By Verlie Edwards
As I write this, the news swirls with sickening reports of the horror that Russia is imparting on Ukraine. My heart aches for the citizens of Ukraine. These stories bring back two experiences I have had. The first is the journey my late sister-in-law took leaving East Germany and the second a trip I took to Russia in 1971 while it was still under Communist control.
On the news this morning I saw two young Ukrainian girls entering school in a new country with a different culture and language. You wonder, how will they adapt? They are starting a new life just as my late sister-in-law, Karin Lightfield McAlister, and her family did in the late 1950s.
Everything happening today revives stories about the journey my sister-in-law and her family took to escape East Germany. There were two families with the same last name on the street where they lived. Soldiers came in the dark of night to assassinate Karin’s father, Herman Lightfield, because he would not renounce his belief in God. They killed the other man. Karin, her mother and father, younger sister and family housekeeper left Germany that night with only what they could wear and carry with them. Angels were with them because at each checkpoint they were able to continue to safety.
After spending three years in a displaced persons camp, the Lightfields were able to immigrate to Abilene, Texas where Lottie, Karin’s mother, had a half-sister. At age 16 everything was different for Karin. The only English word she knew was Coca-Cola. She was placed in the sixth grade of a local elementary school with children much younger and speaking a language she did not know.
I can only imagine that the two young girls I saw on TV may be facing many of the same struggles and opportunities Karin experienced.
Karin came into our family when my brother, Bill McAlister, was a senior at Abilene High School. Karin sat in front of Bill in study hall. I’m sure Bill did not do much studying because he had a spiral binder filled with drawings of the back of Karin’s head and the tight bun holding her hair.
After their first date, we awoke to a sign on Bill’s bedroom door that read… “Mama, she’s full blood German and not even an American citizen.” Karin’s nationality was a total surprise because she had absolutely NO accent. When she spoke, you would have thought she was born and raised in Abilene. To remove her German accent, Karin and her sister stood in front of the mirror with a dictionary to learn how to pronounce words.
Karin and Bill were married, she became an American citizen, had two children, received both bachelor and master degrees, taught school and became an international Fulbright Exchange teacher to Germany.
My prayer is that Ukraine will remain a sovereign country and its citizens will enjoy living in a free country.
In 1971 while working for the Texas Osteopathic Medical Association I had the opportunity to lead a group of Texas physicians on a medical exchange trip to Moscow and Leningrad, Russia. Unbeknownst to us, we were there six weeks before Russia invaded Afghanistan keeping the U.S. from attending the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
Among the prayers I offer today are that Ukraine will not fall under control of Russia and lose its freedoms. My memories from that trip include meeting citizens that had little hope for the future. To read about my trip, visit this story I previously wrote for the Iron Butterflies Project. Glad To Be Home | Iron Butterflies Project.
Verlie McAlister Edwards was raised in Abilene, Texas and it’s there that she realized her love for writing. She enjoyed a special high school English teacher who happened to be the school’s newspaper sponsor. In order to take another class under her, Verlie signed up for journalism and the journey began. Unlike many students, she never changed her college major – she was always focused on journalism as a career. She graduated from the University of North Texas (UNT) with a degree in journalism and political science.
After graduation she returned to her hometown and worked as a reporter at the Abilene Reporter-News covering the local education scene from the students’ perspective. Following a year of graduate work at UNT she moved to Fort Worth where a career in public relations and political affairs flourished. She always wanted to work in academic PR and achieved that goal early in her career at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.
After many years providing public relations consultation to the osteopathic profession and serving as the communications director/special events fundraiser for Lena Pope Home (a residential treatment facility for abused and neglected youth) she joined the staff of the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors (GFWAR) as the communications and governmental affairs director. It’s here that she found her calling and further developed her skills in the political arena.
After 11 years in that position she took her writing, political and organizational skills to serve as chief of staff for Texas State Representative Rob Orr, a past president of the GFWAR. She remained on Rep. Orr’s staff throughout his 10 years as an elected official and then served as District Director for his successor, Representative DeWayne Burns, during his first legislative session. At that time she retired from the Texas Legislature and began working part-time as curator for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams’ personal museum.
Verlie is excited to use her writing skills to help the Iron Butterflies Project as both a writer/co-creator and Editor-In-Chief.