Julia: Where are you from exactly? How did you come to this country?
Vlad: I am from Minsk, Belarus. Barbara, my wife, is from Wroclaw, Poland. We met in Brooklyn. The family came to US in 1980. Right before we left, my friend drove us to say farewell to my grandfather. On the way back, the car flipped and we got pretty banged up. My father had most injures, but we did not want try extending the visa. We left as we were – bruised stitched and him with a broken hand.
Julia: How did you become an engineer?
Vlad: My father was an engineer, but I got into it gradually. I went to Trade School because the students were treated more like adults (we could smoke in the corridors, have long hairdos and wear bell-bottom pants). I got accepted to the Polytechnic Institute after that, and studied at night for 6 years until I got my degree.
Julia: Tell me about your experience gardening as a kid. How did you come to love gardening as an adult?
Vlad: I did not like gardening as a kid. We had a summer cottage growing up, it was built by my father. This small lot in the suburbs was given to my grandma by her shoe factory union. We had to work in the garden to supplement the family food supply. I was afraid of worms, so I especially disliked digging in the soil. But I sure liked the berries and other things from the garden, which I would otherwise not have seen very often.
Julia: Tell me about that house, how did your father build it?
Vlad: My father salvaged wood from crates and the freight trains’ siding. He framed and sided the house by himself. The nails were hard to find, so he would straighten bent ones, and put them to use. Once riding his motorcycle, he saw a girl running after a ball in front of him. It was too late to stop and he fell to avoid hitting her. Just a few days later, he was laying injured in the middle of the cottage giving instructions to my mom on how to hang wallpaper.
Julia: Now, is gardening recreational for you, sustenance, or both?
Vlad: It is both. I love to eat the stuff, but even more, I enjoy being outside among sunflowers, birds, and all the plants I have cultivated over the years.
Julia: What is your favorite thing to grow in the garden?
Vlad: It must be potatoes. The plants are deep green, vigorous and very fast growing. They have beautiful purple or white flowers with geometrical yellow centers. Potatoes take me back to my childhood. Back then, the ones we did not grow ourselves were bought in huge burlap bags and stored for the winter in our improvised root cellar. I included a photo of me working at the collective farm potato field in Russia, when I was a young engineer. My potato harvesting skills were more valuable in September than engineering.
I also plant winter squash on the north side of the growing potatoes. As I harvest the potatoes, the squash grows and takes their place. I yield two harvests from one plot, and makes me feel like a, “real gardener.”
Julia: How often do you actually eat pancakes? You made three different kinds for me today — potato, currant, and apple. Do you always do this, or were you just showing off?
Vlad: I was showing off. The sweet ones with gooseberries, apples and currants I used to make for breakfast for the kids when “breakfast” and the notion of a “morning” were a part of their lifestyle. The savory blini with sourdough and potatoes I just made yesterday. I need to “feed” and use sourdough starter every weekend to keep it alive and potatoes from the garden need to be used up also, so there you go, potato pancakes.
Julia: You made all the furniture in your house. How did you learn to do that?
Vlad: My father could do everything – shoe-making, sewing, carpentry, plumbing and electrical (even though with occasional pipe leaks and flying sparks). I guess I learned a few things just by watching him. When Barbara and I started our life together here, making a bed or a wall unit myself, was significantly cheaper than buying one. Plus, our taste is contemporary and Ikea was not around yet.
Julia: We talked about food a lot at your table. What is Gogel Mogel, this panacea of a drink you had as a kid? Your sister is convinced this is the origin of the word, “Google.”
Vlad: Gogel Mogel is similar to eggnog. Mostly raw egg and sugar. Mom would make this as as a treat or a cold remedy for us kids. We loved it.