Every time I come back to Vermont after travels, the sky is homey and fluffy, and the rock border guards are not threatening, not asking me for magical words to let me in.
When I visit my old town in Ukraine every stone speaks to me. I feel its ancient gravity and can almost hear the voices of medieval merchants from different cultures praising their goods while traveling on the crossroads of the European Silk Road.
My two favorite places on this earth are so different but they both open my heart in a particular way.
Though I immigrated first to Chicago, it was in St.Albans I received my citizenship. You can become a citizen after living in the USA for five years and passing two tests: English and U.S. history and government. While preparing for the test, I was quizzing my Vermont friends, and we laughed together because sometimes I knew more than they did. In St. Albans, the examiner was neighborly but diligent with his questions. I was expecting a big waiting line but I was the only one there. In Chicago, it would have taken me the whole day.
I remember pride in my American husband’s face on the day of my citizenship ceremony, which I took with other immigrants. Though I became a citizen of a new country I didn’t feel trapped with this status.
When people were leaving my ex-Soviet country, they were considered traitors; they would be forced to quit their jobs and become very vulnerable to humiliation while explaining why they were betraying their country. If they were members of the Communist Party they would be publicly expelled. There was an anecdote in my family that when my grandfather attended one of these meetings, he was asked: “How dare you to deceive our Party for the whole 50 years?” But my grandfather quickly reacted: “No, only one last year.”
I also remember how my husband took me to Montpelier to visit the State Capital. I kept asking him in disbelief if he was sure they would let us in. Entering the Montpelier Capitol felt welcoming as if entering living history. The carpet softened my step and my body naturally took an uplifted posture. Historical continuity here is respected regardless of centuries of partisan challenges. First, we went to the Senate Chambers that was in a short recess and, as we entered, one of the senators greeted us and invited us onto the floor. He showed us his seat and lifted up the desktop revealing generations of senators' signatures. There was pride and responsibility in the atmosphere, almost like a temple of the law and power. There were pictures on the walls of all previous senators. Next, we went to the Chambers of the House of Representatives, which was in session and, while sitting in the visitor's gallery, still in disbelief, I couldn’t resist tears for freedom that felt so ordinary.
My thoughts then took me to the first euphoric days when Ukraine reclaimed its independence and became a free county in 1991. During joyful celebrations, the public was allowed to enter for the first time City Hall. The rooms were formal, dusty with the webs of suspicion. Curious, we gazed at the stuffy offices and long drafty halls where we had never been permitted to enter before. There were no pictures of previous officials since the history was canceled in my country, there was no magic, just a feeling of shallow power. We knew that we should take advantage of this unusual invitation because - who knows - it might end very soon.
But it didn’t end. This humble and proud country continues to be free after centuries of being an unwilling submissive servant for many years, no centuries.
Now living in Vermont I can write about my past while looking from my window onto the peaceful Connecticut River and soft hills of the most ancient rocks. My house is more than 100 years old but would be considered just a teen in Ukraine. So much less drama here though drama it had.