With a U.S. summit meeting proposed for 1986 between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, PEOPLE asked readers last March to pick the Russian visitor’s itinerary. What places and people should he see in America once his talks at the top are finished and his time is all his own? We got 6,351 answers, an astonishing number considering that all required thought and the effort of writing a letter. They came from every state and Canada. The greatest number (1,189) came from beloved and maligned California, with New York and Ohio next; the greatest number per capita came from Alaska and Utah. But the most remarkable thing about these letters is their tone: They are personal, rich in hope and often ingenuous, as though the writers were addressing postcards not to the chief of a superpower in an age of potential destruction but to somebody just like them. They invite him to church, to bowl, to have lasagna. They think he looks like their grandfather or his wife looks like their wife, and they ask him, if he decides to come to their house, to call first. Few are angry or negative. And most carry a down-to-earth combination of patriotism, pride and friendliness—a mix unimaginable in the days of the Cold War, just a decade or two ago. Ask the world’s biggest Commie to dinner? They say, “You bet! Come on over! Look at this!” They say, specifically, “Take a look at:”
High Rock Park in Beacon Falls, Conn. For some breathtaking scenery. Deep, mossy woods, graduated heights with small waterfalls at intervals—gorgeous! After our walk, you’ll dine on my Bar-B-Q, the best this side of Dixie, bar none. At this time we’ll have a nice chat about God. Then, if I like you enough, I’ll let you hold my two pet boa constrictors—who, by the way, are excellent judges of character!
(Vicki Lee Pelletier, Naugatuck, Conn.)
Lexington, Ky.—a city where morning dew glistens on grass that is blue. Will you spend a day with a gracious Southern lady, Mr. General Secretary? Lexington extends her hand.
(Susan Esenbock Johns, Waukesha, Wis.)
Share a warm Georgia autumn day with my family and me. We will travel down our country dirt road to reach the most peaceful, beautiful, tranquil place on earth. God is visibly present with the river flowing gently, carrying lovely colored leaves to the folks around the bend. We will picnic by the calm lake where the fish silently invite a line. We will walk in the grassy pasture and show you where our house will someday be situated and where our son’s tree house will hover over the river and where our daughters have said they want to be married.
(Larry & Pat Hill, Jonesboro, Ga.)
About 8 percent of the letters are from kids. You know about kids. They tend to be lovable, honest, trusting and free of guile. Sometimes, they seem quite wise:
We thought that it would be neat if the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. got in one huge snowball fight instead of a nuclear war. There’s no toxic waste!
(Jennifer Lucas, Ridgecrest, Calif.)
Would you please come visit America, and we promise not to bomb Russia while you are gone, okay?
(Connie Wilson, Dayton, Ohio)
I am too young to hate, and you’ve never tried to hurt me anyway so my house is your house.
(Audrey Kerr, Bronx, N.Y.)
Visit my mother’s softball game, because she wants you to see her play. I would like you to go bowling with me to see how I bowl.
(Lindsay A. Yuill, Denville, N.J.)
You can stay at Mr. [Walter] Annenberg’s estate, if permission is granted. We can discuss recent conflicting topics. As I am almost 16, I wish to voice my opinion on these topics. As you have listened to the adults of the country, it’s time to listen to us, the younger generation. Because we are just as important as they are.
(Traci Sexton, Palm Springs, Calif.)
The adults, naturally, write differently, but not very differently. They want the head of the Soviet Union to know their families and the people they know. They want him to meet Don Johnson, some Las Vegas showgirls, Bruce Springsteen, bikers, Mickey Mouse, Clint Eastwood, Ronald McDonald, Bill Cosby, Madonna, Dr. Ruth, the Ohio State Band, Shamu the whale, the Amish, a bride, the families of the space-shuttle victims, their neighbors, Mr. Rogers (“who has his finger on the pulse of America”) and:
Very quietly and with dignity, Samantha Smith’s mother.
(Ginny Seab, Toledo, Ohio)
My granddaughter, Tara Revell. She is 3 years old. She is why I so desperately want peace between our nations. I want her to have a granddaughter someday, too.
(Jan Hottle, Lenexa, Kans.)
The people at the Deaf-Blind Service Center. When you meet a deaf-blind American, you are truly seeing all this country stands for and holds dear: independence, determination, pride in oneself and one’s country, truth, honesty, love and trust. To meet any one of these citizens is to meet a true American.
(Lori Tipton, Seattle)
Our readers also want Gorbachev to see the places they think represent America, and there are a great many such places: Disney World and Disneyland, the Statue of Liberty, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Vietnam Memorial, a Burger King, the USS Constitution, the Liberty Bell, Yellowstone Park, a sports event, a shopping mall. And:
Kinnelon, N.J., a small residential town where the boys like to fish and hunt, the girls like to shop and dance. It’s certainly not the most exciting vacation spot, but it’s an awfully nice place to grow up in. P.S. I’m only 14, I hope this is still valid.
Dubois, Wyo., where God spends His vacation. We have wooden sidewalks and old Western atmosphere and hospitality.
Sun City, Ariz. We are Senior Citizens but young at heart, adjustable, hard working, compassionate and daring.
(Jessie B. Dypka)
Las Vegas. I was 14 when we arrived in 1962 and as a European, found it to be a vast contrast. As time went by, I grew to understand and then love these warm, honest people. Americans love people. They open their hearts and homes to foreigners. Let them embrace you as they have me.
Queens, N.Y. Because of all the bad publicity we are getting lately, the people of Queens could use some lifting of spirits.
(Josephine Calace, Bayside, N.Y.)
Montana—the “Big Sky Country” where the U.S. wheat is grown, people take time to say hello, and prejudice does not exist.
(Terry McCarthy, Billings, Mont.)
Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, the home of the Golden Domes where the meditators regularly practice transcendental meditation and levitation. There are 3,000 meditators here.
(MIU Student Body)
The magnificent, nearly 2,000-year-old “Methuselah Redwood.”
(Mr. and Mrs. E.C. Tryon and Deanna, Los Altos Hills, Calif.)
Please! Come to Boston! But let’s skip the city. We’ll stop in at my dad’s bakery in Stoneham, for a fresh honey-dipped donut. Then we’ll gas up the limos, pack a big picnic basket, and drive to Gloucester. There we’ll dig for clams on the sandbar, collect periwinkles, and look for hermit crabs. Next we’ll head to Rockport to browse at our leisure the art galleries and boutiques. We’ll stop at the country store for penny candy (I recommend the licorice whips) and birch beer. By then we’ll be tired and hungry so we’ll drive to Ipswich and have lobster-in-the-rough or steamed clams in butter. I promise you, Mr. Gorbachev, after a day like this, you’ll feel peaceful for a long, long time.
(Linda Beane, Stoneham, Mass.)
My home, my family and my church. Okay, so you don’t go to church—how about just listening to my church choir sing in a public place?
(Karen McCauley, Jacksonville, Fla.)
A baseball game. When we get back home you and I could sit on the porch and smoke up a cigar and bull—about what a great game [Dwight] Gooden pitched.
(Richard L. Mazzarella, White Plains, N.Y.)
A short concert by the ‘Delta Kings,’ a barbershop chorus from Cincinnati, while riding down the Ohio on a riverboat.
(Ruth O. Bagby, Bethel, Ohio)
Lunch and a round of golf at the Plainfield Country Club. Remember to bring loud Russian golf pants.
(L.Y. Andrews, Scotch Plains, N.J.)
But do you know the place our readers most want Gorbachev to visit? Can you imagine the one, simple place above all they think he should see? Home:
I make a great lasagna! I asked my teenage son to write this, but you know how kids are.
(Elizabeth LoPresti, Rochester, Mich.)
Our block parties. Everyone is asked to bring a dish (if you plan on coming please say if you would prefer bringing an appetizer or a salad). If you pick the right weekend we may be able to get you a couple of Steeler tickets for Sunday.
(A.G. Noble, Wexford, Pa.)
My humble home. I will not offer you political talk for I am not interested in politics, but rather in people. I will not offer you riches for my husband and I have struggled for everything we have. The only thing I will offer is friendship and a dinner like my Puerto Rican mother taught me to make. And lastly, I will sit and listen as you describe what Moscow looks like in the winter.
(Mrs. Migdalia Perine, Rialto, Calif.)
An average home of a log truck driver and his deaf wife (human service worker) who have raised six children and have 12 grandchildren. We are people who have struggled and live ordinary lives and are part of the true spirit, peace loving people of America. Our community is supposed to be one of the most troubled economically, but we feel rich in the quality of our lives.
(Mary & Lonnie Ladyman, Olivehurst, Calif.)
And the people they most want him to meet are themselves:
I have been a housewife, law student, farmer and manufacturer. I’m related to Pocahontas, Sam Houston and Mark Twain. How American can you get?
(Martha Pickell, Katy, Texas)
I am a single parent. Do you have any in Russia?
(Jennifer Pinard, Ocala, Fla.)
Lunch with me and my friends. But let me warn you—don’t eat the beef stew.
(Mike Wigglesworth, Natick, Mass.)
I served in Vietnam Aug. 1966- Aug. 1967 and happily came back in one piece both mentally and physically. I have also had opportunity to travel and meet people, and 99 percent of them are good and just want the best for their families. I know you do too.
(Bob & Nina Dixon & family, Tucson, Ariz.)
A typical California family for an evening of margaritas and nachos while soaking in our Jacuzzi.
(Maggie Keatinge, Los Angeles)
I am a hairdresser at “The Best Little Hair House” in Hyde Park. Come in for a free All-American haircut.
(Mrs. Dawn Haselkamp, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.)
Hope to see you and the missus soon.
(Betty Kletcher, Chicago)
No R.S.V.P. is expected. Just knock on the door.
(Charles and Joanne Spitaliere, Wading River, N.Y.)
Actually, it’s still not clear that Mr. Gorbachev is coming to this country at all, let alone that he will knock on the Spitalieres’ door. American officials suggest that the leaders may delay their summit until next year. But in their special way, these letters make a good case for meetings, and out of them all, one from a child especially sticks in the mind. “If you could visit my state and see how we really live, maybe you would realize we are a lot alike,” it reads. And then it is signed:
“Just me, Gavin. Gavin Thompson, Raleigh, Ill.”
It would seem fitting if Gavin got back a couple of nice letters signed, “Just me, Mikhail” and “Just me, Ron.”
PEOPLE visits some of those who wrote us and the places they want Gorbachev to see.