I set out to write about Mozart because Friday, January 27, 2012, was his 256th birthday. As a good classically trained musician, I’m supposed to highly value these sorts of things and pay homage to the monuments of musical evolution. However, as I started doing some research for this piece, fully planning on fulfilling my promise for Satirical Saturday, I came across some information that deflated all desire for humor.
First, I remembered that January 27th was the birthday of a childhood friend of mine. I have no idea why I even remember it. You know how sometimes certain dates just stick in your brain and every year when that date passes, you think of the specific event or person associated? Dima’s birthday was one of those days.
Dima used to be my next-door neighbor. We were both about nine years old when his family moved into the little parsonage across the hedge. There were six in the family, I believe. Dmitry was the youngest brother to sister Tanya and brother Pavel. Their parents were Pavel and Olga, and I’m pretty sure the grandma’s name was Olga as well. If you haven’t figured it out already – they were Russian. I don’t recall the specific town they had called home, but they left it behind and came to make a better life for themselves in Hopkins, MN.
Our family went over to their home one evening shortly after their arrival. I think they knew a few English words, but it was mostly some dimension beyond words that carried the conversation. There was lots of smiling, nervous laughter, name introductions, well wishes, louder well wishes (because, you know, speaking louder helps one to transport across linguistic barriers), and music. I recall their being some extended family of theirs over as well; they are very social and inter-generational people. As I had not yet begun formal music training, I was unable to observe advanced musical details about the experiences, but I do remember an accordion and some really hearty singing. Slavik music does something to you. It has such a raw emotion and reveals the anguish incurred on the peoples of that land through their political and social hardships over time.
That introductory meeting was another one of those times in my past that I recall as a specific image; I can sense exactly where I
was in the room, what direction I looked to watch the family singing, and where the traditional black and gold spoon was that Olga bequethed to us the instant my mom commented on its beauty. One more such happening, and we learned to be careful about if or how to complement their physical posessions lest their generous nature cause them to bare their walls on our account. Just another difference between our culture and theirs.
The transition was not easy. My younger brother and I played with Dima a lot, and that first year was hard. The language barrier was a lot for us kiddos to handle. Control freak that I am, I usually was the one calling all the shots for our cops and robbers games. “Pretend you are coming to the store and you want to take all my money.” “Pretend we are running away from the bad guys.” “Pretend this.” “Pretend that.” I don’t recall noticing Dima’s confusion at the time, but he must have been somewhat baffled because finally, in that awesome Slavik accent, he asked, “Vhat dis vord ‘pretend’?” Translation: “What the heck are you talking about?!”
“Uh. Well. Um. [remember, I’m nine] you just… fake… um…” Every answer I thought of contained the word pretend.
(The picture on the right was taken in 1993, so my little brother Terry was about 6, and Dima was 10. Mom was snapping some annual school photos and Dima joined in.)
On another occasion, Dima’s frustration was made quite clear. We were in my parents’ basement playing with the old wooden dollhouse, because all nine year old boys want to play dolls, right? Maybe it was my dictating, maybe it was the dolls, maybe it was the language, but suddenly my friend Jackie and I were perched on top of the deep freezer escaping Dima’s yelling and expressive episode of breaking the legs off of nearly each piece of the darling little furniture. I was terrified at the time, but now I don’t blame him at all. My name is not among those who have experienced it, so I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to try to put down roots in a completely new culture.
New friends – one of whom mandates all your play choices and stuffs you in a basement to play with dolls when you would probably rather be playing cowboys and Indians…rrr…whatever the Eastern European equivalent would be.
New home – I remember Dima telling me about playing by a river near his house in Russia. There was a little stream through the woods in our neighborhood that we would play by sometimes, but I’m sure it was nothing like his homeland.
As the years passed, we got to know each of the family members rather well and had many great times. Bike riding with Dima. Watching the brother Pavel and future brother-in-law Mike fix cars. Playing capture the flag with their cousin Sasha. Holding Tanya’s tiny baby. People teased Dima and me pretty often about being an ‘item.’ Whatever.
With the commencement of junior high, my brother and I spent less and less time with Dima. I was homeschooled, so we didn’t stay connected through school activities. After a few years, the family moved to a different home further away. Granted, any home was further away than theirs. This meant that we very rarely saw them. We shared a meal with them one year, but I think it was just the parents as Dima and his brother were busy working or out with friends.
One day, maybe five or six years ago, my mom ran into the mother, Olga, at a local thrift shop. It was then that we heard, for the first time, that a few years prior, both Dima and Pavel, ages 21 and 29, had died in a car crash while driving to Colorado.
Death had visited our family and friends on many occasions, but never with someone I had considered a personal friend. It was strange, also, finding out about it long after the fact. It felt as though I wasn’t really supposed to have to grieve, since it was old news, and we weren’t very close anyway. Then today, I ran across this article that brought the pain anew. It shares some details of the incident I had not know, including words of their deeply grieving mother.
Olga Gushenya: ‘There is no single day that I am not crying,’ says victim’s mother
Written by MARTHA BELLISLE
Two days after Christmas 2003 someone knocked at the door at the Glushenya’s Minnesota home.
“The police officer said Pavel was dead,” Olga Gushenya told a judge at the sentencing of the drunken driver who killed her son.
“I fell to the floor in shock,” she said. “But I thanked God that the others in the car were alive.”
Then there was the second call.
Her younger son died, too. Dmitry had been in the car that night with his brother and two cousins. Surgeons were unable to save him.
“The loss of my two sons was devastating,” Gushenya testified. “I lost the desire to live and work and every day is a grind now. I can’t sleep, and only sleeping pills allow me to escape from the horrible reality that my sons are no longer alive.
“There is no single day that I am not crying, and when there are no more tears in my eyes, my heart is still crying.”
Pavel, 29, and Dmitry, 21, were driving with two cousins from their home in Minnesota to Sacramento, where they planned to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
Pavel was especially excited about the trip, his cousin, Dmitriy Kindruk, testified. He planned to propose to his fiancée, Yelena Ilnitskaya, while there.
But as they approached the Vista Boulevard exit on Interstate 80 about 11:40 p.m., Jeffrey DeGiovanni came toward them in his silver Chevrolet Trailblazer. He crashed head-on into their vehicle.
Pavel died on the interstate. His brother died at the hospital. The cousins and DeGiovanni were in critical condition.
Once he recovered, DeGiovanni was charged with two counts of DUI causing death. He pleaded guilty on May 26, 2005, and was sentenced to two consecutive prison terms of three to 10 years.
Now 30, DeGiovanni remains incarcerated at the Wells Conservation Camp, and won’t be eligible for parole until Jan. 18, 2013.
Since the crash, DeGiovanni has formed an organization called Alcoholics Recovery Mission, or ARM. Its focus is to speak to youths about drinking and driving, he told a judge at his sentencing, “to ensure this never happens again.”
Now that I have children of my own, it is hard for me to handle stories like this. I cannot imagine the pain, the pit in my stomach, the wishing that time would rewind and play out differently.
Great masters of music, such as Mozart, have earned their place in history because their art touches souls, all the way to that pit in the stomach. And Mozart knew something of the pain of losing a child. Four of his six children died within their first six months of life. One daughter was born and died on Christmas day.
Music is partly a product, but mostly a process. It is a process of experiencing and expressing the emotions of life. Being in the moment. Feeling fully. Sometimes a symphony or a requiem most adequately embrace the challenge. Sometimes one needs a simple folksong with accordion. Sometimes silence is preferred.
Thank you, Mozart, for serving souls with the art of your musical genius. Happy Birthday.
As for Dima and Pavel, you are missed.