“I Eloped During the Russian Revolution.”

Heather M. Edwards
4 min readAug 18, 2022
All rights @ Klaus Wright. Image description: The Hermitage Museum illuminated at night as seen from Palace Square. White columns and window frames against the pale yellow former palace stand out against a blue night sky. The massive museum and tremendous entrance arch reflect off rain-slick ground.

“I eloped during the Russian Revolution,” the old woman told me, smiling. “I was 16.”

“I have so many stories to tell you.”

I was 16 myself when this woman I didn’t know reached out and took me by the arm.

But I never listened.

I was a teenager waitressing in an old folks home after school. I always waitressed the front half of the dining room and had only walked by her section once. She was pretty. I remember long, thick white hair.

One evening she grabbed my elbow and asked me if I was a cheerleader.

“No,” I told her proudly. I was close-minded and insecure, a wannabe academic. I was gravely offended by the question, believing at the time that one couldn’t possibly be smart and a cheerleader.

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” she warned me. “You won’t be skinny forever.”

I gaped at her and blubbered something defensive.

Back then I was completely overwhelmed with work and school. My body was just on a conveyor belt hurtling me from one obligation to the next. I always meant to visit the young Russian bride but I never did.

Her name was Barbara.

What might she have told me if I had carved out even just a half-hour? I should have brought her tea or my mom’s chocolate chip cookies and said, “tell me everything.”

She died that summer.

I started my junior year, still struggling in AP classes to keep up with kids who seemed so much smarter than I am. I didn’t make it into AP history but Mr. Nuxoll’s class lacked no rigor.

“We’re going to start with the Russian Revolution,” he told us. My stomach dropped and the guilt washed over me. I opened my dusty reprint textbook and wondered what Barbara’s life had been like. What happened to her family? Who was her husband? Did she love him? Did they elope together? Who survived? Did she ever go back? I hadn’t read any Tolstoy yet but I can’t imagine any teenage girl in imperial Russia had much autonomy on the eve of a revolution.

Barbara is not the only one I failed to listen to, to learn from.