(Author’s note: Here is some more recent writing for your enjoyment. This is a recently completed chapter from my work-in-progress: Mother’s Russia. Enjoy.)
Chapter Twelve: Homeward Angels
Leaving Mother’s Russia.
Let’s just say it was harder getting out of Russia than it was getting in. A lot harder.
For starters, the old airport in Saint Petersburg was mobbed when we got there. Oh, there was talk of the modern new airport that was going to replace the old one, but that was just salt in our wounds as we snaked through the—well—the python of passenger purgatory.
I was stationed at the foot of Momska’s wheelchair, so I got to use her as a battering ram.
We inched forward in fits and starts, and then another tour bus disgorged more departing passengers, and we were brought to a standstill.
Dios da me fuerza para este vida sobre viver*.
(*God, give me the strength to survive this life.)
Such were my thoughts as I pushed my mother ever closer to the first of three checkpoints.
(Hey, brain fart: they should name one Checkpoint Charley in my honor.)
When we finally got to the first checkpoint, I got so flustered helping my flustered mother empty her personal effects into a tray that I lost the treasured pen I had used to pen my impressions of Russia.
Dios da me fuerza.
We soldiered on to the next checkpoint where a stone-faced woman asked the purpose of our visit and other pertinent questions.
Then to the final checkpoint—and I will call this one Checkpoint Charley in my honor—where a plainclothes official with the most penetrating eyes ever laid on me asked me the same questions as posed at the previous checkpoints, plus plenty more.
Was he FSB—State Security?
You tell me.
All I know is tht he looked into my soul and found no lurking CIA operative in there. He drilled and drilled and when he mined only good-natured innocence, he bid me leave Mother’s Russia.
Was I unnerved?
But leave I did.
Excuse me, leave we did.
Momska, as she did on the flights over, flew first class on both flights back, first on the short hop across the Baltic from Saint Petersburg to Copenhagen on SAS and then from Copenhagen to Chicago, also on SAS.
We had no problems making the connection in Copenhagen to our flight back to the U.S. of A., and the flight home, despite our separation by class, was smooth and light-filled all the way across the Atlantic and down through Canada to O’Hare.
The only misadventure came at O’Hare International Airport itself where I found myself cleared through customs in no time flat and waiting for Momska and her companions with only rubles in my pocket and no cell phone.
Mom’s friend had the cell phone with which to call the limousine service our travel agent had put at our service, so all I could do was wait helplessly and watch the rest of the passengers from our flight slowly trickle out of customs.
I worried a while and then I just smiled and realized God was giving me one last spiritual-growth exercise.
Hey, I had just cruised the Waterways of the Czars with my 86-year-old mother. We had had our differences over the years and our periodic estrangements, but now we were safely returned from a healing/amazing/eye-opening/cleansing/one-of-a-kind/once-in-a-lifetime trip to Mother’s Russia.
That’s right: Mother’s Russia.
My Scottish-and-English-and-Irish-American mother with nary a trace of Slavic blood had taken me on a trip to see the burial place of the Czars.
My Momska had opened the door to the once Red East for me.
She had helped me dispel all my childhood fears of a podium pounding Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev and goose-stepping Red Army troops parading across Red Square and taken me right to Red Square itself and made me realize that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to fear from the Russians and Russia.
Excuse me: from Mother’s Russia.
Momska gave me an amazing gift.
So what if I had to cool my heels for a few minutes at O’Hare on a warm October night in Chicago.
I had my rubles in my pocket and the song of the Volga Boatman in my heart.
I had absorbed Russia into my bone marrow, and I had my one and only mother—the nonpareil Hannah Dick Macfarlan McKelvy—to thank for that.
So, when she and her entourage finally cleared customs, I greeted them with the respect reserved for returning royals.
I was relieved to see them and angry at myself for having been angry at them for their having taken so very long to clear customs.
Momska didn’t make a big deal out of it, so, she wondered, why had I been making such a big deal of it.
Put it to rest, Charley Me Boy.
I did, and we proceeded to summon the awaiting limousine, and we returned to Momska’s house in Beverly where we began the final seven years of Momska’s life among us.
And what a ride that was.
And you shall read all about it in the next chapter, which, at the suggestion of a friend, I am calling: The Three Funerals of Hannah McKelvy.
Until then: Paka!