That phrase comes to my wife’s mind whenever we have a freezing, blustery night. She first met the teenager who uttered those words several years ago when she agreed to help a lady with her housework for a while. She and her husband had decided to host a foreign exchange student and the lady thought that having an extra person around might make it hard for her to keep up with her chores, since she and her husband both taught school and often worked over.
The student was a very pleasant, good-hearted boy from Russia. He was skinny, well educated and quiet. The first time that he saw an American grocery store, his jaw dropped in shock. Even though his father supposedly had a good job with the government, he’d never seen so much food in his life. His family lived in a smallish apartment by American standards. I don’t know what they did about breakfast or lunch, but their supper was furnished by the government, and whatever they brought was what they ate…period.
The boy was amazed how easy it was to get milk and eggs here and was told that he could eat and drink all of them that he wanted. He was glad to get all the meat he wanted, but milk and eggs continued to make up a large part of his diet here, since those items were almost impossible for him to get in Russia. Also, they let him take his sheets, blankets and pillows home to Russia when it came time to leave, since he’d never had his own bedclothes before.
I’m sure that his year in America was an educational experience for all involved, and in many different ways. However, my wife’s main memory of the boy was on horrible winter days, when he would look outside at the wind-driven snow, a sad look would come to his face and he’d say, “Back home, people will die on the streets tonight.” She never told him that there would probably be some folks in this country meeting the same fate. © 2013-