Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A House -- Complete with Strangers.

One summer afternoon when I was around eleven years old, I roller-skated into my house (a la Tudy, I roller-skated everywhere that year) to find a small Iranian family.

This memory came to me because this past week someone emailed me from the FRESH AIR FUND -- which gets inner city kids out of the city for the summer (and started in 1877!). She explained the program, but there was no need. I knew about it. A fresh air kid used to show up summers in the house across the street. We were buddies. I was his guide to the wilds of suburbia. As many of you know, my native suburban name was "Jogging Hamster".

Growing up where I did, people had very open doors -- my family especially.

The Iranian family was unusual -- but not too unusual. We lived in a small college town in a yellow house with ivy, and my parents were on lists to help people.

For example:

During the Cuban Missile Crisis they took in two Cuban teenagers. They sent mother's day cards.

For a while, we had a foster kid on weekends named Willy Wiley.

When my uncle was sick, my parents took in his middle-school-aged daughter for a few years.

We had German English teachers stay with us. (They were surprised we didn't all live in trailers. They'd been telling school children for years that Americans preferred trailers.)

We had foreign exchange students -- namely a French girl named Benedict.

My oldest sister who was living in New York by the time I was ten always brought people home for Christmas -- a Scottish drummer, a young journalist from Oman ...

My brother and his wife -- with five kids of their own -- had a kid from Paraguay live with them for a year.

My other sister actually worked at an institute that placed foreign students with families. Dave and I had foreigners living with us for five years (running a small boarding house of sorts) -- the first, a Korean businessman, showed up when our firstborn was two weeks old and then there were Japanese flight attendants, a Columbian dentist, Ukrainian judges, a Brazilian nutritionist....

How did my parents come across the Iranian family? Well, they were on a list to help incoming University students from abroad. The mother was only 18. The father in his early 30s. They had one child -- a nine-month-old or so who scooted but didn't crawl, and I took it upon myself to teach him.

They lived here for a few years while the husband got his advanced degree, during which the mother stopped covering her head, got her hair cut, learned to drive. They had a few more children, too. The youngest of which they were going to name Julie, if it was a girl, after me. It was a girl. They named her Nancy, after someone else. (The father had made a lot of these promises because he was sure he was having a boy.)

All the strangers were interesting for the reasons they're supposed to be -- a mix of cultures, the broadened world view they offer, the international exchange of ideas on everything from food to politics, the idea that the map of the world is bigger than an 11-year-old in roller skates could imagine.

But today I'm thinking about the inner city kids who bounce out of the city for some of the summer. We had a little creek that ran behind the house, some woods, a ball field and a park. Was the air fresh? Yep, most of the time. And when it wasn't my Dad called up the Chrysler plant. It was quieter, slower.

Here's the deal: "The Fresh Air Fund is in need of 1200 host families for this summer. Host families are volunteers who open their hearts and homes to children from the city to give them a Fresh Air experience that can change lives... It's only for up to two weeks, but it's an experience that can change their lives forever."

You think it's for the kid -- but if you open up your home to someone, you and your family change too.

CLICK HERE to check it out: http://freshairfundhost.org