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How Mom and I Invaded Russia

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Russia began as a little Bolshoi Ballet seed that burrowed into my mother's thought and sprang up in a forest of balalaika music on the radio, a Russian cab driver in Denver, a revived romance with Rachmaninoff, and a bevy of new acquaintances with Russian roots. This reforestation bloomed when she spotted an ad for a classical-music tour that was right up our mutual alley.

I had my vacation sights set on someplace tropical with lots of sand, surf, and downtime. But my mother was insistent. "Grab your passport," she said, "we have a plane to catch."

It wasn't that easy. There were visas to obtain, flights to book, and who will feed the cats? But once we'd arrived, Mom's excitement mounted as we turned each corner. First, she wanted a samovar, and then some amber jewelry would be nice, and a shawl was very typical of Russia, and nesting matrioshka dolls make lovely gifts.

I chided her for turning an eye-opening cultural experience into a shopping spree. Would we even see the museums for the gift shops?

Mom and I had never traveled together without the rest of the family. I was "daddy's girl," sometimes accompanying him on business trips and once on a legendary road trip from Denver to Washington, D.C. Since he passed on, Mom gradually has became more adventurous on her own. She's realized she can make her own travel plans and carry her own passport, two activities formerly in Dad's domain.

I was happy when she started setting out on her own, but I never imagined myself following her to a country where our passports would be scrutinized a dozen times on both entrance and exit.

We realized early that she, being left-handed, should walk to my left when we carried our baggage. Wrecking-ball bruises were kept to a minimum this way. We never did figure out the trick of not running over each other with the luggage cart. As soon as we'd gotten the knack of pushing an empty cart, we'd load it up with suitcases and change its dynamics. Our airport dialogue consisted of "Ow. Quit it." (Repeat.) Our Laurel and Hardy travel techniques amused our fellow passengers, especially after they had a chance to watch us on the cruise ship between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

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