Turkey is a funny bird - Thanksgiving in a Soviet journalist's eyes

The writer, a correspondent of the Novosti press agency, is in the United States as one of the first two Soviet journalists in an exchange program arranged by the New England Society of Newspaper Editors and the Union of Soviet Journalists.

On that rainy Thursday, exactly at 10 a.m., two Soviet journalists found themselves in the Christian Science Church in Winchester, Mass. The Thanksgiving service started solemnly - just as, probably at that very moment, on the opposite side of the globe, the organ in the concert hall of the Moscow Conservatory sounded.

We stood with all the congregation. People sang hymns, putting their hearts into it as if in a well-rehearsed performance. We listened attentively to the familiar words - bread, work, peace. And each of us - one a member of the Young Communist League, the other a member of the Communist Party - felt how many simple but necessary things unite ordinary people.

Bread, work, peace....

For the sake of these, 70 years ago, the great October Revolution was won in Russia.

For the sake of these, in 1620, near Plymouth Rock on the American land, stepped Pilgrims from England.

Stephen Hopkins was among these Pilgrims. And now, 367 years later, one of his descendants, Verity Feldmann, helped to lead the service in the Winchester church, repeating probably the same words from the Bible that inspired her courageous ancestor.

Not many of the passengers of the Mayflower survived. But those who did struggle through the fierce winter harvested their first crop and shot some wild turkeys - and, like brothers, shared their meals with hospitable Indians. So came the beginning of a unique American traditional festivity.

All the Thanksgivings over the years led up to the big common table in the hospitable house of Mr. and Mrs. Feldmann. Their daughters with husbands, parents of one of the husbands, friends, and a son - a student just back from a high school football game - were gathered under one roof to pay tribute to those who had struggled and won to make the New World a great common home for their children, grandchildren, and great-great-great ... In fact, Linda's sister was herself bearing a child. So a new sprout on the tree will appear in time.

Everybody enjoyed delicious turkey - a rather funny bird, as an old song says - which came from the electric stove with its electronic devices reminding me of sophisticated Cray computers. Traditional cider was not forgotten, either.

It was nice sitting there, and I thought of things I had read. Those ancestors, unlike some of us, were not short on etiquette. ``Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms,'' written in 1880, prescribed that guests at Thanksgiving ``use the napkin frequently.'' Some people at the time were not restrained in their speech. So followed more advice: Never allow the conversation at the table to drift into anything but chitchat; the consideration of deep and abstruse principles will impair digestion; just ``cut the meat with a knife.''

Useful advice; and all of us - Soviets and Americans - followed it precisely, although everybody minded not only calories but the summit in Washington. So much depends on the outcome of the long-awaited meeting of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in behalf of reducing nuclear arms. Not only bread and work - the very existence of coming generations.

Hope is a good breakfast, but a bad supper. So to meet responsibilities for universal peace two strong shoulders are badly needed. If one shoulder lets down, the hope may fall dramatically. Both our nations see the light now at the end of the dark tunnel. And we are all equally responsible not to make this hopeful light turn into the flash of an oncoming deadly nuclear train.

Sitting at our friendly table, I also thought it was really a good idea to arrange the exchange of correspondents. Linda Feldmann, from The Christian Science Monitor, and Alan Cooperman, from the Berkshire Eagle, had already had practice in my country, working on the Moscow News.

So the Russians came eventually. Arriving in Boston, which is famous as the cradle of the American Revolution, I read once again a quotation from the writings of Washington Irving: ``The mere conquests of the sword are temporary; their wounds are but in the flesh..., but the slanders of the pen pierce to the heart.''

In our nuclear age, swords are different from those mentioned by the classic American writer. And the press, which nowadays has obtained tremendous political and moral force, can also steady or upset the balance of peaceful existence, can accelerate or slow down our move to a better and safer world.

It's a pity, but how many unjust and irresponsible words picked up from the press still become swords that pierce our hearts. In fact, black hens in this case rarely lay white eggs.

But information can also promote the cause of peace, strengthen friendship and mutual understanding between nations. Let's follow this path together, we colleagues from both sides of the globe.

The turkey is a really funny bird, but I found the traditional feast of Thanksgiving made me think of more than chitchat.

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