It began as a house swap inspired by one of my favorite Christmas films, The Holiday. My friend, Amy, would stay at my apartment in Marrakesh while I would stay in her apartment in Hamburg, Germany. I’d also travel to see Arunima in Idstein, but she convinced me I’d be spending all of my time on a train. I didn’t want to be a bother, but she said I’m family.
I met Mithu, (still Arunima to me) discussing old authors in my English class. She was my student and graduated high school in 1986– the last year I lived in Kentucky before moving to Tennessee. Though she hasn’t aged in three decades she was and is an old soul, still taking care of people she loves, still loved by many. The Super Student is now Super Mom. And a lifelong friend.
Thirty years ago she was my TA and Girl Friday (and Monday-Thursday), a pro at managing the yearbook staff, helping me with my paper load, and keeping a new teacher sane. She helped me pack up my life in Lexington and even visited me a few years after that in Nashville. In the time since we’d seen each other, she became a mom of twins in Germany who are now the age she was when I met her. Knowing I couldn’t fly home Christmas, she and her sons, Lucas and Max, graciously opened their home to me. And I am so grateful they did.
I knew reconnecting with this old friend would make my first Christmas away from my children bearable. She must have been exhausted after a weeklong business trip to Crete, and when she had time to decorate, cook, clean, and gift shop I have no idea. I do know that when she picked me up from the airport, same warm hug, same wry sense of humor, same kindness and ease, we picked up the friendship as if no time had passed. Now both adults, expats, single moms, we have even more in common.
Who knew in the ’80s two Kentucky girls would spend this Christmas together in Germany? I will never forget walking into her quiet, peaceful home, advent candles glowing before a beautiful tree.
Or wandering the quiet Sunday streets of Idstein, a town founded in the 12th century. The oldest building, the watchtower below, was built around 1170, but became the “witches’ tower” around 1676 during witch hunts similar to those in Salem.
I will never forget talking the new Star Wars movie and books with Lucas and Max who are majoring in German and English (or playing Activity which required game-challenged me to explain, pantomime, or draw the English translation of German words and phrases–like “pipe of an organ” or “beer crate” for my partner to guess).
Or walking with Ingrid, the boys’ grandmother, in green fields flanked by a German wood and a pink sunset after she and Mithu prepared dinner. We returned to a cooked goose and white linen.
Or being invited to the home of Patrik, Arunima’s boyfriend, where I had Christmas lunch with his mom and sister.
Or the night before I left, after a week of all the food, food, food (to be said in the rhythm of Dr. Zeus) Arunima served,
we relaxed, talked, and laughed over wine and a movie. Prost! (Cheers!) to her visiting me in Marrakesh soon.
As 2016 calls us to all look ahead in hope,
I love that “Auld Lang Syne” (meaning “for the sake of old times”) reminds us to first look back in gratitude, remembering one of life’s greatest gifts, old friends.