Soon after I turned 17 in October 1972, Buck (my grandfather married to Nana) was diagnosed with cancer and was hospitalized in November. He was in the hospital for several weeks and died four days after Christmas. Buck is my best example of why family is not based on sharing genetic material. I have none of his DNA but always felt closer to him than my biological maternal grandfather. Buck married Nana (my mother’s mother) after her divorce from Cecil Broski, her first husband. There’s a great story about their marriage in the fourth and fifth paragraphs of this post. How Nana and Buck Married
Buck was a good man and he and Nana had the kind of love that I admire. They respected each other. I will always remember Nana telling me later that even when she came in from working in the garden and her hair was a mess and she felt unattractive, Buck would put his arms around her and tell her she was beautiful. And because of that, she felt beautiful.
Even though we’d all had time (two months) to prepare for it – it was a shock to realize that Buck was dead. I was trying to be stoic, but when I saw Nana cry at his funeral – I completely fell apart. There was such raw anguish in her sobs – a sound I had never heard before. I remember that our close family friend, Mrs. Brennan, consoled me. It was probably the first and only time in my life or hers that Nana couldn’t do that for me.
On the night Buck died, a black and white kitten showed up at our door – even though I still had Suki, my mother let me keep the kitten too and I named her Jolie. (Remember – at this point I’m in my fourth year of French and I think I’m going to major in French in college – so naturally my new cat gets a French name.) On the night before I turned 18, in October 1973, Jolie didn’t come home. The next morning, my 18th birthday, I found her stiff body on the side of the road. I’m sure I was upset but I remember being very philosophical about it. I was 18, an adult now, so that was just one of the realities of being an adult – people and animals you love die.
So you’re probably wondering whether anything good is going to happen in this post. We’ve lost our house, my father is unemployed, my mother has emotionally checked-out, my beloved grandfather is dead and I’m back at school with the creeps who made middle school miserable. Hmmm… it’s not looking too good.
You’ll be happy to know that two very good things happened during my junior year of high school. First and most importantly, I met Bonnie. Bonnie is African American. Bonnie became my best friend – probably the first time I ever had a “best friend.” Bonnie and I could talk about the things that mattered – how we could make the world a better place, how we could make our school a better place, what we were going to do after college, how were we going to make a difference. Bonnie was smart and kind and gentle. She was soft spoken but she had a powerful effect on others – she was eloquent and forceful without ever raising her voice.
The second good thing that happened is that I was accepted into the American Field Service study abroad program for the summer after my junior year – 1973. The process began in the fall of 1972 but I finally got word I was accepted in April 1973. I would not actually be studying because I was going in the summer. The program was based on matching students with foreign families so I wouldn’t find out until two weeks before departure where I was going – probably Europe but no guarantees. I was matched with the Linden family in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. The family had five children, the oldest girl, Michele, was 20. Another sister, Odile, was just four days younger than me and she had just spent the school year with a family in Washington State. The Linden’s wanted an exchange student to give an American student the same opportunity Odile had been given. A few years later, their youngest son, Joseph, spent a year in Michigan.
I was excited before I even met the Lindens just from the description they provided of what they were like and what sort of activities they enjoyed. They liked to hike and did so often as a family. Once I met them I could not believe my good fortune. They were so kind and accepting. It was a perfect fit – the part of me that had always wished for a brother or sister was complete. For the summer of 1973 I had two brothers – Bernard and Joseph and three sisters – Michele, Odile and 7-year old Marie France.
Charles Linden (Dad) worked for the Luxembourg railroad and he was able to get a Eurorail pass for me as his “daughter.” When Odile returned from Washington State in early July, after just a few weeks at home, Michele, Odile and I set off for a grand adventure – two weeks traveling through Europe, staying at youth hostels, meeting other kids traveling through Europe, getting lost, finding ourselves. This two week adventure was in addition to day trips that the Lindens often took me on – Verdun, France, a famous WWI battlefield with Bernard and Michele; Trier Germany and the Black Gate with both parents and Marie France and my favorite outing – a full day hiking in the Ardennes in the northern part of Luxembourg – picking blueberries and eating chocolate sandwiches. There were also trips and outings with the other four American students who were staying in Luxembourg that summer. If someone had asked me to envision a perfect summer – I couldn’t have imagined one any better than the one I had.
I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but my summer with the Linden family filled a void in my life at precisely the right moment in my life. I actually don’t have the words to describe how much that summer meant to me. I could go on and on and on, but since this is part of the blogging blitz, I must leave it at this for now.