They were all dismayed by Rockford. They had been expecting one of America’s fabulous cosmopolitan cities, gleaming with wealth and excitement; the train left them in an industrial town deep in a wintry countryside. Their sponsors were nice people but appeared to think that everybody in China lived in mud huts: on the first day, they took their guests on a proud tour, plainly expecting them to be dazzled by Rockford’s meager attractions — the corner drugstore and soda fountain, the little downtown movie theater, the car dealership near the main highway, the glass and steel roadside diner where the truckers ate … for once Maria spoke for the whole family: she kept saying in Russian, “Well, it’s just like some little peasant village, isn’t it?” No one could figure out a way of translating this so as not to cause offense.

This is how to write an obit. Lee Sandlin’s piece “Saving His Life,” originally published in the Reader in 1998, is also coming out in a special limited edition from Sherwin Beach Press.