Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Around the World

Our Christmases these days are quite different from the days of old, much calmer, for one thing -- but part of me misses the "old days," when we had to borrow an extra table and chairs from the local community center and when we were never really sure how many people would show up.

In the years when we were hosting foreigners in our house (70 in 10 years, from 15 different countries), whichever of them was in the neighborhood (i.e., the western United States!) they would plan to spend the holiday with us.  Sometimes we managed to squeeze as many as 24 people around the dinner table (bear in mind that our room is 22' x 15' !)

I love this picture because it kind of epitomizes those days.  Walt always used to read "The Night Before Christmas" to the kids before they went to bed, and even as they started getting older, they insisted he continue the tradition.  When there were visitors, they, too, got into the spirit of things.   So in this picture we have, going round the circle from left to right:  Pujol from Brasil, David in Walt's lap, Tom in the lap of Marcio, also from Brasil.  Next to Marcio, bent over and wearing glasses is Felix from what was then Yugoslavia, then Paul, and Ndangi from Zaire and Jeri.

Ndangi was one of the first persons from another country to stay with us at Christmas time.  We had already planned to host Chieko from Japan, but Ndangi ended up with no place to go, so we invited him to join us as well.  He didn't speak much English at that time and my French got a good workout.  For the next several years, wherever either one of them were in the states, the two of them (who developed a kind of brother and sister relationship) would fly in to join us for Christmas.  Chieko is now married with three children and living back in Tokyo.   Ndangi works in Silicon Valley, is married  and has twin girls.

I think Marcello (Brasil--Rio de Janeiro) was the next one to be here for Christmas.  Marcello arrived in this country speaking no English (awkward, because he was here to go to high school).  He was also not happy with his placement in the middle of California because he was a surfer and hoped to spend his days surfing (he had no idea the water in this part of the state was so cold!).  By the time he left here, he was better at speaking English, so good that he was able to return to the United States a few years later and, the last I heard of him, he had been working as some sort of official for Marriott Hotels.

Maria (here with Grandma Sykes) came from Mexico.  Her minister recognized that she had great potential and wanted to find a family which would take her in so she could study in this country.  I heard of her by chance, and agreed to have her live with us.  She was bright and delightful (and is now married and owns her own restaurant, which has received awards for excellence in a Sacramento magazine). 
Her sister, Sandra, came to visit one year and spent Christmas with us. 

What we did to that poor woman shouldn't happen to a dog.  It happened that at that time, Jeri was working for a theatrical supply place and so she gave David a break-away bottle as a gift.  Those were the years when the kids took movies of everything, and created elaborate plots (all involving chase and fight scenes, or falling off roofs or whatever).  The kids had been filming a complicated movie all day and it was going to end with a fight scene at the dinner table.  Sandra was totally unaware of what was going on, was new to our family and how weird we were, and didn't speak English all that well. 
So we all sat down at the table and most people had been told what was going to happen, but nobody thought to tell Sandra.  All of a sudden, David chases Paul through the house yelling at him.  Walt yells at both of them to stop fighting, David growls, picks up the wine bottle off of the table and hits Paul over the head with it, the bottle shattered and Sandra screamed.  Everybody goes on eating as if nothing unusual was going on.  I thought poor Sandra would have a heart attack.

Vince was from Malaysia and had lived here in Davis for a few years with his family while his father studied at UC Davis.   When the family went back to Malaysia, knowing that Vince's chances of a good education, as a Chinese student, were poor in Malaysia, and that they would either have to leave him here or send him to Singapore, contacted the church to find a family.  The church called us and we said sure.  So Vince moved in for three years, and continued to spend Christmases with us through his college years at UC Davis and until he married and began having a family of his own (twins now).

Victor was Ndangi's cousin and came from Zaire speaking not a single word of English.  One of my very favorite memories is of David and his friend Jeff setting up English lessons for Victor every afternoon.  Victor and David developed a special bond and after David died, though we had not seen Victor in years, he showed up at our door unannounced, tears in his eyes, to be here for the memorial service.   When it was over, he disappeared and we haven't heard from him since.

Felix also joined us for several Christmases in a row.   He came from Yugoslavia on vacation and lived with us for three weeks, but he then went to graduate school at Cal Tech, and would return for the holiday.  He later got a job with an engineering firm in Sacramento, so lived close enough that he could join us each Christmas.  

He is now married and  he and his wife own a B&B in the Seattle area.  They have two beautiful white poodles and I often see pictures of them on some hike or other around the area.  We saw him this spring when he was in Sacramento for a conference. I like this picture of him helping Ned to peel the potatoes for Christmas dinner.

When I remember all of those crazy years when we barely had enough elbow room, let alone room to move around the table, I think of them fondly.  We certainly had a lot of very special people from other countries pass through our lives and our hearts over the years.

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