Niko Pirosmani, The Russian-Japanese War
When I first met my husband’s family, I did not anticipate that him dating a Russian-born immigrant would stir up their old feelings about the Cold War. It wasn’t until a year later that my father-in-law started telling me stories about the years he spent in the Coast Guard chasing Russian ships in the waters bordering Cuba, and how dangerously close it got to an armed conflict.
It was the 1960s. The Cold War was fueling the public’s perception of “the Russians” as stern, emotionless and hostile. Portrayed as the bad guys in the James Bond movies, these Russians somehow never could crack a smile or take a joke. They seemed different and, therefore, were feared.
I have gotten to know my father-in-law really well since – well enough to understand how much pride he takes in those experiences from his youth, and how often he likes to mention them in good company over a glass of Chivas.
Every time we talk about the past, we are glad about time leading to friendship between the two cultures rather than war. Our similarities become apparent when we have an opportunity to sit across the room facing each other, to share our stories, to laugh at the same jokes.
“And now the Russians are in your living room,” I say to him smiling.
Life is not without irony. His newborn grandson, who happens to be named after him, is half-Russian. I bet my father-in-law would have never seen this coming in the 1960s!