The Babushka

The Babushka

Modern Russian women wearing babushkas

God bless my mom!

Like most young mothers, she tried her very best to take proper care of her children. She consistently placed her kids and their concerns over hers one hundred percent of the time. But if you add a compulsive tendency to over-provide her children with a battery of child protection techniques, then minor issues could magnify, producing unexpected results.

I was prone to childhood earaches, but fully trusted Mom and her directives regarding how to avoid them or cure them if need be.  A graduate of the familiar old school of thought, she had it embedded in her head that being exposed to the cold and wind was the main reason a kid came down with this affliction. So...

When I begged to go out and play one time in the early spring, she wanted nothing more than to protect her little Davey from the above-mentioned weather conditions. 

An obedient son

I honestly don't remember how long she searched the house for a hat or earmuffs that day, but I believed her when she said she couldn't locate any.  Reaching into the top shelf of her closet, she grabbed a babushka and started to place it over my head. She draped it around my ears, which were stuffed with cotton balls (Mom's directives, again), and tied the colorful scarf under my neck. Then she promptly sent me out to play.  [Author’s Note #1:  If you’re asking yourself right now, “What was she thinking?” – join the club!]

If you're not of Eastern European or Western Russian descent, you may not know that a babushka is a head scarf made of flimsy, silky, colorful material.  This scarf was not only worn exclusively by women, but usually women who happened to be very old. At least this was my interpretation of a babushka at age four. [Author’s Note #2:  Such a woman (donning a babushka) was affectionately known as a studda bubba in the Slovak culture.]

A Studda Bubba in the eyes of a four-year-old 

Still trusting Mom fully (though not for long after that), I headed outside to enjoy the day.

An ominous turn of events

Imagine how hurt I was when my only friend at the time, Michael Sermulis, began to laugh at me as soon as he spotted me sporting that babushka. He continued to tease me unmercifully from his yard. Now, keep in mind that I grew up in Western Pennsylvania’s coal country – hills everywhere and very little flat land. Michael was a year older than I, so not only did he stand a head taller than me, but he looked even bigger in his yard because of the higher elevation from where he was positioned.  

And even with my ears stuffed with cotton, I had no trouble hearing what Mike was saying. His taunts included sissy and girly insults and remarks about my babushka. I replied back with some name-calling of my own. But, nothing I could muster seemed to have the same effect on him as his studda bubba slurs had on me.

The stand-off continues

Our mutual verbal onslaught continued but I was confident that he could do me no harm from his yard.  After all, there was a fence separating us, so I continued with my retorts, all the while refusing to remove the scarf. After all, Mom told me to keep it on the whole time – and, by golly, I was going to listen to Mom. 

Even after Michael reached down to select a medium-size rock and placed it in his throwing hand, I continued to stand my ground.  Acquiring some self confidence, my voice grew progressively louder with each passing moment.  

“There's no way he's going to reach me with that rock,” I thought to myself. So, I froze there, proud as a Ukrainian soldier, equipped with my gloves, thick jacket, galoshes, cotton-stuffed ears and, of course, my invincible babushka.

I did not pick up a rock of my own. Orders from Mom again – “Don't get your gloves dirty.” And so the standoff continued (at least momentarily), like gunfighters in the Old West.


I never flinched as that projectile hit its target dead on. Like a heat-seeking missile guided by advanced radar, it found the center of my forehead. Still surprised that the rock was thrown so far, I retreated slowly, like a beaten gladiator, to the confines of my home where my mom greeted me.

I remember removing that doggone scarf and pulling the cotton from my ears as Mom comforted me in my defeat. She then kissed and hugged me as if she hadn't seen me in years and placed an ice bag on the wound on my head. 

Lasting impressions

Three impressions of that babushka stick with me today. One, the jury is still out as to whether or not that babushka can prevent earaches. Two, it offers little to no protection from rocks. (The proof is evident with the still-present impression on my forehead.)  And three, there's no better way for a young boy to get beat up than by wearing a babushka when playing with other boys. 

God bless my mom anyway!

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA