HER NAME WAS VERA
from Stella May
I’ve been thinking about writing this for a long time, but never put the actual words to paper. Something always stopped me. When the story is vital, and the memories are bittersweet, it’s very hard to transform into words your emotions. At least, it is for me.
So, the women of my family: my great-grandmother Tatiana, my grandmother Vera, my mother Karina, and my aunt Stella. Even the names sound lovely, old-fashioned, and classy, don’t they?
Three generations, four amazing women who shared blood, but were as different from each other as night and day, or as only mothers and daughters can be. Four women, four fascinating life stories. Today, I will tell you about my grandmother.
Her name was Vera, but we called her Verunya. Even her daughters, my mother and my aunt, referred to her by that endearing nickname. No one in the family knew when exactly it started or who started it. But someone did, and it stuck. For three generations.
As a matter of fact, she had two names: Vera, which means “faith” in Russian, and Gulbahar, which means “spring flower” in Azeri. Why? My grandmother was unique in more ways than one. You see, her mother was from a prominent Russian family, and her father….. Well, here’s where we draw a blank. To this day, no one in the family knows who his ancestors were. But as the family lore goes, my great-grandfather was kidnapped as a child and raised in Iran in a Kurdish family. When he met my great-grandmother Tatiana (and no one is sure when or how he ended up in post-revolutionary Azerbaijan, a republic of former USSR) he was so lovestruck that he converted to Christianity to get permission to marry her. And so, Meshady Abbas became Artemy Kurdov. My grandmother Verunya was the only child of that unusual union.
To say that she was a complex woman is truly an understatement of the century. Stunning, strong-willed, capricious, multifaceted, she looked fragile like a china doll, but was stronger than steel. She was beautiful and knew it. She drove men crazy and enjoyed it.
But she wasn’t flighty, shallow, or mean. There was not a single humble bone in her body, but she never hurt anyone on purpose. She worshipped at the altar of high fashion, but sold without hesitation her favorite dress in order to buy her two little daughters Christmas gifts.
She had a huge heart, and loved all four of us, her grandchildren, to distraction. And every time one of us would visit her, before she would open the door, she’d call out, “My dearest one has come!”
She was not your traditional grandmother. She was not traditional anything, period, and that was a huge part of her charm.
For me, she was a personification of everything female. Always dressed to kill, sporting an impeccable manicure and pedicure, she could apply mascara and her famous cherry red lipstick even half asleep. And grey hair? She refused to even acknowledge its right to exist.
She fell in love at 16 with a man who was almost twice her age. Needless to say, no one could stop her from marrying this dashing hunk who happened to be a popular jazz singer. My aunt was born less than a year after, and my mother three years later.
Then, tragedy struck. My larger-than-life grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. He died three months later, leaving a 20 year-old widow with two toddlers on her arms, no income to support them, and no place to live in a strange city. You see, my grandfather Sergey Periev moved his family from Baku, when my Verunya lived all her life, to Yerevan, where he was offered a position as a lead singer in Armenian Jazz band. The apartment they were living in was a rental for the members of the band only, so after his death my grandmother was asked to vacate it. And the year was 1942, the second year of World War II.
But instead of falling apart, this young girl, a child herself, grabbed her two daughters and whatever meager possessions she had, and returned home. With no help from the well-to-do in-laws, who decided they didn’t need an additional burden, she struck out on her own.
I can only imagine how scared she was. She needed to support her family, but had no real profession or formal education. What she had in abundance was sheer guts and a spine of steel. And a true gift that fate bestowed upon her: her amazing voice.
So, shaking off her own fears and insecurities, my Verunya stuck her perky nose up, squared her fragile shoulders, and set to pursue a career as a singer. And the rest was history. She became a star. In my former country, USSR, the name Vera Perieva was familiar to millions.
In her early thirties, she met her second love. Mikhail Kauffman was her impresario. It was a long, happy, and content marriage. But then cancer struck again, taking away the man who became a true father to my mother and aunt, and loving grandfather to my cousins and I.
When in 1991 our family relocated to the USA, Verunya tried really hard to adjust to her new country, but that proved to be a challenge. The language barrier, failing health, advanced age—everything added to the load.
She passed away quietly in her sleep on one brutally cold October morning, wearing an impeccable manicure and pedicure, with not a single grey hair offending her trade-mark mahogany mane.
Last February would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday. I’m sure the angels threw a huge party for our Verunya, with my mom and dad, and all our dearest departed friends and family in attendance. And then the birthday girl sang, and her deep rich soprano flew over heaven making the Almighty sigh with pleasure…..
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stella May is the penname for Marina Sardarova who has a fascinating history you should read on her website.
Stella writes fantasy romance and time travel and is the author of the family saga/trilogy Once & Forever, and the stand-alone book Rhapsody in Dreams. Love and family are two cornerstones of her stories and life. Stella’s books are available in e-book and paperback through all major vendors.
When not writing, Stella enjoys classical music, reading, and long walks along the ocean.
She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband Leo of 25 years and their son George. They are her two best friends and all are partners in their family business.