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Reflections From the Countryside-Column 1

So, so long ago…

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the editor of a local newspaper allowed me to write a fortnightly column with one caveat: I also had to write and submit news stories. The assignments ran the gamut, from covering monthly township meetings to writing about new business openings. This column is one of my favorites.

The Man Waits

They met before the war, in what is now Samara in Russia. She was 22, he was 20. To avoid capture by the Russians, who were searching for young men to work in their labor camps, he headed east—and was apprehended.

When she lapses into a coma that Tuesday morning, he is disconsolate. He finds her small, frail body in the chair, not moving. Later, he calls his sons. Will they come right away? One from California, one from Michigan. Of course, they will come.

He was very strong as a young man. The Russians exploited his strength to build roads for their war with the Nazis. The work was hard. There was little food.

She was a nutritionist and nurse in a hospital in Kazakhstan. She rescued Polish and Russian children from the clutches of the German invaders.

HE TELLS of the time he stowed away on a railroad car with two others. When he fell asleep, he awoke to find one dead. The other had killed for some potatoes the now-lifeless man had stashed underneath him.

There are other stories to recite to his sons while they wait in her hospital room. The sons have heard these stories before, but they listen again.

Her brother arrives from Florida—the only other family member to survive the war. The doctors conduct many tests, concluding that she no longer has brain activity. One doctor says a stroke has been ruled out. Another declares a heart attack might be the cause. More tests must be completed.

The family waits.

After the war they married in Alma-Ata near Russia’s eastern border with China. He entered the University of Heidelberg in 1946 to study economics. She gave birth to their first son, my husband, in October of that year.

THEY CAME to America in 1952 in steerage class, a family of three surrounded by hundreds of other immigrants. He began his teaching career at Columbia University in New York City. The family live in a tiny apartment on 81st Street.

After several days of waiting in the hospital, the saddened brothers leave for home. Their mother lies still and silent. They believe they will never see her alive again.

Their second son was born in 1958. The next year, he accepted an assistant professorship at the University of Chicago, where he taught until he retired in 1992 at the age of 72.

He recalls the time he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in recognition of his development of economic indicators. He didn’t win, but he is proud to say the system he devised in still in use today.

He is there by her side, day after day, hour after hour. He won’t forget what they’ve been through together.

After two weeks of stillness, her finger moves. He is overjoyed. The doctors are cautious.

“It is probably a reflex,” the doctors say. But he knows better.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS after his retirement. Come to New York City as a consultant, they say. A chance to be affiliated with Columbia University again. Back to New York—his favorite city on the continent. At first, she didn’t want to go. Leave her home of 33 years? At her age? But leave she does. She is with him. He still has work to do.

Soon her mouth moves. Her eyes open. Every day he calls his sons to tell them what she can do. They, too, are overjoyed.

The doctors call it a miracle.

“Her case will be written up in medical journals,” they say.

She soon begins to speak. She remembers nothing of what happened. She is grateful to be alive.

He, too, is grateful. He was lost without her, his bride of nearly 50 years.

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