Friday, April 30, 2010

A Folktale About Friendship

Family folktales come out of our life experiences. Where we live, what we do with our lives (career, hobbies, etc.) and who we have relationships with are all of the stuff of these unique and personal folk stories. They reveal what is most important to us about our relationships with family and friends and can fall into many different categories, including lovers, enemies and friends.
Here is a folktale about friendship written by Dick Ingebritson of Minnesota.

Unanticipated Gold Mine: New Great Friendship

August 1957 found our family in Paris. Two wee folk, Liesbeth, age two, and Tim, age one, and my wife Truus. We flew to France as I had accepted a job as a teacher in a defense department school in Verdun, France.

Arriving at the army base, we were billeted in a small hotel in the center of town. Getting on in that limited setting was more than a challenge for Truus. The bathroom, very necessary for a family, one member still in diapers, was down the hall. The first day Truus noticed we were sharing the room with some rather frisky brown mice.

Enduring this for a week was enough. The housing officer gave us two adjoining rooms in the Bachelor’s Officer Quarters (BOQ). It was warm, clean and sunny and we were provided with a crib, and an electric roaster and frying pan with which to cook our foods. The only fridge was on the first floor and whenever my wife needed something from the fridge, she had to run downstairs. If she forgot to cough or announce her presence in some way, she was given a lesson in male anatomy in the hall for this was a gentleman’s building.

Eventually we were given a rather cozy upper condo. There was no central heat so we had to buy a stove and feed it regularly to keep warm. Our home away from home was cozy enough. We were the only ones who weren’t in the BOQ, so my colleagues found it more homelike to come see us and have a cup of some of some fluid or other. We had lots of company.

Teachers with initiative enough to find a teaching position in France were an interesting crew. So interesting were they that after fifty plus years, we still count some of them among our friends.

Top choice of the teaching staff who became lifelong friends were Pete and Nora Gonzalez from San Francisco. Can’t recall our first meeting but the chemistry was right from the beginning. Impressed first was I with Pete’s indomitable optimism. Housing was less than desired, school faculties limited, administration inexperienced and an uncertainty about our acceptance by the French phased Pete not at all. Never was he without a smile. He had an infectious laugh and we were never certain his feet touched the ground, so easily did he move. To see him and Nora dance at the officer’s club was a treat for everyone.

As months rolled by our frequent coffees with Pete and Nora were the highlights of our week. Our kids were very fond of them. Liesbeth could not pronounce NORA but said NOWA. Still today she is NOWA!

One evening in our home, Nora, the quiet one with the very pleasant laugh, suggested we have a different sort of conversation. Her suggestion was that since we lived 2000 miles apart, the chances of seeing each other were perhaps remote. Since that was true, she suggested we be open and honest with each other. Her idea was the following:

that we very honestly tell each other what our first impression of each other was.

Exciting, exhilarating --- maybe. Her idea was followed by the suggestion that Truus and I could begin by recalling the first impression we had of them.

My impression of them was reached when Truus and I took turns running to eat at the officer’s club while the other babysat. Often I would see Pete and Nora enter the officer’s club to eat. I didn’t enjoy eating by myself but I lacked the courage to ask to join them. They seemed so sophisticated and austere. I hesitated to approach them.

As part of this experiment suggested by Nora, I told them what my first impression of them was. Reaction: (a) surely I was joking, (b) disbelief! No way they thought would they give them impression. I assured them that, indeed, was my observation.

We moved to questions “Does anyone realize what impression they give?” “Do most people think of the impression they give?” “Do most people care what impression they give?” “If you don’t care for the impression you give, can you change it?”

Conversations such as this have been our fare these sixty years since that initial year in France.

Pete and Nora have raised two fine young men; have three grandchildren and have visited us several times. We, with our family, have also visited them. Pete left us last year after a gallant struggle with coronary problems. Twice have we seen Nora since then and that will continue.

That open forthright conversation suggested by Nora in Verdun perhaps cemented our relationship. Be great had we more similar relationships.

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