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For Dostoyevsky, war is the people's rebellion against the idea that reason guides everything, and reason is not the ultimate guiding principle for history or mankind.

— Anonymous biographer of Dostoyevsky in Wikipedia

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JONAL ENTRY 1220 | January 21 2012

A samovar

One of the features of the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) that I like is the visits they describe. I'm now reading A Raw Youth (1875), a 615-page story describing Russian life in the Victorian age. Now more than halfway through the slow-moving psychological drama, most of the scenes have taken place in rooms in apartments in St. Petersburg, as the main characters visit back and forth with each other. It often seems that they have nothing else to do but visit back and forth, talk, and drink tea from samovars. No character seems to have a job, though the novel appears to be a fictitious retelling of Dostoyevsky's own youth from a period when he was an editor and writer for a literary magazine. The money occasionally mentioned all seems to come from inheritances, from loans and winnings at the gambling tables, and even from winning lawsuits.

But the 19-year-old youth of the story has lots of ideas he describes to readers, but never mentions that he is employed either literally or mataphorically as a writer of his ideas or anything else. The owner of the magazine he worked for in real life was a prince who Dostoyevsky is described in the introduction to this edition by Alfred Kazin as disliking, and one of the main secondary characters in this novel is also a prince who provides the central character money, but in the form of loans, not as salary. And so far there's no indication that I've noticed that the Raw Youth especially likes or dislikes the prince. But my main interest now is the visiting, so I'll try to avoid reviewing the novel more generally.


Both here and in the other Dostoyevsky novels I've read, visits seem to be a major pastime in Victornian-era Russia, and they always make me nostalgic for the visits I remember from my own youth. My mother often spoke fondly of visits, but the only occasional visits we made as a family were to Mother's brother and his family, my favorite relatives not resident on Red Mill Road. Though we went to see Uncle Les and Aunt Tommy at least once a month, they seemed to get over (the thirty miles or so from Fallentimber) to see us only twice a year or so. And we visited Mom's older sister in Bellwood, Dad's father and sister and family in Blandburg, and Dad's brother and family in Altoona only once a year it seemed.

When we went to our Fallentimber relatives it was always for a whole day, and since we had no way of letting them know we were coming (neither household had a telephone before I was 13 or so) Mom always took a box of food items we could contribute to round out whatever Aunt Tommy planned to cook that day. I don't remember staying that long with most of the other relatives and didn't take food along, but my impression is that the Bellwood aunt, Mom's sister Ethel, usually talked us in to staying for supper, which she provided. But Aunt Ethel was considerably better off (her husband was already retired from working for the railroad from the time I first remember their family) than we Kennedys or Aunt Tommy's family were.

Of course as a kid I was back and forth between our place and the neighbors constantly. But those don't qualify as "visits"; the neighbor kids and I were always in pursuit of the serious vocation of play, not conversation. But when I moved on around the beginning of my sophomore year of high school to having most of my friendships in Nanty Glo, visiting became more personal and one of the things I most enjoyed. From the launching of the teen column in the fall after I turned 15, I regularly visited the Journal office and my editor Andy Rogalski, who soon became my mentor, though these conversations revolved around my work rather than getting better acquainted.

I've described elsewhere one of those visits to the office that was followed by an exploration of Mitchells' restaurant, a teen hangout atop the hill on Lloyd Street, where I first met Bill Martin. After visiting in his booth at Mitchells and drinking our pop, Bill invited me across the street to the Martins' house, where I next met his mother, Kitty. This was the first "home visit" I had as an individual on my own, marked by lively conversation and other pursuits like listening to Bill's extensive collection of record albums, drinking tea brewed in the cup, and eating cold cuts on white bread with mustard. That was followed by countless other visits like it, though I don't think Bill ever visited me on Red Mill Road (he had no car at the time, and though I didn't either, I hitchhiked into town regularly but can't imagine Bill hitchhiking). And also, my parents were less hospitable than Bill's...they would have welcomed him, but I was not so sure they would have not discouraged me from issuing such invitations after a visitor left.

I next met John Golias in the lobby of the Capitol Theater, where he was attending to see if his mother's ticket would be drawn in one of the two drawings per week the theater offered at the time to keep people interested, and I was working as a dollar-a-night usher. I don't remember how long it was after that that I first visited the Golias household, but the first time I parked my '39 Ford on Poplar Street in front of it, he insisted I come in while he took care of whatever had to be finished before we could go on to more important things like cruising downtown or driving to Johnstown to see my Mom who was recuperating from an operation in Memorial Hospital. Though the invitation was always to come in just for a few minutes while John got ready, it almost always included some refreshments. His mother was often at work at the State School in Ebensburg, but whether she was home or not it was always the same. I got to know her as well as John's sister and father on regular visits there.

I still visit John and his wife in Johnstown on my infrequent trips "back home," and more often by phone. They're among the few visits of that kind still left; no one seems to have time to visit any more and hospitality seems a forgotten gift. I miss them.

How about you?

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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