June 26, 2010 Museum Time.

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

Museum Location

Your local museum has got nothing better than the average Russian garage. To heck with George Washington’s teeth and Pocahontas’ bra, we have REAL history here!
The poorer a person is, the more they tend to horde things. As things are harder to replace, there is a stronger desire to hold onto everything, useful, useless, or otherwise. My mother in law has lived on a skinny pension for several years and was a communist government worker before that. Like most old communists, she is a champion hoarder.
It is not just her. Most Russians are like her. She has a storage area in the basement of the apartment building which was used by one her neighbors. It is full of lumber so bad that it would be turned down by most bonfire builders, rusty pipes, old boxes, and unidentifiable metal parts of forgotten machines. However, as bad as the lumber is, replacing a step could cost $15 for a heavy piece of wood, so you hold on to whatever you have.
She also owns a garage that we needed to clean a little before we could get our new car into in.
In addition to the brand new refrigerator that Larisa got her, and the working but smaller one that she had before that, Elvira has her last communist era refrigerator, which she uses as a plant stand, and the one before that, which is filled with dusty books. Neither one has worked for many years, but Elvira insists that someday someone is going to want them. In the mean time, they are a display of refrigerator history.
The one that we purchased for her was made in Russia by a German firm. It is over six feet tall, has automatic defrosting, and a large freezer door across the top. The last Communist refrigerator is about 4 and half feet tall, has a freezer section inside that runs across the top, and is dark and scary when you open the door. The one before that is a little smaller still, and has a freezer compartment big enough for a couple of ice trays. You can’t buy ice trays in Russia, but it you have them, you are all set. The one in the garage is older still. It’s definitely bigger than a four drawer file cabinet and reflects the superior eating habits of communists. Unlike you capitalist lackeys, we eat only fresh and healthy food. We don’t need no degenerate freezer compartment!
My favorite garage piece is the communist era radio. Every apartment had one wired to the fuse panel right near the front door. It hung high on the wall or over the front door so that it could be heard throughout the apartment. It has on only one button – the on/off/volume button. It didn’t need a tuning knob because there was only one station. I wish that I could fit that in my suitcase.
While shifting broken furniture, I ran across her Stalin stove. It was junk when I first met Larisa 10 years ago and, as Elvira loved to cook, I tried to impress her with a brand new stove. He old stove was one of the bigger communist stoves. Hers had three burners, two working and one decorative, and a non-working oven. You have seen stoves like it if you have ever wandered through an old wrecked Winnebago.
She had that and the tiny older 2 burner stove in the garage. The 2 burner was probably from the 30’s. It has 2 burners on the cook top and a pan storage area that looks like an oven – but isn’t. It was hade with metal shelves and a window in the “oven”, but no burners.
Before you feel too superior, remember that stoves like these were common in New York apartments through the 30’s and 40’. In one of Jack Lemmon’s movies, you can see him trying to cook on one.
The water heater is there. I replaced Mother’s a few years ago. Now she has a new demand fired electronically controlled gas water heater on the kitchen wall. It is a pretty neat invention. It monitors the hot water line and only creates hot water when the tap is opened. It can put out hot water in less than 10 seconds and keep doing it as long as the tap is open. It is much more efficient than the tank type that we use in the states.
On the other hand, the one in the garage is twice the size of the new one. It has a door in the front where you insert a long match to light it when you want hot water. It also has a lever that controls the height of the flame. When you want to take a shower or wash the dishes, you turn on the gas valve on the wall, light the flame, adjust the height, do your business, and then turn off the water heater to keep it from burning itself up – and then remember to turn off the gas valve because this thing has no safety valve to keep it from blowing up if the gas is on and the fire is out.
Mother keeps it for a spare. The only use I can see for it is to restage the Hindenburg disaster.
Mother has no old washing machines because very few people outside of the communist party members could afford one, but we there are a couple of machines that Larisa and I bought after socialism died and which we have now passed on to other owners.
Two years ago, we purchased the newest and best machine we could find. It was all plastic, stood about 40 inches tall, and had two tubs and manual controls. In spite of its size, it was “portable”. To use it, you brought it into the kitchen, hooked the water feed up to the faucet, dropped the drain hose into the sink, and loaded your clothes into the first tub. You then flipped a switch to fill the tub with water, turned a knob to the desired wash time, and watched the machine wash your clothes. When the wash was over, you flipped another switch to empty the tub, transferred the clothes over to the spinner tub, and set the timer for the amount of spinning you wanted. We passed it on to a young couple with a new child. They couldn’t afford a new one and were grateful for our old one.
Back in 2004, we purchased our first Russian washing machine. We were living in a rented apartment and there is no such thing as a Laundromat in the country. I found a small machine for about $50 in a local hardware store. It was a plastic box about the size of a big breadbox and it sat on your kitchen counter or in your bathtub. You hooked it up to the faucet, put in a handful of clothes and turned the switch to make it gently agitate the clothes. It didn’t spin anything, so it was essentially a little useless. I have no idea whose garage that thing currently resides in.
I found out that the rented apartment actually had a washing machine under the bed. This was one of the fancy ones available only to rich party members during socialism.
Picture a bright red steel coffee table about four feet square. You begin by rolling it out from under the bed and struggling to get it upright. The help of a neighbor boy or two is recommended for this step. When you have it upright, (looking like a coffee table set on its side), you roll it over to the sink and, as usual, attach the water and drain hoses. Now comes the good part. When you open a door on the top, you see a vertical drum for the clothes. You have to rotate the drum around until the hole in the drum matches the door in the top, and put the clothes through the hole. I suppose that you had to somehow fish them out again when you were done, but I never got that far. I couldn’t read the Russian labels on the buttons anyway and it didn’t look as if had been used in years, so it went back under the bed, where it probably is until this day.
When you thing about it, those garages hold good news. The direction of change is good and getting faster. Here in America, poll after poll shows that our children expect to live worst lives than we did. The facts show that we are getting deeper in debt, buying smaller houses later in life, and that every year fewer of us can afford a new car. We are still the strongest and best economy in the world, but the direction now is down. We are in a good spot, but we’re not getting much richer.
On the other hand, Russia’s direction is up. Four years ago no one in Premalka had a washing machine and today four of the six apartments in our building have modern machines. Five years ago, mother in law didn’t want a microwave because she had no idea what it was for and none of her friends had one. Today, she and everyone else use their microwave every day.
They are still in the 1930s, but they are moving fast into the 1950s. Must be nice to be moving up.

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