As my son gets ready to move out of the house to go to college, I've been thinking about another Russian writer who captures universal human themes that resonate over a hundred years later: Anton Checkhov. His story "Dushechka" or, in English translation, "The Darling," has many layers of meaning. Indeed, the Russian word Dushechka originates from the Russian word "dusha" or soul, and thus the title alone has multiple meanings — soul mate, someone who is all soul, or has a great soul. I'm not going to do Dushechka justice in this post so please forgive me, dear Russian literature fanatics.
The heroine of "The Darling" is a young woman, Olenka, who becomes passionate about whatever her loved ones are involved in. First she marries a theater owner and all she talks about is theater. She speaks with contempt of the public, of its indifference to the arts, of its boorishness and insensitivity. She weeps at unfavorable revues and argues with editors. When her husband dies, she marries a timber merchant. Suddenly, lumber is the most fascinating subject on earth as far as Olenka is concerned. She manages her husband's business affairs and dreams of boards, planks, beams, and joists. When the second husband dies, Olenka takes up with a veterinary surgeon. Her acquaintances find out about this simply because she suddenly becomes overwhelmingly concerned with the sanitary conditions of animals: "The health of domestic animals ought to be as well attended to as the health of human beings." And so it goes.
It is hard to be a parent and completely avoid turning into a Dushechka just a bit, particularly in this day and age of high parental involvement. Whether we like it or not, we become engaged in our kids' passions and pursuits, and often absorb them as our own. That brings me to baseball and bluegrass.
For years after coming to the US, I had absolutely no interest in baseball. In fact, I didn't get it at all — there just wasn't enough action on the field as far as I was concerned. Once, someone invited me to a party in the box at San Francisco's Candlestick Park where many people watched the game on a TV screen. My reaction? "This would be great if you could only switch to a different channel." I was convinced that you had to be born in America to understand and appreciate baseball. This all changed when Greg, my son, joined his first T–ball team. I grew to love baseball as he moved from T-ball to Little League. We are now proud San Francisco Giants season ticket holders. My husband told me he knew I was fully on board when he heard me say after a pitch, "That was a mean slider!"
Similarly, I found myself falling in love with the most American of music genre — bluegrass. This happened when the building housing the music room in my son's school had to close for repairs, and the kids could not use their favorite electric instruments to play rock music. Instead, John Fuller, music teacher and bluegrass musician, brought out acoustic instruments outside–mandolin, guitars, upright base–and Greg, a 5th grader at the time, suddenly discovered bluegrass. Within a few months, he and his buddies had a bluegrass band and were playing at festivals and farmers' markets. And I, who was raised on Bach and The Beatles, suddenly found myself camping out at various bluegrass festivals, hanging out with bluegrass musicians, and learning to love Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, among others.
As Greg gets ready to leave for college, the cautionary image of "Dushechka" looms big on my mind. I am going to a lot of ballgames and listening to a lot of bluegrass musicians, probably more than ever before. Am I trying to ensure that my adopted passions continue as Greg moves out, and that I don't turn into a Dushechka? If that is the case, thank you Chekhov for a cautionary tale.
The Portable Chekhov (Amazon)