From Russia with love

One of the reasons I thought it would be good to start a blog* was that it might provide an incentive to write down some family stories for the Niece and Nephew.  They’re 12 and almost 17, though, so I’m confident that they’re not interested in listening to Aunt Amy drone on about the weirdos in their extended family.  This way, I can have the fun of telling the stories, and they can read them at their leisure.  Since it’s public and since I love them very much, I’ll spare them the dysfunction** and let them uphold a fine family tradition by digging it up later when they get good and curious.

I’m also sort of hoping some of these stories will inspire other folks to share theirs, which I’ll post or not depending on whether you let me.  And how many really funny family weirdos they involve.

So I thought I’d start with two related vignettes from my parents’ experiences in the late 1950s.  This, dear Niece and Nephew, was the world into which your father and I were born: The Cold War.

Vignette #1.  My Dad writes from law school in 1957:***

My train ride up was most enjoyable.  I sat next to an air force corporal who works in the control tower at Westover Air Force Base.  He told me a lot about the base, including that there are bombers on constant alert loaded and ready to go with hydrogen bombs in them.  And that the pilots have a special course in Russian cities which he knows from the air like he knows the palm of his own hand.  I supposed that I should have taken it for granted that with all our preparations we would have some of the weapons actually ready to use, but it still is a little shocking to realize how completely we are on a war footing.

Vignette #2.  My Mom writes from Moscow, one stop on their European honeymoon in 1959:

Before I go any further, I must tell you about my experience of this morning.  We went to The Kremlin.  After seeing the museum, the group was set loose to see the cathedrals at our leisure.   . . .  After a stroll through the churches, Peter and I started walking through the grounds.  As we were walking down a smallish street, we heard cheering behind us and went back to see what it was.  Out from the middle of the crowd popped Khrushchev, headed down the street in our direction.  Peter gave me a shove and I shook hands and exchanged pleasantries,**** then introduced Peter.  I think K was a bit flabbergasted, but no one stopped us.  After it was all over, one of the boys in the group rushed up with his Polaroid camera and said, “I think I got you!”  We waited impatiently the 60 seconds it takes and it’s a beautiful picture!

I’m hoping my mother can find the photo and that she has a scanner.  My memory is that the photo features my parents and the back of Khrushchev’s bald head.

No, Niece & Nephew, we weren’t Russian spies raised as suburban kids in the 1970s.  We all had ugly haircuts, even the real Americans.  Especially the real Americans.

What I found striking about both of these vignettes is trying to imagine parallels to today.  Chatting with an air force corporal about drone targets?  Taking a tour of Tehran and chatting with Ahmadinejad?  It seems to have been simultaneously a scarier and more innocent time.   Was it?  Or is every time equally scary and innocent because it’s the same species – us – stumbling through it using the same small fractions of our hominid brains?


* WordPerfect — which I use to draft — still thinks “blog” is a typo.  I love it anyway.  It’s a dysfunctional love, but devoted nonetheless.

** Unless it’s really really funny.  Like the time my father threw an ice cream cone at my brother and me.  It was only dysfunctional for a nanosecond or so, and then passed immediately into family legend with much hilarity.  The precipitating cause was the fact that the Dairy Queen had large soft ice cream cones on sale for less than medium cones.  Dad requested a medium amount of ice cream at the – lower, large, sale – price.  No go.  Anyone who knows my brother or me knows what came next:  There is no way anyone with our nerd DNA would tolerate such an offense to logic.  A fierce legal argument ensued which – not being in control of the soft-serve machine – my father lost.  All it took was one smart-ass remark from his kids — and with both of us in our teens, that came almost immediately — and my father launched a large ice cream cone in our general direction.  We have recognized that precise place on Route 1 every time we’ve passed it in the 40 years since.  There was talk of a plaque.

*** I’m correcting most of his typos.  Although he was a brilliant lawyer, my father never, ever learned to spell.

**** Yes, Niece & Nephew, your Grams***** speaks Russian.  How cool is that?

***** Yes, she asked to be called Grams.  But then we often called my grandmother “G’Ma,” pronounced “gee-ma.”  I think it was because we could not spell “grandma,” so the spelling thing might be genetic too.

2 thoughts on “From Russia with love

  1. Ruth

    I do have that photo somewhere. I’ll track it down & scan it. To add to the story: when I stepped up to Khrushchev (or, more specifically, was pushed by Peter, who said, “You speak Russian, go talk to him.”), I said that we were Americans and were visiting his country. This was the first year (1959) that Americans were allowed to visit the USSR. It’s like the restrictions we now have on visiting Cuba–US citizens had been prevented by their own government from visiting the USSR. Peter and I had hooked up with a Swedish youth group, since there were not yet any organized trips from the US into the USSR. Anyhow, back to the story: I said to Kh that we were Americans visiting his country and we were enjoying our visit. Kh looked very, very confused. He said, “But these are Czechs. . .” IOW, how the hell did a couple of young American get into this group of Czechs that he had been talking with.

    Of course, what was most amazing (to us, even then) was that Kh apparently wandered around within the Kremlin walls (it’s a mini-city within those walls) alone, without body guards or any other protection.


  2. Pingback: Early-adopters and never-let-goers « Thought Snax

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