My father was a international businessman, the director of sales and marketing for a large petrochemical company. We lived in Japan in the early 1960’s, and later in Belgium, the Philippines and Singapore. My mom was the trailing spouse, usually the one who packed and unpacked our belongings at each new post while dad was off to meetings around the globe.
While it was my dad’s job that took us overseas, it was Mom who took me by the hand to immerse me into the new place. She taught me to respect the differences in people, to know and understand their religions and their cultures. She never wanted to stay in the expat “bubble”, but set out to live where there were few westerners around. She forced me into uncomfortable situations to learn that it wasn’t All About Me. She made me look outside myself and to walk in others’ shoes. (She also taught me the value of a good pair of those shoes - as long as they were on sale- .. Ferragamo is her middle name). Her excitement about being in a new place was palpable. (Even though we begged & pleaded for a nap to shake off the jet lag). I can still remember her saying, “We’re in LONDON! You can’t SLEEP when you’re in London!”
Even though we moaned and groaned and complained when she did it, Mom insisted that we all have good grammar. I am a stickler for proper grammar, and I can thank Susanna for that. It is both a curse and a gift, believe me. She also gave me the gift of words … always making me look up big words in the Oxford Dictionary (you know the one that weighs about 50 pounds?) Susanna has always done the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, and I aspire to be like her. I can’t do Friday or Saturday though, and I solve it on the iPad. My how times have changed.
I was recently sitting out on my back patio watching Buddy (my cat) watching a little bird. The music of “Peter and the Wolf” was playing in my mind. I had a flash of appreciation for my mom who introduced me to so many wonderful things, like classical music, ballet and opera. Yes, I sat bored to death (and often fell asleep) during “Swan Lake” but today I look back and am so thankful.
Mom taught me the value of a good book. I remember very early on, going to the book fair in Westport, Connecticut, at my “little red schoolhouse” Saugatuck Elementary School. At the book fair was a famous children’s author, Hardie Gramatky, of “Little Toot” fame. I still have my copy of “Little Toot on the Grand Canal” signed and illustrated for me by Mr. Gramatky. Later on I came to love the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and one at a time, Mom gave me each book in the series for birthdays and Christmases. When I was 11 years old, living in Brussels, I was in a fairly serious car accident and was hospitalized for a week. Mom brought me a copy of “Little Lord Fauntleroy” which I devoured to pass the time. I can’t thank her enough for my love of literature … even though there are still too many books out there to read, and not enough time.
Food… my mom introduced me to all kinds of unusual food choices. We are the only two in my family who adore foods of all types: Indian, Middle Eastern, Morroccan, you name it. I remember eating dried squid as a child in Japan, escargot as an 11-year old in Belgium, and caviar with chopped egg and onion in Singapore. I will pretty much eat anything put in front of me. You can only imagine my frustration when my kids would only eat macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. Thanks mom for my international palate.