My wife, Shirley, has done her part for international diplomacy.
While teaching business courses at a local college and academy, she was always ready to invite one of her students to our home.
It started in 1977, about this time of year. Shirley asked a student from Thailand what she was doing for the Thanksgiving holidays. She said she had no plans.
Why don’t you come and stay with us over the weekend? Shirley said.
She came for that weekend…and stayed nine more years.
She lived with us during the summers and when she wasn’t taking undergraduate courses at Emory at Oxford in Covington, Ga., and later graduate courses at Emory University in Atlanta, where she studied dentistry.
Her name is Maao. She came here a timid, reticent 18-year-old and emerged a confident, talkative dentist—and later businesswoman—who learned American ways quickly, not to mention many of my Southern sayings—“I think I’ll hit the sack.”
I gave her away at her wedding, and she eventually had two sons and a daughter.
Maao became fully American. She went back to Thailand only occasionally to visit her mother. Her father had died.
I taught her to drive. My wife helped teach her to swim. Riding in a car with her was much more dangerous than swimming with her.
“You’re going to turn right at the bottom of the hill,” I would tell her, impersonating a Taggart driving instructor. She was still doing 40 miles an hour at the bottom of the hill, so I yelled, “Noooo, don’t turn here! Go straight.”
In 1980, Shirley got to know another student, Liv (pronounced Leeve), from Norway. She invited her to our home, and we have been friends ever since. In 1992, we visited her and her family in Norway; she has visited us several times over the last 40 years. She just left after spending a week with us.
Liv was here in 1980 as a Rotary exchange student. She attended the college where Shirley was teaching and made more friends than Santa Claus. She managed to visit most of them during her recent visit, offering gifts of Norwegian chocolates, homemade calendars, jewelry and whatever else she could cram into her oversized suitcases.
Liv is never still. Even when she’s sitting on our sofa talking, she’s moving, her hands speaking as much as her mouth. To her, it seems, everything is doable. Seven years ago, she came to the States to help her son, Espen, also a Rotary exchange student, move back home. Espen had too much stuff, so she boarded a plane wearing four of her son’s coats.
Just hours before Liv’s flight the other day, her daughter, Nina, telephoned wanting some Pillsbury Christmas cookies. My wife made sure she got them.
So now, Liv is back home, and the cookies are probably gone. But our kitchen is still colorfully decorated with two small national flags from Norway.
This holiday season, at the top of our thankful list, are good friends, wherever they are.