For months, Larisa has dreamed of having some benches in the common area in front of our apartment building, and, for almost as long, she has wanted a sandbox for the kids to play in.
There were a couple of problems facing her. The first was that we couldn’t just purchase benches and put them out there. In a poor area like this, they would disappear and become someone’s garage bench in a few days. The other problem was the neighbors. They had criticized Larisa when she paid for gravel in the driveway and put up a shoe scraper near the front door. They said she was crazy for doing things for other people without getting paid. Her own mother agreed with them.
A few months ago, they cut down a large walnut tree in the yard. The cutters left behind a bunch of logs about thirty inches long, and a stump right in the middle of the yard. Larisa and Luba lined one side of the yard with the logs to keep people from parking on the grass, but there were a lot of logs left over.
That gave Larisa an opportunity. She purchased a bag of cement mix, and we scrounged around the basement until we found two old used boards that would make an L-shaped bench around the existing stump, and a small board to put on the stump for a tiny table top.
The next day, we started construction. We gathered up small logs and started to concrete them into the ground around the stump. At first, the only one who was helping was Luba the German lady. We were about half way through the construction of the benches when Luba went into her apartment and returned with an 18” by 36” piece of plywood that was ideal for a table top.
By this time, we had kibitzers. Not helpers, mind you, but advice givers from the neighborhood. Then a neighbor showed up with a bench sized board and a bucket of 8” roofing nails, explaining that he couldn’t sit at an L shaped bench drinking beer and playing cards with his friends. It needed another side so he could sit opposite his buddies.
Another log, some more cement, and boisterous help from a mostly drunk neighbor, and Larisa had her U shaped benches with a table.
It was ugly as it comes, but people were sitting on it before it was even done. Larisa decided to paint it, so I said something about putting lipstick on a pig and took her buy paint.
Larisa and Luba couldn’t paint the next day because it rained, so I took Larisa to a tire store where they replace big truck tires. They agreed to give her an old truck tire to use as a sandbox, but it wouldn’t fit into our car, so we had to leave it there.
A few days later, Larisa and Luba painted the bench and table bright green and brown. When I got out to the yard, I got a big surprise. Larisa had talked a couple of teenage boys into picking up her tire for her and she ordered a cheap but commercial sized scoop of sand. In addition to the truck tire, some of the neighbors had found big limbs from the downed tree to fence in a bigger sand box area.
There were six kids playing in the huge new sandbox. Four or five young teenagers and about five mothers and grandmothers had found paint brushes and a little more paint, and were painting everything in sight with fun graffiti. The table, the posts, and all the logs at the side of the yard were covered with Halloween faces, hearts, flowers, diamonds and other fun stuff. It actually looked pretty good.
That night, Baba and the other women of the apartment building sat at the bench drinking tea and eating cookies in the twilight. It has been in use constantly since then.
Oh, the “Most is not All” thing. In the past, I have noted that generations of communism followed by decades of relative poverty have made most Russians among the laziest and most selfish people on Earth – most, not all. In fact, the percentage of hard workers is increasing rapidly each year as the young post communist generation takes over.
Here in our yard, Larisa motivated people who had made fun of her for working to improve the building, to get off their butts and help out – and they are all happy about it.
Of course, this IS Russia, so we had to have that one old lady. Larisa had told everyone that she planned to put in a big sandbox and everyone had agreed, but once it was in, an old lady next door complained bitterly. She said that Larisa should never have put sand in the yard, because “the wind is going to blow it into my windows and I won’t be able to breath!’. It seems Russia is always going to have “that one old lady.”