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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Harvesting Gold

Hello from Branson, Missouri!

It's been a beautiful fall with gorgeous colors throughout the Ozarks and as I look at the golden colors around me, I think about the ‘gold' in my life...My children standing in the middle of the golden field of wheat. Let me tell you about my summer trip to Alexander, Kansas...

I was visiting with folks after my show when a nice couple approached me and said they were from Alexander, Kansas. They suggested I come visit them and help harvest their wheat fields.

Now I'm thinking I know a lot about this from growing up with real Russian Bread - it's made from authentic Kansas Wheat. But I think this might make an interesting activity for my kids. The nice couple says we can stay at their house and their neighbor has a plane and he'll fly out to pick me up.

I file this idea away in my little black book of adventures and mention it to Natasha and Alexander. They're beside themselves with joy at doing this and Alexander is anxious to see the town that's named after him. I call the nice couple, Mark & Ann, and they say to come in June.

Now three days before the plane is to arrive to pick us up, they call and say their neighbor can't fly us - his insurance won't cover me. Natasha says to me, "Dad you can just drive us." I'm saying, "Honey, it's a 9 hour drive...I haven't driven 9 hours since I left the freeways of Los Angeles". But as always, Natasha's big brown eyes and Alexander's unwavering belief that I'm superman, convince me that this is the right thing to do.

We're off to see the...wheat fields. Driving 9 straight hours to Kansas, I'm wishing I had the good fairy's wand or at least the red shoes. We arrive in Alexander (population 70) and Mark & Ann welcome us to their nice home. They take us out to show us the homestead and introduce us to Kansas' version of an elevator. You have to climb a ladder on this grain elevator and we all do - it's the first time in 35 years anyone has ever been to the top. Then we go out to the field and Mark introduces us to the combine. We climb inside for a ride.

This is fun and interesting and then Mark says, "Do ya'll mind taking over driving for a while so I can go fix my truck that has broke down?" I'm saying this might not be a good idea, but the kids (again) convince me I'm a really good driver, saying "Daddy you have driven a lawn mower, this one is just a little bigger." So Mark leaves us driving this $ 150,000 Monster Wheat Whacker and we're going up and down the rows. We're taking turns driving and concentrating very hard on following the rows. Mark comes back and unloads our cargo and says, "Ya'll look like you're doing real good. I've got some other stuff to do, so just go ahead and continue." The kids are ecstatic. I'm amazed at this; the kids are working really hard and I can't even get them to clean up their bedrooms? I'm also pretty amazed that these folks have entrusted me with such an expensive piece of machinery. What if I run off the row?

So at sunset we're still out in the field and now we're using a giant light to see so we can keep whacking the wheat. Ann brings us out pizza and we devour it like refugees from Russia. When we come back to the house we hit the sack and I'm out like a light. But then we're up at sunrise to start the day all over. There we are driving the wheat whacker all day long. By this time I'm thinking...did this nice couple take bets with everyone in Alexander that they could get Yakov Smirnoff to come labor in their fields? Or were we on candid camera? Either way I hope they won big time, because we all had a great time. We even made the front page of the Rush County News, but it's a one-page paper.

The next day as we're leaving, Ann asks me, "I'm curious. Did you have us checked out?" I say, "Checked out?" She says, "You know by the FBI, Homeland Security, the IRS, to see if we were alright?" "No," I say, "You just seemed like nice people and this would be something fun for my family. Thanks for a great time." And off we go...

Now here's where the story gets into the gold in my life. I'm blessed with a wonderful career and many of the luxuries & privileges that come with being a star. My kids are the treasures in my life that help me to appreciate all that glitters and glows. As we're driving away, Natasha wants to know why Ann asked me that question. I'm trying to explain that as a celebrity sometimes people have an idea or image about me that's different from their lives. Natasha doesn't understand this. I'm explaining that not everybody gets invited to someone's home and gets to drive their $ 150,000 combine. She simply doesn't agree with me. Her impression is that it's because I'm nice and they're nice. Which is partly true but not totally accurate about the way the world works.

At this point we've drifted into a discussion about why she and Alexander get to do so many things and interact with so many interesting people. I'm trying to explain about how sometimes stardom can provide privileges and influence and extra nice things in life. She becomes irate with me and explains that I shouldn't accept things because of what I do, that it's wrong to have privileges others don't have. I'm saying but "Natasha, honey, you get to enjoy those privileges because of what I do." At this point, Natasha stops talking to me and that's in the first ½ hour of our 9 hour trip. I'm a guy...silence is golden. Luckily Natasha is all woman, and can't keep the silence up for much longer than an hour.

We get home to Missouri and go to visit friends down at Beaver Lake in Arkansas. They have kids Natasha's age and I'm visiting with the mother about Natasha, explaining about our argument. She enlightens me that Natasha is a TEENAGER!

She reminds me that "at least your daughter is talking to you and that's important because a lot of kids don't talk to their parents." I'm thinking cold silences are not healthy for my laughter barometer. She recommends a book called "Uncommon Sense For Parents with Teenagers" by Dr. Michael Riera, PHD. After reading this book , I felt a light bulb go off in my head.

I've been an immigrant to a new country, discovered I was an immigrant in understanding my relationship with the opposite sex, and now I find out I'm an immigrant in the world of teenagers. Paraphrasing a quote from the book, "As children become teenagers you're no longer their manager, you've been handed your pink slip, and all you can hope for is that you get hired as their consultant."
Natasha went to work at Mary Jane's Restaurant this summer and she made $150 in tips in 2 days. This way she could afford to hire me as a consultant. I've discovered I'm totally fine with being her consultant. I don't have to run her business; I just have to treasure the golden moments we have together as she develops her own separate sense of personality and learns to be independent.

I highly recommend Dr. Riera's book for any struggling parents...it will help you learn how to harvest gold in your life!

Love and laugher,
Yakov Smirnoff


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