News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists


More than one Christmas miracle

The first meal we fed Elina, our Russian journalist friend whom we call our adopted daughter, was at Libby’s Catfish and Diner on Point Mallard Parkway. We had driven up from the Birmingham airport and decided to eat dinner before going to the house.

Ella ordered a large steak and ate all of the baked potato, too.

That pattern repeated itself for about two weeks, until the calories began adding up. America was her wonderful candy store.

That was in 2000. She went home at the end of her month in Decatur determined to return to America, and eventually enrolled at The University of Alabama for her master’s degree.

Ella is now in her second year of the doctorate program at The University.

Life is good. Ella has a boyfriend, she makes enough money as a graduate assistant to keep herself afloat and send some home to her 17-year-old, special-needs son, and she’s eating less.

The weight came off swimming at the natatorium, and Ella discovered fresh fruit and lettuce.

She and Art met us at the farm a week ago Saturday for Christmas. Ella brought lunch and the PowerPoint presentation she’d given recently at a conference in San Antonio.

I thought back to that first meeting when we spotted her struggling with massive luggage as she deplaned. Her English was awful; our Russian was zip.

My sister Pat drove in from the suburbs to meet the plane with us. She looked at us trying to communicate and said, “Oh goodness,” and went home.

I remembered how every meal had to include dessert, and sometimes two.

I remembered hearing her from the back seat looking at the open countryside as we drove from Birmingham. “Like Russia, like Russia,” she repeated.

We nodded.

So there we were Dec. 16, listening to her chatter in almost flawless English and thinking she, too, is a Christmas miracle.

And she fed us a chef salad for lunch. No dessert.

Tom Wright Tom Wright
DAILY Executive Editor

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