The Book Club
When I first came to the USA, I was like a blind kitten that was thrown out of an airplane into the jungle.
Getting out of it, I stumbled; I was charmed, frightened, amazed, hurt. I laughted and sometimes I was horrified.
My American husband introduced me to his family and friends. I did my best to impress them, but every time I opened my mouth, I managed to put my foot in it.
No wonder. I left Moscow on the first of April and arrived in Washington D.C. on the first of April! I was flying west, I gained time.
Americans were kind enough or polite enough not to show me their reaction. That didn’t help. I never knew where I stood with them. Although I taught the English language, and though I knew something, the difference between the American and Russian cultures was a shock to me. My husband was surprised when he found out that I didn’t know the meaning of such words as mortgage, green card, interest rates, etc….
Once a neighbor invited me to her “Book Club”. I was ready in no time. We came to a huge house that overlooked the ocean. The living room did not seem to have walls. It was all glass and mirrors. I felt lost among the beautiful sofas, small tables and armchairs. The ceramic vases and artificial flowers in them. Outside the ocean breeze was flirting with magnolia trees and the sunrays were playing hide and seek. The ladies (there were 11 of them) were dressed in bright colors. They wore heavy make-up and jewelry. It was 10am. It looked strange to me. But it was Southern California, and it was in July.
My neighbor announced that she had brought a guest, who just recently came from the Soviet Union. Everyone mouthed the famous “Oh” which has many meanings, colors, and shades. The “Oh”, pronounced in my direction, remained a mystery to me.
By one of the oval tables was a leather armchair, and in it was a scarlet suit with scarlet little bows and gray curls. Then I saw a peanut sized face that looked ageless. I thought it was a monument, but the peanut moved. With a child’s air of importance she tapped the table with her scarlet little claws and said, “Well, ladies, let’s begin. I hope everybody has a book”. Everyone said yes, except me.
A woman with cowboy hat and heavy high boots read one or two paragraphs and the scarlet little suit began to ask questions.
“What do you think of Mister C? What do you like about Mrs. H? Have you ever been in Africa?”
The ladies answered the questions with enthusiasm.
Then another lady in a flowery blouse read two paragraphs, and then another... It reminded me of my University home reading tests.
During the coffee-break everyone smiled, drank coffee and tea, ate teeny-weeny cakes, candies and cookies. The peanut was walking around the living room greeting and talking to some of the ladies. “Are you still riding your horse?” “I haven’t seen you at the club lately.” “How are you my dear?”
The scarlet bows went around me like one goes around puddle or an alien.
One of the ladies was talking about the herbs she bought for her dog. A woman with rows of pearls was telling how she lost 21 pounds in six weeks on a special diet in Switzerland.
To my left a big woman in a pink dress discussed a cream with vitamins in it. The cowboy hat asked me if it was true that the Russian people were paid in cash at their jobs instead of checks. I said “yes”. “I don’t understand it”, - she said indignantly. I wanted to explain that before Christ people had no checks also, but woman in jeans, beaming with joy, came up to us and said, “It’s wonderful to have you here. Are you from white or red Russia?” I gasped. When I regained my speech she wasn’t there. I wonder what expression did my face have?
On our way home my neighbor asked me if I enjoyed it. I said I did. She was so happy that I felt ashamed and guilty.
The words “judge not, that you be not judged” flashed before me. I smiled and thanked her again.