The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.
Author: David Edwards
Page 44 (10 pages)
A good mystery begins unexpectedly in the unlikeliest of places. And then it takes you where you never imagined. When the author was ask to help a friend translate a few family keepsakes, he could never have predicted it would take him halfway around the world and more than a hundred years back in time.
Visitors to Arbor Crest winery in Spokane, Washington traverse Fruit Hill Road, an unstriped route with a twisting, vertiginous stretch that hugs the sheer basalt bluff on which the winery sits. It is in this sublime setting that Angie Tann, a sprightly septuagenarian who spent her childhood in Nazi-held Eastern Europe, hands over a manila envelope containing three coarse, worn pieces of paper with Cyrillic text: scholastic records from tsarist-era Urzhum* that had belonged to her babushka, Vera Nefyodovna Klimova.
The first document, Klimova’s diploma from Urzhum Girls High School, identifies her as the daughter of a practicing Orthodox peasant and as a pupil who received top marks, including the highest grade in Zakon Bozhy (“God’s law,” the academic term for Russian Orthodox theology class).
The second document is a teaching certificate, which states that from 1903 to 1906 Klimova was an instructor at the Sendinskoye zemskoye uchilishe (Senda Town School) in Urzhumsky uyezd (Urzhum district). It also indicates that she had been awarded the title of domashnyaya uchitelnitsa (literally, “domestic teacher”).
The third document includes an enumeration of bureaucratic requirements for “domestic tutors” and “domestic teachers.”
In 1870, the Russian government passed legislation providing girls and women with wider access to education, as well as pathways into the teaching profession. High schools for girls began sproutıng up. Urzhum’s opened in 1871. Standards were established, and a structured curriculum afforded young women the possibility of earning a living.
The statuses of domestic tutor and domestic teacher were created, and each required a set level of education. According to the online encyclopedia pedagogic.ru, higher education was mandatory for a woman to qualify for the rank of domestic tutor, whereas the domestic teacher title was open to women without higher education, so long as they had undergone the necessary preparatory studies. For both categories, women had to be observant Orthodox Christians, have wholesome morals, and show fealty to Russia.
A search for the school where Klimova taught led to a historical website called Vyatka Heritage that included a photo and a caption reading “From the History of the Urzhum Children’s Home.”
And that was when a simple favor of translation opened the door on a full-blown mystery.
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