We were waiting for the Russians. Glasnost was new and fresh in the air. The Republic of Karelia, we learned, was an autonomous region within the United Soviet Socialist Republic and bordered Finland. A non-government organization was sponsoring the Russian’s visit and the NGO rep told us that more cows than people lived in Karelia. Our Inn was to host the Minister of Agriculture and the Directors of the major dairy co-operatives. This was a precursor to our hosting the Karelien President and Chairman of the Communist Party.
The Russians arrived and they arrived travel-worn and tired. Though it was early evening, they had made an arduous, non-stop journey by train to Moscow, plane to New York and a bus to our Massachusetts Inn, the interpreter got them all settled for the night and then left. My wife left also, to attend one meeting or another, trusting me to shepherd my sleeping flock.
I heard a light rapping on the door and there stood a grinning Russian with a bottle of Vodka in one hand and two 10-ounce water tumblers in the other. The invitation was clear, and I, ever being the gentle host led my charge to the comfort of the Inn’s sitting room. I wasn’t much of a drinker, pretty much drawing the line at a cup or two of white wine, so I was mildly concerned when the Russian treated the Vodka as water and filled the tumblers to the brim. My first sip and I was amazed by the delightfully fresh and smooth flavor of this hand-imported wonder drink. My new friend was truly gladdened by my reaction and company.
About half way through the first glass I began to speak Russian. This was spurred by necessity, as my guest owned no English, and it was powered by miracle, as I had no previous instruction in the language. We shared mightily. I learned of his beautiful wife and two daughters and I became familiar with his life history. He had been a Commander in the Soviet Navy before becoming a University Professor.
Somewhere in the second twelve-ounce glass other guests of the Inn, a husband, wife and their 11 year-old daughter, returned from having dinner out. I hailed them, as they started up the steps, and the man chose to join us. I quickly rummaged up another glass and some salted nuts. I say rummaged because I noticed that I was not quite as graceful in movement as sometime earlier that evening. I then settled into my newfound avocation as a Russian-English language translator. Our next discovery was astounding. The Russian had not been simply a Navy Commander but also an Intelligence Officer and the tourist, who had recently made us a party of three, had once been in US Naval Intelligence. We established with certainty, through cheers, toasts and pats on the back that these two had, at one time, been spying on each other in the North Sea.
Overcome with emotion the ex-US Navy man ran off to fetch his family. He wanted them to be present at this major historic event. A couple more of the Russians ambled down to join us. The vodka had evaporated into a fine mist of warm cheer and friendship. I ran off to the basement to see what I could rustle-up. As I mentioned, I was not an active drinker and payed no attention to what hard alcohol was kept in the house. I gathered, from dusty shelves and harvested from boxes, a mongrel collection of partially full bottles, all leftovers from parties and New Year’s celebrations past.
The Russians thought that I had tapped into the mother lode. A taste test was a fine way to pass their first night in America. The ex-Navy guy kept saying to his daughter” Can you believe it? Can you believe it? Glasnost right here in Concord, Massachusetts! Can you believe it?” The glasses were filled and emptied.
At some point I found myself in our kitchen and my wife came in. “Hi”, I said. “I’m really drunk”. She kind of laughed at my joke, “No you can’t be” she informed me “You don’t drink”.
“No, really, I’m stewed”, and to impress upon her the truth of my statement, I collapsed flat out, Andy Capp style, on the kitchen butcher-block table.
My next memories are of living Dante’s Inferno. At one point I remember bartering that I would give up sugar, meat, coffee anything! If only the room would stop spinning. I recall alternately pleading to God to make it better and to kill me outright to end the misery. I fell asleep hugging the dog.
The next morning at breakfast my wife greeted the Russians, through the other interpreter, and asked how they were feeling. “Great!” they all exclaimed. They had had a good sleep and were ready to go. They were simply incredulous to hear that I was in bed.
If truth were known, I stayed there for two days.
I suppose I should try to redeem myself and attach some higher meaning to this tale. But I hardly think that I merit even a footnote in the history books as one of the last casualties in the fall of Soviet Communism.