Spring, 1950. “Теперь меня визи”, (“Now pull me”). I sat in the little red wagon in the driveway of the Clarkstown Country Club, a 72 acre estate situated on South Mountain Road in Nyack, New York, our first home in America. My cousin Andrei and I were in front of our apartment – newly renovated elephant stalls (yes, elephants stalls but the elephants were no longer in them) that housed several other Russian immigrant families, many of whom were relatives, displaced persons who, like us, had just arrived from war-torn Europe.
I was already in love with cousin Andrei with his beautiful red hair and who obeyed my every command. Photos of me at age three show a little girl, half-waif but also half-princess with luminous hazel eyes and light chestnut hair tied up with a large bow. Together, with Andrei pulling and me sitting like a titled little ruler in my red wagon royal carriage, we set out to explore our alien surroundings.
My three year old memories of the Clarkstown Country Club estate come in flashes but they are vivid images of a small exotic world: The renovated elephant stalls had large wooden garage doors facing the wide driveway with windows that looked like they once were bars from which elephant heads and trunks would sway begging for peanuts. In front of the stalls, on the other side of the driveway, in the meadow, the peacocks strutted past, their iridescent feathers fanning out in full display. Beyond the meadow, there was the enchanted pond filled with very green frogs and bright orange goldfish and those mystery mossy stone stairs leading upwards… to nowhere. Near the renovated elephant stall apartments, there was the little house where the ugly, mean, scary old witchy woman lived, always dressed in black. Everyone called her “the Baba Yaga”, the Russian fairy tale witch. I would see the Baba Yaga occasionally sweeping outside her door; if any of us children got too near her, she would yell and wave her broom. This sent us screaming towards home, afraid that the house would revolve on chicken legs, or that she would put a spell on us and we would disappear.
I watched the volleyball parties reserved for adults and older kids who knew how to play and I would squeal with glee when I could fetch the ball if it rolled near me. One winter day there was a wonderland highlight: a toboggan party that took place on the long hill on the property: all the relatives, my brothers and my wonderful Andrei attended and there was much whooping for joy as we swooped down the snow-covered slope – a bit of the old Meyendorff Kumna estate transplanted to Nyack…