Eight years in a one room schoolhouse in rural Wisconsin, most of them with no indoor plumbing, running water or central heat. Ditto the farm house that was home on our return from Seattle. Digging out the front door through six foot snow drifts in temperatures of minus 30F. Looking down from our hill over Lake Koshkonong. Skating parties in the winter, summer swimming in its murky water. A woods so full of black raspberries that aunts and cousins came with buckets and tubs to carry them away. Five pound tomatoes and fifty pound watermelons. A scary basement full of spiders and hundreds of quarts of vegetables and fruits – pickled, canned, jammed, jellied and juiced. The siren smells of baking rye bread and frying doughnuts. The never ending demands of tobacco, dairy cows, runaway pigs. Harvest of hay, oats and corn. 4-H square dances and blue ribbon calves at county fair. Multitudes of cousins celebrating every birthday and holiday. An untrained mare to give me freedom and armfuls of books from Saturday’s trip to the library to give me dreams – dreams of faraway places.
The folly of a year at the University of Grenoble for one who arrives speaking so little French. A glorious year of discovery – of another culture, of myself. Hitchhiking to Nice for Mardi Gras, driving a motor scooter to Barcelona at Easter. Hitchhiking Italy that summer on $1.50 a day – meeting my first husband at the Pisa youth hostel. Dreams of faraway places properly stoked.
Marriage to a newly minted Foreign Service Officer. Sailing to Naples – morning sickness on board. Birth of first daughter at the NATO hospital, corpsmen for nurses. Transfer to Cairo. Pregnant again. Birth of my son at the mission hospital in Tanta, Egypt (no functioning incubators in Cairo). Assignment to Barranquilla, Columbia, pregnant again. Anesthetic this time. Bliss. Three continents. Three babies. Three years.
Kampala Uganda, just in time for Idi Amin’s arrival on the scene. Sheltering Ugandan friends in fear for their lives. Faraway places are definitely not boring.
I BECOME A DIPLOMAT!
17,000 take the Foreign Service Exam – 2,000 pass. The fat envelope arrives. I MADE IT!!! The next hurdle is the oral exam, winnowing down 2,000 to 400. Once in front of the examiners, somehow I relax – and PASS!!!!! A great boss in D.C. who pushes me to overcome my timidity. Assignment to Stockholm after 4 months of all-day language training. Living in an historic farmhouse – Kotlagord – on a spring fed lake. Cross country skiing from our doorstep on lighted trails after work. Magic.
And so it goes, in more faraway places – London, Addis Ababa, Milan, and finally Oslo as Deputy Ambassador – amazing experiences in every one. Dreams fulfilled and then some.
More adventures follow in retirement as I join inspection teams spending weeks at our embassies in Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania and Saudi Arabia.
And what now? WRITING, two horses, dressage competition, keeping up with the garden I couldn’t keep myself from planting, enjoying our Scandinavian farm house, cooking flavors from around the world, lucky to be part of the amazing cultural life of Port Townsend, a Victorian Seaport on Washington’s stunning Olympic Peninsula.
As to the writing part – my goal is to provoke wanderlust in today’s young readers, to give them the gift I was given – the yearning that propelled me from a one room school house to a career in the U.S. Diplomatic Service.
If you are reading this, you are also a lover of faraway places. I hope you’ll enjoy the adventures that follow! First stop: The Kingdom – Saudi Arabia.