I have some good memories. When I was in Estonia for the first time for 17 days in July 1991, I spent a week with Ivar, a third cousin who is the relative closest to my age, on his grandmother's farm in Sürgavere, central Estonia. I think it was the second-to-last time I ever drank unpasteurized milk. I remember that the smell of chicks in an incubator in the kitchen was nauseating, or maybe it was the general sweet fecundity...in any case, I couldn't eat eggs for a while afterwards -- but haymaking was fun, backbreaking fun. The farm was surrounded by collective farm, but it retained the appearance of a 1930s smallholding. We climbed into a abandoned meierei chimney. There was that high Montana sky with cumulus clouds that has absolutely no business being in Estonia. We ran 5 km across unfenced fields to Sürgavere station to make a train on the day of our departure. If the stay had been any longer I might have written something like a Dirk Bogarde childhood memoir.
In my "first life" in Estonia from 1993-1999, I would still go to relatives' Mustamäe apartments occasionally for birthday parties and on holidays. Another third cousin Evelin, then a young girl, would come stay with us at Keila-Joa in the summers, along with her grandmother Elga.
Since becoming a yuppie homeowner with workaholic tendencies, though, the amount of time I spend outside the centre of Tallinn has dwindled. The only time I am in Mustamäe is when I run a loop there, usually late at night.
No doubt life has changed and become busier for my relatives, too. Apartments have been Eurorenovated, summer cottages have become year-round homes. Evelin has graduated Tartu and is immersed in non-academic life for a while. I've lost track of how many kids Ivar has, but I know that he has merged his dairy degree from TPÜ with Buddhist beliefs and is living a sustainable lifestyle -- and the kids get unpasteurized goat milk.
And the older generation is fading. All of my maternal grandfather's cousins, who played together in Rakvere in the first Republic (where their home language was Russian, incidentally), and were scattered from Montreal to Stockholm to Virginia, who all lived well into their eighties and it seemed unbelievable that they would ever go ...are now finally gone.
I have one second cousin twice removed (great-aunt is the easier term but with Olga, terminology has a lot of meaning) in the DC area -- and Olga is just as unique as her relational status. Now near 90, and finally retired from medicine, she was still downhill skiing into her 70s. We have looked her up in the DC area during our travels. Now I am probably again not corresponding enough to be deserving of great-nephew status.
In 2003, I met cousin Harlan, with whom I share Viktor Rikken as paternal grandfather. I never knew that much about Viktor; by the time I was born, both he and my grandmother had remarried on their respective sides of the Iron Curtain. And my own parents divorced and remarried just before Estonia regained independence, so that also contributed to downed communciation lines; in the manner of all divorces, the arguments rage about why the lines are down while the fact remains that the lines remain strewn on the pavement.
In any case, Harlan and his half-sister (their father Viktor's son died young) are my closest cousins. In some ways, Harlan is like my Estonian doppelganger, with a fondness for the open road. He has a resourceful streak with a degree of craftiness and keeps his cards close to his chest, though -- well, I don't know if that is me. I don't see Harlan much nowadays as he is always off temping in offices from Porto to Dublin.
Harlan has spoken about remembering Grandfather Viktor. The tragedy, like that of so many Estonians, was that he fought on the "wrong", which is to say Soviet, side in WWII, and when he came back his wife and son had emigrated to the West.
A number of people have noted that this was a blow to him.
Unlike, say, my maternal grandfather's Ukrainian father, who went MIA in World War I, and no one knows very much about, Viktor came back to Estonia, finished his education and (being an exceptional case among the Rikkens, as we are notoriously slow to get our degrees) became a well-regarded figure in academia.
A former colleague of his recalled in an e-mail forwarded to me:
"He came back from the war with the 'liberating' army and quickly defended his degree in oil shale chemistry and became deputy research director of the Chemistry Institute. Part of the job was liaison with state security. He was actually a fabulous person and I understood later that that the reason our relations with security seemed non-existent was that Viktor was able to steer us away from the shoals..."
Anyway I will be contacting her to find out some more.
I know Harlan has gone out to his grave regularly. Here I'd say it isn't so much my busy life or not making time. I'm not much one for memorials or graveyards. I've never even understood the See That My Grave Is Kept Clean sentiment in American country blues. Certainly when I die, I could care absolutely less about what happens to my remains; anythnig that would seem to expedite the process of rejoining the cosmos would be welcomed (i.e., scatter away). Let My Grave Be Overgrown.
But I would be more interested in uploading these folks into cyberspace... Viktor Rikken only has one or two Internet hits -- a recollection of him from fraternity days. As does my other grandfather Kirill Dotsenko, who looms larger up to this point in family legend. So here's another one, until I get some time to do some more genealogical geology.