Fifteen years have passed since this conversation. I occasionally recalled George Tiajoloff but the more time passed the less hope there was that Raissa’s papers survived. He is no longer alive, I thought, and his Mexican wife must have thrown the papers out as they had no value to her.
In the summer of 2010 I decided to travel to New York to see my close relatives. I obtained a U.S. visa, bought air-tickets and began to pack my luggage. Shortly before the trip I told this story to my old friend, the historian Alexei Litvin, who had shipped Russian émigré papers from San Francisco to Moscow. “Look, he said, that’s all very interesting, but how do you know that the papers are gone? If there was a Russian community in Miami, there must be a Russian church. Are you Internet-savvy? Get the phone number and call. If any problems arise, let me know, I know a Russian priest in New Jersey, he can help you.” I thanked my friend for his advice but in my heart still remained skeptical about the idea.
And so came the departure day. At the very last moment, half way to Sheremetyevo Airport, I got a call from Delta’s Moscow office warning me that my flight was canceled for technical reasons and I would fly next morning. Upset, with heavy suitcases in hands, I went home. Adding some more things I had forgotten to put in my luggage beforehand, I suddenly remembered about my friend’s advice. Do I risk anything? I thought. Finding the church’s website took a matter of seconds. On the contact page was a phone number. I dialed the number and a minute later heard a female voice in the receiver:
“St. Vladimir church?” I asked.
“Yes”, the voice said in Russian. “Listening.”
I introduced myself saying that that I am a relative of the late Raissa Kogevin. My interlocutor introduced herself as Mother Sophia.
“I knew your relative and remember her pretty well”, said Mother Sophia. “Raissa Vasilyevna was a kind and responsive lady, she attended our church as long as she could walk. Our church is very small but its walls heard so many prayers. Russians built it in 1947.”
I asked then if she knew a man named George Tiajoloff.
“Sure I do. He died two weeks ago. We got Raissa’s papers after his death. Watercolors, photos…”
I nearly dropped the receiver.
“How many?” I muttered.
“Just a few. I can mail them to you but not until you prove your kinship.”
I said I’m flying to New York next morning and will bring her all the necessary evidence.
“OK”, said Mother Sophia, “please get in touch with me when you come to America.”
New York. I am hugging my cousin who I last saw thirteen years ago and we exchange family news. I tell her the miraculous story of my discovery of Raissa’s papers in Miami. “Look”, said Tanya, “you must fly there and meet Mother Sophia. An idea made in heaven. When else will you get a chance to see Florida? What an exciting trip! Palm-trees, sea…”
My cousin’s words made me even more determined to fly to Miami. I called Mother Sophia.
“Are you in America? Please let me know your postal address, I’ll mail you the papers.”
“Thank you, Matushka, but I have realized I must see you personally. Where could I stay in Miami?”
“Well, you can stay with us for a night but not longer, batyushka wouldn’t allow that. There are many cheap motels down here where you can stay.”
“OK”, I said, “I’ll call you back later.” Having made a schedule of my American trips I booked tickets to Miami.
Our jeep is driving into the churchyard. We enter the church, a tall stately priest comes up to me stretching out his hand for a kiss.
“Father Daniel. Come on in please. Go to the dining room, I’ll be right back.” We enter a small, modestly furnished room. A sofa, dining table, bookcases, icons on the walls, photos of the Russian royal family. Matushka made a simple lunch and we resumed our conversation. I produced Raissa’s photos from our family album and her letters to me.
“I have to apologize for being so distrustful”, she began to justify herself. “But you know, no sooner did we get these papers”, and with these words she handed me a small plastic folder, “than you called. I thought you were a trickster, it just couldn’t be true. George was very sick during the past year, we had no idea of what he kept in his house, we never asked him and he never told us. After George’s death, his nephew came over from New Jersey to sort his things out. He discovered Raissa’s papers and brought them to the church. We didn’t know what to do with this stuff and wanted to get rid of it but batyushka said: “Wait, don’t do that.” My daughter Lena liked the watercolors, she wanted to leave a few. It appears that Raissa wanted to leave her papers for you.
“Yes”, I agreed, “it was obviously God’s will.”
I opened the folder from which dropped several watercolor drawings of the Austrian Tyrol and small black-and-white photos of Raissa and Eugene, some of which I had seen before in Moscow. If that’s all, I thought, I have lunch, thank Matushka and spend the rest of the day out in Miami. But wondered, just in case:
“Is there anything else there?”
“Yes”, said Matushka. “Let’s go and see.”
We enter the fratery. A spacious long room with several rows of tables and a piano at the opposite wall. Everywhere are photographs of the Russian Imperial family. In the corner is the iconostasis, with a reproduced portrait of Nicholas II by Serov at the right. Beside it is an oil painting of the St. Vladimir church.
“It’s Eugene’s work, he presented it to our church shortly before his death.” “There you’ll sleep”, she gestured to a sofa. “Here are the boxes with the Kogevin papers. Put aside what’s not yours.”
In the corner were several paper boxes. I opened one of them and was almost shocked by what I have seen. The box was full to the edges of Kogevin photographs, documents and letters. There will be no trip to Miami today, I thought.