One thing I will always be grateful to Papa for is passing on the passions of painting, music and the love of nature. I remember when I was a little girl, while Beethoven, Bach or Mozart, his favorites, played in the background, he would paint. The music seemed to calm and inspire him at the same time. I was careful not to make a sound. I would sit there and watch him, filled with awe. To me, he was the greatest artist who lived.
At nights I would spend a hour drawing before going to bed. I wanted to be like him. I think that’s why Art became my favorite subject and that’s why I became so good at it. When I showed Papa my sketches, he was very impressed. “You have the talent, Anya,” he said to me in English. “You become as good as me or even better. I teach you how to paint.”
He set up a corner in the studio for me so that I could paint there. It was so much fun, the two of us working on our masterpieces with classical music playing in the background. Now when I paint, I have to have the music playing.
During the Spring and Summer, Papa and I used to go for walks. He was a lover of nature, especially birds. He knew the different species. He was an avid bird watcher.
When he was a boy he used to go hunting with his father but when he became an adult, he refused to do it anymore. He couldn’t bring himself to hunt and kill an animal, not even for food. His father used to get angry and say, “How do you think that veal ended up in your plate? That young calf was taken to a slaughterhouse, stunned, killed, and then had its major body cavities opened, removing their gastrointestinal tract (offal). The carcass which is in one pieced and dressed is then butchered into smaller pieces more suitable for consumption.”
Papa got sick, left the table and threw up the Veal. From that day, he became a vegetarian. He used to say, “Why should any of us deprive a cow of it’s existence just so we can fill our stomachs? All of nature is entitled to a long and happy life. The original Biblical diet was one of grains and fruits and vegetables. It seems barbaric for us to consume other living creatures.”
He became an animal rights activist and a conservationist. He married my mother was also a Vegetarian. My siblings and I grew never eating meat, fish or chicken. My husband and my kids are vegetarians too. And I’m a Wildlife photographer. My photos have appeared in several magazines and newspapers. I have sold many paintings of wildlife and some have appeared in our local Art gallery. I’m quite the celebrity in our town, thanks to Papa.
Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary since Papa’s death. He died when I was 19. My husband, mother, the kids and I went to his graveside, laid flowers and said prayers. I too one of my paintings and rested it against the headstone. It was a painting of me standing on Papa’s feet in my pink polka dot dress. I was four then and he was singing and dancing to a Russian song he loved as a boy. He and I were so close. I always promised myself that I would marry a man just like him. And I did. It’s too bad that he wasn’t alive to walk me down the aisle on one of the happiest days in my life.
I miss Papa very much. The thought I will see him again one day gives me great comfort. I won’t be able to stand on his feet but I can hug him and say to him, “YA lyublyu tebya, Papa.”