The door was heavy and made of thick, polished birch. I heard a voice on the other side say “da” so I slowly built up my courage and entered. There behind a desk was an attractive woman, maybe ten years younger than me, smiling. I used the only sentence I knew in Russian. “Vwi gavaritye pa angliski?”
“Peter…Peter Hagerty…. from Milton Academy.”
How could this be, the first Russian secretary I meet and she is talking about my boarding school? I smile and nod ‘yes’.
“I danced with you once many years ago at a party in Boston.”
Jesse Nielsen and her husband Steven had moved from Boston to join the Moscow office staff of Chilewich Trading Company, trading farm products, vegetable oils, precious gems and thoroughbred racehorses. I stood before Jessica elated.
“So Peter, what are you doing here?” asked Jessica over a steaming cup of morning tea. I had no memory of our past dance together but I quickly explained my idea of meeting a Russian shepherd, buying Soviet wool, blending it with our own wool and making a knitting yarn.
“Is someone expecting to meet with you here?” she asked. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No,” I replied, starting to feel foolish.
“Oh this might be interesting,” Jessica explained, sensing my faltering spirit. “First it is Friday and it is late August. Most businessmen take this day off and join their families at the dacha for a long weekend.” For some reason I suddenly became aware of my dress, old cowboy boots, a pair of stained pants and a non-matching coat and no tie. What was I doing here?
“Second, it is very unusual for a foreign businessman like you to arrive with no appointment. They often make visitors wait days, sometime weeks before they agree to meet them. This generates foreign currency for the hotels. But look, this is a slow day for us. We have good contacts; let me give it a try.”
So for the next hour Jesse worked the phones like a pro. With perfect Russian pronunciation she called friends and associates to find with whom it was I needed to meet. All at once she looked up from the phone with a smile. We had a name. Nikolai Borisovitch Emelianov, Firm Runo, 33 Architect Vlassova. Jesse called his office and just like that we had a 1 pm appointment that very day. As I rejoiced over a second cup of tea, an impeccably dressed young man entered Jesse’s office.
“Stephen, this is Peter Hagerty. He just arrived this morning from the States and he has an appointment with Nikolai Emelianov today. Strangely Emelianov seemed not surprised at my call, like he was expecting Peter.”
Stephen, Jesse’s husband and co-worker, extended me his hand in congratulations.
‘Look,” he said. “Today I only have a few things to do. I have some reports to file but I have a driver downstairs and Vlassova is a hard place to reach by metro. First we will have lunch and then I would be happy to accompany you to the meeting, if that is ok.” In just one hour everything had come together. I found my contact, met an old acquaintance and was about to go to Stephen’s club for lunch. I once again felt the warmth of Josephine's hand on my arm.
As we had waited in a conference room for our meeting with Mr. Emelianov, the chief director of all fiber flowing in and out of the USSR, a moment of panic seized me. My sport coat was crumpled and did not match my pants. My cowboy boots were worn and dirty. I felt very out of place and unprepared and shared my anxiety with Stephen. “Just be yourself, he assured me. "Don’t try and be anyone other than who you are and you will be fine.”
“Mr.Hagerty, it is such a pleasure to meet you,” Mr. Emelianov said in perfect English entering the room with a flourish. Dressed in a pin stripe tropical wool suit, Gucci shoes and Italian silk tie, Nikolai entered the door of the conference room and extended a hand in greeting. His attire stood in contrast to the bare, birch paneled walls and the portrait of Lenin by the window. He was not exactly the Russian shepherd standing on the hill with his flock but he was impressive all the same.” Why do I enjoy the honor of your presence today?”
“Well sir,” I began “I am a sheep farmer from Maine I am interested in purchasing a small amount of Soviet wool, perhaps one bale, import it into the US and blend it with the wool of our own sheep and market a knitting yarn called Peace Fleece.” If a smile and a frown can simultaneously coexist, it did so momentarily on Emelianov’s face.
“With all due respect,” Mr. Emelianov replied “this idea of yours will be very difficult We use all the wool we grow to meet the needs of the Soviet people. We have never exported wool to America. Why should I sell wool to you?”
“Because your President Andropov and our President Reagan agree that there should be more trade between our countries…”
“ Look," he interrupted politely "I know what our presidents say. You come all this way for a bale of wool? Maybe I could sell you a container load but only one bale for your project, the paperwork would kill us. Please tell me, why are you really here?.”
I suddenly realized that this conversation was going nowhere. I remembered the woman I sat next to on the plane. “Don’t show your emotion. Be strong.” But fear was welling up inside as I realized how unprepared I was for all of this. Back home I sheared sheep and cut wood, I was not an international businessman. I didn’t even have a decent business card much less a Gucci suit. And I just assumed that when I met my Russian counterpart he would embrace the idea.
“Please, talk frankly; I am sincerely interested in your motives.”
I did detect sincerity in his words so I took a deep breath and struggled to gather my thoughts. I began by telling him some of my story, my history of the war in Vietnam and my wife and children in Maine.
“I have a daughter who is nine years old and a son who is five. I believe that if you or I cannot do something today, even in a small way, to bring our countries closer, then the chances that my children will survive this Cold War are lessened. My daughter may never know what it feels like to fall in love, my son may never see the birth of his own child. If you or I can do something in business and better understand who we are, maybe in a small way I will feel more hopeful.”
Emelianov stood up and walked down to the window by Lenin and looked out at the playground, his hands stuffed down into the pockets of his suit pants. Some of the children were playing summer hockey, others kicking a soccer ball into a goal. He stood there for a long time.
“You know, you sound just like my wife,” he finally said with his back to me. "And sometimes these women...." His voice trailed off as he returned to the desk, picked up his phone and ordered an international call. We waited in an awkward silence for several minutes before his phone rang.
“Hello John, this is Nick. Yes, great. Hot summer here too. I thought it always rains in London. Look I have an American named Peter Hagerty in my office who wants to buy some of our Type 22 that is up in Bradford. Could you break off one bale of that lot and send it to….”
“Boston,” I mouthed.
“Boston. He can come to London next week to sign all the paperwork.” Nikolai nodded to me. I gave him thumbs up. And it was done. Peace Fleece was born.
This was the first of many trips I would make to visit with Nikolai. We became as close to friends as we could during those times. I helped to find his daughter a summer job in the States, he found me more wool when I needed it. I never visited his home and he never visited mine. There was a formality there that was necessary.
Then one day I got a call from him. He was doing some business in wool in Texas and was stopping in Boston on the way home. Could we meet and have a meal? I left Maine early on a beautiful summer afternoon and was soon shaking Nikolai’s hand in the lobby of the Harborside Hotel on Boston’s waterfront. I was regretting that I had not brought Marty or one of the kids to meet this man who had done so much for us. Nikolai invited me up to his room.
It was 1991 and things were very bad in Moscow. There was little food in the shops and it was dangerous to be on the streets, even in the daytime. He asked me if I would not tell anyone that he was staying in this luxurious hotel. He said that the Texans had paid for the trip and had insisted on making all the arrangements. Still, he felt badly, enjoying this luxury when things were as bad as they were back home.
Since our first meeting in 1985 we had never been in a relaxed setting where we could just talk. So it was awkward getting the conversation going but over dinner we began to loosen up and I remember giving him a big hug when we said good-by. This would be the last time I would see him alive.
I was never sure what happened. Six months later when in Moscow I called his office and asked for him. I was passed from person to person until I reached Igor, his personal assistant. Igor spoke only Russian and after a pause, said sadly, “Peter, Nick oo-mer”. I was alone in Luba’s apartment at the time. I remembered the word as a dark one and thanked Igor in a sober tone for the news. Luba’s dictionary said ‘dead’.
The Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho believes that if one is on the right path, there will be people that will appear out of nowhere to make your journey through life a success. There have been countless numbers of people over the years that have appeared in my life to sweep away the rubble and make clear the way. Nickolai was the first to point the way for me on my journey and he will never be far from my thoughts.
I have a memory as a small boy of sitting with my white haired Irish Catholic grandmother Josephine on our front lawn high above the ocean. It is a beautiful summer day and she has just finished telling me a story, a rather fantastic one. I have followed her face closely as she talked. When her mouth stops moving I asked her “Nanna, is that true?”
Her face explodes into a smile and her laughter carries out over the summer waves. “You want the truth?” she asks as if she is talking not to a young boy but rather to someone who has stopped and challenged her at a border crossing. “I am sorry,” she said “but the truth has not always served me well.”
My grandmother came from a time when eating grass to survive the potato famine was only one generation old. As a Boston policeman’s daughter, she was the first Irish woman to graduate from Radcliffe College. Yet “Irish need not apply” was what greeted her as she went looking for a job. Maybe this is what framed her relationship with the “truth”.
In my early years anxiety and fear were routine playmates. In private school I threw up my breakfast every morning. At college I slept thru most of my classes because I was convinced that I was not smart enough to understand the material. I was Irish Catholic and afraid that I would accidentally impregnate every girl I touched. And when I was in the Navy and headed for war, I was afraid that I would soon be responsible killing an ‘enemy’ someone else wanted dead.
When I came back from the war in Southeast Asia I was often not able to tell my friends and loved ones the truth of what I had seen. I had been in relatively little danger. But something happened to me in Vietnam that shook me to the roots and brought into focus some of my deepest fears. I could not talk truthfully about my military experience because I had survived and some of my crewmembers did not. They died doing the job I would not do.
I cannot, therefore, guarantee that what I am now writing is really the truth. I have begun to contact old friends from these dark days. Most have been hard to find and some are reluctant to revisit the past again. I wanted them to help me separate what I imagine from what actually happened. But in the end they seem to warn that dead dogs are best left lying by the road.
What follows are stories from my life. Some are embellished and will stretch the imagination; others will be more ‘straight up’. Writing these stories has brought back the old ghosts and some still have the power to rob me of speaking the truth. But maybe these old ghosts can be like co-authors, a kind of business associate that you don’t completely trust but for some reason has a valuable point of view. I have told these stories so often that they now have a life of their own. I will try and stay out of their way.
There were roughly forty women with scarves on their heads and brooms in their hands and they slowly moved across Red Square in a long, single line. The warm August morning brought with it a slight breeze that ruffled their skirts as these women swept the paper, cigarette butts and candy wrappings into an ever-growing wind row. I stood there in front of my hotel eager to head out across Moscow but not quite ready to begin. As I marveled at these ladies’ energy, I thought back over the journey that had brought me half way around the world to Moscow, the capitol of the USSR.
My eight year old daughter Cora had come home from school one afternoon in the fall of 1983 and asked me what I was doing that evening. I told her that I was at her disposal. Her teacher told her class that if they wanted to watch an ABC special that evening they should ask a parent to join them. Well, I was intrigued.
“The Day After” began with a graphic depiction of nuclear war as seen through the eyes of farmers, soldiers and students in and around the University of Kansas at Lawrence. This docudrama starring Jason Robards drew the second largest audience in US television history. I wondered aloud to my wife if this was appropriate viewing for a ten year old. But we watched the show and I was deeply shaken by the graphic imagery and powerful script.
Shortly after falling asleep that night, I suddenly awoke and saw though the bedroom skylight an airline with blinking lights flying high up in the cold night sky over our farm. The stars shone brightly and there was no moon. All at once a bright light detach itself from the back of the plane and began tumbling towards earth. I shook Marty awake and we both agreed that it looked like it might be heading directly towards our farm. We ran towards our children’s bedrooms but were blown backwards by an explosion that threw us both to the floor. I ran towards Cora’s door and when I opened it, I saw her bedroom wall crumbled below in the driveway. Both of our children lay in the rubble, consumed by a raging fire. I then awoke, drenched with sweat.
All that winter I questioned what I was doing with my life. Logging with horses, nursing chilled lambs by the wood stove, shearing sheep in the spring, cutting hay in the summer, an ideal life by some standards. But what did it all matter if a nuclear bomb could end it all with the mere push of a button? A dark cloud began to consume me over morning coffee and some days I could barely get out of bed.
In late January of that winter, fighter jets from Pease Air Force Base began making low altitude, supersonic flights down our valley every Saturday morning. The planes were on top of us before we could hear them and the horses and sheep would scatter across the field in panic at the sound of their after burners. I found myself slipping deeper into a sense of helplessness. I would visit my next-door neighbor Lester who raised dairy cows and he would offer that the world was in terrible shape.
“Now what can one person do? What are you or I supposed to do? It’s just too big.” He would stand there with a pitch folk in his hand and dare me to differ.
I remembered Lester’s booming voice as I made my way across Red Square. I took his challenge that day on his farm and put it in my pocket and carried it home. That night over supper Marty reminded me of my visit to the Mekong years ago and the four young Viet Cong soldiers, men I had been trained to kill, with whom I had spent one extraordinary night. “What if there is somebody in the Soviet Union right now that is just as depressed as you. Maybe that person is a shepherd who spends his days on the hill with his sheep, shears their wool and cuts their hay. If you find this person, perhaps we could do something together.”
By late spring I decided I would go to Russia and in mid-August I joined a group of Iowa farmers that were headed to Moscow to negotiate their grain contracts. Brad and his wife Emma were in their late 60’s and were corn and soybean farmers from north central Iowa. They explained to me why they were on this trip.
“The Soviet Union has over the years grown dependent on supplies of American wheat, corn and soy beans to supplement their own poor harvests. But last year the US government ordered us to stop shipping grain to the USSR. And this came at a time when American farmers like us were facing an historic economic crisis.”
“On top of this, farmers with loans could not make their payments because the market for their crops crashed through the floor due to the huge surpluses piling up at the grain silos. My neighbor Wes Harris shot himself three weeks ago after he lost his fourth generation family farm to a bank auction.”
“We have two choices, give up our way of life or sell our crops across the border into Canada where they will be re-loaded on ships headed to Russia. I feel like a criminal but our government has left us no choice.”
I doubted if there was a Democrat in the group. And they were proposing to end run an embargo to a communist country. Already this trip was worthwhile.
We all met at JFK Airport in New York for the Moscow flight. The same day my childhood friend Michael who trades natural gas with the Soviets told me of a small American company that had an office in Moscow. Simon Chilewich and Sons had been in Russia for years, bartering soybeans for race horses and precious gems. “Go visit them in New York before you leave,” Michael insisted. “Maybe they can help you find your shepherd.” So I walked into their Wall Street office with no scheduled appointment the very afternoon of my Mosocw flight and Gary Gailes, their overseas director, met me with a smile and a handshake.
“Absolutely,” Gary exclaimed. “Use our office from day one. We have a good reputation over there. We never left when things got bad. We just took our losses and rode it out. It is a tough but very rewarding place. There are wonderful people there.” He gave me their address in Moscow and wished me well.
On the flight over I sat next to a middle-aged British woman married to a Russian. She had lived for years in Moscow. She asked me what I was up to and I told her.
“Since we moved to our small farm in Maine my wife and I have been raising sheep. We sell the wool and eat the meat. We once thought that if we left the city and moved to the end of a country road we would feel safe. It turns out that is not the case.”
She fingered the ice in her drink as I continued. “So we came up with the idea of my going to the USSR, meeting a sheep farmer there, buying his or her wool, blending it with our wool and making a yarn that could show that our two counties can co-exist, that there is an alternative to nuclear war”. My companion digested my words and ordered another drink from the stewardess. I reflected on what I have just said and as her silence continued, I began to seriously doubt what I was up to. Back in Maine it sounded like a great idea. My friends admired my courage. Nobody challenged my expectations.
“Look,” she finally said turning to me. “You seem like a nice guy. Well educated, you’ve been around a bit. But Russia is different. I was a young girl in London during the war. My favorite uncle was killed, my school was destroyed. I saw dead people on the street. But it was nothing compared to what Russians went through. They are a very tough people. Yes, they are friendly. Complete strangers will cook you soup in their kitchen. But you must be tough when you are talking business with a Russian. Negotiate from strength, not from weakness. I know. I have been married to one for over 40 years.”
Now I stood in front of the Rossia Hotel on my first morning in Moscow watching the women with their brooms made of birch branches. A machine could have clearly done this job more quickly but I was getting my first taste of what the USSR called “full employment”.
The sun had been up for hours but most of Moscow’s citizens were now out at the country dacha enjoying their traditional August vacation. As I crossed Red Square and headed onto Karl Marx Plochet, I noticed that all the store and street signs were written in Cyrillic and I regretted that I had not taken my language lessons more seriously. I wondered what my Russian counterpart was doing on this warm summer morning. Was he tending his sheep on a high mountain pasture or maybe fishing by a rushing stream with his children?
Somehow I found my way to the Hotel National where Chilewich Corp rented office space. Its roof top sign turned out to be the only one in all of Moscow written in English. Because I was a foreigner in Western attire the doorman welcomed me cordially. As I entered the lobby my instinct told me to keep moving, to look as if you are late for an important meeting.
What would my grandmother Josephine say to me if we were walking side by side right now? It helped to imagine her next to me, a formidable ally by my side with her large form and white hair impressing the front desk. I felt her arm steer me towards the stairway where we quickly climbed to the second floor and took a right down the hallway. “Look at the room numbers on the doors as you pass” her confident voice told me. My cowboy boots made a singing sound as they touched the hotel carpet.
Higher and higher we climbed until an old voice whispered, “There, on the door over there, English writing.”
Under Room 420 was written in polished brass letters:
‘Simon Chilewich and Sons, 120 Wall Street, New York, New York.’
“We made it,” I cheered as I squeezed her arm but as I turned to face her and empty hallway was all I found. I knocked on the hotel room door.
Last night we had scary thunderstorms. Non-stop lightening with rumbles overlapping rumbles and bangs. The night was hot and breathless. In the morning the corn was half down in the garden and Crazy Chief, our little standard bred horse, was down in the slippery wet stall. At the age of 21 he still has weak hind legs from an old trotting injury he had at the age of 4. After untangling his legs we were able to haul him out of the stall, over the board walk and onto the lawn with our truck and a big wide strap. He was in incredible pain as the strap cut into his sides but thankfully we moved him. He lay there looking exhausted, his eyes half closed. Pete and I were standing there over him pondering the worst when in an instant, defying our gloomy thoughts, he popped up on all fours with more vigor than I’d seen in him for months.
So the day had a rough start. I welcomed my precious morning time spent with coffee and wool of some sort. I usually can count on getting strength from the fibers. But this morning I wondered if my bleariness would stick through the 94 degree day. But sure enough, as I started to hook my rug - using pieces cut up from a shirt I bought at a street sale with my daughter in NYC, strips of blanket from my childhood home, deep red from my mother’s woolen cape and hand spun yarn from out sheep’s fleeces dyed with goldenrod and burdock, I felt the strength come back to be with the day. Okay I’ll admit, part of it comes from the caffeine but it feels deeper and more powerful than that!
This wonderful lady has volunteered to moderate our Ravelry group Knit Along
and is doing a superlative job at it! We wanted to introduce her to you all here but if you hop over to the discussion
in the Peace Fleece Lovers group you can chat with her, and lots of other awesome people, directly!Here's a picture of her in the first sweater she ever knit... do you recognize the yarn? Looks like Baghdad Blue and Chickie Masla to us.
Margot, a reformed computer programmer with a BS in Computer Science, traded bits for knits by becoming a Knitting Pattern Technical Editor. She knit her first sweater with Peace Fleece yarn nearly 10 years ago and has been a self-appointed Peace Fleece Evangelist ever since.
As a founder of the non-profit organization Local Motion, Margot advocates for safe non-motorized transportation opportunities for a clean and healthy community. When not poring over patterns or knitting, Margot bicycles, kayaks, and leads a dance team steeped in the English tradition of Rapper.
Margot lives on a vegetable farm in Vermont with the farmer, two cats, and a yarn-stealing English Shepherd.
Josephine Curry Hagerty
Hard to believe that we are catching up with the rest of you through none other than a blog. Thank you to the younger generation in our office as they birth us, knicking and screaming, into the world of social media.
I am by my Irish genetics a born storyteller and I hope to use this site as a kind of cozy living room or cool forest clearing where you may sit down, listen for a while, add to the story if you like, then gently rise and move on to the rest of your day.
When I was a young boy, my grandmother Josephine was standing with me on the rocks by my ancestral home looking out over the ocean and telling me a story. It was, I thought, an extraordinary one so I asked her "Nana, is that true?" The wind was blowing her white hair around as she turned and fixed me with her bright blue eyes.
"True, what do care if it is true? Truth has never fared me well."
She died not long after that special time and I never knew exactly what she meant. But as I grew older I learned more about her life and the history of our ancestors in Ireland and I began to understand some of what she may have wanted me to know.
Intermixed with the tales will be information that you hopefully will find helpful, stuff about friends with whom we work in disparate parts of the world and those just across the field and over the fence. We are constantly working with them to make better yarn and knitting products for you. If we create a light feeling about our blog, perhaps you might feel comfortable not only telling us what things we are doing right but more importantly suggesting how we do things better. Thanks for dropping by. We look forward to your joining us on this journey wherever it may take us.
Old Friend Knit along on Ravelry
Our baptisim to social media is our Peace Fleece Knit Along starting on August 1. Please visit Peace Fleece Lovers at Ravelry to read more about the details.
The Old Friend Pullover is written for worsted weight but for those of you that want to use the lighter dk, please see below the addendum that the author Peg Richard wrote especially for this KAL. Thank you Peg!
"Hi Peter, I think that it will be fairly easy to modify the Old Friend Pullover to fit the stitch
gauge for sports weight yarn. The sportsweight diamond pullover I designed oh so
many years ago actually has almost the same shape. It has a different style rib, but the
measurements and shape are similar, so here is how I have combined the directions
from the two sweater patterns to create the Old Friend Pullover in lighter yarn. The
important thing is to create shapes that match the measurements given on the back of
the pattern so that it will have the correct proportion when sewn together.
Lighter weight yarn modifications for the Old Friend Pullover:
Gauge: 9.5 st. over 2 inches
Needles: #5 and #7
Front: With smaller needles cast on 96, 104, 110 stitches. Work in k1p1 ribbing for 6
rows. Change to larger needles. When front measures 22 (23, 24) inches from the
bottom edge, begin neck decreases. Knit 33 (38, 39 stitches) attach another ball of
yarn, bind off 30 (30, 33 stitches) knit 33, (38, 39 stitches. Continue working in
stockinette stitches on both sides at once. Decrease 1 st. each side of neck edge every
other row 5 times. When front measures 25, 27, 28 inches from the bottom, bind off the
Back: Work as front until the back measures 23 1/2, 24 1/2, 25 1/2 inches from the
bottom edge and begin neck decreases: knit 33 (38, 39) stitches, attach another ball of
yarn, bind off 30 (30, 33) stitches, knit 33 (38, 39) stitches. Continue working in
stockinette stitch on both sides at once. Decrease 1 stitch each side of the neck
opening every other row 5 times. When back measures 25, 27, 28 stitches from the
bottom, bind off all remaining stitches.
Sleeves: With larger needles cast on 44 (48, 52) stitches. Work in stockinette stitch
increasing one stitch each side every 5th row 21(23, 25) for a total of 90 (100, 110
stitches.) When sleeve measures 18 (19, 10) inches, bind off all stitches.
Finishing: Follow directions for the Old Friend Pullover finishing. Use a smaller size
crochet hook if the finishing crochet stitches look too loose.
Nice to hear from you again, My best to Marty, Peg"