Tuesday, May 29, 2012

RitaLuck on Vashon Island

At 3:00, I noticed this poster in the window of the Vashon Book Store. The lecture was scheduled for THAT DAY -- at 4:00. I AM SO LUCKY...It was called "Telling Stories" -- and the speakers are all residents of Vashon Island.  In just an hour -- Ellie Utelski would be sharing her story of living in the USSR during the Cold War.

I arrived at the Blue Heron Art Center early enough to secure a good seat on a sturdy pew!!
By the time Ellie started to talk - the room was JAM PACKED full of people!!  Over 100 of us came to hear her fascinating story...
Ellie told her story... After graduating from a midwestern high school -- she fell in love with a young Army officer, married and moved to California.  Her husband was attending language school.  After ten years of marriage -- they moved to Moscow in 1957. She had two little girls and the family lived in the American Embassy -- where every room was bugged.

She shared a few pictures of their life in the USSR.  Ellie was beautiful, and her husband was a handsome young officer. Their daughters were adorable. They knew they were going to a country where virtually no goods would be available to them.  No fresh fruit, no fresh milk, very few groceries...period.  She was told to ship a year's worth of groceries.  YIKES.  And -- despite the desperate conditions in the USSR -- she had to pack "five formals" -- and her husband needed full dress uniforms, including white tie and tails.

They had to BORROW $8,000 to buy the necessary goods and clothing....Unbelievable...

Most of Ellie's story was classified until just a few years ago.  The thing is -- she and her husband traveled all over Russia (either as a couple, or with another couple) -- and they were always followed. For good reason! Their mission was to collect information. Take pictures -- identify missle sites, etc.  Ellie took pictures of missles being staged in Siberia -- and several months later -- those same missles were photographed in CUBA!!

SHE WAS SO FASCINATING...I could have listened to Ellie's story for days....

and it always strikes me that EVERYBODY has a story, y'know? 

At one point, they were being followed into Siberia, driving a car that had to be hand cranked -- and when things started falling apart -- they ran out of gas -- and there was NEVER any gas available.  It's hard to believe that in the 1960's, most of Russia did not have gas stations.  People were still using horses and wagons...THAT was the frightening Super Power we were so afraid of??

Here's the thing.  I don't know if I can explain what happened to me on that day on Vashon Island.  But that morning -- I was feeling all brave and smug because I drove my he rental car onto the ferry!!


Because fifty years ago -- THIS WOMAN left every creature comfort behind to go to the USSR.  She packed up her two babies -- and moved to a country where she didn't know a soul -- and where she could not buy milk for her babies...

I sat in that room, on that day, and I knew I was listening to a real American Hero. 
Of course, I could not resist asking her to pose with the Hey Rita tote for a special picture...
Thanks again, Vashon Island for a really, really incredible day.

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