Every so often, the stars just align and everything comes together perfectly. Eleventy bazillion years ago (ok, twelve, but who’s counting) my neighbors mentioned that there were Russian boys coming to town and they would be looking for extra work. Larry and I had our hands full with this growing property, and Arturo, Ivan and Pavel -all the way from Siberia- would come over to our place after working at the motel where they were housed, and the restaurant where they were working, and fill their days off with painting and pressure washing and planting and mulching and anything else we asked. It was a tremendous experience for us, to meet these young university students and learn how very different it is in America. Once I asked Pavel, “What’s the biggest difference between here and your home?” He said, “Life!” And when I asked further, he said, “The process of life. There on your kitchen counter is an electric mixer. You decided you wanted a mixer and you bought it.” Perplexed, I said yes. He went on. “If I get paid at the end of the week, and I pay my rent and buy my food, if I have $40 left and there is a drill at Lowes for $40, I can get a ride to the store and buy the drill.” Go on, I prodded. “At my home, I would have to save the $40 and then get on a list to buy the drill, and I would have to provide a good reason to be allowed on the list.” He explained that when you see a line, you get in it. It might be for shoes or it might be for onions. It didn’t matter. If there was something for sale, you bought it. Someone back at your apartment would need the shoes, even if they weren’t your size. Then Pavel laughed and said, “There would be no list for the mixer. My mother would never use one. She uses a spoon.” Larry and I referred back to that conversation, often. Pavel will always have a place in my heart for teaching me so clearly.
The following year, we were asked if we’d like more students. This group was Ukrainian. And somehow by some stroke of luck, Yurii and Oleksii stepped into our lives.
Are they not just the cutest things? These boys had energy to spare. Nothing was too difficult, too heavy, too demanding. Those smiles were always in place. We spent the summer working their tails off, too. They built the benches for the wedding cove (along with Larry, Dick, and Nicholas), they treated the hemlock trees, built in shelves for Larry’s office, painted, stained, set stones, built steps, re-engineered the creek (Larry’s favorite pass time) to make prettier waterfalls, they worked and worked and worked.
I wish I could tell you how much I loved having these boys here. Those
two summers were such special times. They really were a part of the
family. And it was hard to see them leave in the fall. The
first time, Larry and I realized we were sending our boys back to
Siberia, for heaven’s sake! We just wanted to keep them forever. When
Russia started fooling around in Ukraine, our hearts were in our throats
as our boys’ safety was at risk. We embedded ourselves into the
24-hour news cycle until tensions finally broke, but we still worried.
Facebook allowed the occasional peek every year or two into Pavel’s life in Russia, and Oleksii in Ukraine. We routinely posted the annual ‘happy birthday’. We learned of marriages, jobs. But only tiny bits of random information, a handful of notes over the past decade or so. And then. Out of the blue: messages from Oleksii! How are you, life is good, are you in Florida, Yurii is there – I had to break the news of Larry’s passing to this boy who responded, “Larry was the greatest man I ever knew.” They had forged an unbreakable bond, and it grieved me to have to bring sadness into his world. But he’d brought serendipity to mine. I was indeed heading to Florida, and soon.
So. Fast forward to yesterday morning, when a text message came from Miami – it was Yurii! We began to plan how to meet and before you knew it, I was in my car and heading to Jupiter, Florida, to meet this 30-something year old man for seafood at a waterfront restaurant. Yes, that’s right. I made a five hour road trip to have lunch, haha! Worth every moment. Yurii told me about the work he’s doing in Miami, a little about the company he works for, and how he’s having to relearn English. (We always found it vastly amusing that these boys came to the Appalachian mountains to practice English. Honey, I’ve lived in Maggie Valley for the past 21 years, and there are times even I can’t understand the language. So. By all means, let’s take folks who use a cyrillic alphabet, give them English classes in college and send them off to the land of yep and y’all. But they did it!) These days, Yurii is practicing his English in Miami. I’d like to point out that precious little English is spoken there, either. And his coworkers are Russian… which presents a certain tension of its own, given the political landscape. But there is more news. Yurii’s been married to Olga for seven years. He was quick to show me a photo – she is lovely! And if his business progresses the way it seems to be, she may be able to accompany him on a future trip. I’m imagining meeting her – Larry said “our boys” so often, can she be my daughter-in-law? I’d like that.
I have this image running around in my head. I hope you’ll enjoy it… Yurii and Olga, renewing their vows on their 10th wedding anniversary… at Timberwolf Creek… in the wedding cove the boys built. Love in the air.