Years ago Mari McHenry offered me a chance to become a host family for a Trine International student. I said “yes” immediately. I knew a college student would fit into my life well and be enjoyed by my family and friends.

Mengting came my way as a young freshman from China. She was fascinated by our American customs such as turkey roasting on Thanksgiving (seriously she did not move from her chair in front of Karen’s oven watching it bake). The events and activities of her four years could and did fill journals.

Last summer after her graduation she moved to Notre Dame with a full scholarship for her PhD. In the meantime she introduced us to her new friend Virginia who came from Argentina on a scholarship to study mechanical engineering. Within a month my international room at The White Picket Gardens had a new resident.

Virginia graduated and took a job at Vestil Manufacturing as an engineer. I am thrilled to have this young lady live with me and share in the lives of many folks here in northern Indiana. It is quite a switch from her life in Buenos Aries.

Northern Indiana is far from Argentina so this spring Virginia’s parents, Lily and Oswald, decided they needed to visit their American daughter. Virginia and I planned and plotted on their adventures here in this part of the country. (I must add they have been to New York City and Miami, but not to the heartland!)

They arrived a month ago and will be returning to Argentina this weekend. We decided they should live in different areas to get a feel for who we are. The first week they rented a lake cottage for peace and tranquility and rest after their trip. Week two they were invited to stay at Elten and Carolyn’s house on the prairie. The rest of the time was spent right here at my house.

They have been to the fort in Fort Wayne, a performance at the Embassy Theatre, Shipshewanna for a day, Holland and South Haven in Michigan, and Virginia’s graduation. They have walked around lakes, prairies, my town, Pokagon and the other mentioned places. If I were to tell you they fell in love with small town America, I would not be exaggerating. One of the first things they told me was how happy they were to have doors open and unlocked. They also loved your friendly hello waves and “how are you” as they explored our home towns.

Last night I hosted an American picnic for them (inside because of the rain and cold, but that didn’t matter.) Flags adorned my dining room and we shared chicken on the grill, potato salad, lemonade, brownies and homemade pies … you know the typical American holiday food. Before dinner Elten and I sang “Back Home Again in Indiana.” How could we not?

Lily cries often about her country, Argentina. There is much unrest and we try to discuss politics the best we can with the language barrier. She cries because she knows her daughter is safe and loved in this community, and she is right.

Lily and Oswald open my eyes once again to the beauty, the grace and the land we live in. They take pictures of our monument down on the circle. We talk about freedom and the gifts we so often take for granted in this country. I look at my neighbors, family, friends, homes, businesses and the beauty of our county.

Jake comes over to say goodbye. She and Lily embrace and cry as they say farewell. Jake also tells me that it is difficult to go to the Memorial Day services down on the circle because she cries too hard. I say, “Tears are all we have to offer, tears and a prayer of thankfulness.” If we do not continue to weep for what has been, how can we protect what we have?

It is Memorial weekend and we should be fiercely proud. I will go to the service and look around at our veterans and notice in the background the town I love. I will cry for those who came before and those still serving in foreign countries away from home.

I will, with a full heart, be proud of my country, my freedom, my town. And yes, I will cry for Lily and Oswald who would be standing next to me crying for a country and freedom they do not have.

God Bless America and you, my friend.

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