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Friday, 28 September 2007

Frisbee with The KGB

By Nancy Leitz

In 1974 we had been living in our house in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania for nine years. Chris, Steve and Carol had all graduated from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School and were either in college or working. Jerry was still a student in 11th grade. Roy was busy building the twin towers being erected in Philadelphia. I was working in the Plymouth Valley Pharmacy. All was well with our world.

Then came the fire! It was mainly in the kitchen but other parts of the house were destroyed by the water and other efforts by the firemen to put the fire out. Fortunately, we had very good homeowner's insurance so the house restoration was started quickly and we suffered no real personal loss.

One part of our homeowner's policy provided us with a place to live and meals while the work was being done on the house. Our agent explained to us that we should book two large rooms at a nearby resort type motel and could have our meals there or go to any restaurant and save the checks.

We called the George Washington Motor Lodge and they told us that they had two rooms right at the pool. Lucky us.

It was August and very hot. When I drove down there to see the rooms I was surprised to see many men in dark suits walking around and even men on the roof. I saw a local police officer whom I knew and approached him. I asked, "Who are these men and why are all the police here?" He was hesitant to tell me. I said, "I am moving my family here tonight and I am not comfortable not knowing why all this security is here."

Finally, he told me. "The Bolshoi Ballet is here. They are performing at the Temple University Music Festival and are staying here."

Now it was the height of the Cold war and a few Russian performers had defected while performing outside of their country, so the KGB was on guard to see that that did not happen.

I got the chills just thinking that the men I was looking at were Russian agents. My God, it was a page out of a John le Carre novel but, at this point I felt that the motel was probably the safest place in town, so called around to my kids that it was okay to come to the George Washington.

The next day, after we were all settled in and all the fights over who was going to sleep where and who was going to have which closet, we decided to cool off at the pool. Chris and Steve were tossing a frisbee around. One would spin it to the other, who would leap to catch it and end up in the pool.

Suddenly, on one of his throws a very tall, extremely muscular young man leapt about six feet in the air in an attempt to catch the frisbee, missed and also landed in the pool. He rescued the spinner and tossed it to Chris, who threw it back to him very gently. He caught it but couldn't figure out the wrist action needed to spin it back. Chris jumped in the pool and showed him the way to toss it and the game was ON!

Now half of the Bolshoi Ballet was in or around the pool playing frisbee. They were so lithe and agile and able to leap so gracefully, it was a pleasure to watch them. They had so much fun and so did we. They did not say one word, all communication was by gesture or mime. Even the guards enjoyed the game. That evening we went to the mall and bought more frisbees.

The Ballet members stayed for three more days and they played every chance they got at the pool with the frisbees. On their last day, they came to the kids and tried to give the frisbees back, but Chris and Steve insisted they keep them. We knew they were going on to another city and another motel with a pool and they would need the toys for fun but wouldn't know where to buy them.

We used to see the troupe in the dining room at mealtimes and they would wave and say "hello" but the last night the tall young man came over to us and gave the kids CCCP lapel pins. We were ready for them. We had gone to the store and bought American Flag pins and gave them to the young men and women of the ballet.

That was 33 years ago and my recollection of that time is still fresh. How I loved seeing that international friendship and camaraderie, and my hope is that somewhere in Russia today, someone still has a little American flag. We still have the CCCP pins - and a lot of nice memories.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 03:37 AM | Permalink | Email this post


How fun!!!!!! Interesting how something like a frisbee can build bridges! What a nice story, Nancy!

What an exciting experience! The Bolshoi Ballet is just magnificent. I'm sure being able to watch the dancers leap for the frisbees made the kitchen fire worthwhile. And it's great that you took that opportunity to become good will ambassadors.

I love this story Nancy. And to think....your kids taught them all about 'the art of Frisbee.' That's saying something. What a great memory.

I enjoyed this story, which left me with a good feeling. A simple toy brought people from totally different cultures together.

What a stressful time that was, and what a gift you and your family gave by just being you.

What a nice memory! It really is true, then as now, that a foreign visitor's best memories of this country might be you and your family.

What an exciting experience! I wonder what the dancers told their families when they got home.

Lovely story Nancy, you are still a wonderful ambassador for your country.

Hi Nancy,
I read this story today after reading Christmas Shopping 1939. I looked on the roll to see what else you have written and realized I'd read almost all your stories. This was one I had not read. I've only joined the elder blog world of late. What a great place. I especially like the Elder Storytellers Place and your stories. They are tops. I didn't see a blog listed for you, but clearly you are a writer. Just wondering where else I could find your work.


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