s
t
o
r
i
e
s

1. April 1988: A Long-Distance Phone Call

Capitalist families are all alike; every communist family is communist in its own way.

My family’s ways of being American communists responded to the changing fortunes of Marxism in the United States over the decades. (And yes, I was what’s called in some circles a “red diaper” baby, a child of communists. In my case, I’m one who, to mix metaphors, didn’t fall far from the tree.) When I was little, we lived where other communists lived. During World War II, for instance, when the USSR and the United States were allies, we lived in Knickerbocker Village, on New York’s Lower East Side, and my mother and Ethel Rosenberg—later to die in the electric chair as an alleged Soviet spy—sat in the playground with their baby carriages and smoked cigarettes and talked about making a better, i.e. communist world. Later, we lived in Croton-on-Hudson, and my playmates and I talked about Joseph Stalin as “Uncle Joe.” The records I listened to were sung by Pete Seeger, USSR choruses, and the great American singer/actor Paul Robeson. In the summers, my sister Maggie and I went to communist camps, where Seeger and Robeson came to entertain us, and the counselors led sing-alongs around the campfires with songs like “The Banks Are Made of Marble.”

In those halcyon years, my family, like many others, practiced their politics more or less openly. They went to party meetings, organized in labor unions like New York’s Transport Workers Union, and in what later came to be called communist-front organizations like tenants’ rights groups. They wrote what would later be assailed as communist propaganda in both left-wing and mainstream media.

But later in the postwar years, the political climate changed drastically. Communism became the enemy, hunting it down and rooting it out was on the country’s agenda, and the tens of thousands of American communists who escaped public exposure, loss of their jobs, or worse, went into hiding. My family was one of those. We moved to a suburb where the other communists also lived in hiding, and we socialized with them privately. My parents still talked with us about fighting for justice and equality for all, but warned us not to discuss such things with our friends. And when Ethel and Julius Rosenberg died in the electric chair on June 19, 1953, I wept in private.

If we retained our commitment to communist ideals—and most of us did—they somehow didn’t bar us from participating in, and even succeeding in, some of the institutions of the capitalist world in which we lived. None of us became bankers or even landlords, but we had no objections to and indeed flourished in fields like education and the media. We did, however, grow up with considerable ambivalence about two institutions in particular: marriage and the nuclear family. The result of that was that we married early and often, and could be said to have a penchant verging on mania for frequent, fruitful marriages and changes of home and spouses. We were also passionately attached to one specific material object. We had, and often argued over, a naked communist heirloom.

Both of those played out when my sister Maggie called our mother one day in 1988 to announce her upcoming fourth nuptials. Taking after Mother in defying the odds against marriage for women past forty, Maggie was calling to invite us to her wedding in five weeks.

I congratulated her, then mentioned my upcoming jaunt with some colleagues to see for ourselves the exciting events happening in the Soviet Union. “I’m flying to Moscow a week later,” I said.

We had, and often argued over, a naked communist heirloom.

“I know,” she said. “We thought of the week after first, until I remembered your trip.” From the other extension, Mother assured Maggie that there was no problem and we would both be at the wedding. Then, thinking of Maggie’s phone bill and the cost of long-distance calls (long-distance was still expensive then), she cut short her raptures, passed on some quick tips about rapacious caterers, hung up the phone, and asked, “What on earth can we give them?”

The problem was that they had everything. Maggie and her husband-to-be were heads of their respective departments at one of the country’s great universities. Both middle-aged, both comfortable (to say the least), they had spent half of two lifetimes accumulating things they loved. In fact, their relationship began after, having known each other casually for years, they fell in love bidding against each other at an Art Deco auction. Some of us always believed that they had more cold-bloodedly decided that one home for the treasures would be better than two.

It was when I reminded Mother of their mutual passion for Art Deco that she had what she considered a brilliant idea. “I know!” she said. “I’ll give them the Demeter!”

The “Young Demeter” was our communist family heirloom, the small terra cotta nude that had stood on Mother’s mantel for much of my life, although from time to time it had to be hidden away. It was exquisite. It also looked exactly like my mother in her youth, because she had modeled for it. But its real name was “The Dawn of the Revolution,” and it had a hammer and sickle etched into its base.

2. A Communist Statue

A family nude has certain drawbacks. A family portrait, now, you hang it on the wall and there’s an end to it. But a family nude, at least in certain company, can require apology, or even concealment. Ours, for example, was always put away, and a white china duck set on the mantel in its place, whenever—

Not when the vicar came calling. We had no vicar. We had no divinity for a vicar to represent, although in my very early childhood, I sometimes thought that my mother looked at the figure on the mantel the way my paternal grandmother looked at the huge crucifix over her bed.

It was during my grandmother’s visits that the nude was replaced by the china duck. She visited often during the war to ask what news we had of my father, as if reminding my mother that she had a husband and he was heroically fighting Nazis.

Actually, he was fighting Nazis from a fairly cushy desk job in London writing propaganda. That rather disappointed Mother, who would have preferred a hero and in fact found one before my father came home from his war. But the substitution of the duck for the statue added fuel to my suspicion that a rivalry of some kind existed between the Lady on our mantel and the Lord in my grandmother’s house.

As to looks, there was no contest, unless you found frailty more attractive than strength, which we did not. Once, when instructing my sister Maggie and me simultaneously in usage and in manners, Mother defined for us the distinction between ladies and women. Ladies, she told us, were often in distress, and squaring her capable shoulders said, “Women are never in distress. Remember that.”

By such a standard, the frail and sad-eyed man over my grandmother’s bed couldn’t hold a candle to the joyful, muscular goddess on our mantel. Only thirteen inches high, counting the low base on which she stood, she nevertheless dominated the entire living room. She was fashioned from a rosy terra cotta and bore a partial resemblance to her larger bronze sister, the great Demeter of Rockefeller Center.

You know that statue. Everyone does. It’s the one on all the Rockefeller Center postcards, the Great Mother, broad-shouldered and broad-hipped, her powerful body crouched over the human race to which she has just given birth, as if to shield it from the war and strife it will inherit. It was created during the triumphant moment of socialist realism, that brief era when communist-minded artists like Diego Rivera and the Demeter sculptor were celebrated even in the capitalist world.

Our goddess had been sculpted by the same hand, and from the shoulders down, from the same model; the Rockefeller Center Demeter has Mother’s body, but not her face, because Mother’s was too youthful at the time. Ours was a younger goddess, the Virgin, not the Mother. Both feet firmly planted in the as yet untroubled Earth, she stood relaxed yet joyous, head cocked to one side as if listening to a music too fine for mortal ears. The stance was familiar to me from my earliest childhood.

No one came to our house for the first time without stopping in front of the mantel to look at her. We thought it was only her due, and when they asked her name, we said, “Young Demeter.” But it was a resemblance much closer to home than that between our statue and the Rockefeller Center Demeter that caused the trouble with my grandmother. It was the resemblance between the statue and our mother.

There was no time I did not know that her existence and our possession of her was a three-fold source of pride: the great name of the sculptor, the statue’s astonishing beauty, and the fact that Mother had been the model—recognizably. The famous face was clearly hers; the divine body was hers as well, as anyone who had ever seen her naked could tell.

And many had. The Demeter’s sculptor was the most famous artist Mother had sat for, but by no means the only one. She had supported herself in the deep Depression as a model and never in her life felt any less decent or dignified out of her clothes than in them, although once dressed, she was a fierce stickler for the proprieties of color and season.

There was, however, one more thrilling fact about our statue: the statue formerly named “The Dawn of the Revolution” was a miniature version of a monumental bronze that stood, Mother said proudly, in a plaza in Leningrad. What we had on our mantel was a communist statue—a nude communist statue.

3. Nude in the Closet

We renamed her after the War, when her political genealogy began to be more of a trouble to us than her state of undress. By the time the war ended, Mother had married a genuine war hero, although he turned out to be rather less dashing out of uniform than in it. The marriage lasted only long enough to conceive the first of my many half-siblings to come, but of course my grandmother, she of the crucifix, no longer visited us. And as the postwar polarization took shape, it became the neighbors’ visits we worried about. There was no telling who might come calling, who might ask what revolution the statue celebrated. It was during those years that Mother lost the innocence of the young goddess and began to resemble more the Demeter of Rockefeller Center.

As the Cold War tensions mounted, silence on the question of our Demeter’s origins was not enough, and the statue began to spend more time out of the living room than in it. It only made ceremonial appearances when Mother’s old friends turned up—those who hadn’t died or named names or fled to Moscow. In the morning light, it would be back in its closet.

Then one evening in the fear-filled late spring of 1953, Mother picked up the statue to put it away and dropped it, or so she told us. It fell, cracking neatly at the ankle. Mother mourned for days, but from then on, the statue stayed in its closet.

4. Later the Same Century: Autres Temps, Autres Moeurs

Mother acquired more husbands—three more, eventually—and more children, also three more. Maggie went away to college and stayed away; I didn’t. We both followed the example set before us, marrying and breeding early and often, although like many second children, Maggie was by far the more ambitious of the two of us. She not only acquired more husbands and more children than I did, but at the same time acquired more degrees, many of them. By the mid-1980s, she was a confirmed Midwesterner, rather a contrarian star in her chosen academic field, and single again, the mother of one last adolescent still at home. I, too, was single again, somewhat more permanently, and an empty-nest mother with a comfortable job as the editor of a progressive magazine. I was also the one of Mother’s many children who had become, as she aged, her mainstay as to companionship and her caretaker-to-be should she need one, inconceivable as that might be.

The famous face was clearly hers; the divine body was hers as well, as anyone who had ever seen her naked could tell.

Glasnost happened, and a best-selling guide to Places and Pleasures of Moscow and Leningrad. Its frontispiece was a full-color photo of the bronze “Dawn of the Revolution.” The book had the place of honor on Mother’s coffee table, permanently opened to that page. Across from the coffee table, the statue was back on the mantel, where I put it after I had it repaired, having found it twenty years earlier in a shoe box in Mother’s closet when I helped her move from one house—and one husband—to another.

Glasnost. On a sweet Sunday afternoon in early April of 1988, Mother and I were entertaining a neighbor of hers with a description of my upcoming trip to the Soviet Union. She only wished, she said, that she were going with me. I wished it too; she was an exuberant and indefatigable companion. We had traveled often together in the several years after my last stepfather died (not the ex-GI, nor his successor, but the gentle man she had married when she was almost but not quite past childbearing). Only a year earlier in London, when she was well past seventy, we had walked four miles from Oscar Wilde’s home in Chelsea to the zoo in Regent’s Park. I wanted to sit down for a cup of tea at the first cafe inside the zoo. Mother wanted to walk through the zoo. She said I had never known how to shop for shoes.

But by the next year, a cataract had clouded her vision in one eye, and recurring attacks of arthritis had slowed her walking pace and finally forced her to buy a cane. It was the first time I had known her to concede to age. When I proposed the trip to the Soviet Union, she was uncharacteristically indecisive, eventually admitting that the two-week whirl from Moscow to Tashkent sounded more like work than pleasure. It was a bigger concession than the cane.

So I was going to the Soviet Union without her, at least in the flesh. Vicariously speaking, she was going too, as she made clear to the neighbor. She showed her the picture in the guidebook of the statue I would see in Leningrad; then, proudly, showed her the statue on the mantel. The neighbor stared and said at last, “That’s your face!”

Mother was all astonishment at the recognition, although in fact it had remained unmistakable. For a moment I thought she would drop her clothes and demonstrate that it was her body, too, but the neighbor and I were rescued by the telephone. Somewhat intimidated, if not scandalized, the neighbor made her escape.

It was the call from Maggie, announcing her upcoming wedding. That was when Mother decided to give the happy couple the family nude I had coveted for years and, being her oldest child, had assumed would one day become mine. Indeed, she had all but promised me it would, after I had rescued it from the shoe box. I opened my mouth to remind her of all that and then closed it again. She’d have seen it as sibling rivalry; worse, she’d have told me it was sibling rivalry. Maybe it was; maybe Maggie’s worldly success had made me cling more closely to my primogeniture rights.

It was all moot at that moment: I could hardly bring into the discussion of my sister’s wedding present the argument that I had expected to have that particular item after Mother’s death. I aborted an embryonic sigh and helped Mother find something to pack it safely in for the flight to Chicago. We nestled it in tissue, then in newspaper, then she wrapped it in her travel dressing gown, which she wouldn’t need before the flight, and put it in her suitcase.

5. After the Fall

A few days after Maggie’s call, it commenced to rain. A steady downpour went on for days, while the temperature plummeted. When it broke previous records for early April, the rain turned to sleet, leaving a terrifyingly slick covering of icy slush on the streets.

Mother was unfazed. She was on a mission, buying an entire new wardrobe for Maggie’s wedding. When I asked her to be prudent, she said that ship had sailed long ago. When I said the wedding was still weeks away, she said she wanted to get exactly the right things. Finally, I said it would be rude to outshine the bride, but she didn’t have time to talk—she had to get to Lord & Taylor’s.

The day after that conversation, the call came just as I was arriving at work. The neighbor we had entertained with the statue had seen Mother fall. She was in the hospital.

The doctor there told me her hip was broken and recovery would be slow at her age. “She was in a lot of pain,” he added. “We had to medicate her pretty heavily. Don’t expect conversation.”

He didn’t know whom he was medicating. She opened her eyes as I walked in the room and said, “Too much dope. Can’t think. Tell them not so much.”

Then her eyes closed. I sat down and took her hand. “Don’t call Maggie,” she murmured. “Not . . . necessary yet. Wait . . . and see.”

I whispered her name. She didn’t answer. After a couple of minutes, I reached across to the bedside phone and followed the directions for an outside line, then dialed Maggie’s number. As I insisted that my slightly loutish nephew get his mother out of the tub, I glanced at Mother and saw her staring balefully at me. She muttered something.

“What?” I asked.

“She says, is it an emergency?” said my nephew on the phone.

“Yes, it’s an emergency,” I said.

“No it isn’t,” Mother said loudly. She seemed to be wide awake. “Do you know what they charge for outside calls in these places?” she asked. “Outside long-distance calls yet!” That last part was not so much a comment as a curse.

“What is it?” Maggie asked crossly on the other end of the line.

“Give me that phone!” Mother said, then, to Maggie, “This is ridiculous. Don’t do anything! I’ll be fine!” Her eyes were closing as she handed me the phone and murmured, “Hang up . . . now . . .”

I told Maggie what had happened. “What am I supposed to do?” she asked. “We just sent out the invitations!”

Neither of us believed Mother would be able to come to the wedding. Then again, it wasn’t as if it was Maggie’s first, or even second. She stopped crying and even giggled a little when I said that. “Will she even be able to be alone?” she asked. “What about your trip?” We agreed, finally, to change nothing except Mother’s plane reservation—Maggie because what else could she do? and I because that’s what Mother ordered. The next time she woke up, she told me not to change the Russia trip either. She said my kids would take care of her if she needed help, which she wouldn’t.

6. Is It a Nude or a Little Vacuum Cleaner?

Five weeks later, the evening before I was to fly to Chicago, my dinner companion said, “You got a Dustbuster!” They were still pretty new, and everyone wanted one.

The words, “It’s not a Dustbuster, it’s a nude statue of my mother,” didn’t come trippingly off the tongue.

I waved the observation away and changed the subject. The words, “It’s not a Dustbuster, it’s a nude statue of my mother,” didn’t come trippingly off the tongue.

Earlier that day, at Mother’s, I had taken the statue out of the suitcase and put it, still swaddled, into a shopping bag. Mother thought it wasn’t secure enough. She was very cranky about not going to the wedding. So we put it, swaddled still, into the box of the Dustbuster Maggie had given Mother the Christmas before.

I had wanted to get it from Mother’s sooner, but she had refused until the last possible minute to admit she wasn’t going to the wedding. Now it was four-thirty in the afternoon, Maggie was getting married in forty hours, and I had a dinner and theater date and in the morning was flying to Chicago. There was no time for me to bring it home and then get to dinner—I had to carry it with me.

I was absolutely terrified. What if it broke, or I lost it, or—oh, god, I couldn’t, could I?—forgot it and left it at the restaurant or in the theater. So I ate dinner with the Dustbuster box in my lap and refused to check it at the theater, where it was a nuisance under my feet and those of my companion and everyone else sitting in the same row. I kept it in my lap again when I went out for a drink with the three other people I had gone to the theater with. All evening long, bartenders, waiters, and the people I was with asked me why I was carrying a Dustbuster around with me. I gave a dozen answers, none of them true.

But I got it home in one piece. I fell asleep to thoughts of terrible things that could happen the next day.

7. The Flying Nude

The lights in the cabin flickered and the jets commenced to roar, one of my least favorite sounds. Did I say I’m a somewhat phobic flier? Mother loved that roar, but she wasn’t on the plane. I pushed with my toe against my carry-on bag to check that it was lodged firmly in its little niche under the seat in front of me. The Dustbuster box was in it, with the swaddled statue. The incredibly beautiful and commensurately expensive Art Deco vase I was giving Maggie and Lou was in my big bag, the one I checked, because there was no room for it in the carry-on with the Dustbuster box.

A flight attendant, coming to check that we were belted and no bags were sticking into the aisles or anywhere else, frowned at the carry-on, which in fact was sticking out just a little from under the seat. “Wouldn’t you like to put that overhead?” she asked. “You’ll have a lot more leg room.”

I began yet another long, boring lie about papers in the carry-on that I need access to during the flight, but she got glassy-eyed and stepped away after the first paragraph. The next time I saw her, she was handing out headsets for the movie. When I asked for one, she said, “I thought you had to work during the flight.” I told her I was going to work during the scary parts.

The movie had no scary parts, but we had some real-life excitement over Lake Erie. The plane began to bounce, and the FASTEN SEAT BELTS and NO SMOKING signs lit up. The usual ominous announcements informed us that we were experiencing a little turbulence, which we already knew, and asked us to extinguish all smoking materials and make sure our seat belts were fastened. I unfastened mine and reached down, unzipped the carry-on, and pulled out the Dustbuster box, prepared to defend the statue with my body if it came down to that. Then the captain asked the flight attendants to fasten their seat belts. That’s the one I really hate.

But before they could secure themselves, of course, they had to check on us, and the one I had argued with at take-off came and said, “Please put that under your seat,” sounding just a little testy. I started another long, boring story, this one including the words “fragile” and “irreplaceable,” but before I could get to “family heirloom,” she gave up and went to check on a saner passenger. The next half hour was the roughest I’ve ever experienced in the air.

An eternity later, the bouncing stopped. The captain apologized and then announced our imminent landing. I don’t like landings, either. I hung on to the box, hoping Demeter would protect me as assiduously as I was protecting her. The flight attendant ignored me. When I left the plane, she said, “Goodbye, Hope we see you ag—” and stopped, mid-word, and said goodbye to the person behind me. I wondered if I’d be arrested at the gate.

But there were no cops there, just Maggie, looking appropriately bridal. She hugged me, asked, “How was the flight?,” then saw what I was holding. “We have a Dustbuster,” she said. “Two, in fact.”

“Not like this one,” I told her. “This one was really hard to get.”

Epilogue

Late in the first June of the new century, Maggie and I and three men stand before a field of monuments in the rosy light that lasts until morning on midsummer nights in St. Petersburg. It used to last that long in Leningrad, too—sometimes everything old is new again. St. Petersburg became Petrograd during the first world war, then Leningrad after the revolution, and then St. Petersburg again after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mother called it Leningrad until she died, and even after that.

The field where we stand, some twenty miles outside the city, is closed with a padlocked gate. A sign declares in Cyrillic and Latin characters that we are at the St. Petersburg Museum of Soviet Era Sculpture. When the museum was founded almost two decades earlier, it had been in a different location, with a somewhat different name.

Over the course of two years, in 1983-1984, Mikhail Gorbachev had tried to embrace the old while ringing in the new by transforming a vacant warehouse in the heart of the city into the Leningrad Museum of Soviet Sculpture. He had soviet monuments from across the vast nation moved into it, with the city’s beloved “Dawn of the Revolution” holding pride of place. I had seen it there on my trip to the Soviet Union right after Maggie’s wedding. I had gazed awed at my mother writ large and thought, half proudly, half wistfully, about the tiny, lovely version I had delivered to Maggie in the Dustbuster box.

Then I had come home and told them all about it, Maggie in a letter I wrote and sent after removing every trace of envy, Mother in conversation after conversation. After one such talk, she had written on a Post-It (they were new then), “I want the ‘The Dawn of the Revolution’ statue to go to the Museum of Soviet Sculpture in Leningrad.” She hadn’t told me or anyone, only stuck the note onto her own copy of her will. And apparently never thought about it again as the news came out about Gorbachev’s fall, followed by the fall of the Soviet Union itself, followed by the rechristening of everything soviet. I found the note stuck to her will in her filing cabinet after she died, just as the Times Square ball was ushering in the new year, the new century, the new millennium.

Between all the other tasks that follow a parent’s death, Maggie and I had talked often (long distance calls are free now, of course) about whether Mother would still have wanted the statue to go to the renamed, relocated museum. The deciding factor had been that the original, the monumental Dawn, was there. We had spent the next six months trying to arrange to bring its little sister there, in person. A couple of weeks ago, I walked to Rockefeller Center to look at the Demeter there. “Yes,” I thought. “We’ll bring your little sister to Leningrad, so she can live with the fruit of your labor.”

And thus it was that now, on Midsummer Eve, after mazes and tangles and Moebius strips of no-longer-red tape, we’re in front of the padlocked gate to the St. Petersburg Museum of Soviet Era Sculpture.

“There should be a hyphen there,” Maggie says, pointing her chin in the general direction of the sign. She can’t point a finger because her arms are full, cradling the same Dustbuster box in which I carried the statue to her so many years before.

A white-haired old man in a shabby caretaker’s uniform fiddles at the lock with shaking hands. The other two men lean against the car that brought us here, twenty miles outside of the city. One wears a kind of chauffeur’s cap and is smoking a cigarette and staring at the sky, the other wears a bureaucrat’s dark suit and is reading the New York Times.

Finally, with a click, the padlock gives, and then we’re standing in the field among the monuments. Many represent tautly muscled workers, male and female, standing with hoes in their strong hands or sheaves of grain in their strong arms. Others depict equally muscular soldiers, also male and female, facing off against foes fascist or capitalist. A path, grassy between its stones, leads to a large building in the middle of the field. Across its front is something in Cyrillic. The man in the suit—the bureaucrat, our Russian guide—points and utters his first words since we and the caretaker arrived: “Food for the workers,” he says in good English. “It was the dining hall when this was a collective farm.” When no one answers, he adds, “The most important works are in there. Including—” and he points to the Dustbuster box Maggie’s holding.

But he doesn’t move, so Maggie asks, “Shall we then?” at which he nods.

We march in single file to the door, where the old caretaker again fiddles with a lock. “Doesn’t anyone come here?” I ask.

He asks the caretaker something in Russian. “Nyet,” the old man says, then adds something longer.

“Hardly ever,” says the bureaucrat. “The last people were the man with the order to make a space for that.” He points to the Dustbuster box and says, “And the workers who made the space.”

“But there’s sixty years of art here,” I protest.

He shrugs. “Art students used to sometimes. But then their professors criticized their theses as irrelevant, so little by little they stopped coming.”

At that moment, the caretaker succeeds in unlocking the door, and accompanied by a creak, we enter. The smell of dust and mildew would kill an asthmatic, and I look at the old man with some concern, but he seems oblivious.

Then he switches on the lights, and there, in the center of the big space, she is, “The Dawn of the Revolution.” She’s as joyful and beautiful as I last saw her in 1988, only, we see as we come closer, dusty.

There’s an empty small stand next to her, also dust covered. The bureaucrat says something to the old man, who takes a large handkerchief from his pocket and begins to dust the top of the stand. The official turns to Maggie, gestures at the box, and asks, “Shall we put her in her new home?”

Facing him, Maggie slews her eyes over to me, asking me the same question. I move my head the littlest bit left, then right again. She takes a deep breath, looks him in the eye, and says, “No.”

“What?” he asks.

“No,” Maggie says. “Nyet. I’m very sorry, but no. This isn’t her home anymore. We’re taking her back.”

“Not possible!” he answers. He starts to sputter. “You can’t. You promised—the government of Russia spent—you offered it to us—”

I butt in and tell him, “Send us a bill.”

Maggie adds quickly, “We’ll negotiate. What it cost you for us not to give you something that, after all, still belongs to us. The agreement said so, I believe: ‘Property of the family of—’”

“I don’t know what I’m going to tell my superiors!” he wails.

“Tell them we’re a pair of aging ugly Americans,” she says, and clutching the box closely, walks toward the door. Then she says, “And tell them our children will probably send it here when we die. But unless you want an international incident, you’d better drive us to the airport now. Our plane leaves in a few hours.”

Only slightly miraculously, he gives in. In the car, he says something to the driver, and instead of kidnapping and murdering us, they bring us to the airport, where we open the Dustbuster box at security so they can see it’s only a statue, small but beautiful. Getting into our seats on the plane, Maggie hands the box to me and says, “Put her under your seat—it’s your turn to have her.”

In the air, we talk about the statue’s future and ours. We agree that I’ll keep it for now, but if I die first, Maggie will get it. And we’ll put in our wills that it should go back to Russia after that, assuming that’s okay with our kids.

At Kennedy, Maggie changes planes for Kansas City. (She’s moved twice since her wedding to the Art Deco lover, but amazingly they’re still married.) We hug tearfully at her gate, and then she flies off, without the Dustbuster box and without the statue.

I take a cab back to the Upper West Side. I move some objets d’art around and put the statue on top of a three-shelf bookcase, where she looks happy. And once again—at least for as long as Maggie and I are alive—Young Demeter, a.k.a., the Dawn of the Revolution, is our family nude.

Judith Mahoney Pasternak was born and raised in New York and now lives in Paris. She is the author of seven books on travel and popular culture, stories, poems, and essays. She was a red diaper baby.

You Might Also Enjoy

Further Reading

Heads Up: We recently updated our privacy policy to clarify how and why we collect personal data. By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand this policy.