Funny how a day that starts so nice - water aerobics again after Christmas off - can end so bad. After a day of volunteering at the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper, I came home to the bad news that my longtime friend, Nick Karpov, was dead. Nick, a retired electrical engineer, was a bachelor, a Russian/American, and my good friend. In my top ten list of great good times, right up there was the day we spent at Disneyland when I was about to start my junior year at BYU, and Nick was a bit older. I'm not even sure how much older than I am, but maybe twenty years. No matter. He had a good time in Disneyland, too. I was thinking about that and him just this weekend, when my daughter Mary Ruth and I were talking about their Disneyland trip last summer.
How ironic that he should be dead. I doubt he was even sick a day in his life. Problem was, he ignored the signs of advancing pneumonia until it was too late, and even the best doctors in L.A. couldn't save him. Oh, Nick, why oh why didn't you go to the doctor sooner? If I could see you again, I would probably scold you first.
Nick looked like just what he was: a Russian from the Ukraine. He was built like a fireplug, and never lost his accent. He always looked a bit grizzled, so when he finally got old, he didn't look any older than he ever looked. He knew so much, and shared his knowledge in ways that educated, and never antagonized. He was a lifelong learner, always taking classes, learning yet another language (Spanish his latest), reading challenging books and keeping notes on them.
Nick took me to plays in Los Angeles, and to the Brown Derby twice: the first time, just because, and the second time, a few days later, just because we'd had such a nice time the first time. He took me to a Russian restaurant where I had my first caviar. It was so good. I may have to buy a jar and eat some, just for Nick.
I met Nick through my brother-in-law, Narsingh Deo. When he was working at Jet Propulsion Lab in L.A., Narsingh moved into the same Monrovia apartment building where Nick lived, and they struck up an acquaintance that lasted until that awful phone call on Dec. 28. I got to know Nick a year later when the BYU orchestra was touring southern California, and Narsingh, Nick and my sister, Karen, came to a concert, then took me to dinner at the revolving restaurant at the LA airport.
The following Christmas, I stayed with Karen in LA in Narsingh's apartment, while he moved in with Nick, a few doors down. Remember when people were conservative about relationships? That was us. I had a good time, except that Narsingh and Karen were both vegetarians, and I was about to the stage where I would have killed for a piece of meat. Nick happened to drop by after work. I recall hauling him off to one side and begging him to take me to the nearest McDonald's for a burger. He didn't hesitate. Nick, you saved my life.
He shared his love of Russian literature with me, and we had marvelous conversations. He always made me feel smarter than I was. (A few weeks ago, he corrected my grammar on this blog - I think it was a typo - and I made the appropriate change. Thank you, Nick.) He shared Pushkin, which is every literate Russian's favorite. A few years ago, I agonized over Sholokhov's epic Quiet Flows the Don books. Images from the books still remain with me; I suppose they always will. What I learned about Russian literature, I learned from Nick first.
Nick was a private man; he would not like this blog about him. I'm a pretty good interviewer, but I could never get him to tell me anything - I mean anything - about how he and his parents came to the U.S. from Russia, after World War II. I have to wonder if perhaps the came into the country illegally, but who knows? He served in the U.S. Army in Germany, and he was educated in California, working for Burroughs Corp. for years.
He has every single thing I have ever written. I had sent him my most recent book, and I know he read it before he died. I have to smile about that. Here is this scientist, scholar - he read in at least four languages - and there is his collection of Carla Kelly ephemera. Ahem, I don't think I was on the same shelf with Pushkin.
We had a joke about that. A few years ago, someone rammed the back of his car and mashed his trunk. In it was, as he wrote me, "The opera of Pushkin." I e-mailed back and said I didn't realize that Pushkin himself wrote an opera. Whereupon, Nick promptly reminded me that opera is the plural of opus, which meant "the works of Pushkin." Doh! I gave myself a dope slap, because I knew that. Just wasn't thinkin'. Since then, we teased each other about operas.
Nick came to see us in Wellington last summer. He was only planning to stay a day and a night. We hauled him to several dinosaur sites and museums, and out to the museum where I volunteer, and he decided to stay another day and night, because he was having a good time. I'm so glad he did.
When he got here, he presented me with a beautiful white maple end table that he had made for me in his woodworking class. At that time, we were in year two of remodeling. I assured him that when my office was done, I'd put the end table in there, in a place of honor. I did. It's really quite beautiful.
I look out my window right now and it's a Russian landscape: snow and more snow. Confirmed southern California that he is now, or was, Nick would like the snow today. Gee, I miss him. When the house was quiet, I cried and gave one of those all-purpose, one-size-fits-all primal screams. I'll always miss him. I have the last 7 or 8 actual letters he wrote to me, just before I got engaged to my husband, Martin. Some 35 years ago, I happened to come across them, and sat on the floor in my sons' bedroom in Wyoming, rereading them through a more adult perspective. I read them, and began to grasp how much he loved me. Since his death, both of my sisters have mentioned that to me. Sisters, I knew. I really did. That makes his death all the more painful. I hope he knows now how much I cared.
There's so much I want to tell him. My son Jeremy gave me a truly magnificent book for Christmas called The Tiger, by John Vaillant. It's about a man-eating Siberian tiger in Russia's outback. I remember thinking that I had to e-mail Nick and tell him to get the book. I can't now.
But I want to. This morning, I e-mailed him. I wrote, "I miss you, Nick. Love, Carla," and sent it into the ether. Who knows? Maybe it'll float around forever.