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I knew what to look for

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It was August. After an absence of nearly half a century I returned to Kiev, my birthplace. I was only 6 when we left, but I had stored a lifetime of memories that seemed like pictures thrown on a screen: daily walks with Nanny along the Shevchenko Boulevard to the zoo (where once a bear calmly wandered from its cage). A stop at the envelope factory where I could watch a machine spit out finished envelopes. Finally to market for produce. These were not mere faded memories; I knew where to go and what to look for, but would I find it? Would Thomas Wolfe succeed or fail to convince me that ''you can't go home again''?

The Shevchenko Boulevard began at the hotel and stretched for miles to the center of the city. It was hard to believe this was the same boulevard a little girl and her nanny walked every day, nearly 50 years ago. The poplars, enormously tall, still edged the walkway that separated three lanes of traffic on either side. In the near distance, about four blocks away, was the cluster of golden cupolas topping St. Vladimir's. The church stood in a large square, and ''my house'' had been just around the corner. As I walked into Church Square, I suddenly remembered these were the identical cobblestones - uneven and unpaved. The four streets radiating from each entrance of Church Square seemed smaller, narrower, also cobblestoned; but the chestnut trees spread a canopy which only years could supply.

At the end of one block was house No. 33. How was it possible for a building to remain so intact, so identical with my recollections of it, all these years, including a war and a German occupation? The scrolled balconies remained, statues still flanked the upper windows, and the rusty gates remained permanently fixed to the entrance of the courtyard. I was transfixed by all this strange familiarity - a kind of rerun of an old film.

Suddenly I was 5, looking for a kitten that escaped from our apartment the night before. There was a tiny mewing sound and I began to yell. ''Nanny, come down! The kitten is behind the drainpipe! Nanny, come down!'' The fourth-floor window opened and Nanny's head came out. ''I can't, the jam will burn. Call grandma.''

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