When I was seventeen, I had the chance to go on a school exchange to the United States for a month. I struck a deal with my Dad – he paid half and I paid half from the earnings of an after-school job. My mother hated my gut for going, or probably more accurately for having the independent means to contribute to the project.
It was all terribly exciting, going on my first flight, going to the States and going away from home for that length of time. I stayed with a family of five in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – three boys and two girls (although the oldest two had flown the nest by then). My host parents were quick to joke that I was the girl to even out the gender imbalance in their family. I was welcomed with open arms and I got a glimpse of a family life that was rather different from my customary surroundings. The words ‘I Love You’ were readily spoken between parents and children, and not in the superficial way that Americans are often accused of. I am sure everyday life wasn’t a happily-ever-after fairy tale but still, I soaked it all up and loved being part of it.
After I came back home to Germany, a letter arrived in the post. My host father, a very busy lawyer, had taken the time to sit down and write to my parents. It was a handwritten letter on that thin, parchment-like pale blue airmail paper. It said lovely things about me. I can’t remember exactly what they were… something along the lines of me being a clever, worthwhile and confident person who was a joy to be around. The details don’t really matter. All I know is that letter said things I didn’t believe about myself. My mother didn’t either, and was quick to tell me so. It was kinda like reading about another person, but one you would like to grow up to be. Reading that letter made me feel important and hopeful that if somebody saw all these things in me, then maybe I could one day be them.
My dad kept the letter in a filing cabinet in his office. Ever so often, I would root through stacks of paper to find and read it again. My dad’s office has now been dismantled for a great many years, and I no longer have access to that letter. I guess a long time ago, someone threw it away along with the stacks of paper that surrounded it.
Still, I cherish that letter. Even now, more than twenty years later. I love that my host father stepped away from his busy work and family life long enough to write it. To him, it may have been a very small thing. To me, it meant the world.
Thank you, Mr Kaufman.