December 15, 2006 was a special day. It was the first time we said hello to each other on-line. That was the start of what we do today. Our first face to face meeting in April, 2007 was an indescribable time for both of us. Larisa showed me around town and introduced me to her friends and family. I knew things were getting serious when she agreed to introduce me to her son and parents. Here is a story I wrote a few years ago. It gives an open perspective of our first few days together in Nikolaev. Lots of food and fun.
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Peters Red Wine, Ukraine and a Trip Through The Countryside… by Billgreen54
April, 2007, my first journey to Ukraine. A fun and interesting time. Great weather and a firsthand account of Ukrainian culture, complete with smiling faces and many warm, first, hello’s. During my ten day visit, while we made our way around Nikolaev, I was reminded of my hometown. The city where I grew up; just 40 minutes or so, east of San Francisco, California. As I remember it, Richmond, was full of places to shop and live. Houses, old and new, lined the countless quiet streets while thriving businesses took care of customers along the main thoroughfares. That was somewhere between 1953 and 1958.
Fast-forward about 50 years to 2012 in Nikolaev and the similarities are striking. That first visit to Ukraine, took me back a few years and then some. Maybe, that’s why I felt right at home. During that first visit, Larisa and I, traveled to a small village just on the other side of Kherson. It was her village; the village she had grown up in. The wide variety of crops that filled the countryside reminded me of my home just before deciding to travel around the world. That was my first peek at the real Ukraine.
Living near Fresno California from 1996 to 2007 was interesting to say the least. Raising the kids, running a business, taking care of mom and dad were all unforgettable life experiences. The Fresno valley is very similar to much of Ukraine. Endless fields growing everything from grapes to wheat can be seen while traveling the highways. Ukraine is famous for it’s agriculture along with many other industries. It’s a top producer of sunflower and corn oil in this part of the world. The countryside is often filled with oceans of yellow. It’s quite a site to see at the peak of the sunflower growing season.
Our journey from Nikolaev to Larisa’s village took just over two hours. The highways here can be an adventure, but for the most part, they were drivable at reasonable speeds. As we slowed down coming off the highway, we entered Vinogradova. The streets quickly became smaller and unpaved, all in pretty good shape. As we drove past home after home, I was eager to finally meet Larisa’s parents and son. We were bearing gifts for Vlad; all for football. As we pulled up to her parents home, I was struck by the humble surroundings. I couldn’t wait to meet everyone while I could see that Larisa was more than a little nervous. We had just met face to face for the first time just three days before…
Vlad’s new football and shoes came in handy providing a reason to get to know each other. Kicking the ball up and down the dirt street lasted just long enough for things to settle down in the kitchen. Once the table was set and filled with everything from fish to borscht, Vlad and I made our way to the table. It was filled with all kinds of tasty looking dishes. Some recognizable and a few plates filled with adventure. What to eat? Well, not to worry, there was time to enjoy it all. There was just one little tradition to begin the celebration with first. The toast! No, not bread in a toaster. To toast with a little of Peter’s red wine. Peter was famous for his red wine. He was also known for sharing it with others. He had been producing his infamous red wine for years for all to enjoy. It was quite tasty and Peter was more than generous even though we forgot to share with the others. It was more like, the others needed to control the situation rather than join the contest before taking the first bite.
Can you imagine what Peter was thinking? Here was his little girl who brought this guy home from the other side of the planet. What was she thinking? More importantly, what was going through Peters mind? There wasn’t time to ask too many questions. Just a few seconds to pour the first glasses of wine. One for Luda, a little for Vlad, some for Larisa and no room to spare for Peter and I. Glasses sitting on the table and forks in hand, Peter slowly raised his glass, said a few words and gave me a stare with a smile. Not sure what he said but, it was as warm as can be. And with that, Peter continued his stare and smile with glass at the starting line. The next few seconds went by in the blink of an eye. As Peter began to down the wine, so did I. Both staring at each other while savoring the last drop.
Glasses on the table with speechless company to my left and right, Peter brought our glasses to the brim with his tasty home brew. Without a second to lose, We went for our glasses. Once they neared their final approach, down they went. No words. No toast. Just “Over the lips, past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes! Frantically and cautiously together, I grabbed for the nearest something to eat. I hadn’t eaten for some hours. Fish, bread, borscht. everything close enough to grab went down the hatch. With no time to lose, Peter poured another. Thank heavens my prayers were answered, Peter emptied every last drop from that bottle. While the onlookers weren’t amused, they weren’t surprised either. Although I was a guest in their house, they understood Peter explicitly. I understood the power of a Ukrainian woman’s eyes when Peter grabbed the bottle for a refill. One look from Luda and it was clear, we had had enough fun. Welcome to Ukraine!
Here I am, in the home of a woman I was just getting to really know and all I could think about was competing at the dinner table. Thankfully, Larisa saved the tongue lashing for the trip back home. The only person amused besides me was the driver. I suppose it was our first relationship test. Of course, I apologized for wanting to be one of the boys. We both agreed that future celebrations would be kept to a quiet roar and alcohol consumption would be strictly monitored. Was it a good idea to have too much fun at the home of my sweethearts parents? Lets just say that I am lucky to have an understanding wife and extremely fortunate to be understood…