The municipal autonomous institution of the city of Yaroslavl, Palace of Culture named after A.M. Dobrynin, formerly Palace of Culture of the Motorbuilders, just celebrated its 55th birthday. In a surprising twist, my first short story (amazingly still unpublished), about a visit to A.M. Dobrynin’s “dacha”, just celebrated its 36th birthday. Apparently, despite August being a heavy month [https://oldladywriting.com/2019/10/13/sorrow-floats/], it has seen some good times.
In the course of my career, I have worked closely with some of the biggest automotive manufacturers in the world, as well as the biggest automotive suppliers. This is possibly the most boring sentence I have ever written that was not work related. It is not even a brag. Everyone who lives in the metropolitan Detroit area is involved in the automotive industry in some way. So is everyone who lives in Yaroslavl.
Anatoly Mikhailovich Dobrynin was the General Director of the Yaroslavl Motor Plant from 1961 until 1982, the only one in my lifetime there, and had the longest tenure of any director to date. I was going to say he was like a Russian Lee Iacocca, but I truly have no idea if there is any comparison. Frankly, Lee Iacocca should have been so lucky. Comrade Dobrynin was a Hero of Socialist Labor, recipient of Lenin and State Prizes of the USSR, and many other labor medals, prizes, and honors. And because his entire career and life (the two ended pretty much simultaneously) fit into the several decades of the Soviet Union’s existence, he got to lead an enterprise which, besides its manufacturing prowess, was also a giant benefactor to the city’s workers. Basically, the big plants subsidized various affiliated ventures. For example, the Motor Plant contributed to the creation of the Motorbuilders’ Palace of Culture, Motorbuilders’ Park, movie theaters, stadiums, etc.
The interior of this Palace of Culture is a bit elusive for me. I had few occasions to enter it. I did not attend any of the children’s classes there. Despite it being significantly closer to our house than the Young Pioneers Palace, where I spent four tortured years at an art studio [https://oldladywriting.com/2019/06/04/run-your-own-race/], I only entered the Palace of the Motorbuilders for the movie theater (which was, again despite its convenient location, somewhat unpopular among the youthful moviegoers, and is now defunct) or to attend the exclusive New Year’s parties. I strongly suspect that, given that the Motorbuilders were so superior to all the other organizations in our city, I could not possibly qualify for any of their children’s clubs and afterschool activities. I could only hope to be admitted to the events at the Young Pioneers’, which had to take all young pioneers (and had vastly inferior New Year’s parties), or at the Giant Club, which was loosely affiliated with the other major plant in my town, the Tire Plant. The Tire Plant was uncool, and its director was entirely unknown. Giant, however, had a better movie theater—and, I was accepted into the Young Pioneers on the Giant stage. But I digress.
A word about the New Year’s parties. They were basically Christmas parties, complete with a Christmas tree (called, naturally, New Year’s tree), Santa Claus (Grandpa Frost), and gifts for all the kids. At the Motorbuilders’, the gift package would include a tangerine. Tangerines were not as exclusive as bananas, but one did not simply encounter a tangerine in the middle of a Russian winter in the seventies. The parties would include various activities such as some kind of a fairy tale staging, loud yelling at the tree to “light up”, and presentation of the gifts to the children. Because the Motorbuilders’ Palace was huge, they also had slides. I have no idea where they would come from and to where they would retire after the holiday season, but the slides were possibly even more exciting than the tangerines. Life just does not get better than when hundreds of children are pushing and shoving to go down a giant slide at a Palace of Culture before New Year’s. As we used to say, thank you for our happy childhood, beloved Motherland.
Right behind the Palace of Culture was the Motorbuilders’ Park. Apparently it is officially named the Anniversary Park, as it was created for the town’s 950th anniversary in 1960, but no one calls it that. The colloquially known Motor Park, Yaroslavl’s answer to Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens and Madrid’s Parque del Buen Retiro, was lush, green, and huge. When I visited it two years ago, it somehow became small, weird, and scruffy. I strongly suspect it was because my BFF kind of rushed me through it so that we could go home and eat, and I did not get the full effect. But, in the glorious 70s the park was home not just to gorgeous alleys for promenading and a very impressive round fountain in the middle as befits European capitals, but also to many exciting rides such as “boats” (those big swings that you see at Renaissance faires), “runner” (a strange contraption of several wheels that lifted kids in attached seats up and down as it also moved in a circle, and was out of commission much more often than it was functioning—to find the “runner” actually running was like finding a unicorn in a Soviet zoo. I kid; we had no zoo), and “autotrain” (A train that ran through the park. Why auto? Because it was not on rails).
Last but not least, the Motor Plant owned a resort, officially known as a “recreation center” (the word “resort” was much too bourgeois), named Forest. Forest was literally in the forest on the banks of the Volga. If you worked for the Motor Plant, you could get a “voucher” to spend a summer week at the Forest. My times at the Forest deserve their own story, if ever one can be written to give full justice to the joys of Soviet childhood on the Volga—and I mean that without even a hint of sarcasm. It was basically an all inclusive resort, and for its time and place it was just perfect.
But wait, it gets better. Deep in the actual forest that surrounded the Forest, there was one more building—the “dacha” (country house, summer cottage, chalet) of the director of the Motor Plant, Comrade Dobrynin. It so happened that my grandfather’s friend, Uncle Sasha, was the director of the Forest, which somehow resulted in us being invited, on several incredible occasions, to stay at the Dobrynin dacha. Of course, we never referred to him as Dobrynin, Comrade Dobrynin, or especially Anatoliy Mikhailovich. He was “Director”. Not that we ever met him—I mean, Uncle Sasha must have, but no one in my family has, as far as I know. It goes without saying that we only stayed at the dacha when Director was not in residence. And when I say “dacha”, I do not mean the cabins that all of our friends had “za Volgoi” (on the other bank of the Volga, beyond the city walls), without electricity, indoor plumbing, or even water (as a child, I found gathering water from a well very charming). No, Director’s dacha was a literal mansion. I mean, it was not even a regular person’s house. I remember two things most distinctly: a billiard room (which I blame for my lifelong burning desire to possess a pool table. Which I’ve had for almost 20 years now, and have probably used six times within the first year of getting it and none since) and a dining room which I seem to recall looking exactly like that dining room in the first Batman movie, the one with Michael Keaton (THE Batman). That movie came out over a decade after we ate pea soup in the Director’s mansion, by the way. Food for thought.
Why pea soup, you ask? Well, there was one touch-and-go trip when Uncle Sasha called my grandparents and another couple, the Osipovs, good friends and fellow adventurers, and invited them to the dacha as Director was not going to be in. The five of us started gathering, but I recall some hesitance on someone’s part until Uncle Sasha’s wife, Aunt Lida, enticed us with a promise of delicious pea soup prepared by the Director’s cook, Mrs. Patmore.
Somewhere along the way, we got the command to retreat, as Director was coming after all. But how? This was before cell phones. It was barely after regular phones, because, Soviet Russia. The cavalcade must have been intercepted while the Osipovs’ orange car was picking us up. We dispersed. And then—false alarm. Director was not coming after all. We were going to taste the pea soup! He didn’t, and we did. In the Batman dining room. It was magnificent. And I thought to myself, people live like this in the West. And I was wrong, because no one I know lives like this in the West, because I do not get personally invited to the mansions of the automotive companies’ CEOs.
But the experiences at the Director’s dacha made such an impression on me that when I wrote my first short story, in 1984, it was about one such visit. I exercised poetic license by replacing grandparents and their friends with a fun gang of kids my own age, who cause mischief and wreak havoc, and they actually get to meet the Director, who turns out to be charming and not intimidating. Perhaps that is how Comrade Dobrynin really was. I would not know. And then everyone eats pea soup. The end.
For more information, current events at the Palace, fun videos, and an occasional retro photo: https://www.facebook.com/groups/dkdobrynina1965/
 I lived with my grandparents, so wherever they went, I went. They were in their mid-fifties then, so like older parents. Almost all of their friends were at least a few years younger, so this is not a feeble elder crowd, just so you know.
 I lie. No one called her that. It was Comrade Patmore.