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Friday, January 23, 2004

Let me tell you a story from long, long ago.....

Once, there lived a girl in Germany whose family was slowly falling apart. Mom and Dad were in the "silent treatment" phase of their splitting up, sister was mostly in fighting mode, and so home was not that fun a place to be. Now this girl had an idea that she would like to go somewhere totally else for a year - the US, to be specific, and to that end had delivered newspaper every week for two years. After working her way into the AFS program, she was then told that, sadly, due to the energy crisis in America, there were far less families for exchange students available that year. Undaunted, said damsel remembered that she was indeed the member of a square dance club, and with that obvious connection to American culture it shouldn't be that hard to drum up a family, should it? She stuck her finger into a guide to US square dance clubs at random, and wrote to nine clubs located all over the United States as to whether they had anyone who would like to host a German exchange student for a year. Within a month, she had three affirmative replies - one from a very nice couple in their early 80's in Oregon, one from a man in his 50's living alone with his 20-something son in Indiana, and one from a couple named Bob and Wanda living in Napa, California. And this story is really about them.

Bob and Wanda were middle-aged, with both their daughters grown and out of the house. Why they wanted to welcome another teenager, I do not know. But they decided to make me part of their home for a year. Maybe it is because caring is a way of life for them.

And so one summer day in chilly San Francisco, they picked up this girl with inadequate conversational English skills. They are one of the best things that ever happened to me. I all of a sudden was part of a close-knit family. Bob and Wanda had been married for over 25 years, and had a very close, loving, marriage, still romantic, still being able to giggle like teenagers - yet a marriage strong and deep and mature. Their daughters were in contact virtually every day, and everyone in that family genuinely loved and cared for each other. They weren't church going people, but God was a part of their lives. And now they cared for me - correcting my English, teaching me how to shave my body hair, how to keep my room clean, that hanging out in a string bikini in the living room was not a good idea because it would keep Bob out of the house until I had covered up some. Being quite strict parents, they introduced me to a bunch of rules - only a couple nights out of the house, home by 10, no boys in the bedroom. That was a whole new world for me - at home, I could do whatever I wanted to. But see, the rules meant that someone cared about what I was doing, and so to me, the rules were good. I have a hard time getting words around how much of an impact it had on me to be part of a family the way family should be.

They became my biggest cheerleaders - always telling me how proud they were of me, being there for school performances, encouraging me to sing. I started calling them Mom and Dad. I cried buckets when I had to leave.

More than twenty years later, I still call them Mom and Dad. I sang at their 50th wedding anniversary. They have remained part of the fabric of my life. They still tell me they are proud of me. And I love them.
Last year, we made their Christmas letter. I cried, because when you get included in the Christmas letter, you are family. And being part of their family has made my life a lot richer.

Bob and Wanda with my kids.

posted by Birgit
at 2:04 PM