Monday, January 27, 2014

An exchange and a return

The phone rang. I didn't recognize the number. The routing was through Wyoming. Hm. Should I answer? Of course, I answered. I was curious. Much to my surprise it was not a solicitor.

"Paum," he said. His German accent always made my name sound soft and pretty. I knew immediately that I was talking to Michael. It was early afternoon here and around 9pm his time in Berlin. It had been a couple of years since I heard from my honorary, older brother.

When my sister was in high school, Michael came to Darke County as an exchange student. It was the 50's. A war with Germany had ended. A boy from the losing side came to visit the winning side. It was not an easy adjustment for anyone, especially Michael. To say that he came here with a chip on his shoulder was putting it mildly. He was arrogant and angry. The family who had sponsored him had difficulty handling him, thus my parents took him on.

I remember that no one seemed to like him very much. He probably asked for some of it, but some came from prejudice against the German population in general. Many boys were killed on both sides of the pond. Sometimes it takes generations to bury hate. Michael came with a load of conflict being a small boy during a war that he didn't understand. I was just a kid and didn't know about prejudice and war. I still don't. Anyway.....Michael came to Neff Road. Mom and Dad weren't easy on him. He had to work on the farm with Dad and was expected to be part of our family, not someone to be waited on. My sisters had more trouble with Michael. He was too close to their ages and was a bit much back then. By the time he returned to Germany, he had, as my dad would say, come down a few pegs.

Over the years, Michael and I have kept in touch. In the mid 80's, he came to visit me in Oregon. It was the first I had seen him since I was a teenager. We did the usual site-seeing around this beautiful state. A new relationship began. That of adults. Over the years Michael has called. And, each time I'm thrilled to hear from him.

There were several young exchange students that came to our area. We learned of different countries, different languages and added to our families, those at home and at church. Perhaps our world was opened up more by these visitors. We learned tolerance and, hopefully, compassion. We learned that some things could be debated and others better left alone. We learned to open our hearts and become better people. Michael came on an exchange program. He left with a return invitation.

No comments: