A village met journalists with silence. It is a silence of the earth, which the nature is reclaiming from people: crickets sing in the houses, grass grows in the sagged windows and a wild cat glitters with its eyes from under the half-decayed porch of one of the houses. All villagers left the village, some of them moved to town, some died, some of them couldn’t born in a poor backcountry where doctors are too far and people are treated in old-fashioned way like it isn’t the 21st century.
The journalists came here to interview the last local villagers of the village of Krasoozerka as well as the oldest couple of the country – Andrei and Oksana Petrenko. Both Andrei and Oksana were one hundred and six years old, they have lived together for 90 years.
Journalist (J.): Andrei Tarasovich, tell us how did you met Oksana Dmitrievna. Was it love at first sight?
Andrei Tarasovich (A.T.): (coughed nervously and looked at his wife) – You know, my dear, I don’t believe in first or second sights. Nothing in the world appears immediately and easy. Look how a tree grows from a seed or how a bird makes its nest. It’s a hard work. And love is work. We were born in challenging times, in peasant families, so we knew what is labour since we could barely walk. That’s why we didn’t expect to get anything for nothing.
For the first time I saw Oksana in the field where local youth from gathered by the fire every evening. It was the early summer…
Oksana Dmitrievna (O.D.): (touching her husband’s shoulder softly) – Wasn’t it August, Andrei?
(A.T.): (thoughtfully) – That is right! My God’ do you have a memory, my old lady. It was the late summer… There were no momentary flashes between us. Yes, she was a pretty girl, but who isn’t when you are 16? Everybody had beauty or energy or health, it’s all about age, and it’s hard not to please. What was I – oh yes, I know. We started to talk about usual things – where we were from, who were our parents, about people we both knew…
She was simple-minded and always smiling, I liked that. You at you, for example, you are frowning because you had to get here driving for three hours on a very bumpy road, but she used to get up before the sun, work all day, but in the evening she was smiling like she had just returned from a resort. Things had been different, then. We were thankful for small mercies.
(J.): Were you quarrelling during those 90 years? Have you ever wanted to divorce?
(A.T.): Well, of course, we quarrelled and even now we often grumble at each other, but we never wanted to divorce. As God’s my witness, it was never part of our intent. Peasant life is difficult, there are so many problems, you can lose your harvest, cow can die or fox can steal poultry. In case something is broken, you must fix it; in case cattle have died off, grieve for some time and go on living. We didn’t throw away anything, we darned, patched and renovated everything…
Marriage is like a household, but in your heart. You can’t leave it after initial difficulties. Now young people had lost that ability. If they didn’t like something they just pack and leave.
(O.D.): (looks at her husband, smiling a little): He is a grouch, he is right about that.
(J.): Tell us, Oksana Ditrievna, was it difficult for your family to survive a war?
(O.D.): (frowning): It has been difficult for all of us, child. We were afraid and had scary pictures in our heads when we were trying to think of the future. My Andrey is a zealous man; he had never let weak people suffer. And when a war came he volunteered. I besought him to remain. I understood it was cowardly, but our country is large and there are many men while I had only him.
(A.T.): (gesturing curtly at his wife) – Oh, wailing again. It is years and years since it all happened. I couldn’t to stay home while my country was at war, when you do win or you had no place to return, only ruins.
I went through all war, but then I was contused. She wrote me all the time. When I got those letters I was crying and I’m not ashamed to confess about that. It seemed to me she put her heart and soul into those letters and protected me from stray bullets and explosions. I understood I had to win, because she was waiting for me.
(J.): – How do you plan to celebrate your wedding anniversary? How many guests do you plan to invite?
(A.T.): (takes his wife’s hand) – We will celebrate as we celebrate every single day. We will get up early in the morning and work together. We will milk our cattle, feed fowl, my wife will cook a dinner and will go to the garden. And I will be waiting for her at the garden. It was always that way: I was waiting for her with my heart pounding, despite I saw her in the morning. And here she comes with a hot soup and fresh bread baked with love…
(J.): Thank you! Please accept felicitation from our readers!
Journalist and photographer begun packing and refused an invitation to dinner. But before packing a camera, photographer takes the shot of the old man looking at his wife.
And when he views the photographs, the last one, with the old men’s glance at his wife, tells him everything Andrey Pertenko hadn’t told before – that it is important to love not at first sight, but to the last…