I was flipping through Gilbert Faulk’s book “Twain” when a cute little section he apparently wrote in 1973 caught my attention. He talks about a visit from a group of Russian visitors during the height of the Cold War. For you “youngins” that may be reading, this would be like if some visitors came in from North Korea! He describes the visit like this:
One day the phone rang and it was the late Senator Ellender. He advised us that there were several Russians in the Embassy in Washington that had been particularly nice to him on one of his trips to Russia and that he wanted them to see his home state. He further advised us that for reasons of national security the State Department would not let his friends visit New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport or wherever else in the State we had national defense facilities, but that they had given permission for the Russians to visit Monroe and would we show them around Monroe and Ouachita Parish. We said, “Yes, Senator, we will do that provided there is not one line of publicity”, because we did not want to be put in a position to look like we were entertaining communist. Senator Ellender readily agreed to this, guess he felt the same way.
When the Russians arrived – three in number – accompanied by a State Department official, we found they all spoke excellent English and seemingly very intelligent, and quickly determined that they had no sense of humor, not by our standards anyway, but they all had big cameras with them. We said, “We thought Russians only had little, tiny cameras”, and they said, “Oh, no, we have big cameras”.
We thought first we would bring them to our office and explain to them what kind of business we were in so they would know something about our perspective. We explained to them about the real estate brokerage business, general insurance business, and they carefully asked where our insurance companies were located and we told them most were in New York, where financing on property deals came from and we explained that to them and then one of them spoke up and said, “It looks like you are tied to Wall Street”, and we said, “Not so as you would notice it, but if that is what you want to believe, o.k.”
We took them into what we thought were representative homes in Ouachita Parish and some homes we stopped in at their suggestion and the people were unprepared until we told them who we were and just so they could get a representative picture of life in Ouachita Parish as lived by our citizens. Even though we did make abrupt stops and go in homes that they pointed out our way of life was so imcomprehensible [sic] to them that they could not help but let me know that they thought we had set the whole thing up.
We showed them a lot of our farms and they seemed very interested in talking to our farm people.
We were careful to see that they ate what we considered typical Ouachita Parish food and we confess that we let our own taste get into this but the meal we served them consisted of turnip greens with a lot of pot likker, cornbread, rice and gravy, okra and fried chicken with a dessert of sweet potatoe [sic] pie.
Now the Russians did not think that was typical fare of our citizens and the reason they did not was because they did not like anything that was served, I gathered but were really too polite to say so.
No one will really know what these people thought about Ouachita Parish for it was impossible to get one of them alone. The other two were making sure no Russian visitor was ever by himself.
We were relieved when their visit was over and we were real proud of the security forces of the United States of America. Believe me when I tell you that they knew where our visitors were every minute of the day and night.