In 1998, I almost became a foreign exchange student. I use the word “almost” because real exchange students generally spend an entire year in a foreign country, attending school and speaking the language of the locals. But when I traveled to Germany fifteen years ago with some other students from Model High School, my experience was somewhat different. The trip only lasted three weeks. And I wasn’t officially a “student,” you see. I just sat around in various classrooms, doodling on pieces of paper and wondering what the people around me were saying. (I can speak German, but I’m not exactly fluent.)
For two weeks, I lived with a wonderful family in Heidelberg. (Or was it Weinheim? I can’t remember now.) The family spoke excellent English and took very good care of me. When I wasn’t using up the oxygen at school, they took me to museums, carnivals, restaurants, and castles. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Since then, we’ve kept in touch.
Wolfgang and Regine, my “German parents,” came to Georgia last week to visit my parents and me. It was their first stop in a long, meandering vacation all over Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. (Their sons, Jochen and Matthias, stayed behind in Germany. They’ve visited before, though. Jochen came here in October, actually. I introduced him to Steak n Shake and all its glorious American cholesterol.)
I’m not a morning person, but I got up early this past Saturday so I could spend the whole day with my German friends. I drove to my parents’ house, half-asleep and barely functioning, and drank coffee with Wolfgang, Regine, and my parents. Then all five of us squeezed into my dad’s car.
If you’re entertaining visitors from another country, you don’t want to bore them to death with Wal-Mart or a neighborhood yard sale. You want to show them a landmark you’re proud of, something grand and noteworthy. So we went to Martha Berry’s house and took a guided tour. It was an incredible place, especially the library, and the gardens outside were mind-bogglingly beautiful. I felt like I had stepped into a Pinterest photo. And the tour guide was witty and charming.
Afterward, we rambled all over the Berry College campus, admiring the elegant stone buildings and almost running over the teenage girls who had flocked there to be photographed in their prom dresses.
From there, we went to my apartment in the backwoods of Chattooga County, so Wolfgang and Regine could see where I live now. Then we headed back to Rome and ate at the Homestead Restaurant (one of the best restaurants on earth) just as a thunderstorm rolled in. After we left the Homestead and went back home, the five of us sat in my parents’ living room for a long time, laughing and telling stories, while the lightning flashed outside and the electricity threatened to sputter out. Around midnight, Wolfgang and Regine told us goodbye and went back to their hotel. I was thrilled to spend the day with them, but I was sad to watch them drive away in the rain.
The next morning, they caught a plane to Florida. They’re in Miami now, I believe.
I apologize if I’ve bored you senseless with all these tedious little details. I’m mainly doing it for my own benefit, so I can remember everything later. I want to preserve this past Saturday, to hold onto it forever, the same way you might press a four-leaf clover between the pages of a book so that you can pull it out and look at it again later.
(I wish I could say I took these photos, but I didn’t. My mother did.)
My novel, Under the Electric Sun, is available on Kindle. It’s a dystopian science fiction story about a boy, a cybernetic raccoon, and a large insect from another planet. You can click here to download it.