She was happy to be useful, with little time for unkind thoughts.
All of Babushka's belongings could fit under her pillow. After years of knowing her, I came to the conclusion that it was a kind of reward for all she'd endured. That is, she had been given the gift of not being bound to either the past or possessions. She was not only extremely practical, but uniquely free.
As for being happy, she was happy being useful, and there were very few days in her life she didn't spend being useful. "Hard work empties your noggin of nonsense," she liked to say – encouragingly. By that measure, I had very little nonsense in my noggin the fall I lived in rural Vetoshkino, Russia, a village resembling an island in a sea of wheat fields 600 miles east of Moscow.
I helped teach English in the village school. After school, I worked in the garden with Babushka (grandmother), and slept in the spare bed in her room. She lived with her daughter's family; her daughter is one of my closest friends.
Before the family enlarged the house last year, Babushka's bedroom was at the end of the long, narrow kitchen. A blue flowered curtain indicated where the kitchen ended and our room started. She happily shared her room. Better to have the extra bed used by me, she reasoned, than covered with onions. A person (especially one from afar) was bound to bring a new view of the world to her village life.
She cared greatly for life. That's altogether different from caring about things, I soon learned from her quiet example.
The first night, as we were going to bed, she apologized for knowing only two prayers. A neighbor had taught them to her when she was 5. She preferred to sing them. "We'll pray now for God to keep us through the night." This we did every night. I could only imagine that the practice had begun during (and had carried her through) two wars, as many revolutions, and untold years of uncertainty.