When I was in grade school, we lived in a college town that attracted international teachers and students and they came along with the occasional international child student. In second grade, we had a girl from Korea land among us and I remember being furious that I was crowded out of her little friend circle.
The imported kids were fascinating. I remember my classmates being a very competitive crowd, but it’s possible that only I was competing overtime in my mind.
Somehow I won the Swedish girl. I was her designated student buddy, and it was a tiny miracle. Her handwriting was award-winning and beautiful. She was quiet at school but direct and opinionated and hilarious after school.
Our neighborhood was one of the loveliest I have ever seen, especially the area where her family rented their house. There, we were surrounded by 100 year old trees and big old houses with out-dated features like carriage drives and sleeping porches and old meandering gardens. Spring brought a profusion of azalea blooms and turned the entire place into a damp wonderland of flowers.
Whenever I see a couple of little girls selling lemonade in the spring, I think of Anna. We didn’t sell lemonade, however. We stole flowers from the neighbors and tried to sell them to other neighbors. We gathered all the throw pillows and made a “bottle” to play “Jeannie.” We skulked around with tiny notebooks and wrote down license numbers of cars while we played detective.
She was the first only-child friend I ever had and she was remarkably agreeable while still maintaining her bossiness. I was definitely Watson to her Holmes. Anna’s parents were soft spoken and they were the first people I remember talking to me about nutrition like it was important.
Anna wasn’t allowed to drink Coke at home because her parents were worried about the effect it might have. They told me that America would see a surge of dental problems due to the cola wars. I have no idea if cola could ever be singled out, but they made me think about it.
We tie-dyed shirts, explored private gardens and climbed trees that didn’t belong to us. I learned how to say “thanks for cooking” in Swedish while she learn to say everything in English.
My mother took out a shady loan to send me to Sweden when Anna’s year was over, so that I could spend a few weeks on the other side.
I don’t believe that a nine year old can retain enough to truly appreciate an international visit, but some of it is indelible. Hopefully, Anna remembers more of her visit than I do of mine.
I will always have a little extra love for Sweden. We swam every day, launching from beaches or boats or rocky shores and we picnicked on rocks smoothed by glaciers. It’s easy to understand why people there are so appreciative of summer and why they were explorers. The landscape always feels as if something more is hidden, like there is something to discover around the bend.
I’m sure I never thanked Anna’s parents properly for their wonderful hospitality, but I would like to apologize now for feeding their daughter so many sugar sandwiches.
Jag är ledsen för alla socker smörgåsar, men tack!!