It would be one more strange, new American custom, a Memorial Day parade. In Moscow the Lamports never went to parades.
"It's different in the Soviet Union, a demonstration that's organized. People don't go by themselves," says Bernard Lamport, 55, still beaming about being back home in the United States after 50 years in Russia.
"Only a few people, high-up people, can see parades in Red Square, not common people," his daughter Inna, 26, adds. "Maybe children of cosmonauts."
They dawdle on the sidewalk outside their apartment building, waiting for the whole family -- Bernard and Elita Lamport, both 55, her 82-year-old mother, Esfir Rudoy, daughter Inna and the twins Olga and Anna, 19 -- to congregate so that Uncle Si Drabkin can drive them out to his house in Little Neck, in deepest Queens, for the parade and the barbecue. The Lamports have never been to a barbecue, either.
They have -- in the six weeks since Soviet authorities suddenly permitted them to leave, five nerve-racking years after they had applied for exit visas -- seen a James Bond movie, peered down from the top of the World Trade Center, learned to navigate the subway to English classes, and uncomprehendingly watched TV. They have not yet found jobs or gotten used to young men who won't yield subway seats to the elderly or the pregnant.
By now the Lamport women wear the polite, slightly lost expressions of newcomers, along with their summer frocks and sandals. "We are like deaf-mute people," says Inna, a physician.
But Bernard Lamport bounces with optimism. "I myself don't sometimes believe I am here," he bubbles, his English fluent though accented. "It seems I am dreaming."
He, after all, is the one who has come home.
"Bobby" Lamport, as his extended American family knows him, was born in Brooklyn. But during the Depression, just before he turned 5, his immigrant parents decided to return to their native Russia. "They were young, 26, 27, going through something like romanticism. Maybe an adventure," he muses now. "When you are young, you like to change places."
Until his death 10 years ago, Lamport's father never stopped talking about returning to the United States. Their official requests to emigrate fell on deaf ears, but they had raised a son who grew up thinking he was American.
"I remember a lot," Lamport says of his boyhood in Brooklyn. "I remember my grandmother and grandfather. I remember going to the cinema with my mother. I remember Popeye, a man who would eat corn and was very strong." It was spinach, he was reminded. "Spinach! Spinach, of course.
"I remember exactly when we came to Leningrad. What shocked me was that children on the streets were walking barefoot, children without parents. When I came to Russia I was a unique boy. Nobody had such good clothes. Nobody had a bicycle. Everyone was shocked by my bicycle."
Lamport launched his own campaign to emigrate in 1979, after he and his Russian-born wife, trained in drafting and design, returned from a two-month visit to his family here. "She also saw our wonderful relatives," Lamport says of his wife's reaction to a country she'd been brought up to fear. "She thought it would be much better for our daughters here. In Russia, it's hard to hope for anything if you're a Jew."
The decisive moment, however, came when the Lamports visited a 24-hour Grand Union supermarket near their relatives' home in Little Neck. "When she came out, she said of course, we had to be here."
For five years after applying for a visa in 1980, the family waited. "I was at the American Embassy all the time, very friendly with the embassy people, reading American newspapers and magazines," Lamport recalls. "We would celebrate American holidays, the Fourth of July, Labor Day. I wanted to show Soviet authorities that I am American. I wanted to prove it to them."
The embassy, prompted by then-New York senator Jacob Javits, restored Lamport's citizenship and issued him a U.S. passport. Even with those documents, "they wouldn't let me out," Lamport says. "On the other hand, a Russian who spent so much time with American diplomats would have been punished. They would have arrested me on some pretext if I wouldn't have had this passport. They didn't know what to do. I was a very bad example for Russian people. Maybe that's one reason they let me go."
Suddenly last month the Lamports were given five days in which to leave the country, ostensibly for Israel. That barely provided time to get visas, not enough time to change money. But the Lamports' family, which welcomed them en masse at Kennedy Airport, had been waiting for years to bring Bobby home. The family, along with the New York Association for New Americans, found a three-bedroom apartment on Ocean Avenue, bought beds and is helping them settle in. Now, Uncle Si is even going to show his nephew's family what Memorial Day is like.
Drabkin's big Chevrolet takes them east to Queens, past the very Grand Union where Elita Lamport had her epiphany, to a comfortable bungalow with peonies growing around the patio.
She didn't really come because of the supermarket, Elita says, using her husband as an interpreter. She is not a materialistic person. "Here, you feel yourself more a person than in the Soviet Union. From human considerations, it's better to live here," Elita says.
Yet it's hard, inside Drabkin's living room with the family photographs cluttering the piano top, to be blase' about the Grand Union. "It was the first store where she went in and it made the impression of a shock," Lamport says on her behalf. Elita's Russian grows markedly more animated. "So much of everything, such good quality. We knew there is plenty here, but it's unimaginable," Bernard says. "You can't describe it in words."
The rest of the family is gathering: cousin Laura (who will grill the hot dogs), cousin Mark, Barbara and Larry and their kids. Aunt Gertrude arrives from Bensonhurst. Aunt Rose calls from North Miami. Bernard Lamport has his young niece on his knee.
"We just never stopped sending pictures," Gertrude Yaker, Lamport's mother's sister, explains. "Any kind of occasion, a birthday, my daughter's graduation, we sent pictures. They were part of the family."
As the whole clan walks up to the parade route along Northern Boulevard, Lamport acknowledges the anxiety his family feels. "She's in the stage of adaptation," he says of his wife. "She's worried, will I find a job, will she learn English. She thought they would meet me at the airport and say, 'Mr. Lamport, we have work for you.' She's all mixed up; it's natural."
But Lamport himself can't shake the feeling that life is going to be sweet. "For five years, I didn't sleep. I woke up at 4 o'clock in the morning. Sometimes I felt it was a lost cause. But as soon as we landed in Vienna" -- first stop for departing Russian emigrants -- "I began to sleep. I know everything will not be cakes and ale." Or is it ale and cakes, he wonders.
Yet Lamport confesses to patriotism. "I am, I am a patriot. In Russia, I would be ashamed to be a patriot. But I am a patriot; I feel proud when the flag rises."
Not an unsophisticated man, Lamport knows that jingoism is frowned upon, just as he knows that many Russian immigrants will lose their professions forever. His daughters will probably be able to resume their careers as lab technicians or, in Inna's case, as a physician. It is uncertain whether he will be able to find work in his field of medical research. It is uncertain whether he will be able to find any work that befits a medical school graduate who holds a PhD. He is planning to write a book with a New York Times reporter about his emigration, but that's a long way off.
The group strolls past neat semidetached houses with rosebushes in their front yards, past McDonald's and Computerland to Northern Boulevard. The scene, indeed, bears little resemblance to Red Square.
Teen-agers on roller skates jostle old people in beach chairs; the Little Neck Lions sell hot dogs in front of Awnings by Dee. Half the town, it seems, has turned out to wave to the other half, which is massing down the road: American Legion post bands and the Most Precious Blood Fife and Drum Corps, pin-striped Little Leaguers and the PS 221 basketball team, Brownies and Cub Scouts, tiny twirlers in red spangles, an endless procession of fire engines.
There are, as Lamport later notes, no political banners and no huge portraits of Ronald Reagan. "In Russia, any parade has banners. 'Down With American Imperialism,' 'Hands Off Nicaragua.' " Northern Boulevard's decorations are more modest; flags fly from the utility poles and peddlers sell balloons.
The family positions itself along the curb in the sun, wearing smiles of anticipation for something they have never seen.
But Bobby Lamport has already bought a hot dog with onions and surveys the festive crowd with a smile of purest pleasure. "I'm still enjoying the feeling of being here," he says. "I'm waiting for when I don't feel it, for when America is just everyday life.
"I hope it never happens."