Gypsies – Part 2

Read gypsies part 1 here.

What can I say about these passport photos? They hold so many memories. Yes, even Grandma’s. I never did travel internationally with Grandma, with the exceptions of a trip to Aruba in the early 1990s and a trip to Ontario during my high school years, but she always supported my endeavors. I still have letters that she and Grandpa wrote to me during my first years at Michigan State. When I spent a semester in Quito, Ecuador, I came home one day to my host mother speaking on the phone in English with Grandma. At the time, I didn’t even know that my host mother spoke English that well! It turned out that she had studied abroad in Wisconsin.

One of my favorite stories took place in 2002 just before I was to leave for Austin, Texas to complete a six month co-op with Applied Materials. First, one has to understand that Texas has always loomed large in my imagination. My grandparents lived in Fort Worth during World War II. On Mom’s side, my great-grandfather spent the last years of his life outside of Houston ranching. Well, I think Grandma could tell I was a bit nervous as I said goodbye for several months. She told me, “You know, they are going to call you a damn Yankee!” Of course, I thought that she was joking. She always joked around. That may have been true in the ‘40s, but the early 21st century? Nah. It turns out the joke was on me.

In the days before GPS everywhere, I stopped at a grocery store to ask for directions to my new apartment complex. Unfortunately, I was lost. As soon as I opened my mouth, the man I had approached joked “Damn Yankee, huh?” and proceeded to laugh at my very Michigan accent. Then, he gave me the correct directions, and I was on my way. Literally the first words I heard in Texas were “damn Yankee.” All in good fun, of course. I ended up falling in love with Texas – Austin in particular – and planned to move there after my graduation from Michigan State. Well, I did move to Houston upon graduation, but frankly, I loathed Houston. It just wasn’t the same without my friends from Austin.

Today I am grateful that I moved back to Michigan. I would have never had those last years with my grandparents. As much as I love to travel, family means too much to me. As I am now a vital part of the future of the canoe livery, there are other considerations as well. Deep down, I always planned to come home, even if I didn’t want to admit it in my 20s.

As for those passport pictures, Grandma’s is one of my favorite pictures of her. During my later high school years, she traveled to Poland with family in order to see where her parents were born. She wanted to see where her parents’ grew up. That is why she ended up getting this passport in the first place. Over the years, she traveled extensively in the Caribbean and the United States. She hadn’t needed a passport since a trip to Brazil in the 1970s. As I waited for her in her car one day outside the canoe livery (we were headed somewhere, of course), I noticed her application for a passport. What struck me then was the names of her parents’ birthplaces. She had had to list the various countries those towns became a part of after World Wars I and II – a miniature lesson in the history of Eastern Europe during almost the entire 20th century – or so it seemed to me at the time. Even though I didn’t fully appreciate it until many years later, I think of the sacrifices my great-grandparents made to come to the United States legally. My great-grandmother was only in her teens at the time. I know what it is like to live in another country for a short period of time, but to never see your home country or parents again? I can’t begin to imagine.

My passport picture in another story entirely. When I see that picture, I think of how naive I was at the time. I can’t help but want to warn my 19 year-old self of the worst she’ll experience abroad – as well as tell her how worth it it all was, how much she will experience, most of it wonderful. I would tell her to not worry about all of the guys she’ll meet – none of them are “the one.” None of them are worth the heartache they will cause. Above all, have fun. Oh, and I would tell her that one day, she will want to teach Spanish. Take the necessary tests! It isn’t that easy to get fluency back once it is lost.

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