I’ve been diligently working on my 50th birthday letter writing project (details here), and having the time to do an in-depth reflection of my life and the people in it has been fabulous. When it’s all said and done I will be writing more than fifty letters (my list keeps getting longer!). Most of them will get mailed to their recipients. Some won’t, whether it’s because I’m writing a letter to an entire city–Hi Chicago, Kenosha, and Knoxville!–or because the recipients aren’t in my life anymore due to an awkward ending to the relationship (in one case, total implosion) or because they impacted my life when I was a kid and I just don’t know where they are now.
Corinna is one of those people. I knew her for only one year, and never saw or heard from her again. I thought it would be fun to publish her letter here.
In the months leading up to my fiftieth birthday in November, I’m writing letters to fifty people who have played an important role in my life, influencing the person I am today in some way. Though I met you at the beginning of my fifth grade year and never saw you again after the end of it, you made a lifelong impact.
You and your twin sister Claudia came to Park Forest, Illinois from Germany to live with your Oma for the year, to learn better English and to experience life in America for a little while. We were all new at Algonquin School; the rest of us just came from our elementary school across town. When I saw you and Claudia I was just as fascinated with the fact that you were identical twins as I was with your country of origin. My parents had always spoken so highly of their life in Germany when my dad was in the Army that I always felt attracted to the country. Meeting you became top priority for me.
At some point early that school year in between trading “Charlie’s Angels” cards with Migdalia, writing essays for Principal Tannenbaum’s monthly contest, and getting acclimated to our new school, I met you and we became fast friends. We spent time at your Oma’s house, which was great. I was so amazed to hear the two of you converse in German and I always enjoyed the treats she prepared for us. We were in the school choir together as well as Girl Scouts and ended up merging the two one evening at a scout dinner when we put on German(ish) costumes and sang a song on stage for all of the guests.
Side note: it felt a little strange to me at the time that you and Claudia had entirely separate groups of friends, but as an adult and a mom I know now that that was probably part of the purpose of your experience: so the two of you could spread your wings away from each other. I hardly remember interacting with Claudia at all!
You were the first friend I ever had who came from outside the United States. Because of you, my Germany fascination blossomed even more. I started reaching out after that year, finding international pen pals (at one point I think I had around fifteen of them from all over the world!) to write. Later I became a part of the CISV program, hosting Tina from Germany for a month one summer and going to her home for a month the following summer. Just a couple of years after that my family gladly stepped in at the last moment when the AFS program needed some host families for a bunch of kids for just a few days: we hosted Sue, Lottie, Ayjo, and Owen from England, Norway, Iceland, and New Zealand, respectively. Getting to know all of these various kids from other countries during my youth created a strong desire within me to travel the world and learn about how people live and work and play outside of America. You helped plant that seed.
Sometimes I wonder if you remember me; I choose to believe that you do. I can’t imagine what you look like now, and that’s okay. I will forever remember you and me at the tender age of ten, teaching and learning (and singing) together, those moments frozen in time. Vielen Dank, meine Freundin.
Love, Melisa (Missy)