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Early Years

By ppk147 - Posted on 13 April 2008

I was born January 21, 1889, and lived up to the age of eleven among the Komi people, one of the Ugro-Finnish ethnic groups, in the North of Russia. My Russian father was an itinerant "master of gilding, silvering, and ikon-making" (as his guild certificate testified). How and for what reasons he moved from the Russian city Velikiy Ustiug to the Komi region (a distance of more than three hundred miles) and remained there up to his death, I do not know. One of the possible reasons was that among the Komi people he probably found more work than among the Russian population. My mother was a Komi peasant daughter. The only thing I re¬member about her is the scene of her death-which occurred when I was about three years old. This scene is my earliest memory and it marks my birth into a conscious, remembered life. Of my life before this event I remember nothing. (This personal ex-perience is one of the reasons why I regard various "dianetic" and psychoanalytical theories of an alleged remembrance by the human organism of everything, especially of the birth trauma and various sex experiences, as a mere fancy not supported by any real evi¬dence.) From my father, relatives, and neighbors I heard that my mother was, though illiterate, a beautiful, intelligent, and very fine person.

Of my father I had and still have two different images. In his sober stretch (lasting for weeks and even months) he was a wonderful man, loving and helping his sons in any way he could, friendly to all neighbors, industrious and honest in his work, and to the end of his life faithful to our dead mother. "Christ has risen!" was his habitual way of saying "How do you do?" or "Goodbye." Unfortunately the stretches of soberness alternated with those of drunkenness, sometimes up to the state of delirium tremens. In his drunken state he was a pitiful figure; he could not care for us nor help us; he was depressed, irritable, and, once in a while, somewhat violent in his treatment of us. In one moment of such violence he beat my older brother and, with a hammer blow, he cut my upper lip, which remained slightly misshapen for many years.

Immediately after this event my older brother and I decided to separate from our father, and we started our own independent way of earning a living. One year later father died in a distant village. Because of the undeveloped means of communication it was weeks before we learned about his death. Despite father's alcoholism, the image of a sober, tender, and wonderful father overwhelmingly prevailed while we were living together and it still prevails in my memory up to the present time. Even in his drunken state he had nothing in common with the Freudian image of a tyrant-father, insensitive and cruel to his children. With the exception of the alcoholic periods which were considerably shorter and less frequent than his sober periods, our family-father, older brother, and myself (my younger brother was taken by our aunt and did not live with us)-was a good and harmonious team bound together by warm, mutual love, community of joy and suffering, and by a modestly creative work. This deep mutual attachment continued in my relationship with my older brother and, later on, with my younger one. Each of us was intensely concerned with what was happening to the others; and this devotion and love continued to the end of my brothers' lives (both perished in the struggle with the Communist regime).

After our separation from our father, my brother and I moved, earning our living, from village to village for about one year, until we came to a small Russian town, Yarensk (about a thousand population). There we found plenty of work: painting the spire, the domes, and the outside and inside walls of the main cathedral, and silvering and gilding the cathedral's ikons and other cult objects. There, when we were painting the spire of the cathedral we were almost blown down (from the great height of the building) by a sudden storm and were saved from a fatal fall by a strong rope that withstood the assaults of the ferocious squalls. This town, Yarensk, introduced me to the urban world. I was then about eleven and my brother about fifteen years old.

After a few months of successful work in this town, we moved back into the Komi region and for several months continued our work there until, surprisingly for both of us, I found myself enrolled in an advanced grade school, described later on. This enrolment separated me from my brother for the nine months of the school year and, after two years, divided the course of our lives along quite different paths. During these two or three years of our living together my brother's leadership and care were truly vital for my survival and growth. Otherwise we were a real brotherly team, each being "the keeper and guardian of the other." Later on, during the Communist revolution, when the Communists hunted me and put a price on my head, to be captured dead or alive, my younger brother helped me many times at the risk of his own free¬dom and his very life. My illiterate aunt and her husband likewise most kindly treated me as their own son during my early years when frequently I lived with them in a hamlet, Rymia. Their place was my real "home" when there was no other home.

These lines sketch my family background. Among other things they show that I had in my early (and also later) life abundance of a true, pure, and warm love granted to me by my family, relatives, and many others.

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“Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin: a giant of 20th century sociological thought" Robert K. Merton