During the late 1940s I lived in Rowayton, a small Connecticut village, with my wife and two small children. I was the art director of Columbia Records, a job I dearly loved. In my work I had many opportunities to meet the musical celebrities of the day, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington among them, and I considered myself a fairly cool cat.
Fate had blessed me with Roussie, the world’s most delightful daughter. At the time she was somewhere between four and six and my regular weekend date. Every Saturday we did the chores together, visited the post office, and wound up in the town’s only drugstore.
Soybel’s pharmacy was a true drugstore— no greeting cards or eyelash curlers. In the rear of the shop the druggist filled prescriptions and sold patent medicines. The front was given over to a small, gaudy soda fountain with four or five stools. George Soybel’s counter was a gathering place for the town cognoscenti, and the stools were almost always filled.
One cold wintry Saturday Roussie and I had finished our errands and went to cap the morning with a visit to Soybel’s. We were in luck. Only one stool was occupied. A gentleman in a heavy black overcoat and a natty Borsalino hat was nursing what seemed to be a ginger ale float. I sat next to him and hoisted my daughter onto the stool beside me. While she and I were deciding what to order, George Soybel emerged and greeted us.
“Jim, I want you to meet a new resident in Rowayton,” George said. I turned to the stranger, who had a pleasant, angular face, and extended my hand. He took it.
“This is Aleksandr Kerensky.”
ALEKSANDR KERENSKY !
Was this the Aleksandr Kerensky who had been the first premier of the provisional Russian government after the 1917 revolution? The Kerensky who had held the fate of the world in his hands? The man who could have ushered Russia into the twentieth century, avoided the murderous regime of Stalin, saved the world from the Cold War? Who might even have been such a benign and powerful influence on the 1920s and 1930s that Hitler could never have risen to power and World War II might never have happened?
As if he could read my thoughts, he smiled and nodded several times in confirmation. Pictures of the revolution flashed through my mind. Kerensky was thirty-six in 1917, and here he was, three decades later, wrinkled but recognizable, and rather handsome.
A dozen questions stumbled behind my tongue. Why had he not been more forceful when he had the reins of power in his hands? Why had he failed to prevent Lenin from entering Russia? Why hadn’t he seized and imprisoned him? What should I ask first? I opened my mouth.
“How do you like Rowayton?” was what came out.
Kerensky proceeded to tell me how happy he and his American wife were in our town. He enjoyed the peace and quiet he found here and was finding time to write, et cetera, et cetera.
A woman appeared at the door.
“I’m ready,” she said, and Kerensky hopped from his stool, shook my hand, and exited.
The trouble with history is that it has a habit of rushing by us so swiftly that we don’t recognize it until we see the taillights receding in the distance.