The Russians Are Coming

Summer 1961.  

My summers were endless days of playing with my sisters, with nothing more urgent than deciding what we wanted to do next.  Playing on the old grapevine, which never bore any grapes but was filled with masses of heart-shaped, green leaves, was usually our first choice.  We had constructed a “house” beneath the grapevine, taking advantage of the cool shade and fashioned furniture out of stumps, old buckets, boards, and concrete blocks, if we could carry them.  

Any items we couldn’t find, we used our imaginations and drew them in the dirt, with the longest stick we could find.  And, a long stick had many other uses. It could become a weapon, a broom, a blocked doorway, or it could just be a stick.  

The impressive part of our grapevine house was that second story! An old wooden ladder instantly became an elegant staircase which led to our bedroom.

We furnished this room with a hand stitched quilt smuggled from the house right before our Granny’s eyes.  The hexagonal chicken wire nailed across the top, protected with more of the lobed greenery, provided ample flooring, if we didn’t walk around too much. Everyone knew if you were in the middle you had to sit down. And, no jumping.  

As we sat in our “bedroom”, one lazy afternoon having tea (mud & water), my older sister, Sue then 9, decided to leave.  

“Are you coming back?” I asked. I have a fear of heights and needed her to hold the ladder while I climbed down.

She replied, “Sure. In a minute.”  

Quickly, Sue climbed down the ladder, leaving me and my two younger sisters alone.  I felt a little uneasy, already dreading having to climb down by myself because you never knew what Sue would do in any circumstance.

In a matter of minutes, her well laid plan came to fruition.   She came running across the yard, yelling, “the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!”  

Simultaneously, an airplane flew overhead and maybe because we were on top of the grapevine, it seemed closer than it really was.

Sue looked into the sky with her eyes shaded and said, “It’s Khrushchev!”

As a seven-year-old child, listening to adult conversations, I had gathered that Russia’s Prime Minister Khrushchev was a cruel and evil man. In fact, we had a younger cousin who was so mean his own parents had nicknamed him Khrushchev.

Bad news all around.

The roar of the airplane, my sister screaming, “The Russians are coming” over and over, was too much.  Grace, Kathy and I scrambled to the ladder for an escape, hoping we were not in line of fire of the Russian airplane, with Khrushchev as the pilot.  

Yes, you guessed it. There was no ladder.

Obviously, life was over for us.  My two younger sisters and I were going to die on top of that grapevine, drinking mud and water. The crying was pitiful. The screams were worse.  

Evidently, the crying and screaming were effective. In a matter of minutes, Granny came to our aid, making Sue, who was laughing hilariously, return the ladder.   

While Granny helped us down, she spotted the quilt. “What’s that good quilt doing out here?”  

We were too shaken to answer, but simply pulled it down with us.  As badly as I hated to give up our precious quilt, I was happier to be off that grapevine and inside our real house. There, the threats of the Russians quickly disappeared as Granny served us sugar & butter sandwiches.