Below is an excerpt from my never quite finished book about my travels in the Georgian Republic in the early 90's - I am posting this in tribute to my then mother-in-law, Luiza Lominmeshvilli who just passed away. I wrote this many years ago and it is very sad for me to realize that so many of the people in this scene are now gone: Alek, his father, and now his mother. I miss them all. The world is a smaller place without them.
"That's it!" Alek pointed to an enormous cluster yellowed-white buildings that seemed to glow against the thick, inky backdrop of the sky. As we turned into the parking lot Alek’s excitement grew. "My friends: they came to meet me!"
"How can you tell?"
"Shosay's car!" He pointed toward the lot, jammed with dozens of cars seemingly identical cars, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. The cars, like the buildings, were faceless, sternly Soviet, all the same color: a grim dingy white. The only outstanding feature of the entire landscape was mountainous pile of garbage that had long ago overgrown its broken chute and seemed to be taking over the parking lot like a slow-moving, fetid wave. I wondered how long it had been there.
Alek often boasted that his family lived in a building with an elevator, but when we arrived, we found it broken. Alek looked down at the luggage with disgust. "These bags are getting on my damn nerves!”
"What floor?" I asked.
"Three," he spit out angrily.
"That's not bad -"
"Bichoc, will get this. No problem. You stay." And with that he bounded up the stairs leaving me to watch the luggage. Again. I bobbed and paced, trying to keep warm. Along the wall, a row of broken mailboxes caught my eye and tried with little success to decipher the writing on them. Above me, the knock on the door and the surprised delight of a woman's voice followed by a chorus of happy voices all talking at once.
A young woman bounded down the steps, skipping the last two to land squarely in front of me. I knew this must be Alek’s younger sister. She pointed proudly to herself and proclaimed her name, "Leka!" Then we both pointed at me. "Jeni!" we said in unison and hugged. Then there was a simple moment of taking-in, checking to see how our imaginations matched with reality. As it later turned out, we were both surprised. Leka had expected someone taller and more serious. So had I. Alek had described me to his family as "beautiful, with blue eyes and blond hair," and so they were expecting some tall, svelte, movie star-ice queen type, with long legs and golden hair. What they got instead was a short, busty, girl-next-door, with scruffy shoulder length hair, faded blue jeans and exceedingly sensible shoes.
Alek had described his sister as very serious, which I took to mean studious and stern, when what I think he really meant to say was something like "she doesn't laugh at all my jokes." Standing out in the cold night air wearing cut off shorts, a black tee shirt, and slippers, she looked very much like the girls I had gone to college with, and except for the eyes, she did not resemble Alek in the least. While Alek's features were strong and well defined, Leka's were soft and seemed to run together. Everything about Alek was in motion, moving forward, even his hair seemed to move forward. But Leka was settled; she appeared to be leaning back.
"Modi Jeni!" she said, giving my hand a tug. I pointed to the luggage on the cold concrete floor. "No problem," she proclaimed in English as she pulled me up the stairs.
Alek's mother stood in the lighted doorway to the apartment, a mysterious silhouette. God, I hope she likes me, I prayed trying desperately to quiet the butterflies that fluttered nervously in my belly. Here I was, finally, about to meet the only person in the world that Alek was truly afraid of. This was the woman who once, when Alek was drunk, had taken a sledge hammer to the front of his car to keep him from driving. I was terrified.
My mother-in-law, I had been told was a brilliant scientist; a physicist who had been awarded a medal for her work by the Soviet government. She was also a wonderful cook, good with numbers and wise with money. Whenever I would ask Alek to tell me something about her he would start out with the same line. "She gave my birth with only one kidney."
"Yes, yes, I know. What else?"
"She is a physicist."
"Yes, yes, but what is she like?"
"Very serious. Very strict."
In my imagination she became a tall, dark, serious woman. Very bookish, with her hair pulled in a tight bun and eyes in the back of her head. But the woman who met me in the doorway of my Tbilisi home that night was short and round with loose gray hair and friendly light green-gray eyes who cried happily when she meet me and swept me, without hesitation, into a warm – and very tight - maternal embrace.
Deyda Luiza. That is what I called my mother-in-law. It’s what everyone called her: Mother Luiza. A stout, cheery woman with an uncompromising sense of discipline and as far as I could tell only two dress; one dark blue and the other black.
Alek's father, also a physicist, was tall - like Alek - but more round and almost completely bald. His eyeglasses were thick, and heavy, and when he read he would stack another pair of glasses on top, wearing both pairs at once. Deyda Luiza referred to her husband somewhat ironically as "Didi Aleko," (Big Alek) though "Patara Aleko" (Little Alek) was clearly the bigger and stronger of the two now. I was always aware of what a bright, well-educated man my father-in-law was, it shone through even in his "monkey show," an on-going Punch and Judy routine he carried on with a large stuffed monkey. In the mornings he would shuffle about carrying a plate of chopped corn, food for the two chickens they kept on a small side porch, which he would show proudly to whomever was around and declare, "Cheeec-ken. Break-fast!"
Having traveled in Europe as a physicist, he had picked up strange and random English sentences that he would say every now and then for no apparent reason: "Shop number one!" or "Next slide, please."
I never quite figured out what to call Didi Aleko. The Georgian word for father is "Mama," and calling him "Mama" just seemed ridiculous.