About my Grandfather

Alexey Mikhailovich Shtanko 
2-Apr-1928 – 18-Mar-2012
Алексей Михайлович Штанько

My grandfather would have turned 86 today.

He was a doctor, and a dapper gent. He had a bum leg and walked with a cane.

That was back when people wore top hats non-ironically. And everybody smoked much more.

He was born in a village in Kazakhstan into a large Ukrainian family and was the first in his family to get a higher education. He started out as a nurse practitioner, because the local medical school did not offer an M.D.

So he worked in a small town while preparing for the entry exams to the university. That's when he met my grandmother. They married and had a daughter, my mother, shortly after.

Grandfather was accepted into the medical school, and they had to move to the city, where they had to live in a shared apartment with other families, because that's how it used to be in the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

When he graduated, he was offered a position in the town of Kustanay in northern Kazakhstan, and the small family moved again.

He was put in charge of organizing the town's first emergency medical service, and rode in the ambulance when someone dialed "03" – the Soviet emergency phone number for the ambulance. Their ambulance was t-boned at an intersection, and he broke both his legs in the accident. They didn't have seat belt laws and cars weren't yet all they could be safety-wise, so when they had a crash, it pretty much always hurt.

He had a car. First a Zaporozhetz, and then a VAZ 2101, which you can see in the picture. This was the first car I ever rode in. He had it modified with a lever, so that he could press the clutch in with his left arm, because of his injury.

In that car, he took the family to the forest to pick mushrooms and berries, or to the river to fish. He taught me how to make my own fishing rod out of a long branch, and I caught my first fish with it.

When I was born, he quit smoking cold, and never picked up a cigarette again.

He would read books aloud to me, over and over, and never get bored. He'd play every kind of pretend game I'd invent as a kid. He was the trusty Watson to my Holmes, and I was First Officer Lom to his Captain Vrungel. We solved puzzles together and he'd listen to my made-up stories as long as I kept on telling them.

He loved me very much, and I loved him back.

I miss him.

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