Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 16, 2006
Auf Wiedersehen, Smitty!
Last week was a whirlwind of activities as our "adopted" daughter Nadja prepared to return home. She went to "goodbye" breakfasts and lunches with friends, did last-minute shopping, bequeathed some of her clothes to Mariya and Katie, shipped items that wouldn't fit in her luggage and stuffed two large suitcases, a carry-on and a backpack with clothes, school notes, photo albums, electronic gear and other paraphernalia. Her friend Alison became her taxi driver, running Nadja from one errand to the next.
We weren't sure we'd have room in the van on the airport trip for the whole family, the luggage and Alison, so her mom decided they'd drive separately. She also said it would give them some mother-daughter "bonding time."
At the airport, we met several other families and their exchange students. Each family shared stories, photo albums, scrapbooks and laughter.
We kept it together pretty well until it came time for final hugs. Then the tears started flowing. We couldn't enter the secured waiting area, but we kept in contact - waving, making faces and miming last-minute messages through the glass wall. One little curly-haired girl clutched her Teddy bear and pressed her face against the glass, trying to stay close to her big "brother." The girls and I jumped up and down, coaxing Nadja to smile.
The plane was delayed, which meant our "goodbyes" were longer than anticipated. Alison, showing the signs of days on an emotional roller coaster, said to her mom, "Saying goodbye is just exhausting."
When boarding began, Nadja stood up, gave us one final glance, waved, handed her ticket to the taker at the door and disappeared into the jet way. A stretch of 10 months of laughing, crying, talking, sharing meals, taking pictures and so many other things had come to an end.
We walked to our car for the quiet ride home. Nadja had given us a letter, but I decided to wait until the ride home to read it.
In the letter, she told how each of us had influenced her.
She described Katie as a tornado. "When I was sad and quiet, Katie always burst into my sadness and talked to me and tried to make me laugh."
She called Mariya her "guaranteed" friend. "Even though we didn't talk much at first, I knew that, because of Mariya, I always had someone my age that understood where I was coming from, especially with school."
She said my constant picture-taking made her learn how to smile and that Art "makes every day a unique, funny, educational experience."
Her last paragraph made me cry.
". . . When I first thought about coming to Kansas, the thought did not make me happy. I like big cities and people around me. When I arrived, I missed the loud environment in Germany, but then I got to know all of you. I realized that the Vaughans are like a big, loud city. They are full of variety and crazy life and different interests. The Vaughans are as much fun as Berlin, and beyond that they have given me protection and care and a study for life. You might think I have learned and grown a lot this year. That is true because I stayed with you. A baby learns every detail of life from its parents and the people that surround it. This year, I was a baby. I watched, then tried out new things, and eventually became successful. You are the family that has made this baby grow up."
Now Nadja's room is way too clean and orderly. But when I enter, I can still detect the fragrance of her vanilla-scented lotion. A couple of stray bobby pins, a few bottles of shampoo she couldn't fit in her bags, her ever-present water bottle in the refrigerator (she liked really cold water), some Reese's pieces that she knew Katie would like and the buttermilk pancake recipe she used to make us breakfast her last morning are among the few physical reminders of her stay with us.
I miss Smitty, the nickname Mariya gave her, but a part of her will be with us forever. And a part of us Kansans who loved her will be in her heart no matter where life takes her.
"Auf Wiedersehen" is the traditional German parting expression and means "until we see you again."
"Auf Wiedersehen, Smitty!"