Ages: 82 and 90
Location: Bend, Oregon
So I know I recently wrote about my parents (a protest they will surely make when they see this post), but that was really more about their wonderful circle of friends who have rallied around them when they have needed help. It did not really do justice to my parents themselves, two remarkable individuals who celebrate their fifty seventh wedding anniversary tomorrow.
They met in Zurich, Switzerland, where Mom grew up (and a citizenship she has been tempted to reclaim during the Trump presidency). She was a twenty-six,-year old flight attendant for Swissair and Dad was a thirty-four-year old American diamond salesman. Anyone who knows my dad will stop right there in consternation because conjuring up images of my introverted father doing sales boggles the mind. My mom as an outgoing and vivacious stewardess (as they were called back then, and were also required to be single) is less hard to imagine. Dad’s friend, a pilot with Swissair, set him up with my mom but she assumed he was just another American out for a good time and stood him up on their first date. Despite their rocky beginning, a whirlwind romance ensued followed by an elopement of sorts. That pilot and his wife were the only two people present at their civil wedding just five months after they first met! They honeymooned for a month, driving around Europe in Dad’s Porsche convertible, and he then took his Swiss bride back to the United States to meet his family.
While there, Dad took the Foreign Service exam on a whim. When he passed and was offered a position with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Guatemala, off they went. They have since traveled the globe, living on every continent except Antarctica and amassing languages, artifacts and memories aplenty along the way. Dad lucked out that he married a woman whose pluckiness and ability to adapt to every new country and culture was legendary. Mom would learn the local language (she is even fluent in Urdu!) and would immediately adjust to whatever the hardships or challenges each assignment threw at them. She also reinvented herself professionally many times, teaching at our school in Pakistan, serving as a tour guide in Washington, DC, and directing the German aid program in Zaire. My parents have survived coups and evacuations, packed and unpacked entire households umpteen times (once waiting an entire year for our belongings to arrive after they were mistakenly routed to Japan), and raised three children across the globe. Thanks to them and their sense of adventure and curiosity about the world, we were among the first tourists to visit China, we have driven across the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan, enjoyed family vacations in Penang, Malaysia, and bartered at local markets in Kinshasa, Zaire and bazaars in Islamabad, Pakistan. It was an amazing way to grow up, and I am so thankful my parents were not the type to live in the American compound and shop exclusively at the American commissary. They took full advantage of the culture and travel each country offered us, and even continued to travel (with short-term assignments to Bratislava, Slovakia and Port-au-Prince, Haiti) after Dad retired. Their house is filled with mementos from around the world, including the black and white photographs Dad always took and developed himself. (His photos and essays about their travels can be found in his book, From Afghanistan to Zaire, Reflections on a Foreign Service Life.)
Even now that they live a life with only sporadic travel, hunkered down in the home they built overlooking the Cascade mountain range in Bend, Oregon, their engagement with the world and their concern for what is happening to it is unparalleled. My parents are among the most intelligent people I know (again, in my unbiased opinion… here’s hoping some of those genes got passed along!) and there are few topical issues on which they cannot have an informed and engaged discussion. They also keep their minds sharp with daily games of Boggle (something I take great pride in having introduced them to during one of my visits years ago), play competitive Bridge, and devour books and magazines, often making me feel like a total slacker for my inability to keep up. They are great storytellers, each in their own way but most entertaining when they are telling a story together and arguing about details or who is taking the narrating lead, and they have an amazing life full of stories to share. (My kids’ favorites are hearing about how naughty their mom was as a child, such as when four-year-old Katya stole the gun of the dozing armed guard who was ostensibly protecting us during Uruguay’s civil war and shimmied up our garden fence with it.)
In many ways, my parents are a living embodiment of the adage that opposites attract. But I prefer to think of them as embodying the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. My parents are each amazing and noteworthy individuals in their own right, with incredible accomplishments, personal traits and experiences of their own, but it is the life they have created together that is most worthy of celebration. After all, I am a product of that union… so yeah, I am pretty happy about it.
Here’s wishing Art and Alice Lezin a happy anniversary! In their honor, do something adventurous and out of your comfort zone. Or just let the people you love know how much you love them. I have many friends who have lost their parents, and I know how very lucky I am to still have mine and to be able to tell them how much they mean to me. I am sure they wish I wouldn’t do so in such a public manner… but if you can’t embarrass your loved ones, why have a blog?