When I was a junior in high school, there was this girl who sat next to me in my history class. I remember thinking she was beautiful and wore the coolest, most stylish clothes, way more stylish than I could find at the mall in town. We struck up a conversation towards the beginning of the school year, and I discovered that she was as cool, interesting, and fun as she was beautiful. She was an exchange student from Spain and was living in Albuquerque for the next year. We became fast friends.
One day, several weeks later, she came to class and was more quiet than usual. It turns out that her host family wasn’t treating her very well. Their daughter was kind of like the Stepford version of a teenage girl and they were surprised that my friend from Spain wasn’t exactly like her. They wanted her to move out.
I went home that day and asked my mom for a huge favor. “Can this girl from Spain, whom I have only known for a short time, come and live with us for the rest of the school year? Please!?”
And then something extraordinary happened (although, if you know my mother, then you know it is not all that extraordinary for her). My mother said yes. I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t wait to get to school the next day and tell my Spanish friend the good news. Paula moved into my bedroom later that week.
My junior year was special because, not only did Paula come into my life, but so did a huge group of other exchange students. On any afternoon, my house was full of friends from Spain, Finland, Sweden, and Italy. Paula and the other two exchange students from Spain (Alvaro & Pablo) traveled with my sister and me to see my grandfather in Arizona and my uncle in California. When Paula left at the end of the school year, it was very hard to say goodbye.
But my senior year, Paula’s sister, Lucia, came to live with us. And we had another great year of exchange students who were actually family, and more adventures to see Grandpa Joe and Uncle Jim. That summer, my sister went to Spain and lived with the family, but I was starting university and couldn’t go. (That has always been a major regret for me.)
I always joke that I actually have three sisters….and that two are Spanish. Those two have held a special place in my family’s heart for decades. But we all fell out of touch about 15ish years ago. People moved, addresses and phone numbers were lost, and the internet wasn’t always what it is now. But I never forgot the sisters, or their parents, who came to visit us in Albuquerque as well.
The last time I saw any of them was more than 20 years ago. Off and on over the years, all of my family has looked for them on the internet. And when I knew we would be in Spain, I started looking even harder for an email address, facebook page, or phone number that still worked. A month ago today, I found one that worked and sent an email to Paula. She responded. There was so much excitement on both ends of that email conversation, as we caught up a bit and made plans.
We met ten days later in front of the Museo Picasso, on a quiet street in Malaga. We had not seen each other in 23 years, but I still recognized her walk when she was far down the street, and we both knew each other right away. I guess time has been good to us.
And that is how we came to be in Malaga, Spain for Christmas…and got to reunite with mi familia espanola for the holidays. Paula lives here in Malaga with her husband and 9 month old son (yay for another nephew!), and Lucia and her husband were down from Pamplona. The afternoon of Christmas, we all skyped with my parents in Albuquerque. And just last week, my sister, her husband, their kiddos, Kyle, and myself all took the train from Sevilla to Malaga, so that she could see them as well. That photo up top is from that reunion.
There is talk of us all visiting again soon. And of my parents traveling to Spain next year to see everyone.
It is as if no time has passed at all…even though it is 24 years since striking up that conversation with the girl who sat next to me in history class. Finding my Spanish sisters (and the rest of my Spanish family) again is the best Christmas present I have ever received. And I have our round the world trip to thank for it.
We would love to hear your favorite reunion story. Share it with us in the comments.