was the poorest village in the area. The clapboard houses were all in need of paint and repair. You can’t spend money buying paint when you have so little food you have a fear of starving. Most of the houses could be repaired with a hammer and nails but when you have neither hammer or nails and no money to buy them, it becomes a difficult task. If someone died without any relatives, the neighbors buried them and then they proceeded to tear down the house for the wood and nails so they could repair their own houses.
The Pavlovik family lived in one of the houses. It wasn’t the best house or the worst house in the village. It wasn’t the largest house or the smallest house in the village. It did not need more repairs or fewer repairs than the other houses. It was just a house where the family lived. It kept out the cold north wind, but not well. It sheltered them from the hot summer sun, but not well. It was where they lived and slept and ate and enjoyed the fun and comfort of a family. The family was small by village standards. There was Mama and Papa and Alexei and Andrei and little sister Natasha.
The family was not the poorest or the wealthiest. By the standards of the village, they were in the middle. They had a little land for growing food and enough left to grow wheat for their own use and some to sell. Papa worked hard to be certain that they had the best crop possible. He worked in the field from sunup to sundown. Mama kept a cow for milk and some chickens for eggs. They had a sow that had a litter of piglets every year. Every year they sold all the piglets but one which they raised, butchered and ate. They had sausage year round.
Life could have been good but every year the tax collectors for the Czar came and every year they wanted more and more. One year they came and saw that they had six piglets and wanted them all. Papa begged them to leave one piglet so the family would have meat but the collectors laughed at him and said no, they would take them all. Papa became very angry and attacked the tax collector and one of the soldiers with the tax collector shot and killed him. As punishment for attacking the tax collector the government took the house and land and cow and chickens and pig. Mama and the children were left with nothing. No food, no home, no way to live. Some kindly neighbors offered to let them stay for a short time but they did not have the resources to care for four more people.
They decided to leave the village and, if possible, Russia. Before they could leave Mama took ill. She had lost her reason to live and soon died. Now the three Pavlovik children had to make their own way without their loving parents. Alexei was the oldest at 17. Andrei was next at 15 and Natasha was 11. How could these three survive in a Russia with a government that cared nothing about their citizens, not even the children. The children decided to go to a large city close to them as they thought they could get help. The city was Yaroslavl.
Alexei was angry and vowed to take revenge on the government and the Czar. In the late 19th century there were groups that were angry at the government and were working to get revenge for the Czar’s mistreatment. Alexei found one of these groups in Yaroslavl and joined them. The group provided shelter for Andrei and Natasha but would not allow children to join them. They lived with the sister of one of the members.
Lara Sverdlosk was a very nice lady. She took in the children and saw that they were fed and clothed and cared for. Lara especially loved Natasha and the love was returned. Lara had no children and had always wanted a daughter. She treated Natasha as a daughter.
On a cold day in November, the tax collectors came to Yaroslavl. They were sure to have soldiers with them as they had been threatened before and wanted no trouble. The group that Alexei joined decided to make a stand and attacked the tax collectors and the soldiers. After the battle there was one dead tax collector, seven dead soldiers and five dead attackers. Alexei was one of the dead attackers.
The government learned the name of Alexei and knew that he had a brother and sister. They weren’t worried about the girl but felt they needed to find the brother before he decided to exact revenge for his brother’s death. It was time for Andrei and Natasha to flee, not just Yaroslavl but Russia. How could they leave and not be discovered. Lara said that they would be conspicuous travelling together and begged Andrei to let Natasha stay with her. Andrei would have a better chance of escaping by travelling alone. He did not want to leave his little sister. She was all the family he had left. In six months they had gone from a happy family of five to just the two of them. He did not want to leave without her but did not want her in danger so he agreed to leave her with Lara. He did extract a promise from both that when he was able to send for her in safety that she would be allowed to join him.
One of the group member’s Father was the captain of a riverboat. The boat made regular trips to the Baltic port. As luck would have it, a young member of his crew was ill so he took his papers for Andrei and they left Yaroslavl for St. Petersburg. The trip took seven days. They were stopped three times and the papers of the crew members were checked. The authorities were searching hard for Andrei and other group members. They arrived safely. The captain wasn’t worried about the return trip as they were only searching for people leaving Yaroslavl.
The cargo of the riverboat was destined to be loaded onto a freighter going to Sweden. The captain had done business with this ship’s captain before and knew him to be trustworthy. He brought Andrei to the captain and asked him to take him to safety. The Swedish captain was sympathetic. He was no fan of the Czar and his police and army and so he agreed to take Andrei to Stockholm as a part of his crew. They left St. Petersburg safely and arrived in Stockholm. The captain spent time talking with Andrei. One of his crew members spoke Russian so he was able to translate. The captain was appalled at the story of Andrei and what had happened to his family. He vowed to help him. He couldn’t just have him leave the ship with no money and be unable to speak the language. He took him home. His wife welcomed Andrei and gave him a room of his own. Their children were grown and moved out. The wife spoke no Russian but spoke some English and was determined to teach Andrei Swedish and English so he would be able make his way in the world.
Andrei stayed with them for seven months and it was a wonderful time. There was always plenty to eat. Andrei was gifted in learning new languages. In six weeks he was speaking passable Swedish and could communicate when he was in the town. English was taking longer as the wife was learning with Andrei. The Captain made the move of hiring a teacher to teach English to both of them.
Finally it was time to leave and make a life. The Captain and his wife loved having Andrei but they were getting older. The Captain had a friend that was Captain of a ship going to New York. The friend agreed to give Andrei a berth if he would work in the galley for the trip. Andrei was agreeable. He had heard of America and that it was called the land of opportunity. Andrei needed an opportunity. In 1890, Andrei arrived in New York. He went to Ellis Island and applied for entry. The entry was approved and Andrei went to the city. He had several hundred dollars. Part was money the Swedish captain and his wife gave him and part was money he had earned on the ship. He sought out the captain that brought him to New York to thank him and asked him to tell the Swedish captain and his wife that he was safe and well.
Andrei learned that the area that Russian immigrants populated was the lower east side of Manhattan Island. This area was called Hell’s Kitchen. He made his way there to see if he could find a place to live and a job. The area where the Russians lived was not a good area. Andrei knew enough English that he did not need to be with the Russians so he started looking in Greenwich Village. He found a nice boarding house with a comfortable room. At five dollars a week with two meals a day he could survive for a while. Next he needed to find a job. Andrei was only seventeen with no skills so he could not be choosy about a job. There was a new restaurant opening on the next block and they were looking for workers so Andrei went to talk with them. The man that owned the restaurant was from Poland. He liked Andrei and thought he would be wasted doing kitchen work. He offered to make Andrei a waiter.
The restaurant opened and was an immediate success. The owner was also the chef and had many ideas for good food that would be different from the usual fare found in New York restaurants. There were many repeat customers and any customer that had Andrei as the server asked for him again. The owner was not oblivious to the charms of Andrei and soon realized that he would make an excellent Maitre d’ so he moved him to that position. Now Andrei could charm all of the customers.
Other restaurant owners came to try and hire Andrei as their customers told them of this charming young man that they liked so well. Andrei was loyal to the Pole as he had given him the opportunity when he had no proven skills. The Pole did not want to lose Andrei so increased his pay. Now Andrei could send for Natasha and give her a new start in this wonderful new land.
True to her word, Lara made arrangements for Natasha to join Andrei in New York. She also made arrangements for Lara to join Andrei. There was nothing left for her in Yaroslavl. Her brother was identified as a member of the group and was on the run. If she lost Natasha she would be too lonely to live so she and Natasha took the river boat to St. Petersburg and then a ship to New York. Andrei had told them where he worked so on arrival in New York they went to the restaurant to see Andrei.
What a shock to see Natasha. It had only been two years but she had blossomed into a beautiful young woman. She had a beauty that would cause a man to stop and stare. Andrei was also delighted to see Lara. He had not expected her but was glad that she had come. He introduced them to the Pole. The Pole asked Lara if she would like to work in the restaurant and she immediately accepted. She and Natasha had been learning English while waiting for Andrei to send for them.
Now Andrei and Lara were both working for the Pole. They had taken a nice three bedroom flat only three blocks from work. Natasha was going to school. It was a good life without the fears and the brutality of the Czar’s men.
The Pole had lost his wife during child birth. It was to have been their first child and neither survived. The Pole was lonely. The hard work of running the restaurant could only partially salve his loneliness. He thought that Lara was a very nice lady. She was 32, the same age his wife would have been and only two years younger than him. They started seeing each other outside of work and Andrei could see that love was starting to bloom. Natasha was delighted as she was very fond of the Pole.
The day came when the Pole asked Lara to marry him. Lara accepted so the marriage of Wladislaw Golebiewski and Lara Sverdlosk took place and they became husband and wife with Andrei as best man and Natasha as Bride’s Maid. The restaurant closed for the event and all the staff and many of the regular customers came to the wedding. A large reception was held in the restaurant. Wladislaw officially made Lara a partner in the restaurant but she wouldn’t be able to work for long as she quickly became pregnant. The Pole did not want to take a chance of losing another wife and child so he made certain that she was well cared for.
Andrei looked on his decision to go to New York as a magical decision. He missed his brother Alexei and Mama and Papa but he and Natasha were safe and did not have to worry about where or when they would eat. Life would have been better if all of his family had survived.