The specialists

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(Host) Commentator Edith Hunter recalls how a friendship rooted in the garden produced an unexpected blossoming.

(Hunter) As another gardening season gets underway, I’m reminded of my first gardening teachers, Mr. and Mrs Michael Prohodsky. It was 1948. Armstrong and I had just bought our first house in Mansfield, Massachusetts – eight rooms, three small outbuildings, 1 1/2 acres of land, strawberry and asparagus beds – all for $6,600. For an additional $100 we bought all the furniture and farm equipment. I am still using the wheelbarrow.

We moved in April. When I started to turn over the soil for a vegetable garden, our neighbors, the Prohodskys, who lived out beyond our back lot, came over and introduced themselves. They were “white Russians” and had come to America in 1908. Their English was imperfect, but adequate to instruct us in gardening and poultry raising.

One day, two years later, Armstrong called me from Boston where he commuted by train to his job at the headquarters of the Congregational Churches. The churches, at the time, were assisting refugees from “displaced persons” camps in Europe, to relocate in the United States. “Sponsors” were required to house and support the newcomers until they could establish themselves.

An older Russian couple had arrived and their sponsors were not yet ready for them. Armstrong wondered if we could put them up temporarily in our guest room. I agreed. He said one of his co-workers would bring them out.

When the car drove in the driveway the children and I went out to greet them. We were introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Shastnik. I carried their sparse luggage into the house, explaining how long we had lived here, and where they would be sleeping. They smiled, – and said nothing. Gradually it occurred to me that they were not understanding anything I was saying. They understood not a word of English.

And then I thought of the Prohodskys! “Elizabeth,” I said, “you’re in charge. I’m going to run over and get Mrs. Prohodsky.” Within moments I was back. I introduced Mrs. Prohodsky. She began to speak – in Russian. The Shastniks were transformed!! The two women embraced, and with the flood of words came a flood of tears. The communication gap was bridged.

Two weeks later when the Shastniks were about to leave us, we were sitting in the living room. Mr. Shastnik had a dictionary in his lap. He was smiling. “Soon,” he said, pointing to his wife and then to himself, “Soon, we, English specialeests.” The word ‘specialist’ has been a treasured one in our family ever since.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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