Our journey back to Houston started with a Lincoln Town Car driven by a 66-year-old divorced Russian with four teenage children, none of whom has a job. “Where in Russia are you from?” I asked. “Georgia. On the Black Sea,” he answered. “So was Stalin,” I replied. “Yeah, he was my uncle. He’s dead.” Roman immigrated here in 1975. “What do you think of Putin?” “He’s a strong man. Russians like strong men. No one tells Putin what to do. He tells them what to do.” Admiring? Critical? Some inscrutably pan-Slavic mingling of both? I couldn’t read him. My 11-year-old asked from the back seat, “Have you ever been in Siberia?” Roman answered: “Siberia? Hah! You spit and it freezes before it hits the ground.” I tipped him well.
A day earlier, as I locked for the last time the front door of the rental house we occupied for four years, I heard a faint voice saying, “Hey, neighbor!” It was Mrs. Johnson, the 81-year-old who was born in Houston, came north as a teenager, married a man who became the first black employee at Boeing, and now runs a sort of boarding house for anyone who needs a flop. She had just returned from a church convention in St. Louis. In her living room I heard a peeping sound, and she showed me the two cases of baby chicks just delivered by Fedex. She stepped away from her walker, pulled a checkbook from her apron and wrote a $20 check for my sons – “for Easter,” she said. We hugged, she said some flattering things about me, and for the first time I felt a pang about leaving the Pacific Northwest.
Dr. Johnson writes in The Rambler #68:“To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution."