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Laura Esther Wolfson

For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors

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Laura Esther Wolfson | An essay from the collection For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors | University of Iowa Press |  June 2018 | 10 minutes (2,516 words)


When I was a very young woman, I spent many months working and traveling in the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War would soon take many people by surprise. I was far from my mother and from everyone else who mattered. In the Soviet hinterlands, I met a woman I’ll call Nadezhda. She treated me like a daughter. She had none of her own. She clearly wished she did.

Reader, I married her son.


There was more to it than that, of course. I met the son first, and, in the usual way, he brought me home to meet his parents. And the son was actually delightful. When he spoke, he grew irresistible. Small children (there were many in his extended family) were especially susceptible to his charms. They would wrap themselves around his legs when he stood up from a chair to keep him from leaving.

Those months spent in another language, an experience both freeing and confining, the tectonic historical shifts I witnessed at close range — these things changed me. That the changes might fade with time was unthinkable. I needed a way to bring it all back home.

I was too big to wrap myself around his legs the way the children did.


I hopped over to the States to take care of some personal business, then circled back to Nadezhda, her son, and the rest of the family in those hinterlands I mentioned, which were in Soviet Georgia. Nadezhda had just become a grandmother by her other son, who was the younger by four years. The household now consisted of Nadezhda and her husband, the baby and its parents, the older son (my intended) and me.

Julia, the baby’s mother, complained to me about what I could see for myself: the family did not welcome her. The pregnancy had been an accident, their second. I say their second, but both mistakes were of course seen as entirely hers.

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