By: H. Anne Thurston, Columnist
I am being accused of ‘holding on’ to an incredible lot of old junk. In all honesty I admit much of it is old. But junk? Not in my mind or eyes. The things we hang on our walls, tuck in albums, toss in drawers or slide in books all have a special moment, thing or person hidden within it. It is the ones which have no farewells wrapped around them that glue themselves the tightness to us.
I was seventeen and a junior in Burnham High when Hitler began his devastation of Europe and the Jewish folk. Like many others I was given the opportunity to become a Pen-pal with a young woman my age living in Holland. No, not Holland, Michigan, but the original country in Europe. She lived with her family in the northern area of the country close to the German border. As our correspondence grew, the war increased in intensity and reach. The United States was drawn into its unbelievable horrors and the day arrived when I heard no further from Jopi.
We exchanged no goodbyes. Answers to my letters merely stopped arriving. We all read the stories of the Germans in the Netherlands and my mind and heart struggled with what the people of that land were experiencing. I was never to learn what transpired; there was never to be a goodbye. Strangely enough our daughter, Nancy chose to become an exchange student in her junior year of high school. Various individuals and organizations in Boyne City financially made her summer-long visit a reality. She traveled to a northern region of Germany close to its Netherland border to live with a family in the same general area that Jopi had called home.
She discovered her ‘Dutch father’ had been a prisoner of war in New Mexico after being captured in North Africa. He had been completely overwhelmed with his treatment by the Americans. First assigned to a cannery in New England he professed a deep love of peanut butter he was introduced to. Then transferred to our South West to pick cotton he was again treated as a human and paid for his labors. He would have remained in the US except his wife refused to leave the land of her birth. Nancy brought story after story about her life with her host family, their home on a tiny farm, nearby windmills and the attached barn with its cow and pig. Through her help in preparing meals it was discovered that Americans ‘frosted’ their cakes and she was taken to the homes of families and friends to demonstrate her skills. I am certain there were sad goodbyes exchanged with the daughter, Johanna and brother, Peter when her stay ended. I wonder now if any of them realized they would never see each other again.
But our world has changed since Jopi and me. Johanna’s daughter has found my daughter on Facebook and re-connected her with her mother – forty some years later.
During Ed’s tour of duty on Guam during the Korean War we were fortunate to meet a native family and spend time in their home; a sizable structure built high on ‘legs’ because of the presence of termites. Guam had been seized by the Japanese during WWII leaving sad memories of those years among its natives. Mr. Tataqua had worked as a chef for one of America’s major airlines that served the island following the war. As a result we were served an unbelievable buffet dinner on our visit. That and his gift of a dozen fresh eggs (the ones available in the PX were flown in from Australia and frequently green and smelled to the heavens when cracked) as well as beautiful avocados from his tree. As the local entrepreneur he owned the outdoor movie, had his tropical ‘ranch’ where the eggs were produced and was sending his three daughters to the Philippines to a music conservatory. We attended their recital in Agana while on the island.
That evening in their home we listened as Mr. Tatagua moan and groan about what was going to happen to the younger generation as they no longer could even climb a coconut tree. The coconut had been the primary product of the island but times were changing despite his concerns. His worries echoed those I heard in my own country from oldsters when they spoke of the young. I thought, “What a small world live in.” As we said our goodbyes and expressed our thanks for such a wonderful evening I am certain I gave no thought to the future; that I would never see the delightful, intelligent and concerned family again.
I have to admit that all too often the older generation still tends to look upon the younger one as being stupidly lazy, forgetting others perceived us in the same manner when we were that age.