[Spoiler alert: If you haven’t about the photo album, don’t read this until you read that first.]
Tucked into the back of the photo album I wrote about the other night were also a few odds and ends: a Soviet-era record of a Russian folk song, a yellowed photo of the dance troupe clipped from a newspaper, and then, from exactly a half-century later, three or four condolence cards in Cyrillic and a letter, also in Cyrillic, addressed to someone named Vladimiroff. Looking at this with my friends Jim and Virginia (where Roo and I have been camped this and the past three summers in Maine), Virginia noticed the name and said that she and Jim had known a Vladimiroff, a Vlad Vladimiroff. He had been a patient of theirs years ago. Perhaps this Vlad would know about this album. Virginia ferreted a phone number out of mutual acquaintances for Vlad and called him and told him about the album. Yes, Vlad said, his parents had both been ballet dancers. He came right over.
Vlad is a soft-spoken white-haired man of 75, born in Nazi-occupied France, brought to the United States as a toddler. We sat down at the dining table in the house, and he put his glasses on. Vera, the beautiful young woman whose album it was, was Vlad’s mother. She and her husband, both ballet dancers, were among the White Russians lucky enough to escape the new Soviet Union after the 1917 Revolution. They made their way to Paris, which had a large population of Russian expatriates, and where they joined Ida Rubenstein’s ballet. The tour in the album began there, and that’s where the photo in which proudly point to the poster was taken. Later they came to America, where Vera and Serge had a ballet school in Manhattan.
The house outside of which I found the album was his family’s house until they sold it in 1983. Whoever bought and lived in the house for these past 35 years either never found the old album or just left it and the junk that was in basement alone. Who knows. The pictures were obviously in there all this time, judging by the amount of dust on them. Then they were piled in with the garbage and put on the curb. If I hadn’t taken Roo for a walk there, and if the letter addressed to Vera hadn’t been stuffed in the back, and if Virginia hadn’t noticed the name, and then been able to track Vlad down, the album’s connection back to Vlad and the Vladimiroff family would never have been made, and it would be lying in a landfill, the old photos of those young artists blowing away in the wind that has come here just now with winter, with crumpled Cheetos bags and bubble wrap.
Vlad had never seen the album before, and without a magnifying glass, he couldn’t make the pictures out too well when we were visiting in the house but he could make his mother out when she appeared in close-up. His father, Serge, appeared to be in some of them, too. The label on the album — that old piece of masking tape with VERA RUBENST — AUSTRELIA written on it — meant not Vera Rubenstein, as I thought, but instead Vera’s tour with the famous Ida Rubenstein.
Vlad has a 45-year-old son. Serge, too. the album is back in their family, now. It’s the first rescue of that kind for me, but you have to admit, it’s a pretty good one.