It was Spring, month of May, and Peter and Sondra had invited us to lunch at their house in Simm Valley. When we arrived at their house, I could smell the results of what seemed to be a day of cooking and preparing for our arrival. The sweet aroma of barbecue filled the air as Peter opened the door and invited us in. Theirs was a sunny house, and looked quite cozy.
“Hi! Come in!” Peter said. Big smiles and friendly exclamations. They were older than us. Peter is blond, not very tall. He is a karate instructor. Sondra is also blond, with long hair. She went from a table of food and drink towards us. We shook hands. It was Sondra who was dominantly in my vision. As she chatted she touched me on the shoulder and kept smiling. It was a warm welcome and it calmed me a little. I was quite nervous, and I knew my husband was as well.
“So this is you!” she said, smiling and holding my arm, looking at us at arms length. Peter also talked, but Sondra dominated the conversation. I smiled nervously and tried to appear confident. I was feeling nervous, of course. “Oh, you’re really very pretty!” I said, and felt a bit silly.
We asked them about their child; he was not home then. For some minutes we stood near the table, working at the conversation. After a while they bid us to sit down and eat. We sat across from each other. There were ribs, chicken, salad, vegetables and chips. There was the barbecue I had smelled at the door. I did not let them know, but the truth was I did not care for the barbecued meat at all. I made it through the day eating the salads and bread, as we drank and talked for hours.
But I was suspicious and wary at first. I had met them on the internet, so I was understandably very worried about what they were actually like. We had an online acquaintanceship, but they were still strangers for the most part.
Early in our visit, I sometimes felt that she was condescending whenever she would smile and give her full attention to me. They seemed very open and forthcoming, but I was not much at ease. I would also sometimes feel awkward when Peter and Sondra would look at each other for an instant, as if they were trying to decide by eye contact on something they wanted to say to us. But I’m sure thats just the way of couples, sometimes. My husband seemed oblivious to this though. He is usually more trusting than I am.
There was a lot of laughter, as can be expected in such a situation, where everyone is intent on breaking the ice. We talked about the differences between our countries. Albania is very poor, we told them. And the government terrible. I wanted to love my country as much as possible, but there are a lot of better places. “You’ve come to the right place,” Peter had said, grinning.
They mostly asked us about our life in Albania, and also offered us bits of their own life in Simm Valley. They never heard about Albania before they met me on the internet, so they wanted to know more. Since we were a young couple they wanted to know more about weddings in Albania. I told them about a tradition we have, where the youngest son of the family gets to stay with his parent even when he gets married. They take care of their parents until they die.
We talked about our history and the difficulties that our country is going through. They were quite surprised. I told them about how life was in Albania. There was violence and unrest everywhere, water was scarce, all in all quite backward compared to the paradise that is America. Peter said Albania is beautiful, from what he’d seen, but my husband said jokingly that that’s just what everyone says of someone else’s country.
The window was open and the cool breeze mellowed my nervousness. I started to feel like I was home, and I realized that I was worried for nothing. They were very nice people and made me feel very comfortable with them and myself. We spent the day was spent getting to know each other.
During the meal I saw their pet cat, a black and orange one. I knew that only female cats were black and orange, and I got to wondering if it was spayed. I thought maybe if it had a litter, I could ask for one as a pet. I asked them, and yes, unfortunately, it was spayed. My husband told them I wanted to have a pet cat. “We’ll help you get one,” Peter offered. After the meal Sondra showed me the whole house: the living room, the kitchen, the master bedroom, the craft room, her son’s room, and the office. Peter and my husband went outside and talked there.
I realized that I had warmed up to Peter and Sondra. For the first time I felt almost certain that I understood them, that they were interested in us as friends as well. By the time we almost had to go home, Sondra’s smile was no longer condescending in my mind, but simply friendly. By the time we left to return to our temporary home, back in the Valley, we had gotten to know Peter and Sondra a lot more than from the limited emails over the two previous years.
The next day, when we spoke to Peter over the phone, we learned they had discussed our living situation and had decided to ask us to live with them instead, at least until we could get up on our own feet. That impressed me and I almost cried while we were talking. After I hung up I thought how nice it was to have such good friends!
Of course I understood that this was no small decision of theirs. It would be a new chapter in their life, as well as ours. I did have my doubts, because after all, I thought that I might forever feel that I was intruding on their nice little home. I also thought of their son. Would the boy resent our presence? I asked Sondra about this the next day, and she assured me that her son would be fine with the setup.
Their offer made me think of the various motives that humans can have. Why did they offer us their home? What do they get out of it? I was very grateful, but also curious. It was rare to see such extreme generosity where I used to live. I thought vaguely that maybe Peter’s profession might have had some influence on the way he thinks and values others. From the little I am exposed to of people in the martial arts business, I had the impression that these people are generally kind and helpful.
They were very kind to us, even if we actually never met them before. I guess everywhere there are nice people that you can depend on some help from. This was why we had come. Meeting this family was, for me, the best thing ever. They were very generous and very nice to us. I have not yet gotten the courage to ask Peter and Sondra why they volunteered their house to us, because I fear the might find offense in the question. But I am grateful to them.