I was hungry. My stomach craved, demanded food or it would definitely rebel. And there were no rest rooms or toilet facilities on the court adjacent to the building where I was assigned to teach.
I had had my stove-toasted, sawdust-filled, black bread early in the morning before I raced to my coaching job at the Pioneer’s Palace. I had taught two classes and it was now noon, and I had nothing to eat. I sat there on a tree stump waiting for my third and last class of the day to assemble, and wondered how I would make it through the day. The cold and refreshing water from the spring-fed stream by the Ararat had nourished me, but how much more water could it take. My stomach grumbled and rumbled and if I had to demonstrate another drive-in lay-up, I am sure that the water would squirt out like a water pistol.
My God, how I missed my mother’s cooking; how I missed America. My country was my soul, and I had sold it to the devil.
I sat there in agony. It was my second year in the USSR. How many more would pass before the Soviets would open the door?
Could ‘they’ be watching me? Couldn’t they see that I was not ‘a sleeper’? Didn’t they know I had no secret means to exist; no American contacts? That I was but a young foolish fool?
They’d questioned me; they have released me. Was this their punishment? I would prefer death to starvation.
I looked up, there was a white-haired, elderly woman with a white flock standing before me.
“My son…my son…” she said. “Here, take this. Eat. Eat. We have been watching you. You look weak. And hungry.” She was one of the cooks who was charged with feeding the infants and the children at a nearby kindergarten (magabardez).
I could not accept the food. I knew it was meant for the children. But I thanked her.
She looked at me and said, “You must eat. You don’t have the strength to work. And I pray that wherever my son is, some mother will make sure he, too, is fed.”
I accepted the dish graciously. It was pilaf, a traditional rice dish, and made just as my mother would have.
The Soviets lost five million troops and more than 20 million civilians in their war against the Nazis. I would eventually learn that no family would be sparred and each would mourn in silence.
I had quickly learned to hate Stalin and the communists and what they stood for, but the people… the Soviet people were the most generous and courageous I have ever known.
Tom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess. Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!