In the United States, you don’t often expect to become friends with a Russian man, but that is exactly what happened with my dad, Allen Spencer. Dad was working at WOTCO in Casper at the time, and his friend, Vladimir worked there as well. For Vladimir, the United States was the epitome of the word freedom. He loved the United States, and as an immigrant, who loved the United States, he wanted to learn the language. He was working very hard on it when he and my dad met. Dad was excited about Vladimir too. He had never known anyone from Russia, and really, never expected to. He told Mom and my younger sister, Allyn Hadlock that there was a Russian man working with him and he wanted to learn Russian so he could talk to him.
Dad bought a Russian/English dictionary, and began to study it. He had some specific phrases he wanted to learn, such as, Hello, How are you, Do you like America, and Do you have a family. Every night they sat down at the table to work through the dictionary, figuring out what he would say next. They also learned that certain symbols, some that we use today, could mean something very different in Russian. The American symbol for “ok” is a good example. In Russian that symbol, with the circle of the thumb and forefinger, is a cuss word. It is very similar to flipping someone the bird. They laughed about that one. Then, when Dad wanted to say Dirty Rat, Allyn told him to use that American symbol for ok, because that should do it. That really got them laughing, and it still makes Allyn laugh to this day when she thinks about it.
I think the thing that Vladimir liked so much about my dad was the fact that he tried to learn Russian, and that he reached out to a foreigner too. Vladimir and his wife didn’t have very many people that he could visit with…at least not in Russian. He was just so pleased that Dad was actually learning Russian. I’m not saying that Dad was fluent at Russian. In fact, his Russian could be considered comical at times, but the main thing was that he tried. Dad and Vladimir became the best of friends, and mom and Vladimir’s wife were friends too. They were invited to dinner at Vladimir’s house, and his wife made Borscht. Borscht is a beet soup. Now, I have to tell you that Dad must have really felt a friendship with Vladimir, because Dad hated beets, but he ate that soup. They told Mom and Dad that in Russia the people didn’t have very much meat, so their meals consisted of potatoes and vegetables. They were able to buy more meat now though, since coming to America, so when they had their American friends over for dinner, they bought meat for the Borscht…mostly because Americans are used to eating meat.
Vladimir and his wife wanted to be like the American people, because they loved this country. The did their very best to Americanize everything they did, because they wanted to be true Americans. This was the true melting pot…every foreigners dream, and they wanted to be a part of it. Dad and his Russian co-worker became good friends, and Vladimir always appreciated Dad’s efforts to make him feel at home in a new land.