In 1989, before the fall of the Soviet Union, my late husband surprised me with an all-day, spa-day at the famous Aida Thibiant Med Spa in Beverly Hills.
Having spent so many years of my life in front of a camera in television work, I was not particularly interested in the hair and make-up, manicures and pedicures. But, there was a one-hour facial booked with their esthetician which I looked forward to. The room was private and quiet and a lovely woman in her 30’s was my technician.
Most at that salon did not speak English–they clearly spoke Russian–and it was my guess that somehow Russians were leaving the Soviet Union, and finding their way as refugees perhaps to the United States. But, this woman spoke English quite well, albeit with an accent that forced me to really listen in order to understand.
I don’t believe personally that you should have conversations with people unless you are interested enough to listen and understand them. To me, to do otherwise is disrespectful. Since we had time together, we began to talk.
At first it was obvious that most of the wealthy clients who patronize that salon apparently did not engage in talking with the people who were providing services to them. But, I was neither wealthy, nor elitist, and I decided to talk with her. She warmed up to that, and began to tell me some of her story. We later became friends, and I got to know her family well.
But, that day, she shared a story that I believe is very relevant to ideologies being promoted today. Ism’s like Marxism, Communism, Socialism sound fascinating when one is in the safety of their college classroom, or sitting in a Starbucks waxing poetic. However, Socialism has always had consequences. In the end, it turns into the equal sharing of poverty.
Here is the tender story she shared unabashedly. Her husband had gotten out first, made his way to the United States, and gotten settled in a Russian-filled area of Woodland Hills. He was a mechanic, and was able to get a job with one of his former countrymen. The point is, he had begun.
A while later, he was able successfully to bring his wife and son to America. Keep in mind he had been here long enough to get acclimated to the American way of life, and to an abundance that we take for granted.
When they were joyfully reunited, he began to introduce her to the neighborhood, and made the first stop the local Ralph’s grocery store. We all have some local grocery store chain. It is just a part of the American way of life.
As they entered the store, he secured a cart and headed to the produce section which was straight in front of them. She stopped, frozen, afraid to proceed. When he inquired into her reluctance to go and pick up fruits and vegetables for their dinners, she could not speak.
Almost pushing her closer to a table that was stacked top to bottom with bananas, oranges and apples, she refused to even touch the fruit–let alone take any. She blurted out, “Someone has made a mistake and left all of this fruit out. We must not touch it or we will be arrested.”
Remember, he had been here long enough to have forgotten some of the day-to-day deprivations of life in Moscow. Suddenly he realized what was wrong, and he assured her the fruit was there to be purchased–in whatever quantity she desired. She began to weep, as she gingerly touched the fine fruit.
For, in her life, under the communist regime and the socialist economic system, deprivation was the norm. The citizens of Moscow were obliged to stand in lines blocks long for hours every day, just for the privilege of buying even one banana or orange. All quantities were rationed by the State. And the State did not care if it took half a day just to get into enough lines to acquire sufficient food to feed your family that night.
Her husband was kind. He let her cry, then explained again that this was life in America. There was an abundance of food, a variety of selection, and that although Americans complained about the long lines at the check out counter, her wait would in fact be short. Finally, she understood that everything she saw displayed was available for her. When it got depleted, men and women with carts would come and refill the tables.
She roamed the store that day in wonder at the “fruit on the tree” of the Free Enterprise system. She touched and withdrew. Touched and withdrew. Until she realized something that she had never realized in her 30 plus years in the Soviet Union–she could HAVE.
Her whole life had been lived through scarcity, but here, she could HAVE the American Dream she had heard about. One fruit table in an ordinary food chain had proven to her that what she had heard about on the radio, and had read about surreptitiously, was real.
And so, she found a way to earn a living, and to begin to create a nice life for herself in the United States. She knew she would have to work, and work hard. But, here, at least, she could accomplish and rise according to her own efforts. And, she could eat!
I have never forgotten her. For the simple reality is that the inevitable outcome of those “ism’s” is poverty and deprivation, no matter how hard one works. There are no guarantees here. Our constitutionally protected rights can portend great things however: the right to life, liberty, and the PURSUIT of happiness.
Many of my countrymen today would be wise I think to give some thought to this before they, out of ignorance, throw away the freedom to enterprise. Don’t be bamboozled, my friends. Anyone peddling socialism is conning you, and they will turn on you once you have surrendered power to them. It has always been so.