Childrens' Socks (Kazakhstan)

Childrens' Socks (Kazakhstan)

It is difficult to imagine the image of a Soviet schoolgirl without white socks below the knee, which became fashionable in the early 1960s. The high-quality hosiery of the Riga factory "Aurora" was especially appreciated, but these were always defitsitnyi(in short supply). Tights and socks from the Karaganda sewing factory were considered less prestigious, but even these were also difficult to buy publicly. In the USSR, knee-socks were a symbol of youth, school life and cleanliness, therefore, they had to be snow-white and preferably openwork, and guipure. For me, they were also associated with style and chic, the opportunity to feel like a little bit of a lady. However, this transformation into a princess required incredible effort and ingenuity in the harsh rural reality, where roads were often without asphalt and children had to walk off-road to school. From my own experience, I can say that it was a whole art to get to school in open shoes and keep the socks in their original state, i.e. without getting them dirty. I had to be very graceful, dancing around puddles and jumping over small ditches, holding on to the edge of the skirt with one hand and holding my schoolbag with the other, or vice versa, walking slowly and elegantly, raising my legs high so as not to raise the dust under my feet.

For these reasons, knee-socks wore out quickly, and there were two ways to get them. First, you needed to stand in line for many hours in a city haberdashery store, or else if you were lucky enough you could get them under the counter through blat for three times the price from local speculators. While in the store they cost 1r. 50 kopecks, a maximum of 2 roubles, the black market price reached 5 roubles - which was equivalent to the cost of 1 kg of good boneless beef, in the language of my mother, who used to translate everything into food. She did not approve of such an unreasonably expensive purchase for the family budget, because 1 kg of meat was the weekly diet of our family, consisting of 14 people. Therefore, my friend and I saved up for this luxury ourselves for several months, collecting all the money that we were sometimes given for ice cream, soft drinks or a bun in the school cafeteria. And now our finest hour has come, we got the cherished socks for 5 rubles and were also able to beg for identical sandals from our parents. Then, it was urgently decided, without the permission of adults, to escape from lessons and go to the city to see a photographer in order to have time to capture an image of them as a keepsake.

The photographs were one of the little joys in the existence of rural children and adolescents, who spent most of their lives in the collective farm fields. Officially, children began their labour activity in the fields from the fifth grade, when the students of our school were annually released from classes for two months from the end of September until almost December to help with the harvest. Informally, the students worked also with their parents in the fields from May to November. I remember that when we returned to school in September, the Russian teacher gave us an assignment to write an essay on the topic “How I Spent My Summer Vacations” and most of the class handed him a blank sheet of paper. The teacher never gave us a failing grade, he understood everything and, as it seemed to me, silently empathized with us. The practice with the unwritten essay continued year after year with different teachers and in different grades. Apparently, this topic was mandatory in school curricula, even though there were no summer holidays to speak of in our stern collective farm childhood, when we got up at sunrise and worked until sunset. Almost every day from 7-8 in the morning my brothers and sisters and I walked several kilometres with five-litre thermos flasks and heavy bags of food in our hands for six months a year, apart from Saturdays and Sundays. At the same time, I do not remember that my father brought any money home. Many collective farmers did not receive a salary; instead, they took grain from the collective farm against a salary or in advance, in order to exchange it for flour of the lowest grade. My dad always said that the land is our breadwinner and the most important thing in the life of a collective farmer is the fulfilment of the plan, that if we do not fulfill the plan, the collective farm will not give grain, and if there is no grain, we will not have bread, so we must all try and work even harder.

Zulfia Imiarova, Associate Professor, Narkhoz University, Kazakhstan